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The Floating Island

Jules Verne



  Edited by Kaori O’Connor


  Louis Becke Pacific Tales

  James S. de Benneville Tales of the Samurai

  Isabella Bird Korea and her Neighbours

  Isabella Bird Six Months in Hawaii

  Katharine Augusta Carl With the Empress Dowager of China

  Miguel Covarrubias Island of Bali

  Miguel Covarrubias Mexico South

  Paul Gauguin Intimate Journals

  Jukichi Inouye Home Life in Tokyo

  Washington Irving Astoria

  John La Farge An American Artist in the South Seas

  Jack London Cruise of the Snark

  Pierre Loti Japan: Madame Chrysanthemum

  Pierre Loti Tahiti: The Marriage of Loti

  Herman Melville Omoo

  Herman Melville Typee

  Charles Nordhoff Nordhoffs West Coast

  Robert Louis Stevenson In the South Seas



  Introduction by Kaori O’Connor

  Kegan Paul International LONDON AND NEW YORK

  First published in French in 1895

  First published in English in 1896

  This edition published in 1990 by Kegan Paul International Limited

  PO Box 256, London WCIB 3SW, England

  Distributed by

  John Wiley & Sons Ltd

  Southern Cross Trading Estate

  1 Oldlands Way, Bognor Regis,

  West Sussex, P022 9SA, England

  Routledge, Chapman and Hall Inc

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  New York, NY 10001, USA

  The Canterbury Press Pty Ltd

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  Scoresby, Victoria 3179, Australia

  © This edition Kegan Paul International 1990

  Printed in Great Britain by T. J. Press Ltd

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form

  without permission from the publisher, except for the

  quotation of brief passages in criticism.

  ISBN 0 7103 0292 4

  British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

  Verne, Jules, 1828-1905

  The floating island. - (Pacific Basin books)

  1. Title

  843. 8

  ISBN 0-7103-0292-4

  US Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data .

  Applied for



  Part 1
















  Part II

















  To know Jules Verne only through such of his books as Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864). From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) is to know but a small part of the work of this extraordinary man who left his stamp upon his century and our own.

  The books for which Verne is best known today are early works imbued with the spirit of the first part of the nineteenth century - an era of unparalleled excitement, expansion and experiment when the popular imagination could barely keep pace with the scientific developments that promised to change the human condition forever. The mood of the times was one of optimism and an unquestioning belief in science and progress, and no one captured this spirit more perfectly than Jules Verne. As soon as they were written, the books that comprise the first part of his series Extraordinary Voyages: Known and Unknown Worlds - which aimed, in the words of his publisher, to ‘summarize all geographical, geological, physical and astronomical knowledge amassed by modern science’ - were translated into every European language, and were read as avidly by adults as by the young. In them, Verne bridged the gap between science and romance, founded the genre of modern science fiction, and inspired generations of future scientists, explorers, inventors and adventurers. Radar, teleprinters, audiovisual telephones, lasers, synthetic diamonds and air conditioning were only a few of the inventions that first appeared in the pages of a Verne book; polar exploration, long-range submarine navigation and space travel were exploits of Verne heroes long before they were enacted in real life. He envisaged the modern world with a remarkable clarity that was far from accidental, for all his literary inventions were based solidly on established scientific principles, and he prided himself on being a realist rather than a fantasist. As he put it in his book The Carpathian Castle:

  This story is not fantastic, it is only romantic. It would be a mistake to conclude from its improbability that it cannot be a true story. We are living in days when anything can happen - one may say that everything has happened. If our tale seems improbable today, it need not do so tomorrow, thanks to the resources science will make available in the future, and nobody will then think of calling it fanciful.

  Yet as the nineteenth century drew to a close, Verne had grave doubts about the course the new world he had envisaged was taking, and he began to reflect on what the social and political consequences of technological progress would be. What he foresaw overshadowed the later years of his life and changed the course of his writing. He had begun as an innovative writer who invested scientific fact with romance, adventure, melodrama and idealism - he developed into a savage social satirist who has been compared to Montesquieu, Swift and Voltaire. In recent years, the works of Jules Verne have been subject to a critical re-evaluation in France and elsewhere, and it is largely on the basis of his satirical novels that Verne is now seen as one of the most significant writers and social commentators of modern times. The Floating Island (1895) - an account of a sea-going city of American millionaires cruising about the Pacific - is the finest of Verne’s satirical novels, a masterpiece whose theme is as timely now as when it was written.

  Jules Verne was born in Nantes, France on February 8, 1828, the first of four children of Sophie Allotte de la Fuye, who came from a family long established in the West Indies mercantile trade and Pierre Verne, a solicitor whose father and grandfather had been judges. Pierre Verne, who exerted a considerable influence over his son’s life and work, was remembered by a member of his family as ‘highly intelligent... a passionate music lover... a very erudite scholar, a gifted and witty poet, but also very interested in science and the latest discoveries,[i]- a description that would in many respects serve for Jules in later years. Extremely pious, he was an ardent Jansenistic Christian who ensured that his children acquired a clear moral sense. Although the law was not his consuming interest in life, Pierre Verne had a deep respect for his profession and a prudent appreciation of the fact that it provided the means for him to keep his family in moderate comfort and the time to engage in scholarly studies. Although his eldest son displayed a taste for literature and the arts from childhood, Pierre Verne expected Jules to follow him into his solicitor’s practice, and to pursue his other interests private
ly, as he himself had done.

  The young Jules was a dilatory student during his schooldays, filling his notebooks with drawings of ships and strange machines, and spending as much time as he could at the Nantes docks. At eleven he made an unsuccessful attempt to run away as a cabin boy on a ship bound for the West Indies; thereafter he was obliged to restrict himself to sailing a small skiff on the Nantes estuary, and to voyages of the imagination in which he fantasised that the island suburb where his family lived would float out to sea, and on to faraway lands. The effort he might have expended on school compositions was lavished instead on poetry and dramatic sketches, and he was bitterly disappointed when his works received little encouragement from his family or his cousin Caroline, whom he hoped to marry. After passing his baccalaureate, Jules entered his father’s practice and began to prepare for his law examinations, becoming increasingly restive after his cousin announced her engagement to a rival. Jules passed his preliminary law examinations with little difficulty, but was plunged into depression by his cousin’s marriage. Aware that their son had little interest in the law at the best of times, Jules’s parents reluctantly agreed to allow him to complete his legal studies in Paris, and he arrived in the capital in November, 1848 on the day that the Premier, Lamartine. inaugurated the new régime that had deposed Louis Phillipe from the throne.

  In Paris, Pierre Verne kept Jules on a stringent allowance intended to encourage diligence by making all distractions except eating unaffordable. He deluged his son with letters commending the law, and warning against the literary and artistic temptations that were sure to come his way. Although Jules replied with fulsome reassurances, his true interests began to assert themselves. Too much the dutiful son to abandon his law books, he spent an equal amount of time reading novels, poetry and plays, going without sleep to accommodate both fields of study. The théâtre had been closed in the early months of the 1848 revolution, but there was plenty to interest a young man determined to make the most of what the capital had to offer. Relations of his mother who had settled in Paris introduced Jules to literary salons that he attended as often as his resources would permit. Above all, he hoped to meet the author and playright Alexandre Dumas the elder, whom he described as ‘that demigod’. [ii] The longed-for introduction was effected and the hospitable Dumas took Jules under his wing, encouraging his interest in literature and the theatre. Within weeks of arriving in Paris, Jules was writing to his father of ‘the new and marvellous pleasure to be in immediate contact with literature’[iii] - sentiments that produced a flurry of anxious letters from Nantes that Jules soon learned to parry deftly. Inspired by Dumas, he began to concentrate on dramatic writing, and in the course of 1849 managed to complete a five-act tragedy, a two-act farce and a one-act comedy called Broken Straw, in addition to pursuing his legal and literary studies. The Paris théâtre reopened the same year and in 1850 Dumas, who was director of the Théâtre Historique, edited and produced Jules’s Broken Straw; it ran for twelve performances and attracted reviews that were kind, if not over-enthusiastic.

  Jules spent two years in frantic activity, studying, writing, journeying to Nantes in the holidays to reassure his father, then returning to Paris to experiment with dramatic sketches and libretti. On passing his final law examinations, Jules refused the summons to return to Nantes, writing to his father - ‘I may become a good writer, but I shall never be anything but a poor lawyer... The only career for which I am really suited is the one I am already pursuing: literature.’[iv] Sustained by a small parental allowance, Jules stayed on in Paris and plunged into a punishing daily régime that began at five in the morning with a writing session, followed by research and study in the Bibliothèque Nationale, and ended with more writing late into the night. A meeting with the explorer and writer Jacques Arago had prompted Jules to add science to the list of his interests and he followed the latest discoveries in many fields assiduously, noting the results of his research on meticulous data cards that ultimately numbered over 20,000. He experimented feverishly with different forms of writing and in 1851 dashed off two short but promising works of prose fiction that were published in the journal Musée des Families, but his obsession with the theatre led him to concentrate on writing comedies, dramas and libretti, very few of which were ever published or performed.

  In 1852, Jules became secretary of Paris’s Théâtre Lyrique, a position that entailed the demanding responsibilities of dealing with artistes, producing posters and seeing to all the details of stage management for little or no pay, but with the possibility of making contacts that would enable him to get his plays produced - a hope in which he was to be disappointed. Despite his dedication to the dramatic arts and his capacity for hard work, his temperament and talents were not ideally suited to the milieu he longed to enter or the theatrical pieces he struggled to write. Although he was witty and his gift for clever repartee was much admired among the circle of young artists and writers who surrounded Alexandre Dumas, Jules lacked the bonhomie that makes for success in theatrical circles. He did not make friends easily, had no time for conventional social pleasantries, and his manner struck many as curt and abrupt. As one of his friends put it, ‘he is a mixture of coldness and sensibility, of dryness and gentleness... like tempered steel he bends for those who are his friends, and remains stiff before those who are strangers’, while another observed ‘when one has the key one can see into him, but nothing will ever make him expansive about himself. [v] The key to Jules’s character lay largely in the prudent provincial values and stern moral principles that he seemed, at this stage in his life, to be trying to slough off like an unwanted skin. He had a seriousness of character that was utterly at odds with the frivolity of the theatrical farces then in vogue, and he had a deep dislike of emotional display that prevented him from writing convincingly excessive melodramas. Above all, he had a literal mind that always took precedence over his imagination. He could not abandon himself to flights of fancy unless he was convinced of the soundness of the premises on which the actions were predicated, and this more than anything explains his inability to produce convincing comedies of manners and emotional tragedies in which the characters and values were so different to his own.

  Pierre Verne considered Jules’s association with the Théâtre Lyrique ‘bizarre’; [vi] resigned to the fact that his son would never be a lawyer, he had come to believe that Jules could become a good writer if his talents were directed into the right channels. In the same year that he joined the theatre, Jules wrote a third novella for the Musée called Martin Paz, based largely on Jacques Arago’s adventures in South America. Albeit in rudimentary form, this work displayed many of the elements that would typify Jules’s later books - the combination of imagination and solid fact, a visual approach to narrative and a concern with social issues - in this case the predicament of peoples of mixed race in Peru. On reading Martin Paz, Pierre Verne decided that Jules’s true forte was the novel, and tried to divert him from the theatre without success. The impasse continued until 1855 when Jules left the Théâtre Lyrique having failed to make his mark as a dramatist or impresario, but having overworked himself to the extent that he acquired a facial tic that would recur throughout his life in times of stress. He returned to the solitary life of a writer, and immersed himself in work. His passion for science now nearly equalled that for the stage, and he applied himself to trying to develop a new style of scientific writing in which technical phrases could be integrated into ordinary language, thus making science accessible and avoiding cumbersome academic periphrases. In his approach to science he represented the viewpoint of the intelligent and well-informed layman interested less in pure theory than in its practical application, and he most admired engineers, explorers and other men of action whose exploits and invention put theory into practice. While not a scientist himself, he numbered many eminent scientists among his acquaintances, and would often meet with them to discuss the latest scientific theories and technological innovations. But the theatre continued t
o distract him and he carried on writing unsuccessful comedies and plays.

  Pierre Verne continued to provide encouragement and financial assistance, but his confidence in his son’s future received a heavy blow in 1856 when Jules fell in love with Honorine Morel, a widow with two children, and announced that he wished to marry and to go into stockbroking in partnership with Honorine’s brother. ‘One more illusion gone - my son, instead of being a writer, is to become a stock-jobber’[vii] lamented Pierre Verne, but he bought Jules a share in a stockbroking business and Jules married Honorine in 1857. Marriage made little difference to Jules’s régime. He continued to rise at five to write before he went off to the Stock Exchange, where he proved to be better at banter than broking, and Honorine complained to her mother-in-law ‘There are manuscripts everywhere - nothing but manuscripts! Let’s hope they don’t finish up under the cooking-pot!’[viii] Jules continued to pursue success doggedly. The pieces of scientific reportage he wrote for the Musée and other journals were always well received, but he persisted in writing undistinguished comedies and plays which drew a steady stream of rejections from publishers and producers. Jules had dreamed of being a success by the age of thirty-five; at thirty-four he had failed to make a mark in any field. Finally, even Jules’s confidence began to flag. As he wrote to his father;

  It’s as if, the moment I get an idea or launch on any literary project, the idea or the project at once goes wrong. If I write a play for a particular theatre director, he moves elsewhere; if I think of a good title, three days later I see it on the billboards announcing someone else’s play; if I write an article, another appears on the same subject, etc. Even if I discovered a new planet, I believe it would at once explode, just to prove me wrong. [ix]

  In 1862, Jules submitted a manuscript on hot-air ballooning to the innovative Parisian publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel. In its first draft, the manuscript was an uneven combination of narrative and scientific reportage - Hetzel advised Jules to rewrite the work and ‘make a real novel of it’. [x] Two weeks later Jules returned to Hetzel with the rewritten manuscript for Five Weeks in a Balloon which Hetzel accepted for immediate publication, offering Jules a long-term contract for three books a year into the bargain. Jules accepted with alacrity, and took his leave of the Stock Exchange with a formal speech to his friends;