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Journey Through the Impossible

Jules Verne


  idles Berne

  TRANSLATED BY Edward Baxter

  INTRODUCTION BY Jean-Michel Margot

  President, North American Jules Verne Society


  Acknowledgments 9

  Introduction by Jean-Michel Margot President, North American Jules Verne Society 11

  Synopsis of the Play 21

  Cast of Characters 25


  Scene 1: Andernak Castle 33

  Scene 2: The Fallen Angel 47

  Scene 3: The inn 49

  Scene 4: Five Hundred Leagues Underground 60

  Scene 5: The Central Fire 70


  Scene 1: The Harbor at Goa 75

  Scene 2: The Platform of the Nautilus 84

  Scene 3: The Nautilus 86

  Scene 4: Underwater Navigation 90

  Scene 5: On the Ocean Floor 90

  Scene 6: An Underwater Forest 91

  Scene 7: The Coral Reef 94

  Scene 8: Atlantis 96


  Scene 1: The Gun Club 109

  Scene 2: The Cannon Shot 119

  Scene 3: The Planet Altor 125

  Scene 4: The End of a World 138

  Scene 5: The Explosion 140

  Scene 6: Andernak Castle 140

  Scene 7: Apotheosis 143

  Appendices: 1882: Two Reviews of Journey Through the Impossible 145

  Arnold Mortier: Evenings in Paris in 1882 (November 25) 147

  The New York Times "A Jules Verne Piece" (December 19) 155

  Notes 161

  ith the publication of Journey Through the Impossible a dream comes true. The North American Jules Verne Society (NAJVS) presents to the English-speaking world this heretofore unpublished play. This edition is the result of a collaboration between several members of the NAJVS and their friends. Edward Baxter translated the text from the original French and it is his translation we publish here. Two other translators independently rendered the play into English: Cecile Molla Leyonmark and Frank Morlock. Cecile's translation was published in Extraordinary Voyages, the NAJVS newsletter. Frank is a professional translator of Dumas' plays and he enjoys translating Verne's plays. His Dumas translations are available at www.

  Edward Baxter has already translated several of Verne's works,' and we hope he will for many years continue to help "rescue" these works, so that Verne will be recognized in America, finally, as a writer and stylist. Our thanks go also to the board of directors of the NAJVS, chaired by Dennis Kytasaari until June 2002, and to the members of the Translations Committee: Walter James Miller, Brian Taves, and Roger Leyonmark. The elegant illustrations created by Roger Leyonmark and which adorn the cover, the frontispiece, and serve to open each act of the present play, help the reader travel to the center of the earth, through oceans, and to the planet Altor.

  We are also grateful to Anna Jean Mayhew, a professional editor and one of the newest members of NAJVS, for her careful attention to this introduction and to the notes throughout the play.

  Three prominent members of the French Societe Jules Verne helped us tremendously with first-hand information: Robert Pourvoyeur, the world specialist of Offenbach and of Verne's plays; the late Francois Raymond (d. 1993), who edited the French edition of the play; and Volker Dehs, whose curiosity and tenacity make him the "Vernian detective." Steven L. Mitchell, our editor at Prometheus Books, brings this unknown and unexpected Verne play to life in America.

  ourney Through the Impossible (Voyage a travers l'impossible) is for many readers an unexpected and surprising work by the French novelist Jules Verne (1828-1905). First, the piece is a play and not a novel. Second, when staged in Paris in 1882, the play included "special effects," as they are called today. Third, Verne took characters from his former novels and short stories (like Captain Nemo of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea' and Michel Ardan of From the Earth to the Moon), resurrecting them for great adventures in Journey Through the Impossible. Fourth, the play was written in the middle of Verne's life, between his optimistic and pessimistic periods. Fifth, of all Verne's work, this is the one most oriented toward science fiction; the play includes travel to the interior of the earth, under the oceans, and into outer space. Sixth, for almost a century the piece was lost to Vernian scholars. Seventh, the play was never translated and the pub lisher of the original French edition overlooked a scene. The omitted scene is included in this first complete edition of Journey Through the Impossible.

  Verne, known in the United States as "the father of science fiction," wrote mainly geographic and scientific adventure novels between 1862 and 1905.3 These works were published in Paris by Pierre-Jules Hetzel,4 his lifelong publisher. In his novels, only on exceptional occasions does Verne step out of what is possible, what can be scientifically explained; for the most part he stays in the real world. For example, Verne's The Sphinx of the Ice 5 and H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness,6 are both sequels to the unfinished Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym7 by Edgar Allen Poe. However, Verne explains rationally the supernatural apparition that comes out of the fog in the last pages of Poe's book. Lovecraft does not unveil the mystery, and even enhances it.

  Silence surrounded a work whose title suggested a fundamental departure from all his other work, and whose goal was to go beyond the limits of the Extraordinary Voyages.' In 1904, when interviewed by the British journalist Gordonjones,9 Verne said, "But these results are merely the natural outcome of the scientific trend of modern thought, and as such have doubtless been predicted by scores of others besides myself. Their coming was inevitable, whether anticipated or not, and the most that I can claim is to have looked perhaps a little farther into the future than the majority of my critics." And yet here is Voyage Through the Impossible, a play in three acts, written with d'Ennery10 and performed over two decades earlier; the play is in complete contradiction to the above affirmation!

  Before becoming well known in 1863 upon publication of Five Weeks in a Balloon,11 Verne wrote numerous plays (most are not yet translated into English), and many of his novels are structured like plays, using the "coup de theatre" to refresh the reader's attention. Three novels Around the World in Eighty Days,12 Michael Strogoff,13 and The Children of Captain Grant14 (also known as In Search of the Cast- aways)-were rewritten as plays and published as a book in 1881 by Hetzel under the title The Journeys on Stage.15 They were performed for several years in Paris and their huge success made Verne wealthy. The plays became grand spectacles, due to the genius of d'Ennery, who brought to the stage an elephant, water fountains, and Indians chasing a train. Without movies and television, the people of Paris went to the theatre, and the name piece a grand spectacle (extravaganza) is reserved for plays of the second half of the nineteenth century with huge, colorful, animated sets. The success of these plays was such that some were brought to America in the 1870s and 1880s by the brothers Bolossy and Imre Kiralfy.ib D'Ennery helped make journey Through the Impossible into a piece a grand spectacle-a guarantee of success. journey Through the Impossible played for the first time in Paris, at the Theatre de la Porte Saint-Martin on November 25, 1882. The play was performed 97 times (43 in 1882 and 54 in 1883), which compares well with the 113 performances of The Children of Captain Grant.

  By 1882, Jules Verne was a world-renowned writer, thanks to a new genre, the scientific novel. His plays, a goldmine for theatre directors around the world, dramatized some of his novels, fulfilling for him a dream of his youth-to be appreciated as a playwright. In fact, young Verne, from the time of his law studies, dreamt o
f nothing but the theater. He was introduced into the social circles of Alexandre Dumas pere,17 and managed to have an act performed at the Theatre Historique18 in 1850: The Broken Straws.19 He loved music, mainly opera, and in 1853 he became secretary of the Theatre Lyrique,20 where the most famous French operas of the nineteenth century were created under the signature of Hector Berlioz,21 Charles-Francois Gounod,22 Georges Bizet,23 Adolphe-Charles Adam,24 and others. Before finding his way to the publisher Hetzel and embarking on his monumental work, Extraordinary Voyages, Verne had written several plays, and even after starting his adventure novels, he continued to produce dramas.

  But a profound change in the public's taste made Verne seek a new approach. The festive atmosphere of the Second Empire was brutally wiped away by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, by the defeat of France, and by the bloody reprisals following the Paris Commune. In the field of theater, these events transformed theater-goers, who no longer wanted sarcastic opera-bouffe'25 loaded with verve and presupposing a wide culture among spectators who understood a world of fairies and genies. Rather, the Parisian public sought consolation and relief from a grim reality by fleeing into the world of dreams. That meant a return to a simpler form of the old opera-comique,26 a fantasy.

  The Parisians wanted amazing spectacles with astonishing machines; certainly Verne's novels could be transformed into wondrous dramas with exotic sets and costumes. The success was striking and fabulous: Around the World in Eighty Days-a lavish production with Indians, Hindus, elephants, serpents, trains, and shipwrecksran for 415 successive performances from November 7, 1874 to December 20, 1875. Encouraged by this success, Verne reissued Children of Captain Grant in 1878 and Michael Strogoff in 1880.

  All of these plays were in collaboration with d'Ennery, one of the most prolific drama writers of the nineteenth century. From 1831 to 1887, he presented an enormous number of plays, fantasies, libretti for opera, and other staged performances. At the time of his collaboration with Verne, d'Ennery was at the peak of his fame; he had already written his famous work, The Two Orphans.27 He owned a superb villa in Antibes (on the French Riviera), a dream of a place where Verne went to work several times. (Without the help of the "special effects" magician d'Ennery, Verne later wrote two other plays inspired by his novels-Keraban the Inflexible28 and Mathias Sandoi f 29 -but they were performed only a few times.)

  Verne had long pondered the dangers of science. After publication of "Master Zacharius"30 (1854), he seemed to be influenced by Saint- Simonianism,31 a philosophy the Second Empire tacitly adopted, that glorified the engineers, science, and technology that would industrialize France. Furthermore, in no other work by Verne are science fiction and science fantasy so present as in Journey Through the Impossible (1882). With regard to science fiction, even Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon cannot compete.

  Most of Jules Verne's novels until the mid-1880s present science and technology as beneficial to humankind. The scientist uses technology to help heroes out of a difficult situation. Typically, the engineer Cyrus Smith (Mysterious Island 32) drives his companion castaways toward a better life, using his knowledge of chemistry, physics, and natural sciences, restructuring nature with the overriding ingenuity of humans. In Verne's novels of the first part of his life the only villain is Herr Doktor Schultze (The Five Hundred Million of the Begum33), but the character is not Verne's invention. Hetzel bought the manuscript from Paschal Grousset34 (better known by his pseudonym, Andre Laurie) and asked Verne to rewrite it; the book was published as authored by Jules Verne. After the mid-1880s, Verne, in his pessimism, created crazy scientists like Robur (Robin the Conqueror or Master of the World35), Orfanik (The Castle in the Carpathians36), and Thomas Roch (Facing the Flag37). These mad scientists use their knowledge and inventions for destructive purposes. journey Through the Impossible is the hinge between the two halves of Verne's life, being an apotheosis of the first optimistic part, where the play asks the reader and the spectator, continuously, to choose, like George Hatteras, between good and evil, heaven and hell.

  From 1872, with "The Doctor Ox,"38 Verne emphasized the danger of too much science, believing that science itself is not to blame; rather, we must look to the use humans make of science. In this short story-a vigorous and compact masterpiece of droll humor and sarcastic farce-a scientist risks a terribly dangerous experiment, even more disquieting because he pretends to provide free gas lighting for the town of Quiquendone, without charging for his scientific knowledge. The tone remains that of the opera-bouffe of the Second Empire; thus, it comes as no surprise that the subject attracted Offen- bach39 in 1877. Peaceful, soft characters engulfed in their own bovine passivity are the foil to the bizarre and mysterious figure of Dr. Ox. No one knows where he comes from or who he is. He calls himself a doctor; he is not a professor like Lidenbrock in Journey to the Center of the Earth'40 Aronnax in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, or Palmyrin Rosette in Hector Servadac.41 Professors are reassuringly familiar by virtue of their daily contact with the students they help mold; a doctor is a far more independent and unaccountable being. Dr. Ox is unsettling, like a new incarnation of the evil who haunts The Tales of Hoffmann, the drama by Jules Barbier42 and Michel Carre,43 presented at l'Odeon44 in 1851 (the opera by Offenbach had not yet been written). In the same year, Verne collaborated with Carre to produce a play, Leonardo da Vnci, which later became Mona Lisa,45 with a similar underlying theme as in The Tales of Hoffmann-the necessity of choosing between art and love. Jules Verne said of Dr. Ox that he "escaped from a volume by Hoffmann." By Hoffmann? Or by Barbier and Carre? Or by Offenbach-his demonic and deadly Dr. Miracle? Offenbach's opera was created in Paris, February 10, 1881. The direct line from The Tales of Hoffmann to journey Through the Impossible is obvious; Offenbach's opera has five acts: prologue, first love, second love, third love, and epilogue. In Verne's play, Act I includes the prologue and the first exploration; Act II is the second exploration, and Act III is the third exploration and the epilogue. Thus we have Hoffmann's first love (Olympia, a mechanical doll) and George Hatteras's first exploration (to the center of the earth); Hoffmann's second love (Antonia, who dies while singing) and George's second exploration (under the oceans); Hoffmann's third love (Giulietta, who steals his shadow) and George's third exploration (to outer space). Both pieces end by highlighting the battle between good and evil, with the same choice for the hero-in Hoff Hann, between art and love; in journey Through the Impossible, between science and love.

  Most of the characters of Journey Through the Impossible were already known to the spectators. The hero, George Hatteras, is the son of Captain Hatteras, who discovered the North Pole in Journey and Adventures of Captain Hatteras.46 Like the Verne novels, this play is a typical initiatory journey where George Hatteras discovers the center of the Earth, the underwater world, and the planet Altor. The journey is strenuous; George, faced with obstacles and difficulties, is subjected to evil forces that push him to journey farther, and to good forces that protect him from danger and keep him from the blasphemy of seeking to become godlike. The evil force is personified by Doctor Ox ("Doctor Ox"), without his colleague Ygene. The beneficent spirit, Volsius, first takes the identity of Otto Lidenbrock (Journey to the Center of the Earth), then of Captain Nemo (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea), and, at the end, of Michel Ardan (From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon47). Volsius tries to restrain George Hatteras from his journey, but Ox coerces the hero to conquer Earth in Act I, the seas in Act II, and space in Act III. George is accompanied in his travels by Eva, his fiancee (the love interest so important to Hollywood). For comic relief, Verne and d'Ennery added Tartelet, a teacher of dance and etiquette (based on Professor T. Artelet of The School of Robinsons,48 also known as Godfrey Morgan).

  Tartelet (French for small tart) did not need time travel to jump from the novel into the play, since the former was published and the latter performed in 1882. The School of Robinsons was serialized from January to December 1
882 in Hetzel's magazine for the French family, Magasin d'Education et de Recreation, and was made available as an illustrated book November 9, 1882, two weeks before journey Through the Impossible was first performed in Paris. With his friend Valdemar, Tartelet teaches good manners to George and Eva throughout the play, during travels to the center of the earth, to Atlantis, and to Altor-tal- ents very useful in such circumstances! To help the heroes get to Altor, Verne resurrected Impey Barbicane and J. T. Maston, president and secretary, respectively, of the Gun Club in Baltimore, which launched the bullet From the Earth to the Moon in 1865. However, the characters never reached the Moon. Likewise, having set his foot on the North Pole, Hatteras finds only emptiness, because the exact geographic pole is in the center of a volcano. The journey to the Center of the Earth does not fulfill its goal, and Nemo, Under the Sea, does not visit the deepest abyss on the floor of the ocean. Verne's astronauts are confined to circle the Moon on their voyage Around the Moon. The cannon paid for with The Five Hundred Million of the Begum does not destroy France-Ville, and the lovers don't see The Green Ray.49 At the end of his tour Around the World in Eighty Days,50 Fogg does win his wager, but only by way of another typically Vernian glitch. Michael Strogoff arrives too late at Irkutsk, and The Star of the South51 is not a synthetic diamond. We see Maston failing Topsy-Turvy,52 as does Robur the Conqueror,53 as do the engineers of Propeller Island'54 and Orfanik's inventions for The Castle in the Carpathians are all destroyed. In most of the novels, however extraordinary the voyage, a reader might come to feel as if an angel with a flaming sword had risen before the writer and called out to him, "No farther! Ahead is the unknown, forbidden to humans-the realm of the impossible." After "Master Zacharius," Verne almost stopped writing fantasy and horror stories, a domain that would later occupy writers such as H. G. Wells, H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Sloane, and many others.

  Nevertheless, to such a forbidden realm we are taken by the hero of Journey Through the Impossible, by way of the madness inherited from his father. The other characters created by Verne move through the extraordinary world of scientific realities. George Hatteras wishes to go beyond. "This is simply the extraordinary, not the impossible," he exclaims to himself. Verne does not reject characters previously created in his novels; they are, moreover, incarnations of the goodeven Nemo, the rebellious anarchist, the pirate who destroys innocent vessels. This play doesn't contradict previous works; rather, it is an extension of them, setting forth the limits beyond which lie the unknowable and the inaccessible. This flamboyant subject, paradoxically, is quite modern in its "fantasy" concepts, rather than futuristic science fiction, even though the reader is distracted repeatedly by breaks in the tone or tension of the action by the goings-on of two comic characters-a Shakespearean effect that also influenced the comic interludes of Neapolitan opera-bouffe. Constructed like a signpost at the border between the possible and the impossible, this play is, more than any other of the novelist's manuscripts, required reading for all of those, in ever-growing numbers, who study him. Verne's works are now classics in world literature, and he is a subject so complex as to be understood only from a multi-disciplinary approach.