Esperanto
Author: David Poulson


Esperanto and Science Fiction: Jules Verne

Author: David Poulson
Published on:October 29, 1999

"...we are all, in one way or another, the children of Jules Verne. His name never stops. At Aerospace or NASA gatherings Verne is the verb that moves us to Space.

He was born in the future we inhabit as our present. Once born, he ricocheted back to the 19th century to dream our dreams and to realise his possible improbabilities...

Without Verne there is a strong possibility we would never have romanced ourselves to the Moon. His immortal dust should be divided in separate and equal parts to be lodged in that first footprint on the Moon and tossed to the winds that blow across that great Martian ravine that can hide our continental United States and swallow our imagination."
(Ray Bradbury)

In 1993, editor of the journal Esperanto was Istvan Ertl, who was well known by that time to readers of Esperanto journals because he had previously edited Kontakto, La Internacia Pedagogio Revuo, and Opus Nigrum. You can find a small selection of his articles at this URL

In the November issue (no. 1053) Ertl wrote an interesting and informative article about Jules Verne which was prompted by the publication, earlier in 1993, of a collection of some previously unpublished manuscripts of Verne. That collection included about 50 pages of a novel which, unfortunately, Jules Verne never finished. At least, not in the form in which he left it. I will have more to say about this unpublished fragment later, but first I'll give some background information about Verne's connection to the Esperanto movement.

Ertl recalled that the November-December issue of the journal Franca Esperantisto included an article written by Marcel Delcourt and Jean Amouroux entitled "Jules Verne kaj la Internacia Lingvo." Thanks to the researches of these writers, wrote Ertl, "we know that Verne was well acquainted with the international language question because one of his friends, Raoul Duval, was an enthusiastic supporter of Volapuk."

(For more information about Volapuk, an earlier and unsuccessful attempt to create an acceptable international language, and about some other planned languages, read the second chapter of Don Harlow's book, which is available in digital format )

In 1903, therefore, when Theophile Cart gave a lecture about Esperanto in Amiens, where Verne had lived for many years, and inspired his audience to form a local Esperanto society, Jules Verne agreed to be its first honorary president. (The unusual house shown in the picture is where Verne lived.)

This fact was mentioned in the February 1903 issue of Lingvo Internacia, the editor of which, Paul Fruictier, came from Amiens himself. Professor Cart, incidentally, was one of the great French Esperanto pioneers and a member of the Lingva Komitato and the Akademio who wrote, among other things, a two-way French/Esperanto dictionary, a textbook Premiers lecons d'Esperanto, and a supplement to the Universala Vortaro.

It's fairly certain, I imagine, that Jules Verne did not know how to speak Esperanto when he agreed to become the first honorary president of the new Amiens Esperanto society and, since he died not long after this, on the 24th of March 1905, he may never have actually learned the language. He did, however, (as you will see in the next Topic article) know something about the structure of Esperanto, and about Dr Zamenhof too. For example, he knew that a very early prototype of Esperanto had been first "launched" at Zamenhof's 15th birthday party on the 5th of December 1878. Clearly his interest in and support for Esperanto was genuine and so he decided to help the growth of the Language in the best way he could: by discussing it in the context of a new novel.

This novel, to which I referred at the beginning of this article, was given the provisional title of Voyage d'Etudes, (in English, approximately, Voyage of Discovery, and one of the characters, Nicolas Vanof, was a very enthusiastic supporter of Esperanto. Nor was he the only Esperanto speaker in the book. However, to quote Istvan Ertl, "on the 24th of March 1905, four months before the Boulogne conference, Jules Verne died. His son Michel arranged for the publication of about a dozen novels under his father's name,some of which Michel wrote himself, just using ideas and themes from those manuscripts left behind by his father."

And this is what happened to Voyage of Discovery. Michel Verne used the 50 pages already written as the inspiration for a new novel, published in 1919 with the title: L'Etonnante Aventure de la Mission Barsac, - The Strange Adventure of the Barsac Expedition. There is no reference whatsoever to Esperanto in this work.

(New readers of this series can find here - a description of the historic Boulogne Conference in an earlier Esperanto topic article called: "Boulogne and Betrayal." Please take a look at this if you haven't already seen it.)

And that's all I have space for this time. I will, however, continue the discussion of Verne's Voyage of Discovery in my next Topic article. I will also provide an English-language translation of some selected passages from this unfinished novel before moving on to consider some other aspects of Esperanto and science fiction. Meanwhile, you may care to visit this very fine web site devoted to Jules Verne:

http://www.math.technion.ac.il/~rl/JulesVerne/

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