on October 29, 2002
Jules Verne, the ardent supporter of capitalism? That is the greatest surprise in Magellania, the newly translated original text of the book previously known as The Survivors of the Jonathan. The latter was enlarged by roughly 60% from the text bequeathed to Verne's son and literary executor, Michel, prior to its 1909 publication (with the English-language appearance not occurring until 1962). In guiding to posthumous publication six of his father's completed novels, Michel altered all of them, but none so substantially as Magellania. The extent of Michel's intervention was unknown until the manuscripts in the elder Verne's hand were unearthed in France in the 1980s. ...
Magellania and The Survivors of the Jonathan relate the building of a new society on an island, but only three themes are treated in the same way by Michel and Jules Verne: the kindly attitude toward the Fuegians (including intermarriage with an Anglo Canadian woman), the valuation of national independence, and the horror of gold fever. Nonetheless, the introduction to Magellania by Olivier Dumas, president of the French Jules Verne Society, makes the case against The Survivors of the Jonathan with excessive vehemence. Although Michel's The Survivors of the Jonathan is a reflection of his own views, not those of his father, it is also a vivid, literary novel which comprehensively develops its many ideological crosscurrents.
The elder Verne's Magellania, by contrast, reads like an outline rather than a polished book. Half of Magellania, one hundred pages, pass with little happening, before the shipwreck that triggers the main plot. Too often the narrative is told, rather than shown through characters and events--and Michel's determination (along with that of his publisher, Louis-Jules Hetzel) to "flesh out" these limitations of the novel is understandable. Some of this same problem plagues other manuscripts that Verne completed but which neither he nor Michel saw into print, such as Journey to England and Scotland (translated as Backwards to Britain) and Paris in the Twentieth Century. Verne himself commented, "I consider that my real labor begins with my first set of proofs, for I not only correct something in every sentence, but I rewrite whole chapters. I do not seem to have a grip of my subject till I see my work in print," and Michel thought he had to interpret what his father would have changed in this phase.
For all the faults of Magellania, this is an important publication in English, elucidating the actual political thought of Jules Verne. A shipwreck of immigrants turn the unpopulated shore of Hoste Island into a prosperous colony. They overcome strife caused by radicals, the depredations of a gold rush, and most importantly, initially fail in self-government, turning to a benevolent dictator. Michel saw the inevitable outcome as bloodshed and discord in The Survivors of the Jonathan.
In Magellania, Jules Verne portrays his hero, the Kaw-djer (a local Indian term for benefactor), as leading the successful creation of a small, free nation along the lines of Verne's earlier Robinsonade novels The Mysterious Island, Two Year Holiday, and his Swiss Family Robinson sequel, Second Homeland. No less important is the Kaw-djer's commitment to free trade as a means of attracting business, while the taxes and restrictions imposed upon a neighboring island by Argentina hamper development. Hoste Island becomes a literal new beacon of hope and freedom in the New World, economically and politically. The novel ends on the beams flashing out from the Cape Horn lighthouse, built according to the Kaw-djer's vision to save ships from future wrecks in the region. Verne also lauds the nationalism of Hoste Island and its commitment to self-determination; Michel had portrayed these as failed goals in The Survivors of the Jonathan. Both versions of the story decry Argentina and Chile's imperialist assertions over the islands of Cape Horn.
Many scholars, most particularly Jean Chesneaux, suggested that The Survivors of the Jonathan indicated Verne had a sympathy for anarchism. This seemed plausible, given the inclinations of such classic scientific Verne heroes as Nemo and Robur, who share a similar fate with the Kaw-djer in Michel's version, in which he returns to his original convictions and an isolated life. However, Magellania proves that Jules Verne thought the opposite. Although the Kaw-djer began as an atheist and anarchist, whose beliefs made him a refugee from Europe, the demands of governing force him to renounce such impractical theories. Fleeing the territorial claims of Chile and Argentina, he had been on the verge of suicide at the time of the shipwreck. However, in guiding its outcome, creating orderly government and discovering a dawning faith in God, the Kaw-djer discovers fulfillment. Verne, who also served on the council of his home town of Amiens, may have felt much the same.
Ironically, with the debate over the merits of anarchism having lost cachet since the composition of Magellania in the 1890s, concerns over nationalism and free trade remain, and it is these aspects that give the novel its greatest relevance to modern readers. The translation, by Benjamin Ivry, seems to be faithful to the text, although I will defer to the more exacting judgement sure to come from the growing community of Verne translators. Fortunately, a number of parenthetical notes, some from the French edition, have been included. The Dumas introduction was poorly edited, confusing the titles of books and retaining outdated information only relevant to the original French edition; it should have been modified and updated to add the necessary information for English-language readers. Most of all, Magellania requires what the French edition included: a map of the region, with Hoste Island itself. The dust jacket offers a faux map-style cover, when an actual map page (such as given in Wesleyan University Press's new editions of The Mysterious Island and The Invasion of the Sea) would have been more useful. Nonetheless, Welcome Rain publishers must be lauded for undertaking the very first translation of the posthumously published Verne novels rewritten by Michel, and hopefully other such projects will follow.
on December 17, 2011
[The following review was posted on "The Atlasphere" in August 2005.]
A man was standing atop a cliff gazing south, below him the ocean...
"He was tall and fit, with indestructible good health. Everything about him bespoke energy, which sometimes took the explosive form of anger... His face was marked with gravity, a little like the gravity of the American Indian, and his entire being exuded pride, quite different from the pride of egoists who are in love with themselves. This gave him a true nobility of gesture and stance." (Magellania, pp 3-4)
This is how Jules Verne introduces the reader to Kaw-djer, the protagonist of his recently rediscovered novel, "Magellania." The original manuscript of the book was not published until 1977, with the first English edition published in 2002.
"Kaw-djer" means "friend" or "benefactor" in the native language of the inhabitants of Magellania, the domain that includes the islands between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, at the southernmost tip of the American continent. (Today, this domain is a part of Tierra del Fuego, the "Land of Fire.") Kaw-djer is the name given to the protagonist by the land's inhabitants, the Fuegian tribes. His real name and identity remain a mystery.
Kaw-djer is a skillful, self-sufficient man who abandons the civilized world and chooses to live by himself in Magellania. He chooses this land because no country had bothered to claim it. Magellania belongs to no one, so no one has jurisdiction over it, leaving Kaw-djer free to answer only to himself. For Kaw-djer's greatest passion is complete, unbridled independence -- his motto is "Neither God nor master!"
Kaw-djer is not a misanthrope. As a trained physician, he tends to the sick among the natives, hence the origin of the name they give him. The natives and the few missionaries who visit them respect his wish to be left alone. Little by little, the reader finds out more about Kaw-djer, and about the ideas that set him against society with all its laws and governments. An idealistic anarchist in mid-Nineteenth Century Europe, he is repulsed by the violent methods used by his comrades, and realizes that the only way to practice his ideology is to abandon civilization and society:
"An untamed, indomitable, stubborn spirit, who tolerated no authority, incapable of obedience, rebelling against all the laws, which despite their doubtless imperfections, are necessary for people to live among one another" (p 71).
Living by choice like the shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe, Kaw-djer finds his Friday, the native Karroly, whose son Kaw-djer saves from attack by local warriors. Unlike Robinson Crusoe, however, Kaw-djer does not become Karroly's master, but remains his equal and friend; his personal code requires that he neither obeys nor commands.
Verne integrated his fictional story with the geographic and historical facts of Tierra del Fuego, relying heavily on Charles Darwin's journal during his voyage in the area. Darwin recorded the following about the communal property of the native inhabitants:
"The perfect equality among the individuals composing the Fuegian tribes must for a long time retard their civilization...In Tierra del Fuego, until some chief shall arise with power sufficient to secure any acquired advantage, such as the domesticated animals, it seems scarcely possible that the political state of the country can be improved. At present, even a piece of cloth given to one is torn into shreds and distributed; and no one individual becomes richer than another." (p 242)
Back in Europe, Kaw-djer's anarchist comrades are convinced that the abolition of private property is necessary for the abolition of the laws that protected it, and the governments that enforced those laws. Verne surveys the evolution of socialist ideas in Nineteenth Century Europe and criticizes their proponents, notably Proudhon and Karl Marx. The socialists' motto, Verne says, is "expropriation of the capitalist bourgeoisie." He asks: "Can they pretend to be unaware that what they unjustly call thievery really should be called savings, and that savings is the basis of any society?" (p 71) Verne does not support unbound capitalism, however, and, later in the novel, he portrays the destructive impact of the discovery of gold in Magellania.
With the treaty of 1871, Tierra del Fuego became an integral part of the Chilean republic. This event is integrated into the plot of "Magellania," as Kaw-djer is exasperated and distraught about the imminent encounter with the civil servants sent over to register the inhabitants. He flees to the remote uninhabited Hoste Island in a desperate attempt to preserve his independence, and is about to commit suicide at the prospect of living as a fugitive. But then a passenger liner called The Jonathan is shipwrecked near the island. Kaw-djer is faced with a critical decision: Should he try to save the castaways and expose his existence? His decision brings him in contact with the civilized world he had abandoned.
Since the passengers were en route to colonies in South Africa, they decide to remain in Hoste Island and establish a new colony. The Chilean government, eager to encourage colonization of Magellania's other islands, grants them total independence and ownership of Hoste Island, an offer they cannot refuse. Kaw-djer has no reason to hide from the Chilean government any more.
As Kaw-djer becomes acquainted with the colonists, he is drawn to their companionship, and his personal code -- which allows no social relationships -- is cracked. The colonists are not a homogenous group, however; among them are anarcho-socliasts, or as Verne describes them, "professional revolutionaries, always battling with the law, enemies of any social order, agents of chaos" (p 95). They had already started trouble on board The Jonathan, and are determined to impose their anarcho-socialist ideology on the rest of the colonists. They demand that the land be owned in common by everybody.
The majority of the colonists, however, want to allocate the land among the individual families and establish a system of laws to protect private ownership. They elect a council and call upon Kaw-djer to become their leader. Kaw-djer, however, is bound by his personal code, which demands that he neither obeys nor commands. Sensing his ideological affinity with them the anarcho-socialists call upon Kaw-djer to join them. As the conflict between the two factions develops, and inevitably becomes violent, Kaw-djer must make his choice.
* * *
"Magellania" was never published in Verne's lifetime. It was published posthumously by his son, Michel, who took many liberties in altering it, including the cutting of the opening part. Michel Verne changed the title "Magellania" to "The Castaways of The Jonathan," shifting the focus from the land chosen by Kaw-djer to the shipwrecked people whom he rescues. Overall, the book was altered to reduce Kaw-djer's stature and the role of his ideology in the story.
With the first English edition of the original manuscript published in 2002, we can finally appreciate Verne's socio-political statement: his frank and well-reasoned rejection of anarchism in favor of limited-government and the rule of law.