Monday, June 27, 2016

Annoying the critics

Paul looks over the "maritime novels" of his older brother to make sure that they are technically accurate, thereby annoying the literary critics.
Gonzague Saint Bris, The World of Jules Verne

Everyone, it seems, takes devilish pleasure in pointing out the mistakes of others, even while realizing how painful it can be when others point out our own failings. Literary critics don't just take pleasure in it, but that is their job. Oh, sure, their job is also to praise the praiseworthy, but their compensation, if any, is the same whether they praise or find fault. And finding fault is so much more fun. "One cannot review a bad book without showing off," W.H. Auden once said. Sadly, that is true.

I was amused by the side comment Gonzague Saint Bris makes in his brief, illustrated biography of Jules Verne. Verne was himself a sailor, so when he wrote about the sea, he knew what he was writing about. Still, his brother, Paul, knew the sea even better than he did, so Verne made sure his brother read his manuscripts before publication, "thereby annoying the literary critics," who would have loved to point out discrepancies.

Even today whenever Verne is talked about or written about, it is usually in terms of what he got right and what he got wrong. The stories themselves are often ignored. Verne wrote about technology, much of it speculative technology. He wrote about long-distance undersea travel long before it was possible and about space flight long before that was possible. Of course, as with all visionaries, he got much wrong, but it is amazing how much he got right. He understood the technology of his own day and used that knowledge, plus his own vivid imagination, to envision what might be possible in some future day. To this day he still annoys the critics.

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