Language Jingoism

VerneIt’s a tired old observation I often make to the unthinking princes (and princesses) of literature, especially those Americans who judge all literature outside of America and England as being somehow inferior and easily dismissed.

Now I run across a passage in The Sixth Extinction (Elizabeth Kolbert) that makes me question the author’s credentials (for writing, not for extinctions). She has been discussing the animals that have gone extinct in recent years and when focusing on the Great Auk, she recounts a visit to the last known home  of the Auks, a small island off Iceland:

We motored out of the harbor and headed south, around the Reykjanes Peninsula. It was clear enough that we could see the snow-covered peak of Snaefellsjökull, more than sixty miles away. (To English speakers, Snaefellsjökull is probably best known as the spot where in Jules Verne’s A Journey To the Center of the Earth the hero finds a tunnel through the globe.) …

There are seveal levels of possible error in that last statement. I think it is fair to conclude that Elizabeth Kolbert isn’t aware that those wonderfully thrilling stories by Jules Verne were not specifically written for English speakers. Noting her Americanized spelling, we cannot blame this confusion on any residual animosity between the English and the French, so I accept her cluelessness as the best explanation (Occum’s Razor).

Still this happens often enough that I might need to apologize to the French. After all, they thrilled to the fantasies of Jules Verne long before we did. Verne’s heroes were definitely in a league of extraordinary gentlemen. And what about those Mouseketeers?



2 thoughts on “Language Jingoism

  1. When I was in Middle School I devoured all those Jules Verne books, I think my first was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea but at that time Mysterious Island was the crowning glory of my serious reading. I can’t even remember any of the books were read officially for English but not one exceeded the excitement of Jules Verne.

    (Although I was pretty exciting reading Battle Cry and From Here To Eternity.)

    I do have to confess, though, that back when I was reading Jules Verne I didn’t realize that he was writing his adventures in French and I was reading translations of French novels.


    1. They don’t admit that the French speak French, let alone wrote in French, until the second semester of Tenth Grade, so you are innocent. Your brains hadn’t even congealed in Middle School and you probably didn’t have hair-one between your legs.

      I remember being forced to sing First Soprano in JH even though my favorite tune was Many Brave Hearts …


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