Jules Verne, précurseur de Zazie?

There is undeniably a certain form a humor in the books of Jules Verne, but of a rather inoffensive kind, and the distracted geograph Paganel would probably be dismissed rather curtly by such a lively girl as Queneau’s Zazie. Nevertheless, while re-reading Les enfants de Capitaine Grant, I found a magnificent sentence that, I think, even Zazie would approve:

Les petits garçons et les petites filles, plus rageuses surtout, s’administraient des taloches superbes avec un entrain féroce.
(Les enfants du Capitaine Grant, 2ème partie, Chapitre XVI)

This is basically untranslatable; the literal meaning is something like

The boys and girls, even fiercer, exchanged superb blows with extreme alacrity.

but English words fail me to convey the finer meaning of taloche

And I was reading this book because, believe it or not, Jules Verne is now a Pléiade author! Of course, grudgingly, since only four of his novels were deemed worthy of this supreme honor of French letters. In addition to Les enfants…, we have 20000 lieues sous les mers and L’île mystérieuse, a trilogy, and Le sphinx des glaces, but obviously some strong reactionary faction must have resisted any attempt in adding De la terre à la lune, or Kéraban le Têtu, or Hector Servadac, or…

I also had not realized before the embarrassing chronological problems of the trilogy: Les enfants… happens in 1864–1865; 20000 lieux… begins in 1866; but then L’île mystérieuse, which is supposed to take place twelve years after the first part, begins in 1865…

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I am a professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich since 2008.

4 thoughts on “Jules Verne, précurseur de Zazie?”

  1. I checked an Italian transation and it has the unremarkable “i giovinetti e le giovinette più rabbiosi si davano superbi scapaccioni con un entusiasmo feroce”. What troubles me is not the mundane “scapaccioni” which certainly lacks whatever finer meaning “taloche” has, but an unrelated translation mistake: the translator agrees “rabbiosi” to both boys and girls, meaning “the fiercest of the boys and girls” and losing (if my French doesn’t fail me) a passing commentary on the gentler sex’s attitude to the fight.
    I wonder how many similar mistakes routinely go undetected…

  2. Indeed, Zazie would certainly especially appreciate the idea that the little girls are fiercer, and this is one point that’s also hard to convey unambiguously in English. I presume this could be done in Italian, and in German.

    I searched for this sentence in the English translation in Project Gutenberg, but it seems the translator just skipped a few chapters in this part of the book.

  3. Dear Emmanuel, it was about time Jules Verne was published in the Pléiade! He is one of the most underrated of the great authors in French literature, probably in part because of his talent for story-telling and his popularity. I have a personal debt to Verne whose wonderful scientists made me wish to try and become a “savant” when I grew up. A little nitpick (pinaillage): the book you refer to is “20000 lieues sous les mers” (not lieux).

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