In response to:
Cosmic Adventurer from the July 17, 1997 issue
To the Editors:
It’s always a joy to read John Weightman and an honor to have him read me. He raises a couple of questions in his review of my Jules Verne: An Exploratory Biography [NYR, July 17] that I may be able to clear up. We—my publisher and I—called this the first “modern biography” of Verne because (at least for me) biography means cradle-to-grave, while the studies referred to by Weightman are rather attempts at literary psychoanalysis (marred, alas, by being based on insufficient or erroneous data), while the “life and works” by Charles-Noël Martin is more works than life.
John Weightman wished I had judged Verne as a writer, and mentions my earlier work on Camus. Well, Verne ain’t Camus. It’s true that I have written literary biography—of Flaubert and Colette as well as Camus—but my new book doesn’t belong in that corpus at all. It’s more akin to my biography of Philippe Pétain: Pétain also wrote books but I didn’t look at him as an author. Verne’s genius, for me, lay in his extraordinary ability to breathe life into science, and anticipatory science in the bargain.
So I felt that I had done my duty by praising specific novels of Verne’s when he was writing well (sometimes writing wonderfully), and knocking others when he was simply filling up pages to meet contractual obligations. I thought that I could perform a service by telling Verne’s fans somewhat more than they could have known about the writer they admire. As for the rest of us, we shall just have to invent a new literary category for the Extraordinary Voyages.
Herbert R. Lottman