A nobleman, the Count of Chanteleine, leads a rebellion against the revolutionary French government. While he fights for the monarchy and the church, his home is destroyed and his wife murdered by the mob. Now he must save his daughter from the guillotine. This exciting swashbuckler is also a meticulous historical re-creation of a particularly bloody episode in the Reign of Terror.
The Count of Chanteleine is the first English translation of this Jules Verne novel, the fourth volume in the Palik series published under the auspices of the North American Jules Verne Society. Commentary by an international team of experts supports Edward Baxter's translation.
©2011 North American Jules Verne Society (P)2013 BearManor Media
"The Count of Chanteleine" is part of a specially endowed and financed series of Verne translations, a project aimed at providing editions of a number of Verne works that have never before appeared in English. The series is under the general supervision of the North American Jules Verne Society.
This particular title is translated by Edward Baxter, who has done excellent work in the service of Verne for other publishing projects. His style is informal, sometimes surprisingly colloquial: there is no effort here to make the translation sound Victorian. Apart from the difficulty of some of the French names, and my lack of familiarity with the geography - some of which I was able to overcome with the help of Wikipedia and a good map application - the tale is fast moving and accessible.
The Count of Chanteleine is a leader of the conservative resistance to the French Revolution, in the crucial year of 1793. My knowledge of the period is sketchy: I knew that 1793 marked the beginning of the Reign of Terror; what I didn't know was that there was a counter-revolution that same year, particularly in western and northwestern France: a coalition of Catholics and Royalists, who united in a "white army" to fight the Republican "blues." Chanteleine, a leader of the Whites, is defeated in battle and forced to go off on his own (with his servant Kernan) to try to save his own wife and child.
Verne is up to his usual tricks here: the plot takes a number of unexpected turns, and the story is filled with picturesque and arresting episodes. One of the aspects of his genius is the ability to wring every possible twist out of an historical or geographical setting.
One thing that's different here, at least from Verne's better-known work, is his emphasis on Catholicism. Verne himself was a conservative Catholic, and many of his characters are devout; but the morality is unusually black and white here. If you're a Catholic and a royalist, you are, by definition, a good guy; if not, you're a scoundrel. There's nobody in between.
That said, and taken as is, the story is great fun; but there's a problem with the narrator, Fred Frees: a big problem. He's clearly a talented voice artist, and would have done well with a producer who was willing to rein him in; but here he gives full play to the most over-the-top, melodramatic interpretation of the material imaginable. He's constantly shouting the dialogue, as if emotional intensity and volume are identical, and the characters at times sound like they're right out of Dudley Do-Right. His villains are almost audibly twirling their mustaches. There is a strong element of melodrama in the story already - note the black and white morality already mentioned - but choosing to emphasize that quality in the narration was, I think, a mistake.
So.... there are some major flaws here. But even so, I hope to see other titles in the series. While we're at it, let's have some of the wonderful translations in the Wesleyan University series as well. The more Verne the better. But if Mr Frees is selected as narrator again, please - someone tell him to dial it down a notch.
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