Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New from the Southern History Department: Book of the Month

This is the beginning of a new series from the Southern History Department: “Book of the Month.” Read on to discover things that you didn’t know existed—or if you did know, you didn’t expect to find them in our collection. Without further ado, our first item is . . .

Texar’s Revenge or North Against South
By Jules Verne

When most people hear the name Jules Verne they think of books like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or A Journey to the Center of the Earth. But did you know Verne wrote a novel about the American Civil War? Originally published as Nord Contre Sud (North Against South) in French, the novel has various titles in English translations. The straightforward North Against South became a subtitle in the first American edition, with Texar’s Vengeance as the title, which was then changed to Texar’s Revenge. One can only speculate about the motives of the translators and publishers who made the changes; the revenge element seems more immediate and gripping than the general “north against south,” especially to readers for whom the Civil War would still be a vivid memory when this novel was published in 1887.

The heart of the story is the feud between Texar and his adversary Burbank. Texar is a pro-slavery Southerner and Burbank is a Northerner and anti-slavery advocate, a natural object of suspicion in the community near Jacksonville, Florida where the novel takes place. Apparently Burbank has caused legal problems for Texar in the past and the vindictive Southerner takes every opportunity to wreak havoc in the life of his Northern enemy; Verne makes it clear early in the novel that Texar is not the forgiving sort:

“Texar was then about thirty-five . . . A Spaniard by birth, he did not hide his origin. His hair was black and coarse, his eyebrows thick, his eyes greenish, his mouth large, with thin indrawn lips, as if it had been made by a sabre-stroke, his nose short, and his nostrils like those of a wild beast. His whole physiognomy denoted craft and violence . . .

“Nevertheless, if Texar was better known than respected, that did not prevent his exercising a real influence in the county, and particularly at Jacksonville, although it was, it is true, among the least reputable inhabitants.”

Apparently the responses to the novel ranged from lukewarm to derisive due to Verne’s inaccurate grasp of Civil War history. Nevertheless, the existence of Texar’s Revenge shows us a completely different side to the Jules Verne who is best known as one of the founders of science fiction.

To examine this title for yourself, visit us in the Southern History Department of Birmingham Public Library.

Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department
Central Library

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