Verne's Forgotten, Youthful Swashbuckler
The Count of Chanteleine offers an intriguing glimpse into Verne's literary inclinations on several distinct levels. It reveals the author just as he has been attracted into the Hetzel orbit, but before the guidelines of the “Voyages Extraordinaires” have been imposed upon him. The book also demonstrates his use of the swashbuckler formula of the adventure genre, relying squarely on its motifs for his heroes and villains, and its structuring of social classes and their responsibilities within a desirable social system. The Count of Chanteleine is actually an early example of the French Revolution narrative which was just beginning to take shape in fiction, and Verne may well have been responding to the similar treatment of the events in the popular book just published by one of his favorite authors, Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities. Verne hoped that The Count of Chanteleine would be published by Hetzel, but the publisher misunderstood the story's use of conventional elements regarding the aristocracy and the clergy as making a conservative political statement, a judgment sometimes repeated in later critical evaluations. Discouraged, despite the centrality of the French Revolution to his own background and its role in setting the 19th century social agenda that was a key backdrop to the “Voyages Extraordinaires,” Verne only used the conflict in one novel over two decades later. The Road to France, following the standard travel narrative typical of the series by that point, and using a first person, peasant hero as narrator, is largely devoid of political sentiment outside of patriotic fervor. This later novel, written according to Hetzelian strictures, reflects a more rigid style, in contrast with the more fast-paced, exciting style of its youthful counterpart. Unlike Road to France, The Count of Chanteleine revels in its use of formula, creating a novel attuned to modern reader expectations and recognizable as an antecedent of such widely recognized classics as Scaramouche and The Scalet Pimpernel.