Journey Through the Impossible

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For the Georges Méliès film, see The Impossible Voyage.
Voyage à travers l’impossible
Written by
Date premiered 25 November 1882
Place premiered Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin
Original language French
Genre Féerie

Journey Through the Impossible (French: Voyage à travers l’impossible) is an 1882 fantasy play written by Jules Verne, with the collaboration of Adolphe d'Ennery.[1] A stage spectacular in the féerie tradition, it is deeply influenced by Verne's own Voyages Extraordinaires series and includes characters and themes from some of his most famous novels.[2]

The play premiered in Paris at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin on 25 November 1882, and ran for 97 performances.[3]


In a castle in Denmark lives the young Baron Georges de Traventhal, who dreams perpetually of travel and adventure. His mother Madame de Traventhal, in the hope of curing him of his obsession, sends for a physician newly arrived in the country, a certain Doctor Ox. The doctor reveals a secret to Georges: he, Georges, is in fact the son of the great Arctic explorer Captain John Hatteras, and must follow in the adventurous footsteps of his father. The doctor persuades Georges to drink a magic potion which allows him to go beyond the limits of the probable and journey through the impossible. It quickly becomes apparent that Dr. Ox is a sinister Tempter figure representing knowledge and science, balancing the Guardian Angel figure of Master Volsius, a local church organist and friend of the de Traventhals.[3]

Georges sets off immediately, in the company of his fiancée Eva and a dancing master, Tartelet. During their voyages, Volsius reappears in the guise of various heroes from Verne's novels: Otto Lidenbrock (from Journey to the Center of the Earth) at the center of the earth, Captain Nemo (from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) on a journey on the Nautilus to Atlantis, and Michel Ardan (from From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon) on a projectile trip to the distant planet Altor. The tension between the symbolic characters of Ox and Volsius is resolved at the last moment of the play, when Volsius reveals that the world needs both figures to work in harmony.


Jules Verne
Jules Verne
Adolphe d'Ennery
Adolphe d'Ennery

Since 1863, Verne had been under contract with the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who published each of his novels, beginning with Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) and continuing through the rest of his books to form the novel sequence Hetzel called the Voyages Extraordinaires. The arrangement gave Verne prominence as a novelist and a certain amount of financial stability, but under the terms of the contract Verne's profits barely earned him a living.[3] Verne's stage adaptation of his novel Around the World in Eighty Days, however, was a smash hit in 1874, running for 415 performances in its original production and making Verne wealthy, as well as famous as a playwright, almost overnight. Adapted with the collaboration of the showman d'Ennery, the play invented and codified the pièce de grand spectacle, an extravagant theatrical genre that became intensely popular in Paris throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century.[3] Verne and d'Ennery went on to adapt two other Verne novels, The Children of Captain Grant and Michael Strogoff, as similarly spectacular plays.[3]

Verne conceived the plot of Journey Through the Impossible in early 1882 and brought it to d'Ennery. Of their collaborations, the play was the first, and would be the only one, not based directly on a pre-existing Verne novel.[4] According to the féerie historian Paul Ginisty, there were rumors at the time that the collaborators came to difficulties over the treatment of science in the play, with d'Ennery wanting to condemn scientific research and Verne advocating a more science-friendly and hopeful approach; Verne reportedly cut some especially negative lines out of the script, and protested when d'Ennery had them reinserted for the production.[5] Journey Through the Impossible would be their last collaboration.[3]

Joseph-François Dailly, the first actor to play the role of Passepartout in Around the World in Eighty Days, was cast as Valdemar; another cast member of Around the World, Augustin-Guillemet Alexandre, played opposite him as Tartelet. Paul-Félix Taillade, who had appeared in The Children of Captain Grant, was cast as Doctor Ox, and Marie Daubrun, a well-known féerie actress who was also the mistress and muse of Charles Baudelaire, played Eva. The production was directed by Paul Clèves (born Paul Collin), the director of the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin from 1879 to 1883.[6]


As with the previous Verne–d'Ennery collaborations, Journey Through the Impossible had a gala opening night in Paris. Reviews for the play were mixed.[4] In the 1882 edition of Les Annales du Théâtre et de la Musique, Édouard Noël and Edmond Stoullig criticized the play for including "Catholico-reactionary mysticism which seeks to elicit tears of holy water from the audience;" Noël and Stoullig suspected that d'Ennery was to blame for the mystical overtones.[4] In Le Temps, Francisque Sarcey panned the play with a brief notice, claiming that all the other plays running that week were "far more interesting and entertaining." He noted the innovative Verne-d'Ennery idea of using the human characters of Volsius and Ox to represent good and evil in the fantasy, rather than resorting to the typical "Good Fairy" and "Bad Fairy" characters in such plays, but added that he "didn't quite see what we've gained by the substitution."[4]

The Parisian critic Arnold Mortier, in a long review of the play, found it "very beautiful and very elegant" and highly praised Dailly's performance as Valdemar, but believed the staging lacked originality: "a great deal of money went into this production, but very few ideas." Like Sarcey, he commented with some asperity on the metaphorical use of Volsius and Ox as symbols of Good and Evil, rather than attractive young women playing Good and Bad Fairies: "Is it not time, perhaps, to return to that practice?"[7] An anonymous reviewer for The New York Times said of the play: "I have have never seen anything more idiotically incoherent, or of which the dialogue is more pretentious," but predicted that it would be a success because of its spectacular production values.[8] In his 1910 history of the féerie, Paul Ginisty hailed Journey Through the Impossible for introducing a "scientific element" to the genre and for bringing characters from Verne's books to the stage, but sharply criticized d'Ennery for putting "furiously outdated" sentiments in the mouth of the character Volsius.[5]

More recently, the American Verne scholar Arthur B. Evans has called the play "delightful," saying it "shows [Verne] at his most whimsically science-fictional."[2] The Swiss-American Verne scholar Jean-Michel Margot has described it as "one of the most intriguing, surprising, and important later works by Jules Verne."[3]


The play was not published in Verne's lifetime and was presumed lost until 1978, when a handwritten copy was discovered in the Archives of the Censorship Office of the Third Republic.[3] The text was published in France by Jean-Jacques Pauvert in 1981.[3] An English translation by Edward Baxter was commissioned by the North American Jules Verne Society and published in 2003 by Prometheus Books.[2]


  1. ^ Dehs, Volker; Jean-Michel Margot; Zvi Har'El. "The Complete Jules Verne Bibliography: V. Plays". Jules Verne Collection. Zvi Har'El. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c Evans, Arthur B (November 2004). "Books in Review: Verne on Stage". Science Fiction Studies. 3 XXXI (94): 479–80. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Margot, Jean-Michel (March 2005). "Jules Verne, Playwright". Science Fiction Studies. 1. XXXII (95): 150–162. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d Lottmann, Herbert R. (1996). Jules Verne: an exploratory biography. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 233–234. 
  5. ^ a b Ginisty, Paul (1910). La Féerie. Paris: Louis-Michaud. pp. 214–215. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  6. ^ Margot, Jean-Michel (2003), "Notes", in Verne, Jules, Journey Through the Impossible, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, pp. 161–180 
  7. ^ Mortier, Arnold (2003), "Evenings in Paris in 1882: Journey Through the Impossible", in Verne, Jules, Journey Through the Impossible, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, pp. 147–153 
  8. ^ "A Jules Verne Piece", The New York Times, 19 December 1889 , reprinted in Verne, Jules (2003), Journey Through the Impossible, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, pp. 155–160