Steam House by Jules Verne: Review

This story is dated a few years after the Indian Mutiny. A party of men travel many miles in a wonderful moving house, drawn by a marvellous steam elephant. Their many adventures, and the doings of Nana Sahib, the fiend of the Mutiny and his final overthrow, are very exciting.’

Introduction

The older the book, the more benefit of the doubt I give it. And for a book published originally in 1880, I give this book a lot of doubt. This is a LONG book, mostly made up of travelling through India without any tension or captivating motive. But…it’s not supposed to be. The author in 1880 wasn’t trying to write a book to fit into the expectation of the modern-day.

But that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. I’m a modern-day kind of gal and I like my plots thrilling and emotional. And for a book written in first person (the closest kind of POV) there is no emotion or thought really throughout the book, much less a plot. Sure, there is a giant mechanical elephant, but it’s only used as shorthand for getting around India. But…that’s what the author set out to do. So, I can’t be angry at the author succeeding in what they wished to do but it doesn’t mean I like it.

Not really a story

If this is meant as a guide to 19th century India, then it is amazing at its job. There’s no real plot, not really, and scenes happen without reason, though it doesn’t feel jarring or unnecessary as it is just what happens in this slice of life. It loves its description and, in a book this big it makes it drag. That is not to say it isn’t gripping, I suddenly want to know about the smallest details of how to build mechanical elephants (I mean who wouldn’t?). It is more of a tour around 19th century India which is interesting, I like reading about India, it’s mountains, it’s animals just not for 700 pages.

Between the four wheels are all the machinery of cylinders, pistons, feed-pump, etc, covered by the body of the boiler.’

~I now know how to build my own elephant

A look back at the history of writing

What’s REALLY interesting about a book like this is the language used for the time. It was written while India was still under British rule and when reading for leisure wasn’t a mainstream or even commonplace occurrence. The language is slightly inaccessible and with huge paragraphs and an old-fashioned terminology, it isn’t a completely easy read by any means. It also refuses to hold your hand when it comes to the history and geography. The writing is slightly overdramatic in the way that Victorian Upper-Class men are often associated with.

Footnote: The translators beg to say that they are not responsible for any of the facts or sentiments contained in this account of the mutiny’

~Disclaimers haven’t changed much in 150 years

It’s the little grammatical and word differences that really excite me, (oh how boring I am):

“Fox! get all the guns, rifles and revolvers in good order!”

“But to-morrow it will be daylight again.”

It’s also really meta, in a way books just can’t be anymore, the author literally starts talking to the reader at several points:

We will leave them [the characters] for a time in their winter-quarters and devote a few pages to some other characters who have appeared in our story.

‘Now for a few words about the fort of Allahabad, which is well worth a visit.’

~Am I on Trip Advisor?

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Discussion: How do you write about a culture that isn’t your own?

I literally have no clue.

At the moment I’m editing my manuscript that includes a culture loosely based on that of North Indian in the Kashmir region.

I’m not Indian, have never been, and don’t know anyone who is Indian.

Should I even be writing about such things? And if I should (which I’d liked to, the manuscript took a long time to write), how should I prepare and research for it?

Would love your input!!