The lustrum of Bredevoort

By Garmt de Vries.

Bredevoort is an old town in the Achterhoek, near the German border. Since 1993 Bredevoort presents itself as a book town, after the example of Hay-on-Wye in Wales and Redu in Belgium. In August 1998 the book town celebrated its first lustrum. The committe that organized the festival, asked the Dutch Jules Verne Society to set up an exposition and to organize a Jules Verne evening. The Society accepted this invitation, of course. We would also take part in the international book market, with exclusively material by and on Jules Verne. After several months of preparation, the real work could start.

Friday: setting up the exposition

On Thursday and Friday some members of the Society left for Bredevoort, in cars stuffed with books and other material. Those who came from far would sleep in tents, caravans or campers. On Friday morning we heard that the showcases and boards had not yet been put in their place. So we had to do some heavy work, in the wind and the rain. After a couple of hours we had carried everything to the place allocated to our exposition, an old school and a tent on the court. Now we could start to set up the exposition itself.
We filled showcase after showcase with French editions, including some valuable first editions, many special and ordinary Dutch editions, all kinds of foreign translations, biographies and comics. But we had not only books: also stamps, posters, models, cigar tapes, videos, cd-roms and countless other items were on show. Some of the most famous books had their own showcase, other, less common titles were put together. We also had biographies, advertising material and imitators grouped together. Further, there was a computer with cd-roms and a video of a film from one of Verne’s novels was played. It was an overwhelming collection, with some very special items. If you took your time, you could get a good picture of Jules Verne and his work. A more superficial view gave at least the impression that Verne was a many-sided man, and that impression is correct.

Saturday: The opening

On Saturday morning we finished our exposition; over forty showcases were waiting for the first visitors. The opening ceremony was a real festivity. There were guests from book towns all over the world. In the St. Joris church Jan Terlouw, guardian of Bredevoort Book Town, gave a speech about ‘language and music’. There were speeches by the mayor and other officials. At four o’clock the festival and the Jules Verne exposition were officially opened by means of a loud cannon shot, by Richard Booth and Noël Anselot, founders of the book towns Hay-on-Wye and Redu. In the court in front of the old school there were more tents, in which book towns from all over Europe presented themselves.
In spite of the rainy weather there was much interest. Our exposition attracted many visitors. Most of them had a feeling of recognition when they saw the old blue covers, and they were impressed by the huge quantity of books that was exhibited. One or two visitors approached one of the members of the Society with a question about Jules Verne. Then the Saturday came to an end and the court became quiet.

Sunday to Tuesday: Exposition

Sunday, 23 August was even busier then the day before. A great many visitors walk along the showcases en asked questions to the members of the Society. Each in turn, we found an opportunity to have a look at the other tents ourselves.
On this day, there was a special attraction: the touring car ‘Jules Verne’, of the company Maarse & Kroon had come to Bredevoort and could be visited extensively. This car, built in 1963, was certainly worth seeing: it is the first Dutch touring car with toilet and bar. The ‘Jules Verne’ is equipped with all kinds of gadgets from that time: air conditioning, fauteuils de luxe, and a very complete pantry. Unfortunately the bus could not be parked near our exposition, so it was not immediately clear that it had something to do with Jules Verne.
On Monday and Tuesday it was more quiet. There were few visitors, but the visitors we had, came out of interest. So time went by. On Wednesday it was still as quiet. For the evening we hoped we would have a larger audience: then we had planned our Jules Verne evening.

Wednesday: Jules Verne evening

The Jules Verne evening consisted of two discourses on Jules Verne and his work. The first lecture had been prepared by a member of the Society, for the second lecture we had invited prof. dr. Robert Pourvoyeur. Mr Pourvoyeur is vice-president of the Société Jules Verne in Paris, and a great Verne scholar. It was quite an honour that he wanted to speak for us this evening. Mr Pourvoyeur arrived in the afternoon, in the pouring rain. We took him on a tour of the exposition, and he was impressed. After a good meal the evening could begin.
Originally the evening had been planned for an international audience. The representatives of the other book towns would be there, and we had prepared our lectures in English. Unfortunately, almost all foreign guests had left Bredevoort during the day. Wednesday was the last day of the festival, and they had started breaking down the tents before our Jules Verne evening had actually started. We decided to switch to a Dutch evening.
There was quite some attention after all: over sixty people had found a place in the large tent in which the evening was held. There were members of the Society, passers-by and some interested people who had come to Bredevoort especially to attend to these lectures.
The first speech was a global description of the life of Jules Verne: his youth in Nantes, his studies in Paris, his love of literature and the first acquintance with Hetzel, the big successes, the disasters of 1886, en Verne’s death in 1905. Then the meaning of Verne’s work was discussed, as well as his writing method. All this was illustrated with photos and with pictures from some of the extraordinary voyages. Also, some words were said about Jules Verne on the internet.
Next, Robert Pourvoyeur delivered a very interesting discourse on Jules Verne and music. Besides a profound knowledge of Jules Verne, Mr Pourvoyeur has a great affection for music, and this combination suited very well for this evening. Music was important to Jules Verne. He has said that his great loves were freedom, the sea and music. A lot of music is to be found in his work. Sometimes, there is an extensive enumeration of composers, as in L’Ile à hélice, sometimes music plays a central role, as in Le Château des Carpathes. Verne has written several operettas himself, in cooperation with his friend Aristide Hignard. In between the text of the lecture, some pieces of music were played. Robert Pourvoyeur had brought a wide variety of music: opera, operetta (Verne’s favourite genre), marches and even a ‘samba avant la lettre’.
It was a marvellous discourse, not in the last place because of the enthusiastic way of talking. Verne experts could still learn a lot, and also the rest of the audience was very interested. In spite of the absence of the international guests and the noise of people breaking down the tents, it was a really successful evening.

Saturday: Book market

The exposition was finished and broken down. The festival was over. Yet there was one big happening waiting: the international book market. On Saturday, 29 August, Bredevoort was flooded with stands. The Dutch Jules Verne Society had its own stand on this book market. Over three metres of books and comics, all by or about Jules Verne. All this material was provided by members of the Society.
Early in the morning, long before the book market was officially open, and before we had arranged all our books, the first collectors showed up. For the rest of the day the visitors came and went; it was extremely crowded. A lot of collectors managed to find some missing title. At the end of the day, we could make up the balance: we had sold several hundreds of books. This day proved once more that Jules Verne’s popularity still has not decreased.

We can look back at a successful happening. It was fun for us to organize this week, and we have been able to add to the knowledge of the general public about Jules Verne.


See: Bredevoort Booktown
See: Hay-on-Wye