(The Extraordinary Adventures of) Foundling Mick by Jules Verne

foundling mick by jules verne Publication year: 1893
Genre: Fiction
Time and place: 19th century Ireland
Narrated in: third-person omniscient
First sentence:Ireland, which has an area of 31,759 square miles, or 20,326,209 acres, formerly formed a part of the insular tract of land now called the United Kingdom.
Verdict:I’ll always have a soft spot for it.

* for simplicity’s sake, I will refer to the main character as Mick, although that was not his name in the edition that I read

Dubbed “The Irish Novel” (of Jules Verne), this is the writer’s tribute to Ireland as he knew it, seen through the eyes of a foundling child. Mick’s fortunes vary, as he passes from the hands of a puppet master to being raised by a village and then sent to a “ragged-school” (an orphanage), as he is raised for a short while by an actress who treated him as a pet, as he spends a few years at a farm and then, after a brief stint as the groom of a young count, as he takes his life in his own hands and makes a bit of money while travelling through Ireland selling small wares. His travels (and tribulations too) end in Dublin, where he, despite being still very young, manages to open a small store. He builds up a small fortune there, and also a small family, gathering around him the few people that have treated him well over time.

General impression
I cannot be very objective with this book, as it is one of the first books I ever remember reading, and as I read it since the so many times that I lost count. It is not perfect (since I grew up I find Jules Verne’s books a little too simplistic for my taste), but I love it nonetheless. It’s like a version of the American Dream, the story of someone who started out very very poor, and has managed to build himself a comfy life with his own efforts. I love this types of stories, where honesty and hard work are rewarded. And I love this book even more for the way Mick, now able to repay other people’s kindness, does not hesitate to do so. A bunch of formerly destitute people — an orphan mill worker, a small beggar who tried to drown himself despite his very young age (seven), a former orphanage supervisor and a house servant –, all gather around Mick, as he is able to offer them things they may have not known before: a home and a family1. I really cannot put into words how much I love this last part.

Now, if you expect this to be a thorough commentary on the condition of the human being, or anything profound, you’d probably come to the wrong book. This is a feel good story of from-rags-to-riches, and not much else. The characters usually have a single, representative trait, or two at the most. Mick, despite having lived his early years among brutal people, and thieves and beggars, has an innate honesty that doesn’t allow him to steal or beg. He also has a very serious nature and turns out to be really good with numbers, both things that will help him build his future later on. The rest of the cast though is merely represented by the way they treated our boy — those who treated him well were paragons of goodness, those who treated him bad had no redeeming features. A sort of exception are the Marquis of Piborne and his wife (which are sort of indifferent, since they interacted very little with our hero directly), two people who were proud of their ancestry and very self-conscious of what it implies in terms of etiquette. Sort of competitive too — they went to a trip to visit the lakes and insisted on seeing all the things they were told that this-or-that titled person has visited before them; they didn’t much care for actually seeing those places, but they wanted to be able to brag to their friends that they had been there. In a word, the Pibornes’ one trait was not either being good or bad, but merely ridiculous. And I think they may be the best written characters in the book because of that.

Events-wise the book is also simplistic, as after our hero manages to get on his own feet his challenges are basically over: everything he invests in turns out perfectly, and while he and his dog (and later his protegé) still have to live frugally, his savings are only increasing, as he never encounters a setback. I am not necessarily complaining, as I like the kid very much and I am glad to see him going from well to better, but the suspense was lacking after a while (although I don’t know what suspense I was expecting, given that I almost know the book by heart). Later on Mick manages to providentially encounter the two people who took care of him when he was a toddler and small child2, which, while definitely among my favorite bits, is also a tad hard to believe. Especially as Mick meets Sissy just in her hour of need, and takes her away while she was unconscious; never giving a thought to the possibility that she may have a husband, or a child, or someone who would be worried for her when she didn’t come home. But of course Sissy was in fact all alone in the world, and Mick’s “kidnapping” her turned out to be the very thing she needed. See what I mean by overly simplistic?

Thoughts on the title
The actual title is something like Little Fellow (P’tit Bonhomme), and I have no idea why it has been changed to Foundling Mick. Especially as, according to Wikipedia (I haven’t read this book in English) the main character is called “Lit’l Fellow” throughout the book. Apparently there’s also been another version, called A Lad of Grit, that refers to the main character as Mick. No idea why Mick, of all things, but at least this may explain the source of the name they used in the title of Foundling Mick. Or who knows.

Thoughts on the ending
Of course I love the ending :)
Mick finishes (with a flourish) repaying everyone who’s ever done him good, and then everybody lives happily ever after. I told you, it’s a feel good book :)

show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Anyone in the mood for a simplistic, feel good story that takes place in Ireland.

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Written by the same author:
The Golden Volcano (with Michel Verne)

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  1. now that I think of it, Mick actually reminds me of Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett. My opinion towards her varied throughout the book, but one thing I unquestionably respected about her: the scenes at Tara after the war, during the famine, when Scarlett fought tooth and nail so that “me and mine” will not starve. The way she felt responsible for everyone there, and did everything she could for their well being, is the same way Mick feels responsible for those that fate has entrusted into his small hands. []
  2. and they even more providentially recognize each other, although in Sissy’s case she was six and he was two the last time they saw one another, and now Sissy is eighteen; although to be fair he recognized her by her voice not by her face []

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