Jules Gabriel Verne (February 8, 1828–March 24, 1905) was a very popular French author, the founding father of science fiction with H.G. Wells. Verne's stories, written for adolescents as well as adults. His stories caught the enterprising spirit of the 19th century, its uncritical fascination about scientific progress and inventions. His works were often written in the form of a travel book, which took the readers on a voyage to the moon in From the Earth to the Moon (1865) or to another direction as in A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864). Many of Verne's ideas have been hailed as prophetic. Among his best-known books is the classic adventure story Around the World in Eighty Days (1873).
"Ah - what a journey - what a marvelous and extraordinary journey! Here we had entered the earth by one volcano, and we had come out by another. And this other was situated more than twelve hundred leagues from Sneffels, from that drear country of Iceland cast away on the confines of the earth... We had abandoned the region of eternal snows for that infinite verdure, and had left over our heads the gray fog of the icy regions to come back to the azure sky of Sicily!" (from A Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864)
Verne was a pioneer of the science-fiction genre, noted for writing about cosmic, atmospheric, and underwater travel long before air travel and submarines were commonplace and before practical means of space travel had even been devised.
Jules Verne was born and raised in the port of Nantes. His father was a prosperous lawyer. To continue the practice, Verne moved to Paris, where he studied law. His uncle introduced him into literary circles and he started to published plays under the influence of such writers as Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas (fils), whom Verne also knew personally. Verne's one-act comedy The Broken Straws was performed in Paris when he was 22. In spite of busy writing, Verne managed to pass his law degree. During this period Verne suffered from digestive problems which then recurred at intervals through his life.
In 1854 Charles Baudelaire translated Edgar Allan Poe's works into French. Verne became one of the most devoted admirers of the American author, and wrote his first science fiction tale, 'An voyage in Balloon' (1851), under the influence of Poe. Later Verne would write a sequel to Poe's unfinished novel, Narrative of a Gordon Pym, entitled The Sphinz of the Ice-Fileds (1897). When his career as an author progressed slowly, Verne turned to stockbroking, an occupation which he held until his successful tale Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863) in the series VOYAGES EXTRAORDINAIRES. Verne had met in 1862 Pierre Jules Hetzel, a publisher and writer for children, who started to publish Verne's 'Extraordinary Journeys'. This cooperation lasted until the end of Verne's career. Hetzel had also worked with Balzac and George Sand. He read Verne's manuscripts carefully and did not hesitate to suggest corrections. One of Verne's early works, Paris in the Twentieth Century, was turned down by the publisher, and it did not appear until 1997 in English.
Verne was born in Nantes, France, to Pierre Verne, an attorney, and his wife, Sophie. The oldest of the family's five children, Jules spent his early years at home with his parents, in the bustling harbour city of Nantes. In summer, the family lived in a country house just outside the city, on the banks of the Loire River. The sight of the many ships navigating the river sparked Jules' imagination, as he describes in the autobiographical short story "Souvenirs d'Enfance et de Jeunesse". At the age of nine, Jules and his brother Paul, of whom he was very fond, were sent to boarding school at the Saint Donatien College (Petit séminaire de Saint-Donatien) in Nantes.
There Jules studied Latin, which he later used in his short story "Le Mariage de Monsieur Anselme des Tilleuls" (mid 1850s). One of his teachers may also have been the French inventor Brutus de Villeroi, who was professor of drawing and mathematics at the college in 1842, and who later became famous for creating the US Navy's first submarine, the USS Alligator. De Villeroi may naturally have been an inspiration for Jules Verne's conceptual design for the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, although no direct exchanges between the two men have been recorded.
Verne's second French biographer, Marguerite Allotte de la Fuye, formulated the myth that Verne's fascination with adventure asserted itself at an early age to such a degree that it inspired him to stow away on a ship bound for Asia, but that Jules's voyage was cut short when he found his father waiting for him at the next port.
After completing his studies at the lycée, Verne went to Paris to study for the bar. About 1848, in conjunction with Michel Carré, he began writing librettos for operettas. For some years his attentions were divided between the theatre and work, but some travellers' stories which he wrote for the Musée des Familles seem to have revealed to him the true direction of his talent: the telling of delightfully extravagant voyages and adventures to which cleverly prepared scientific and geographical details lent an air of verisimilitude.
When Verne's father discovered that his son was writing rather than studying the law, he promptly withdrew his financial support. Consequently, he was forced to support himself as a stockbroker, which he hated, although he was somewhat successful at it. During this period, he met the authors Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, who offered him some advice on his writing.
Also during this period he met Honorine de Viane Morel, a widow with two daughters. They got married on January 10, 1857. With her encouragement, he continued to write and actively try to find a publisher. On August 3, 1861, their son, Michel Jules Verne, was born. A classic enfant terrible, he married an actress over Verne's objections, had two children by his underage mistress, and buried himself in debts. The relationship between father and son improved as Michel grew older.
Typical Hetzel front cover for Jules Verne edition - Voyages Extraordinaires
Verne's situation improved when he met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, one of the most important French publishers of the 19th century, who also published Victor Hugo, George Sand, and Erckmann-Chatrian, among others. When they met, Verne was 35 and Hetzel 50, and from then, until Hetzel's death, they formed an excellent writer-publisher team. Hetzel's advice improved Verne's writings, which until then had been rejected and rejected again by other publishers. Hetzel read a draft of Verne's story about the balloon exploration of Africa, which had been rejected by other publishers on the ground that it was "too scientific". With Hetzel's help, Verne rewrote the story and in 1863 it was published in book form as Cinq semaines en ballon (Five Weeks in a Balloon). Acting on Hetzel's advice, Verne added comical accents to his novels, changed sad endings into happy ones, and toned down various political messages.
From that point on, and up to years after Verne's death, Hetzel published two or more volumes a year. The most successful of these include: Voyage au centre de la terre (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864); De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the Moon, 1865); Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1869); and Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days), which first appeared in Le Temps in 1872. The series is collectively known as "Les voyages extraordinaires" ("Extraordinary voyages"). Verne could now make a living by writing. But most of his wealth came from the stage adaptations of Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (1874) and Michel Strogoff (1876), which he wrote together with Adolphe d'Ennery. In 1867 he bought a small ship, the Saint-Michel, which he successively replaced with the Saint-Michel II and the Saint-Michel III as his financial situation improved. On board the Saint-Michel III, he sailed around Europe. In 1870, he was appointed as "Chevalier" (Knight) of the Légion d'honneur. After his first novel, most of his stories were first serialised in the Magazine d'Éducation et de Récréation, a Hetzel biweekly publication, before being published in the form of books. His brother, Paul Verne, contributed to the 40th French climbing of the Mont-Blanc, added to his brother's collection of short stories Doctor Ox in 1874. Verne became wealthy and famous. He remains the most translated novelist in the world, according to UNESCO statistics.
The last years
On March 9, 1886, as Verne was coming home, his twenty five year old nephew, Gaston, with whom he had entertained lengthy and affectionate relations, shot at him with a gun. One bullet missed, but the second bullet entered Verne's left leg, giving him a limp that would never be cured. Gaston spent the rest of his life in an asylum. The incident was hushed up by the media.
After the deaths of Hetzel and his beloved mother in 1887, Jules began writing works that were darker in tone. This may partly be due to changes in his personality, but an important factor is the fact that Hetzel's son, who took over his father's business, was not as rigorous in his corrections as Hetzel Sr. had been. In 1888, Jules Verne entered politics and was elected town councillor of Amiens where he championed several improvements and served for fifteen years. In 1905, while ill with diabetes, Verne died at his home, 44 Boulevard Longueville, (now Boulevard Jules-Verne). Michel oversaw publication of his last novels Invasion of the Sea and The Lighthouse at the End of the World. After Verne's death, the series of the "Voyages extraordinaires" continued for several years, in the same rhythm of two volumes a year. It has later been discovered that Michel Verne made extensive changes in these stories, and the original versions were published at the end of the 20th century.
In 1863, Jules Verne wrote a novel called Paris in the 20th Century about a young man who lives in a world of glass skyscrapers, high-speed trains, gas-powered automobiles, calculators, and a worldwide communications network, yet cannot find happiness, and comes to a tragic end. Hetzel thought the novel's pessimism would damage Verne's then booming career, and suggested he wait 20 years to publish it. Verne put the manuscript in a safe, where it was discovered by his great-grandson in 1989. It was published in 1994.
Reputation in English-speaking countries
While in France and many other countries Verne is considered an author of quality youth books with good command of his subjects — especially technological, but also political ones, his reputation in English-speaking countries has for a long time suffered from poor translation.
Characteristically for much of late 19th century writing, Verne's books often take a quite chauvinistic point of view. Especially the British Empire was frequently portrayed in a bad light, and so the first English translator, Reverend Lewis Page Mercier writing under a pseudonym, cut out many such passages, for example those describing the political actions of Captain Nemo in his incarnation as an Indian nobleman. Mercier and subsequent British translators also had trouble with the metric system that Verne used — sometimes simply dropping significant figures, at other times keeping the nominal value and only changing the unit to an Imperial measure. Thus Verne's calculations, which in general were remarkably exact for his age, were converted into mathematical gibberish. Also, artistic passages and whole chapters were cut because of the need to fit the work in a constrained space for publication, regardless of the effect on the plot.
For those reasons, Verne's work initially acquired a reputation in English-speaking countries of not being an adult work in any regard. This in turn prevented his works to be taken seriously enough to merit a new translation, leading to those of Mercier and others being reprinted decade after decade. Only from 1965 on were some of his works re-translated more accurately, but even today Verne's work has still not been fully rehabilitated in the English-speaking world.
Hetzel's influence on Verne's writings was substantial, and Verne, happy to at last find somebody willing to publish his works, agreed on almost all changes that Hetzel suggested. Not only did Hetzel reject at least one novel (Paris in the 20th Century) completely, he asked Verne to change significant parts of his other drafts. One of the most important changes Hetzel enforced on Verne was to change the pessimism of his novels into optimism. Contrary to common perception, Verne was not a great enthusiast of technological and human progress (as can be seen from his early and late works, created before he met Hetzel and after his death). It was Hetzel's decision that the optimistic text would sell better — a correct one, as it turned out. For example, the original ending of Mysterious Island was supposed to show that the survivors who return to mainland are forever nostalgic about the island, however Hetzel decided that the ending should show the heroes living happily — so in the revised draft, they use their fortunes to build a replica of the island. Many translations are like this. Also, in order not to offend France's then-ally, Russia, the origin and past of the famous Captain Nemo were changed from those of a Polish refugee avenging the partitions of Poland and the death of his family in the January Uprising repressions to those of a Hindu fighting the British Empire after the Sikh War.
Jules Verne scholar
Verne's novels gained soon a huge popularity throughout the world. Without the education of a scientist or experiences as a traveler, Verne spent much of his time in research for his books. In the contrast of fantasy literature, exemplified by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865), Verne tried to be realistic and practical in details. Arthur B. Evans has noted in Jules Verne Rediscovered (1988) that Verne's novels contain little of what the general reading public nowadays considers typical for science fiction - for example E.T.s and bug-eyed monsters.
When H.G. Well's invented in The First Men in the Moon 'cavourite,' a substance impervious to gravity, Verne was not satisfied: "I sent my characters to the moon with gunpowder, a thing one may see every day. Where does M. Wells find his cavourite? Let him show it to me!" However, when the logic of the story contradicted contemporary scientific knowledge, Verne did not keep to the facts and probabilities too slavishly. Around the World in Eighty Days was about Philèas Fogg's daring but realistic travel feat on a wager, based on a real journey by the US traveller George Francis Train (1829-1904). A Journey to the Centre of the Earth is vulnerable to criticism on geological grounds. The story depicted an expedition that enters in the hollow heart of the Earth. In Hector Servadac (1877) a comet takes Hector and his servant on a trip around the Solar System. In a tongue-in-cheek episode they discover a fragment of the Rock of Gibraltar, occupied by two Englishmen playing chess.
Jules Verne - retired
In Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, Verne introduced one of the forefathers of modern superheroes, the misanthropic Captain Nemo and his elaborate submarine, Nautilus, named after Robert Fulton's steam-powered submarine. The Mysterious Island was about industrial exploits of men stranded on an island (see: Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe). In these works, filmed several times, Verne combined science and invention with fast-paced adventure. Some of Verne's fiction has also become a fact: his submarine Nautilus predated the first successful power submarine by a quarter century, and his spaceship predicted the development a century later. The first all-electric submarine, built in 1886 by two Englishmen, was named Nautilus in honor of Verne's vessel. The first nuclear-powered submarine, launched in 1955, was named Nautilus, too.
The film version of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1954), produced by Walt Disney and directed by Richard Fleischer, won an Oscar for its special effects, which included Bob Mattey's mechanically operated giant squid. It fought with the actors in a special studio tank. Interior sets were built as closely as possible to Verne's own descriptions of Nautilus. James Mason played Captain Nemo and Kirk Douglas was Ned Land, a lusty salor. Mike Todd's film Around The World in 80 Days (1957) won an Academy Award as the Best Picture but it failed to gain any acting honors with its 44 cameo stars. Almost 70,000 extras was employed and the film used 8,552 animals, most of which were Rocky Mountain sheep, buffalos, and donkeys. Also four ostriches appeared.
In the first part of his career Verne expressed his technophile optimism about progress and Europe's central role in the social and technical development of the world. What becomes of technical inventions, Verne's imagination sometimes contradicted facts. In From Earth to the Moon a giant cannon shoots the protagonist into orbit. Any contemporary scientist could have told Verne, that the passengers would be killed by the initial acceleration. However, the idea of the space gun first appeared in print in the 18th-century. And before it, Cyrano de Bergerac wrote Voyages to the Moon and Sun (1655), and applied in one of his stories the rocket to space travel.
"It is difficult to say how seriously Verne took the idea of this mammoth cannon, because so much of the story is facetiously written... Probably he believed that if such a gun could be built, it might be capable of sending a projectile to the Moon, but it seems unlikely that he seriously imagined that any of the occupants would have survived the shock of takeoff." (Arthur C. Clarke in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, 1999)
Verne's major works were written by 1880. In later novels the author's pessimism about the future of human civilization reflected the doom-ladden fin-de-siècle atmosphere. In his tale 'The Eternal Adam' a far-future historian discovers the 20th-century civilization was overthrown by geological catalysms, and the legend of Adam and Eve becomes both true and cyclical. In Robur the Conqueror (1886) Verne predicted the birth of heavier-than-air craft, but in the sequel, Master of the World (1904), the great inventor Robur suffers from megalomania, and plays cat-and-mouse game with authorities.
Verne spent an uneventful, bourgeois life from the 1860s. He traveled with his brother Paul in 1867 to the United States, visiting the Niagara falls. When he made a boat trip around the Mediterranean, he was celebrated in Gibraltar, North Africa, and in Rome Pope Leo XIII blessed his books. In 1871 he settled in Amiens and was elected councilor in 1888. Verne survived there in 1886 a murder attempt. His paranoid nephew, Gaston, shot him in the leg and the authors was disabled for the rest of his life. Gaston never recovered his sanity.
Verne had married at age 28 Honorine de Viane, a young widow, acquiring two step-children. He lived with his family in a large provincial house and yachted occasionally. To the horror of his family, he started to admire Prince Pyotr Kropotkin (1842-1921), who devoted himself to a life as a revolutionary, and whose character possibly influenced the noble anarchist of NAUFRAGÉS DE JONATHAN (1909). Kropotkin wrote of an anarchy based on mutual support and trust. Verne's interest in socialistic theories was already seen in MATHIAS SANDORF (1885).
For over 40 years Verne published at least one book per year on a wide range subjects. Although Verne wrote about exotic places, he traveled relatively little - his only balloon flight lasted twenty-four minutes. In a letter to Hetzel he confessed: "I must be slightly off my head. I get caught up in all the extraordinary adventures of my heroes. I regret only one thing, not being able to accompany them pedibus cum jambis." Verne's oeuvre include 65 novels, some twenty short stories and essays, thirty plays, some geographical works, and also opera librettos. Verne died in Amiens on March 24, 1905. Verne's works have inspired a number of film makers from Georges Méliès (A Trip to the Moon, 1902), Karel Zeman (Vynález zkázy / The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, 1958), and Walt Disney (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1954) to such Hollywood directors as Henry Levin (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1959) and Irwin Allen (Five Weeks in a Balloon, 1962). Also the Italian painter Giorgio de Chiroco was interested in Verne and wrote on him in the essay 'On Metaphysical Art': "But who was more gifted than he in capturing the metaphysical element of a city like London, with its houses, streets, clubs, squares and open spaces; the ghostliness of a Sunday afternoon in London, the melancholy of a man, a real walking phantom, as Phineas Fogg appears in Around the World in Eighty Days? The work of Jules Verne is full of these joyous and most consoling moments; I still remember the description of the departure of a steamship from Liverpool in his novel The Floating City."
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Two European teams are now planning to try and set world navigation records in a solar powered boat, a notable effort as far as Jules Verne is concerned, since the eventual target is to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less. The first team is from the United Kingdom.
The second and latest team to decide to go for it as of March 16 2006, was PlanetSolar, a Swiss/French team made up of 15 persons, 11 concerned with the boat and expedition directly and 4 on a sponsorship committee. PlanetSolar eventually circumnavigated the world in May of 2012.
Verne wrote 54 novels in total. Some of the better known are:
For further reading: Jules Verne by Kenneth Allott (1940); Jules Verne and His Works by I.O. Evans (1966); Jules Verne by B. Becker (1966); Le Trés Curieux Jules Verne by M. More (1969); The Political and Social Ideas of Jules Verne by Jean Chesneaux (1972); Jules Verne by Jean-Jules Verne (1976), Jules Verne by Peter Costello (1978); Jules Verne: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography by Edward J. Gallagher, Judith Mistichelli and John A. Van Eerde (1980); Jules Verne Rediscovered by Arthur B. Evans (1988); Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Self by William Butcher (1990); The Mask of the Prophet by Andrew Martin (1990); Jules Verne: An Exploratory Biography by Herbert R. Lottman (1997) - Suom: Verneltä on suomennettu useita kymmeniä teoksia. Suomentajana on ollut mm. kirjailija Joel Lehtonen.
Jules Verne - easy-to-read HTML format of Verne's books.
Jules Verne's novels online in English and French
Jules Verne was the author of many adventure stories:
Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
the Moon (Extraordinary Voyages, #7)
Healthier alternative tastes for adventure capitalists
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