About the Author
Enormously popular French author, the founding father of science fiction with H.G. Wells. Verne's stories, written for adolescents as well as adults, 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).
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 Joyrneys'. 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. Verne's early work, Paris in the Twentieth Century was turned down by the publisher, and it did not appear until 1997 in English.
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. 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.
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: Robinsonade 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.
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) 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."
Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.