Jules Verne Explained

For other uses see Jules Verne (disambiguation).

Jules Verne
Birthname:Jules Gabriel Verne
Born:February 8, 1828
Birthplace:Nantes, France
Deathplace:Amiens, France
Genre:Science fiction, adventure novel
Notableworks:Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days
Influences:Edgar Allan Poe
Influenced:H.G. Wells, Julio Cortázar, Emilio Salgari, Louis Boussenard

Jules Gabriel Verne (February 8, 1828  - March 24, 1905) was a French author who helped pioneer the science-fiction genre. He is best known for his novels Journey to the Center of the Earth (written in 1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869 - 1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873). Verne wrote about space, air, and underwater travel before navigable aircraft and practical submarines were invented, and before any means of space travel had been devised. Consequently he is often referred to as the "Father of science fiction", along with H. G. Wells.[1] Verne is the second most translated author of all time, only behind Agatha Christie, with 4162 translations, according to Index Translationum.[2] Some of his works have been made into films.


Early years

Verne was born to Pierre Verne, and his wife, Sophie-Henriette Allotte de la Fuÿe (died 1887), in the bustling harbor city of Nantes in Western France. The oldest of five children, he spent his early years at home with his parents. The family spent summers in a country house just outside the city, on the banks of the Loire River. Verne and his brother Paul, of whom Verne was very fond, would often rent a boat for a franc a day.[3] The sight of the many ships navigating the river sparked Verne's imagination, as he describes in the autobiographical short story "Souvenirs d'Enfance et de Jeunesse". When Verne was nine, he and Paul were sent to boarding school at the Saint Donatien College (Petit séminaire de Saint-Donatien). As a child, he developed a great interest in travel and exploration, a passion he showed as a writer of adventure stories and science fiction. At twelve, he snuck onto a ship that was bound for India, only to be caught and severely whipped by his father. He famously quoted: "I shall from now on only travel in my imagination."

At the boarding school, Verne studied Latin, which he used in his short story "Le Mariage de Monsieur Anselme des Tilleuls" in the mid-1850s. One of his teachers may have been the French inventor Brutus de Villeroi, professor of drawing and mathematics at Saint Donatien in 1842, and who later became famous for creating the U.S. Navy's first submarine, the U.S.S. Alligator. De Villeroi may have inspired Verne's conceptual design for the Nautilus in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, although no direct exchanges between the two men have been recorded. At Nantes in 1835, when De Villeroi and a companion submerged for two hours in a ten foot submarine, Verne was seven years old. For years afterward De Villeroi carried on submarine experiments in Nantes. (Lincoln and the Tools of War, p 176)

Literary debut

After completing his studies at the lycée, Verne went to Paris to study law. About 1848, in conjunction with Michel Carré, he began writing librettos for operettas (he was co-librettist of Colin-Millard, a one act opera comique by Aristide Hignard). For some years his attentions were divided between the theatre and work, but some travelers' stories which he wrote for the Musée des Familles revealed to him his talent for writing fiction.

When Verne's father discovered that his son was writing rather than studying law, he promptly withdrew his financial support. Verne was forced to support himself as a stockbroker, which he hated despite being somewhat successful at it. During this period, he met Alexandre Dumas, père and Victor Hugo, who offered him writing advice. Dumas would become a close friend of Verne.[4]

Verne also met Honorine de Viane Morel, a widow with two daughters. They were married on January 10, 1857. With her encouragement, he continued to write and actively looked for a publisher. On August 3, 1861, their son, Michel Jean Verne, was born. A classic enfant terrible, Michel was sent to Mettray Penal Colony in 1876 and later married an actress (in spite of Verne's objections), had two children by his 16-year-old mistress, and buried himself in debts. The relationship between father and son did improve as Michel grew older.

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, Georges Sand, and Erckmann-Chatrian, among others. They formed an excellent writer-publisher team until Hetzel's death. Hetzel helped improve Verne's writings, which until then had been repeatedly rejected by other publishers. Hetzel read a draft of Verne's story about the balloon exploration of Africa, which had been rejected by other publishers for being "too scientific". With Hetzel's help, Verne rewrote the story, which was published in 1863 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 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 (Twenty Thousand 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 live on his writings. But most of his wealth came from the stage adaptations of Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (1874) and Michel Strogoff (1876), a relatively conventional adventure tale set in Tsarist Russia, which he adapted for the stage with Adolphe d'Ennery. In 1867 Verne 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 "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. Jules' brother Paul contributed to a non-fiction story "Fortieth Ascent of Mont Blanc" ("Quarantième ascension du Mont-Blanc") to the collection of short stories, Doctor Ox (1874). According to the Unesco Index Translationum, Jules Verne regularly places among the top five most translated authors in the world.

Last years

On March 9, 1886, as Verne approached his own home, his twenty-five-year-old nephew Gaston, who suffered from paranoia, shot twice at him with a gun. One bullet missed, but the second entered Verne's left leg, giving him a permanent limp. Gaston spent the rest of his life in an asylum.

After the deaths of Hetzel and his beloved mother in 1887, Verne began writing darker works. This may have been due partly to changes in his personality, but an important factor was that Hetzel's son, who took over his father's business, was not as rigorous in his edits and corrections as Hetzel Sr. had been.

In 1888, Verne entered politics and was elected town councilor of Amiens, where he championed several improvements and served for fifteen years. Though elected from the left he stood with the right on Dreyfus Affair and was anti-Dreyfusard.[5] [6] In 1905, ill with diabetes, Verne died at his home, 44 Boulevard Longueville (now Boulevard Jules-Verne). His son Michel oversaw publication of his last novels Invasion of the Sea and The Lighthouse at the End of the World. The "Voyages extraordinaires" series continued for several years afterwards in the same rhythm of two volumes a year. It was later discovered that Michel Verne had made extensive changes in these stories, and the original versions were published at the end of the 20th century.

In 1863, Verne wrote Paris in the 20th Century, a novel 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.


Jules Verne died on March 24, 1905 and was buried in the Madeleine Cemetery in Amiens. There are recently (2008) initiated efforts to have him reburied in the Panthéon, alongside France's other literary giants.

Reputation in English-speaking countries

While Verne is considered in France as an author of quality books for young people, with a good command of his subjects, including technology and politics, his reputation in English-speaking countries suffered for a long time as a result of poor translation.

Some critics felt 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea portrayed the British Empire in a bad light, and the first English translator, Reverend Lewis Page Mercier, working under a pseudonym, removed many offending passages, such as those describing the political actions of Captain Nemo in his incarnation as an Indian nobleman. Such negative depictions were not, however, invariable in Verne's works; for example, Facing the Flag features, in the character of Lieutenant Devon, a heroic, self-sacrificing Royal Navy officer worthy of any created by British authors. In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea itself, Captain Nemo, an Indian, is balanced by Ned Land, a Canadian. Some of Verne's most famous heroes were British (e.g. Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days).

Mercier and subsequent British translators also had trouble with the metric system that Verne used, sometimes dropping significant figures, at other times changing the unit to an Imperial measure without changing the corresponding value. Thus Verne's calculations, which in general were remarkably exact, were converted into mathematical gibberish. Also, artistic passages and sometimes whole chapters were cut to fit the work into a constrained space for publication.

For these reasons, Verne's work initially acquired a reputation in English-speaking countries of not being fit for adult readers. This in turn prevented it from being taken seriously enough to merit new translations, and those of Mercier and others were reprinted decade after decade. Only from 1965 on have some of his novels received more accurate translations, but even today Verne's work has not been fully rehabilitated in the English-speaking world.

Verne's works may also reflect the bitterness France felt in the wake of its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870 - 71) and the consequent loss of Alsace and Lorraine. The Begum's Millions (Les Cinq cents millions de la Begum) of 1879 gives a highly stereotypical depiction of Germans as monstrously cruel militarists. By contrast, almost all the protagonists in his pre-1871 works, such as the sympathetic first-person narrator in Journey to the Centre of the Earth, are German.

Hetzel's influence

Hetzel substantially influenced the writings of Verne, who was so happy to finally find a willing publisher that he agreed to almost all changes that Hetzel suggested. Hetzel rejected at least one novel (Paris in the 20th Century), and asked Verne to make significant changes in his other drafts. One of the most important changes Hetzel imposed on Verne was the adoption of a more optimistic tone. Verne was in fact not an enthusiast of technological and human progress, as can be seen in the works he created both before he met Hetzel and after the publisher's death. Hetzel's insistence on a more optimistic text proved correct. For example, The Mysterious Island originally ended with the survivors returning to mainland forever nostalgic about the island. Hetzel decided that the heroes should live 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 famous Captain Nemo was changed from a Polish refugee avenging the partitions of Poland and the death of his family, killed in the reprisals following the January Uprising, to an Indian prince fighting the British Empire after the Sikh War.


Jules Verne's novels have been noted for being startlingly accurate anticipations of modern times. Paris in the 20th Century is an often cited example of this as it arguably describes air conditioning, automobiles, the Internet, television, and other modern conveniences very similar to their real world counterparts.

Another example is From the Earth to the Moon, which is uncannily similar to the real Apollo Program, as three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula and recovered through a splash landing. In the book, the spacecraft is launched from "Tampa Town"; Tampa, Florida is approximately 130 miles from NASA's actual launching site at Cape Canaveral.[7]

In other works, Verne predicted the inventions of helicopters, submarines, projectors, jukeboxes, and other later devices.

He also predicted the existence of underwater hydrothermal vents that were not discovered until years after he wrote about them.

Scholars' jokes

Verne, who had a large archive and always kept up with scientific and technological progress, sometimes seemed to joke with the readers, using so-called "scholars' jokes" (that is, a joke that only a scientist may recognise). For instance, in Dick Sand, A Captain at Fifteen, a Manticora beetle helps Cousin Bénédict to escape from imprisonment when Bénédict, unguarded, follows the beetle out of the garden. Since the beetle escapes from Cousin Bénédict by flying away, when in fact the genus is flightless, it is possible that this is one such joke. Another example appears in Mysterious Island, where the main character's dog is attacked by a wild dugong, even though the dugong, like its North American cousin, the manatee, is a herbivorous mammal. Also in Mysterious Island, because of its fauna and flora, the sailor Bonadventure Pencroff asks Cyrus Harding whether the latter believes that islands (like the one they are on) are made specially to be ideal ones for castaways. From the Earth to the Moon (the material used for the cannon - in this case it was probably poetic license, since the description of the making of the gun became far more dramatic), or The Begum's Millions, where the methods used for making steel in "Steel City", described as the most modern steel factory in the world, were rather dated, but, again, much more spectacular to describe. (See Neff, 1978)


Verne wrote numerous works, most famous of which are the 54 novels part of the Voyages Extraordinaires. He also wrote short stories, essays, plays, and poems.

Note: only the dates of the first English translation and the most common translation title are given.

Voyages Extraordinaires

See main article: Voyages Extraordinaires.

  1. (1863) Cinq Semaines en ballon; English translation: Five Weeks in a Balloon (1869)
  2. (1866) Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras; English translation: The Adventures of Captain Hatteras (1874-75)
  3. (1864) Voyage au centre de la Terre; English translation: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1871)
  4. (1865) De la terre à la lune; English translation: From the Earth to the Moon (1867)
  5. (1867-68) Les Enfants du capitaine Grant; English translation: In Search of the Castaways (1873)
  6. (1869-70) Vingt mille lieues sous les mers; English translation: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1872)
  7. (1870) Autour de la lune; English translation: Around the Moon (1873)
  8. (1871) Une ville flottante; English translation: A Floating City (1874)
  9. (1872) Aventures de trois Russes et de trois Anglais; English translation: The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in South Africa (1872)
  10. (1873) Le Pays des fourrures; English translation: The Fur Country (1873)
  11. (1873) Le Tour du Monde en quatre-vingts jours; English translation: Around the World in Eighty Days (1873)
  12. (1874-75) L'Île mysterieuse; English translation: The Mysterious Island (1874)
  13. (1875) Le Chancellor; English translation: The Survivors of the Chancellor (1875)
  14. (1876) Michel Strogoff; English translation: Michael Strogoff (1876)
  15. (1877) Hector Servadac; English translation: Off on a Comet (1877)
  16. (1877) Les Indes noires; English translation: The Child of the Cavern (1877)
  17. (1878) Un capitaine de quinze ans; English translation: Dick Sand, A Captain at Fifteen (1878)
  18. (1879) Les Cinq Cents Millions de la Bégum; English translation: The Begum's Millions (1879)
  19. (1879) Les Tribulations d'un chinois en Chine; English translation: Tribulations of a Chinaman in China (1879)
  20. (1880) La Maison à vapeur; English translation: The Steam House (1880)
  21. (1881) La Jangada; English translation: Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon (1881)
  22. (1882) L'Ecole des Robinsons; English translation: Godfrey Morgan (1883)
  23. (1882) Le Rayon vert; English translation: The Green Ray (1883)
  24. (1883) Kéraban-le-têtu; English translation: Kéraban the Inflexible (1883-84)
  25. (1884) L'Étoile du sud; English translation: The Vanished Diamond (1885)
  26. (1884) L'Archipel en feu; English translation: The Archipelago on Fire (1885)
  27. (1885) Mathias Sandorf; English translation: Mathias Sandorf (1885)
  28. (1886) Un billet de loterie; English translation: The Lottery Ticket (1886)
  29. (1886) Robur-le-Conquérant; English translation: Robur the Conqueror (1887)
  30. (1887) Nord contre Sud; English translation: North Against South (1887)
  31. (1887) Le Chemin de France; English translation: The Flight to France (1888)
  32. (1888) Deux Ans de vacances; English translation: Two Years' Vacation (1889)
  33. (1889) Famille-sans-nom; English translation: Family Without a Name (1889)
  34. (1889) Sans dessus dessous; English translation: The Purchase of the North Pole (1890)
  35. (1890) César Cascabel; English translation: César Cascabel (1890)
  36. (1891) Mistress Branican; English translation: Mistress Branican (1891)
  37. (1892) Le Château des Carpathes; English translation: Carpathian Castle (1893)
  38. (1892) Claudius Bombarnac; English translation: Claudius Bombarnac (1894)
  39. (1893) P’tit-Bonhomme; English translation: Foundling Mick (1895)
  40. (1894) Mirifiques Aventures de Maître Antifer; English translation: Captain Antifer (1895)
  41. (1895) L'Île à hélice; English translation: Propeller Island (1896)
  42. (1896) Face au drapeau; English translation: Facing the Flag (1897)
  43. (1896) Clovis Dardentor; English translation: Clovis Dardentor (1897)
  44. (1897) Le Sphinx des glaces; English translation: An Antarctic Mystery (1898)
  45. (1898) Le Superbe Orénoque; English translation: The Mighty Orinoco (2002)
  46. (1899) Le Testament d'un excentrique; English translation: The Will of an Eccentric (1900)
  47. (1900) Seconde Patrie; English translation: The Castaways of the Flag (1923)
  48. (1901) Le Village aérien; English translation: The Village in the Treetops (1964)
  49. (1901) Les Histoires de Jean-Marie Cabidoulin; English translation: The Sea Serpent (1967)
  50. (1902) Les Frères Kip; English translation: The Kip Brothers (2007)
  51. (1903) Bourses de voyage; English translation: Traveling Scholarships (n/a)
  52. (1904) Un drame en Livonie; English translation: A Drama in Livonia (1967)
  53. (1904) Maître du monde; English translation: Master of the World (1911)
  54. (1905) L'Invasion de la mer; English translation: Invasion of the Sea (2001)

Apocryphal and posthumous novels

Short story collections

Short stories

Apocryphal short stories

Non-fiction works

Imitations by other writers

The Wizard of the Sea by Roy Rockwood is a clear copy of Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, apart from the first chapter(s). One or two other of Rockwood's titles also seem to (lesser) resemble some of Verne's, eg compare Five Thousand Miles Underground to Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

In 1999 German writer Dieter Lammerding has written a drama named Phantastische Reise zu Kapitän Nemo, merging two novels into one piece.

See also

About Verne:

Other science-fiction pioneers:

Inspired by Verne:

Films based on works of Jules Verne

Jules Verne's works have inspired filmmakers almost from the birth of cinema. Georges Méliès, one of the earliestpioneers of French cinema, who had a taste for the fantastic, adapted some of Verne's works prior to 1910. Most ofVerne's most famous novels, and some of his lesser known ones, received French, American, German, and Soviet adaptations in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, but probably the best known film adaptations of Verne's works camefrom American studios in the mid-1950s to early 1960s. These included Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea(1954), a production of Around the World in Eighty Days that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1956, a production of From the Earth to the Moon in 1958, Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1959, Mysterious Island in 1961, and In Search of the Castaways in 1962. These werelarge-scale productions featuring top American, British, and international stars.While American studios' interest in Verne waned after this period, productions in other countries and smaller scale American productions have continued pretty much without interruption since the invention of film, up to this day.A recent example is the 2008 remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth (which was in 3D).

The majority of the many film and television productions of Verne's works have concentrated on his most famousnovels, but there have also been film adaptations of many of his lesser known works, such as The Lighthouse at the End of the World, The Carpathian Castle, and The Vanished Diamond,filmed as "The Southern Star." Michael Strogoff has been a particularly popular property for adaptationby non-Americans, having been filmed at least a dozen times for cinema and television, starting in 1910.

Many famous actors have appeared in Verne films, including James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Maurice Chevalier,Peter Lorre, David Niven, Shirley MacLaine, Joseph Cotton, Lionel Barrymore, Orson Welles, Yul Brenner, Jackie Chan,Brendan Fraser, and even the Three Stooges. The 1956 American version of Around the World in 80 Daysis sometimes credited with inventing the concept of cameo appearances by big stars, and had (often very brief)appearances by a dizzying array of famous performers, including Frank Sinatra, John Gielgud, Noel Coward, CharlesBoyer, Fernandel, Trevor Howard, Cesar Romero, George Raft, Buster Keaton, Marlene Dietrich, Ronald Colman, and many others.

Further reading

External links

Notes and References

  1. Adam Roberts (2000), Science Fiction, London: Routledge, p. 48, ISBN 0-415-19204-8. Others who are popularly called the "Father of science fiction" include Hugo Gernsback and Edgar Allan Poe.
  2. Web site: Most Translated Authors of All Time. 2008-11-08. Unesco. Index Translationum.
  3. Jules Verne (1995), Monna Lisa; suivi de Souvenirs d'enfance et de jeunesse, Paris: L'Herne, p. 101. ISBN 2-85197-328-2.
  4. Peggy Teeters (1993), Jules Verne: The Man Who Invented Tomorrow, New York: Walker, p. 24. ISBN 0802781896.
  5. Walter A. McDougall (2001), "Journey to the Center of Jules Verne... and Us", Watch on the West 2, n. 4.
  6. William Butcher (2007), "A Chronology of Jules Verne", in Jules Verne, Lighthouse at the End of the World, Lincoln (NE): University of Nebraska Press, p. XXXVII, ISBN 0803246765.
  7. Norman Wolcott (2005), A Jules Verne Centennial: 1905-2005, Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Libraries.
  8. Volker Dehs, Jean-Michel Margot and Zvi Har’El, "The Complete Jules Verne Bibliography, X: Apocrypha". Retrieved on 2008-11-10.