Jules Gabriel Verne
(February 8, 1828 – March 24, 1905)
Jules Gabriel Verne
Author who pioneered the science-fiction genre.
A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864),
From the Earth to the Moon (1865),
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870)
Around the World in Eighty Days (1873).
Verne wrote about space, air, and underwater travel before air travel and practical submarines were invented, and before practical means of space travel had been devised. He is the third most translated individual author in the world, according to Index Translationum. Some of his books have also been made into films. Verne, along with Hugo Gernsback and H. G. Wells, is often popularly referred to as the “Father of Science Fiction.”
Jules Gabriel Verne was born in Nantes, Brittany (France), to Pierre and Honorine Verne, an attorney and his wife.
Jules grew up at home with his parents in the bustling harbor city of Nantes.
The family spent summers in a country house just outside the city,
on the banks of the Loire River.
Verne was so fascinated by his own imagination, that, as a boy of eight, he stowed away on a ship bound for the West Indies, hoping to live out an imagined adventure.
But the voyage was cut short, when he found his father waiting for him at the next port.
Here Jules and his brother Paul would often rent a boat for a Franc a day.
The sight of the many ships navigating the river sparked Jules’s imagination,
as he describes in the autobiographical short story Souvenirs d’Enfance et de Jeunesse.
At nine years old, Jules and his friend Paul were sent to boarding school
Saint Donatien College (Petit séminaire de Saint-Donatien).
It was there he developed a great interest in travel and exploration,
a passion he showed as a writer of adventure stories and science fiction.
His interest in writing often cost him progress in other subjects.
One of his teachers may have been the French inventor Brutus de Villeroi,
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
may have inspired Verne’s conceptual design for the Nautilus, Captain Nemo’s nuclear powered ship in his most popular adventure, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
Chapter XIII. Stones Hill
When the decision was arrived at by the Gun Club, to the disparagement of Texas, every one in America, where reading is a universal acquirement, set to work to study the geography of Florida. Never before had there been such a sale for works like “Bertram’s Travels in Florida,” “Roman’s Natural History of East and West Florida,” “William’s Territory of Florida,” and “Cleland on the Cultivation of the Sugar-Cane in Florida.” It became necessary to issue fresh editions of these works.
Barbicane had something better to do than to read. He desired to see things with his own eyes, and to mark the exact position of the proposed gun. So, without a moment’s loss of time, he placed at the disposal of the Cambridge Observatory the funds necessary for the construction of a telescope, and entered into negotiations with the house of Breadwill and Co., of Albany, for the construction of an aluminum projectile of the required size. He then quitted Baltimore, accompanied by J. T. Maston, Major Elphinstone, and the manager of the Coldspring factory.
On the following day, the four fellow-travelers arrived at New Orleans. There they immediately embarked on board the Tampico, a despatch-boat belonging to the Federal navy, which the government had placed at their disposal; and, getting up steam, the banks of Louisiana speedily disappeared from sight.
The passage was not long. Two days after starting, the Tampico, having made four hundred and eighty miles, came in sight of the coast of Florida. On a nearer approach Barbicane found himself in view of a low, flat country of somewhat barren aspect. After coasting along a series of creeks abounding in lobsters and oysters, the Tampico entered the bay of Espiritu Santo, where she finally anchored in a small natural harbor, formed by the embouchure of the River Hillisborough, at seven P.M., on the 22d of October.
Our four passengers disembarked at once. “Gentlemen,” said Barbicane, “we have no time to lose; tomorrow we must obtain horses, and proceed to reconnoiter the country.”
Barbicane had scarcely set his foot on shore when three thousand of the inhabitants of Tampa Town came forth to meet him, an honor due to the president who had signalized their country by his choice.
Declining, however, every kind of ovation, Barbicane ensconced himself in a room of the Franklin Hotel.
On the morrow some of the small horses of the Spanish breed, full of vigor and of fire, stood snorting under his windows; but instead of four steeds, here were fifty, together with their riders. Barbicane descended with his three fellow- travelers; and much astonished were they all to find themselves in the midst of such a cavalcade. He remarked that every horseman carried a carbine slung across his shoulders and pistols in his holsters.
On expressing his surprise at these preparations, he was speedily enlightened by a young Floridan, who quietly said:
“Sir, there are Seminoles there.”
“What do you mean by Seminoles?”
“Savages who scour the prairies. We thought it best, therefore, to escort you on your road.”
“Pooh!” cried J. T. Maston, mounting his steed.
“All right,” said the Floridan; “but it is true enough, nevertheless.”
“Gentlemen,” answered Barbicane, “I thank you for your kind attention; but it is time to be off.”
It was five A.M. when Barbicane and his party, quitting Tampa Town, made their way along the coast in the direction of Alifia Creek. This little river falls into Hillisborough Bay twelve miles above Tampa Town. Barbicane and his escort coasted along its right bank to the eastward. Soon the waves of the bay disappeared behind a bend of rising ground, and the Floridan “champagne” alone offered itself to view.
Florida, discovered on Palm Sunday, in 1512, by Juan Ponce de Leon, was originally named Pascha Florida. It little deserved that designation, with its dry and parched coasts. But after some few miles of tract the nature of the soil gradually changes and the country shows itself worthy of the name. Cultivated plains soon appear, where are united all the productions of the northern and tropical floras, terminating in prairies abounding with pineapples and yams, tobacco, rice, cotton-plants, and sugar-canes, which extend beyond reach of sight, flinging their riches broadcast with careless prodigality.
Barbicane appeared highly pleased on observing the progressive elevation of the land; and in answer to a question of J. T. Maston, replied:
“My worthy friend, we cannot do better than sink our Columbiad in these high grounds.”
“To get nearer the moon, perhaps?” said the secretary of the Gun Club.
“Not exactly,” replied Barbicane, smiling; “do you not see that among these elevated plateaus we shall have a much easier work of it? No struggles with the water-springs, which will save us long expensive tubings; and we shall be working in daylight instead of down a deep and narrow well. Our business, then, is to open our trenches upon ground some hundreds of yards above the level of the sea.”
“You are right, sir,” struck in Murchison, the engineer; “and, if I mistake not, we shall ere long find a suitable spot for our purpose.”
“I wish we were at the first stroke of the pickaxe,” said the president.
“And I wish we were at the last,” cried J. T. Maston.
About ten A.M. the little band had crossed a dozen miles. To fertile plains succeeded a region of forests. There perfumes of the most varied kinds mingled together in tropical profusion. These almost impenetrable forests were composed of pomegranates, orange-trees, citrons, figs, olives, apricots, bananas, huge vines, whose blossoms and fruits rivaled each other in color and perfume. Beneath the odorous shade of these magnificent trees fluttered and warbled a little world of brilliantly plumaged birds.
J. T. Maston and the major could not repress their admiration on finding themselves in the presence of the glorious beauties of this wealth of nature. President Barbicane, however, less sensitive to these wonders, was in haste to press forward; the very luxuriance of the country was displeasing to him. They hastened onward, therefore, and were compelled to ford several rivers, not without danger, for they were infested with huge alligators from fifteen to eighteen feet long. Maston courageously menaced them with his steel hook, but he only succeeded in frightening some pelicans and teal, while tall flamingos stared stupidly at the party.
At length these denizens of the swamps disappeared in their turn; smaller trees became thinly scattered among less dense thickets– a few isolated groups detached in the midst of endless plains over which ranged herds of startled deer.
“At last,” cried Barbicane, rising in his stirrups, “here we are at the region of pines!”
“Yes! and of savages too,” replied the major.
In fact, some Seminoles had just came in sight upon the horizon; they rode violently backward and forward on their fleet horses, brandishing their spears or discharging their guns with a dull report. These hostile demonstrations, however, had no effect upon Barbicane and his companions.
They were then occupying the center of a rocky plain, which the sun scorched with its parching rays. This was formed by a considerable elevation of the soil, which seemed to offer to the members of the Gun Club all the conditions requisite for the construction of their Columbiad.
“Halt!” said Barbicane, reining up. “Has this place any local appellation?”
“It is called Stones Hill,” replied one of the Floridans.
Barbicane, without saying a word, dismounted, seized his instruments, and began to note his position with extreme exactness. The little band, drawn up in the rear, watched his proceedings in profound silence.
At this moment the sun passed the meridian. Barbicane, after a few moments, rapidly wrote down the result of his observations, and said:
27° 7′ N. latitude. and 5° 7′ W. longitude
“This spot is situated eighteen hundred feet above the level of the sea, in 27° 7′ N. lat. and 5° 7′ W. long. of the meridian of Washington. It appears to me by its rocky and barren character to offer all the conditions requisite for our experiment. On that plain will be raised our magazines, workshops, furnaces, and workmen’s huts; and here, from this very spot,” said he, stamping his foot on the summit of Stones Hill, “hence shall our projectile take its flight into the regions of the Solar World.”
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 libretti 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 revealed to him his true 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 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 Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, père, who offered him writing advice.
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 Jules Verne, was born. A classic enfant terrible, Michel would marry an actress over Verne’s objections, had two children by his underage mistress, and buried himself in debts. The relationship between father and son did improve as Michel grew older.
A typical Hetzel front cover for a Jules Verne book. The edition is Les Aventures du Capitaine Hatteras au Pôle Nord, type “Aux deux éléphants”.
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, 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 “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), which he wrote 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 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 contributed to 40th French climbing of the Mont-Blanc and a collection of short stories – Doctor Ox – in 1874. Verne became wealthy and famous. According to the Unesco Index Translationum, Jules Verne regularly places among the top five most translated authors in the world.
On March 9, 1886, as Verne was coming home, his twenty-five-year-old nephew, Gaston, shot him with a gun. One bullet missed, but the second entered Verne’s left leg, giving him a limp that would not be cured. The incident was hushed up by the media, and Gaston spent the rest of his life in an asylum.
After the deaths of Hetzel and his beloved mother Sophie Henriette Allotte de la Fruye in 1887, Jules began writing darker works. 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 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 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 has later been 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, 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 Verne is considered in many countries such as 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 from poor translation.
Characteristic of much of late 19th-century writing, Verne’s books often took a chauvinistic point of view. The British Empire was notably portrayed in a bad light in The Mysterious Island, as Captain Nemo was revealed to be an Indian nobleman fighting the British Empire, which had not been mentioned in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. The first English translator of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon, and a Trip Around It, Reverend Lewis Page Mercier, working under a pseudonym, removed passages describing the political actions of Captain Nemo. However, such negative depictions were not invariable in Verne’s works; for example, Facing the Flag features Lieutenant Devon, a heroic, self-sacrificing Royal Navy officer worthy of comparison with any written by British authors. Another example of a positive depiction of an Englishman is the brave and resourceful Phileas Fogg, the protagonist of 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 keeping the nominal value and only changing the unit to an Imperial measure. Thus Verne’s calculations, which in general were remarkably exact, 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. (London author Cranstoun Metcalfe (1866–1938) translated most of Verne’s work into English during the first half of the 20th century.)
For those reasons, Verne’s work initially acquired a reputation in English-speaking countries for not being fit for adult readers. This, in turn, prevented him from being taken seriously enough to merit new translations, leading to those of Mercier and others being reprinted decade after decade. Only from 1965 on were some of his novels re-translated more accurately, but even today Verne’s work has still not been fully rehabilitated in the English-speaking world.
Verne’s works also reflect the bitterness France felt in the wake of defeat in the Franco-Prussian War from 1870 to 1871, and the 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 monstrous 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 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 significantly change his other drafts. One of the most important changes Hetzel enforced on Verne was the adoption of optimism in his novels. Verne was in fact not an enthusiast of technological and human progress, as can be seen in his works created before he met Hetzel and after Hetzel’s death. Hetzel’s demand for optimistic texts proved correct. For example, 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 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 an Indian prince fighting the British Empire after the Sikh War.
Jules Verne and some of the creatures from his novels
Verne wrote numerous works, most famous of which are the 54 novels
comprising the Voyages Extraordinaires. He also wrote short stories, essays, plays, and poems.
His better known works include:
Five Weeks in a Balloon (Cinq Semaines en ballon, 1863)
Paris in the 20th Century (Paris au XXe Siecle, 1863, not published until 1994)
A Journey to the Center of the Earth (Voyage au centre de la Terre, 1864)
From the Earth to the Moon (De la terre à la lune, 1865)
Journeys and Adventures of Captain Hatteras
(Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras, 1866)
In Search of the Castaways or Captain Grant’s Children
(Les Enfants du capitaine Grant, 1867–1868)
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Vingt mille lieues sous les mers, 1870)
Around The Moon (Autour de la lune, a sequel to From the Earth to the Moon, 1870)
A Floating City (Une ville flottante, 1871)
Dr. Ox’s Experiment (Une Fantaisie du Docteur Ox, 1872)
The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in South Africa
(Aventures de trois Russes et de trois Anglais, 1872 )
The Fur Country (Le Pays des fourrures, 1873)
Around the World in Eighty Days (Le Tour du Monde en quatre-vingts jours, 1873)
The Survivors of the Chancellor (Le Chancellor, 1875)
The Mysterious Island (L’Île mystérieuse, 1875)
The Blockade Runners, (1876)
Michael Strogoff (Michel Strogoff, 1876)
Off On A Comet (Hector Servadac, 1877)
The Child of the Cavern, also known as
Black Diamonds or The Black Indies (Les Indes noires, 1877)
Dick Sand, A Captain at Fifteen (Un Capitaine de quinze ans, 1878)
The Begum’s Millions (Les Cinq cents millions de la Bégum, 1879)
The Steam House (La Maison à vapeur, 1879)
Tribulations of a Chinaman in China (Les tribulations d’un chinois en Chine), 1879
Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon (La Jangada, 1881)
The Green Ray (Le Rayon vert, 1882)
The Headstrong Turk (1883)
The Vanished Diamond (L’Étoile du sud, 1884)
The Archipelago on Fire (L’Archipel en feu, 1884)
Mathias Sandorf (1885)
Robur the Conqueror or The Clipper of the Clouds (Robur-le-Conquérant, 1886)
Ticket No. “9672” (Un Billet de loterie, 1886 )
North Against South (Nord contre Sud, 1887)
The Flight to France (Le Chemin de France, 1887)
Family Without a Name (Famille-sans-nom, 1888)
Two Years’ Vacation (Deux Ans de vacances, 1888)
The Purchase of the North Pole
(Sans dessus dessous, the second sequel to From the Earth to the Moon, 1889)
Mistress Branican (1891)
The Castle of the Carpathians (Le Château des Carpathes, 1892)
Propeller Island (L’Île à hélice, 1895)
Facing the Flag (Face au drapeau, 1896)
Clovis Dardentor (1896)
The Sphinx of the Ice Fields or An Antarctic Mystery
(Le Sphinx des glaces, a sequel to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, 1897)
The Mighty Orinoco (Le Superbe Orénoque, 1897)
The Village in the Treetops (Le Village aérien, 1901)
Master of the World (Maître du monde, sequel to Robur the Conqueror, 1904)
Invasion of the Sea (L’Invasion de la mer, 1904)
A drama in Livonia (Un Drame en Livonie, 1904)
The Lighthouse at the End of the World (Le Phare du bout du monde, 1905)
The Chase of the Golden Meteor (La Chasse au météore, 1908)
The Danube Pilot (Le Pilote du Danube, 1908)
The Survivors of the ‘Jonathan’ (Les Naufragés du « Jonathan », 1909)