Jules Gabriel Verne
February 8, 1828 – March 24, 1905
Jules Verne was born and raised in the port of Nantes in France. His father was a prosperous lawyer. In order to continue his father’s practice, Verne moved to Paris, where he studied law. His uncle introduced him into literary circles and he started to publish plays under the influence of such writers as Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, 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’, 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-Fields (1897). When his career as an author progressed slowly, Verne turned back to stockbroking, an occupation which he held until his successful tale Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863) in the series VOYAGES EXTRAORDINAIRES.
Also during this period he met Honorine de Viane Morel, a widow with two daughters. They 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.
In 1862 Jules Verne met 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.
Jules Verne’s stories caught the enterprising spirit of the 19th century with its uncritical fascination with 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).
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 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 Jules 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. Verne became wealthy and famous. He remains the most translated novelist in the world, according to UNESCO statistics.
On the BOOKS page of this blog is a list of many of Jules Verne’s 54 novels.