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||Jules Gabriel Verne (1828-1905)|
Enormously popular French author, often called the founding father of science fiction with H.G. Wells. Noteworthy, Verne himself rejected the honor, emphasizing that he based his fiction on facts and contemporary technology. His 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).
"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!" (in A Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864)
Jules Verne was born and raised in the port of Nantes. His father, Pierre Verne, was a prosperous lawyer. Verne's mother, Sophie, née Allotte de la Fu˙e, came from a family of shipowners; she died in 1887. Jules was the eldest of five children. At school his favorite subjects were geography, music, and Greek and Latin, but his first true passion was the sea. According to a story, he nearly managed to ran off to sea as a cabin boy aboard a schooner bound for the Indies. Verne's brother Paul became eventually a naval engineer. From early on Verne was fascinated by machines, too. "While I was quite a lad, I used to adore watching machines at work," he once recalled. "This penchant has remained with me all my life, and today I have still as much pleasure in watching a steam-engine or a fine locomotive at work as I have in contemplating a picture by Raphael or Correggio."
Verne passed his baccalauréat in 1846. To continue his father's practice, Verne moved to Paris, where he studied law. Verne completed his degree in just two years, but during this period he found his true calling in literature. 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. Léonard de Vinci, which he wrote at the age of 23, was not published until 1995. The play, later renamed Joconde and then Monna Lisa was about the love between Leonardo da Vinci and his beautiful model, the wife of a Florentine gentleman. 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. The story tells of the flight across Africa, in search of the sources of the Nile. 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 au XXe sičcle (Paris in the Twentieth Century), was turned down by the publisher, and it did not appear until 1997 in English. Its publication was a world wide cause célčbre.
Verne's novels gained soon a huge popularity throughout the world. It was thought almost impossible to combine entertaining narrative, humor, and pedagogical intentions with technology, science, geography, and travel. Without the education of a scientist or experiences as a traveler, Verne spent much of his time in research for his books. "I read all the scientific works that are published," he said. "In sum, any books on sale that might interest me. I also have a subscription to all the scientific newspapers." 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.
Verne insisted, that there is no comparison between his and H.G. Well's work: "Our methods are entirely different. I have always made a point in my romances of basing my so-called inventions upon a groundwork of actual fact, and of using in their construction methods and materials which are not entirely without the pale of contemporary engineering skill and knowledge." (Jules Verne: Journeys in Writing by Timothy A. Unwin, 2005, p. 9.) When 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, serialized in Le Temps from late 1872, was about Philčas Fogg's daring but realistic travel feat on a wager. For his readers Verne claimed that he got the idea from a newspaper article about a Thomas Cook round-the-world tour package, but he possibly had heard about the journey by the US railroad magnate George Francis Train (1829-1904), who declared in the middle of his presidential campaign, that he would make a trip around the world in eighty days or less. Train started from New York in late July 1870, took the Union Pacific Railroad to Califonia, sailed to Japan, and then Hong Kong, Singapore, the Suez Canal, Marseilles, and Liverpool, where he boarded the the steamer Abyssinia. He arrived in New York in the late December.
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. Verne's submarine was unrealistically spacious – there is a library containing no less than 12,000 volumes.
The film version of 20,000 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. All kinds of gadgets, and especially electricity, play a central
role in his novels. The submarine Nautilus
is is fully powered by electric current, which is not only an
all-powerful force but has hidden magical qualities too. Machines are a
means of control, both people and the society, as in Paris au XXe sičcle, where
everything is made calculable. The electric city of Paris is associated
with the loss of imagination and death. At the end the hero, who visits
the graves of Alexandre Dumas and Alfred de Musset, wanders to a place
of his electrocution.
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 was first seen 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-sičcle atmosphere. In '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. This tale, which echoes the Nietzschean idea of eternal recurrence, was included in the posthumous collection Hier et demain (1910). 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 on the Great Eastern, visiting the New York and Niagara Falls – subsequently fictionalized in A Floating City (1871) . 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 Les Naufragés du 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. Roland Barthes once claimed that Verne was the ultimate armchair traveller. 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 Méličs (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). The Italian painter Giorgio de Chiroco wrote on Verne 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." The long list of Verne's admirers also include such names as Albert Camus, Michel Butor, Michel Tournier, and J.M.G. Le Clézio.
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); Jules Verne: Journeys in Writing by Timothy A. Unwin (2005) - Suom: Verneltä on suomennettu useita kymmeniä teoksia. Suomentajana on ollut mm. kirjailija Joel Lehtonen.