Jules Gabriel Verne 1828 – 1905
December 12, 2008
Jules Gabriel Verne 1828 – 1905 was a French author who pioneered the science fiction genre.
Jules Verne wrote about homeopathy in Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court::
Jules Gabriel 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.
Jules and his brother Paul, of whom Jules was very fond, would often rent a boat for a franc a day. The sight of the many ships navigating the river sparked Jules’ imagination, as he describes in the autobiographical short story Souvenirs d’Enfance et de Jeunesse.
When Jules 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 US Navy’s first submarine, the USS Alligator.
After completing his studies at the lycée, Jules Verne went to Paris to study law. About 1848, in conjunction with Michel Carre, 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.
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, George 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).
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, Jules 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.
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, Jules 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
- 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.