Jules Verne (1828–1905)
Jules Verne was a 19th century French author whose revolutionary science-fiction novels, including Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, have entranced readers for more than a century.
Jules Verne was born on February 8, 1828, in the city of Nantes, France, a busy maritime port city. There, Verne was exposed to schooners and ships departing and arriving, sparking his imagination for travel and adventure. While attending boarding school, he began to capture his imagination in short stories and poetry. After Verne left boarding school, his father sent him to Paris to study law, as he himself had done before.
While in Paris, instead of immersing himself in the law, Verne found himself attracted to the theater, and after obtaining his law degree and setting up a practice in 1850, he began writing numerous plays, dramas and operettas.
Encouraged by his friend, Alexandre Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers), Verne began a ten-year period living as a playwright, giving up the law entirely (much to the chagrin of his father). He produced a group of not terribly successful stage plays, including The Companions of the Marjolaine and Blind Man's Bluff (both around 1850). With his plays not generating enough income to live comfortably, Verne became a stockbroker to support himself. The job meant little to Verne, but it provided him with enough financial stability to marry Honorine de Viane, a young widow with two daughters, in 1857. That same year, he published his first book, Le Salon de 1857 ("The 1857 Salon").
In 1859–1860, Verne and his wife took the first of about 20 trips to the British Isles, and the trip ended up being quite influential, inspiring Verne to writeVoyage en Angleterre et en Ecosse ("Backwards to Britain"). In 1861, his and Honorine's only child, Michel Jean Pierre Verne, was born.
While his novels had previously been roundly rejected by publishers, Verne's luck would soon change, along with the genre in which he began to write. After making the acquaintance of editor and publisher Jules Hetzel, who would become Verne's champion, Verne's literary career truly began, with the 1863 publication of Five Weeks in a Balloon.
The book garnered wide acclaim, but poor sales. Regardless of the revenue created by the book, Verne knew that he had finally found his place in the world. He then immersed himself in his work with unbridled enthusiasm, and over the course of the next ten years, he would create many of his classic novels.
Around this time, Hetzel introduced Verne to Felix Nadar, a veritable renaissance man, who in turn introduced Verne to his circle of scientific friends. Meetings among this group surely influenced Verne while writing his scientific stories, and later, when Nadar founded the Society for Encouragement of Aerial Locomotion by Means of Heavier-Than-Air Craft, Verne was listed as a board member.
In 1864, Verne published Edgar Allan Poe and His Works, Adventures of Captain Hatteras and Journey to the Center of the Earth. That same year,Paris in the Twentieth Century was rejected for publication, but in 1865 Verne was back in print with From the Earth to the Moon and Captain Grant’s Children.
Verne soon bought a ship, making his thirst for travel and adventure easier to quench, and he and his wife spent a good deal of time sailing the seas. Verne's own adventures sailing to various ports, from the British Isles to the Mediterranean, provided plentiful fodder for his short stories and novels. In 1867, Hetzel published Verne's Geography of France and Her Colonies, and Verne went with his brother to Liverpool, to America. Although fascinated by America, Verne only stayed a week—managing a trip up the Hudson River to Albany, then on to Niagara Falls—although bits of his experiences would appear in several later works.
In 1869 and 1870, keeping up an unbelievable momentum, Hetzel published both volumes of Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, Round the Moon and Discovery of the Earth, but rejected Uncle Robinson, an early version of The Mysterious Island (a revised version would appear in print three years later).
At this point, Verne could comfortably live on his writing, and his reputation was spreading across the globe.
Jules Verne stayed prolific throughout the 1870s, writing The Adventures of a Special Correspondent (1872), The Survivors of the Chancellor (1875),Michael Strogoff (1876), and Dick Sand: A Captain at Fifteen (1878), among several others. After Verne's long run with personal and professional success, however, he would find the 1880s to be less kind.
In 1886, Verne's favorite nephew, Gaston, attempted to murder Verne. He fired two shots from a pistol, and one stuck Verne's shin, giving him a limp for the rest of his life. Gaston turned out to be sufferring from mental illness, and spent his life in a mental institution. A week after Verne was shot, Jules Hetzel died—an event that devastated the author. To add to his misery, Verne's mother died the following year..
Verne did, however, continue to travel and write, and Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon (1881), Robur the Conqueror (1886) and Master of the World(1904) are among his later publications. In 1905, while ill with diabetes, Verne died at his home in Amiens, France..
In all, Verne wrote more than 70 books (most notably the 54 novels comprising the Voyages Extraordinaires), and conjured hundreds of memorable characters and countless innovations years before their time, including the submarine, space travel, terrestrial flight and deep-sea exploration.
Often referred to as the "father of science fiction," Jules Verne is the second most translated writer of all time (behind Agatha Christie), and his writings on scientific endeavors have sparked the imaginations of writers, scientists and inventors for over a century.