The World of Jules Verne, an Extraordinary Voyager

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The World of Jules Verne, an Extraordinary Voyager
“You like the sea, Captain?” “Yes; I love it! The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides… The globe began with sea, so to speak; and who knows if it will not end with it?” The world of Jules Verne was a remarkable one. Through the novels which comprise The Extraordinary Voyages, Les Voyages Extraordinaire, and the beautifully detailed illustrations which accompanied them, Verne remarkably envisioned what is common place to us nearly a century and a half later: hot air balloons, helicopters, airplanes, submarines, exploration of the moon, the north and south poles, and the use of hydrogen as an energy source. The names of his characters and inventions, such as Captain Nemo, Phileas Fogg, and the submarine Nautilus have become part of popular culture. Considered the “Father of Science Fiction”, Jules Verne was a true visionary. Jules Gabriel Verne was born on February 8, 1828 on the small island of Feydeau, in Nantes, France, a busy maritime port city on the Loire River in the Upper Brittany region of Western France. The house at 2, quai Jean-Bart, where he spent the first 14 years– and the daily life of the islands, ports and boats– became the nexus of much of his work. It is said, when he was 11 years old, he clandestinely embarked aboard the three-masted La Coralie, bound for the Indies, but before the ocean-going vessel put to sea, it was intercepted by his father. The authenticity of this incident is far from certain, but his imagination and passion for travel and adventure proved undeniable. At age six, Verne was sent to the first of a series of four boarding schools he would attend. His first teacher, the widow of a naval captain who had disappeared 30 years before, often told her students exciting stories about her missing husband being a castaway like Robinson Crusoe, who would eventually return from a desert island. This theme and others made an indelible impression on the young Verne. At the age of eight he was able to recite verses from memory in Greek and Latin. While attending his last boarding school, in-between courses on rhetoric and philosophy, Verne began to write poetry. The poetry of happenstance was encouraged in his family – births, marriages, celebrations – and he was never without a pad and pencil. His father, a prosperous lawyer, sent him to Paris in 1847 to study law, hoping that as his first-born son, he would follow in his footsteps. Although he earned his law degree, Verne rejected his parents’ middle-class respectability, refusing his father’s offer to open a law practice in Nantes, because he was secretly planning a literary career. Inherently drawn to the literary and theatrical scene in Paris, Verne lived a Bohemian life. He frequented many Parisian salons and befriended a group of artists, and writers that included Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, both of whose work he respectfully emulated. It was through his friendship with Dumas and Dumas son, that his first play, Broken Straws, was produced in 1850, reaping a modicum of success. Despite continued parental pressure, Verne continued to write and in 1852 he took a poorly paid position as secretary of the Théâtre-Lyrique, in order to have a platform to produce two more of his pieces, Blind Man’s Bluff and The Companions of the Marjolaine. Verne tried different forms of writing, adding comedies, operettas and short stories to his repertoire. His short stories were particularly good and were frequently published in the popular magazine, The Museum of Families, which was an illustrated French literary journal founded by Émile de Girardin. Surrounded within its pages by illustrious writers such as Dumas and Balzac, Verne couldn’t help but feel fame and fortune was within reach. In 1856, Verne met, fell in love with, and the following year married, Honorine de Viane, a young widow with two daughters. Realizing he needed a stronger financial foundation for his new family, he began working as a stockbroker alongside his wife’s brother. Membership in the Paris Exchange did not interfere with his daily writing schedule, however, because he adopted a rigorous timetable, rising at five o’clock in the morning in order to put in several hours researching and writing before beginning work at the Bourse. In 1857, he published his first book, The 1857 Salon. Verne’s personality was contradictory, not terribly unusual for a writer. Capable of extreme conviviality, he was equally happy alone in his study or when sailing the English Channel in a converted fishing boat. Verne and his wife made approximately 20 sea voyages to the British Isles. These journeys inspired him to pen Backwards to Britain; however, the novel wasn’t published until 1989, 84 years after his death. In 1861, the couple’s only child, Michel-Jean-Pierre Verne, was born. It was in this period that Verne met the noted geographer and explorer Jacques Arago, who continued to travel extensively despite his blindness (he had lost his sight completely in 1837). The two men became good friends, and Arago’s innovative and witty accounts of his travels led Verne toward developing an new genre of literature called “travel writing.” By 1862, Verne’s literary career had failed to garner major attention, but his luck changed with the introduction to editor and publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel. Hetzel encouraged Verne to develop his evolving style- “Roman de la Science”, adventure narratives within the framework of scientific research. In 1863 Hertzel published Five Weeks in a Balloon, or, Journeys and Discoveries in Africa by Three Englishmen, to wide acclaim and Jules Verne the novelist was officially born. Hetzel, who previously rejected Backwards to Britain because he felt it was more cerebral and less exciting, had made the right decision. It…

Lead photo credit : Jules Verne in 1892, photo: Wikimedia

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Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France. She is the owner of French Country Adventures, which provides private, personally-guided, small-group food & wine adventures into Gascony, the Pays Basque and Provence. She writes a monthly blog about her life in France and is a contributor to Bonjour Paris and France Today magazines.


  • Sharon
    2020-02-06 14:42:37
    Never realized Jules Verne wrote so much. His stories came true. Too bad we don’t listen to futuristic authors.