It’s Jules Verne Day tomorrow – I don’t know if there’s an appropriate Google doodle planned, but here’s one from a previous Feb.8 that’s quite nice.
Born in 1828 in Nantes, Verne tried, like all good sons, to do what was expected of him – become a lawyer like his father – but the theater called first and then literature. His love of travel and adventure had to be postponed until he could afford it, but his interest in the sciences made his fantastic tales ring true from the start.
Not that the publishing world embraced him instantly – his first novel was rejected repeatedly until Pierre-Jules Hetzel, Victor Hugo’s publisher, agreed to take it, showing Verne what kind of revisions made his Five Weeks in a Balloon more readable.
Interestingly, Hetzel was very critical of Verne’s next work – Paris in the Twentieth Century – and told the writer to put the manuscript in a safe and leave it for 20 years, until his reputation was secure. Verne followed Hetzel’s advice so thoroughly that he never took the manuscript out of the safe – it was found by his great-grandson in 1989 and finally published in 1994.
Scholars were thrilled of course and the book is considered a major addition to Verne’s work – in Science-Fiction Studies, Arthur B. Evans observed that
“…this is no utopia. Most forms of art, literature, and music have either disappeared entirely, or have been redirected toward strictly utilitarian purposes. Education has been “purified,” vocationalized, and standardized for all. Electricity not only illuminates the city and its ubiquitous commercial advertising but also serves as an efficient instrument for capital punishment. And the citizens of Paris themselves have become unfeeling cogs in a highly efficient but very repressive social wheel.”
If Verne seems prophetic, it’s not really mysterious – he simply paid a lot of attention to what was going on in the world and in the middle of the 19th century, science was moving by leaps and bounds. There is a nice photo essay at National Geographic cataloguing ten inventions he envisioned.
I doubt if he’s read much in the US anymore – though he is second only to Agatha Christie in number of works in translation – but he has been a smash at the box office with ‘Around the World in 80 Days,’ ‘20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea’ and ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth.’
If you’d like to read one of the 55 Voyages Extraordinaires, they are all available at Project Gutenberg.