Before this year, I never read a book by Jules Verne. I read lots and lots of American and British classics for my English major, but Verne was French. I’ve been missing out! Since I’ve enjoyed two of his book this summer and added a third to my to-read list, I thought I’d learn a little more about him.
Verne was born in Nantes, France in 1828 and died in 1905. He studied law but, lucky for us, soon turned his writing hobby into full-time work. He wrote scores of books and became quite famous in his day. It’s a fame that has lasted, as many of his more popular works are still in print today. Some have even been turned into movies. He, along with England’s H.G. Wells, of whom Verne reminds me greatly, is one of the founding fathers of the modern sci-fi genre.
Verne writes imaginative adventures, but he includes in them great detail about the natural world and about futuristic inventions. I was especially impressed with his submarine vessel, The Nautilus (from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), which included functions such as an air reservoir and circulation system, a means to purify sea water for drinking, an underwater exit and docking system, realistic steering and propulsion mechanisms, and the ability to run the whole thing off electricity generated from sea water. And this long before a working, life-sustaining sub had ever been invented. I was also blown away by Verne’s descriptions of the South Pole, made decades before it was even discovered. And though I haven’t read it yet, his novel Five Weeks in a Balloon, I learned, contains remarkably accurate details of space exploration. What an amazing prophet Jules Verne was!
I gleaned a few interesting details about Verne’s life which I’ll share before I close. When he was 12, he sneaked away and signed onto an ocean-going vessel as cabin boy. His father recovered him before the ship sailed, however, and Verne promised his parents that “in the future he would travel only in imagination.” Fitting, don’t you think?
Verne had a mischievous sense of humor, but basically he was a shy and solitary man. He also had a strong religious faith, which can set one at odds with the scientific world. I noticed and appreciate his blend of faith and fact in his novels; neither negates the other. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Biography, Verne also “showed himself aware of the social dangers of uncontrolled technological advance” in his work The Purchase of the North Pole. And Verne himself wrote, “If I am not always what I ought to be, my characters will be what I should like to be.”
As a writer, that’s a mantra I can appreciate, from a man I have come to respect.