Few must be the avid readers who have not heard of Jules (Gabriel) Verne or never read (or seen a cinematographic adaptation of) one of his adventure stories, such as Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1869), or Around the World in Eighty Days (1892). Although it is a matter of dispute in academic circles whether he can be considered the Father of Science Fiction, Verne’s creations undoubtedly anticipated scientific developments and influenced various future branches in Art and Literature.
Jules Verne was born 188 years ago on Île de Feydeau, a small artificial island on the Loire River within Nantes, a great commercial city and port of call for ships with destinations worldwide. Maritime life inspired young Jules’s imagination and dreams of voyages full of adventures. However, as eldest son to Pierre Verne, an attorney, he was meant to follow in his father’s step. Consequently, he was sent to Paris in 1847 to study law, and although he would finish his law studies (1851), his vocation, as he finally confessed to his father, was writing.
His early successes as writer of short fiction and as playwright eventually brought him in contact with Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who would become his editor for over 40 years. Hetzel published Verne’s first novel Five Weeks in a Ballon in 1863 – it was an international bestseller. In Verne, Hetzel had found the ideal writer and serious researcher he sought for a planned educational magazine entitled Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation (Magazine of Education and Recreation). Verne accepted Hetzel’s long-term contract by which his future work was to appear first in serialised form in the magazine before being published in a book series entitled Voyages Extraordinaires (Extraordinary Voyages). The aim of both the magazine and the narratives contained therein was to convey to the (young) readers in an entertaining form what science had found out about the Earth and the Universe. It perfectly suited Verne who had been looking for a way to bring science and fiction together in a narrative that would at times foreshadow what might soon be.
Most of Jules Verne’s novels and narratives were published in Voyages Extraordinaires, one of the exceptions being Paris au XXe Siècle (Paris in the Twentieth Century) (1863). This allegedly lost manuscript was rediscovered in 1989 and published in French in 1994 (English translation: 1996). It describes Paris as Jules Verne imagined it to be in 1960: a technocratic society with a mechanistic worldview, ruled by a capitalist economy. Poets, artists and idealists such as the main protagonist, 16-year-old Michel Dufrénoy, had to discover the hard way that they had no place in it. A dystopian novel, it surprises by the rather accurate prediction of some of modern life’s technologies and trends (e.g. fax machines, elevated trains, automobiles, growth of suburbs, mass education, decline in reading, etc.).
Here you can read more about this recent work and the debate about Verne as a prophet of the future. The same author also provides an informative article about Jules Verne’s literary reception. You may also be interested in a complete list of Jules Verne’s works, including short stories and plays.
Today, over a 100 years after his death (1905), Jules Verne’s influence in science, literature and art is undeniable. Here are some of the inventions he foretold. One of a number of artists to acknowledge their debt to Jules Verne is the Belgian scifi comic designer Fançois Schuiten, creator of the chronicles Obscure Cities, who was asked to design the cover and in-book illustrations of Verne’s rediscovered novel: Paris au XXe Siècle.