Jules Verne was born on February 8, 1828, in Nantes, France, to Pierre Verne and Sophie-Henriette Allotte de la Fuye, the oldest of five children. Nantes is a harbor, and as a child Jules was enchanted with the ships he saw there. At the age of twelve, he hid on a ship bound for India but was caught and whipped by his father. He reportedly said “I shall from now on only travel in my imagination.”
Verne went to Saint Donatien College in Nantes where one of the teachers, Brutus de Villeroi, was an inventor of submarines, including the first submarine for the U. S. Navy, the U.S.S. Alligator, in 1862. Villeroi’s work is thought to be a model for the Nautilus in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. In any case, Verne was inspired by science and by exploration from childhood.
When as a young man Verne went to Paris in 1848, he began to write librettos for operas with Michel Carre though he was supposed to be studying law. When his father found out he was writing instead of studying law, he cut off his money, and Verne had to become a stockbroker to support himself. He was encouraged to continue writing by meeting Alexander Dumas, pere, and Victor Hugo. On January 10,1857, Verne married a widow with two daughters, Honorine de Viane Morel. They had a son, Michel, in 1861, who would become Verne’s literary executor and finish some of his novels.
Verne struggled with his writing until he met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, a famous publisher, who had also published George Sand and Victor Hugo. Hetzel was very influential in how Verne wrote and what he wrote. Verne was influenced by Edgar Allen Poe’s dark romances and began to write in that style, but Hetzel made him lighten up his tone and write optimistically about the advances of science in fictional adventure stories. Verne added humor and travelogues to catch the public interest. Hetzel published two or more books a year as part of the series called “Les voyages extraordinaire.”
There were 54 novels in the collection, the best known of which are (translated titles): Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869-70), Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), The Mysterious Island (1874), Master of the World (1904), Paris in the Twentieth Century (1994, written in 1863).
Verne became rich and famous with the stage adaptation of Around the World in Eighty Days, his most popular book. That tale contains many descriptions of sea voyages. For instance, Verne has Phileas Fogg take command of the Henrietta and sail it across the Atlantic, probably based on his own experience of sailing his small ship the Saint-Michel around Europe. Verne was knighted in 1870 as Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
On March 9, 1886, his mad twenty-five-year-old nephew Gaston shot him in the leg, causing a permanent limp. In 1888, Verne was elected town councilor of Amiens where he served for fifteen years. In 1905, ill with diabetes, Verne died at his home in Amiens. A new novel recently discovered by Verne’s grandson was published in 1994, Paris in the Twentieth Century, written in 1863. Verne’s publisher considered it too depressing for the times and asked him to wait for 20 years to publish it. It prophetically depicts the modern world we know: Internet, gasoline automobiles, calculators, skyscrapers, and high-speed trains, along with the idea that these inventions do not make people happy.
He had also predicted the Apollo Program spacecraft launch from Florida in From the Earth to the Moon in 1865.
Verne was thought of in his own time as an adventure author for young people, but today he is known as a futuristic writer and the pioneer of science fiction.