Jules Verne’s initial ambition was to be a playwright, and several of his plays and operettas were produced in Paris during the 1850’s. The first was Les Pailles rompues, produced by Alexandre Dumas, père, in 1850, which also appeared in print. Others were the librettos Colin Maillard (pb. 1853) and Les Compagnons de la Marjolaine (pr. 1855). A number of Verne’s short stories appeared in periodicals during the same period; some were collected along with the novelette “Une Fantasie du docteur Ox” in 1874. A collection of later stories was assembled for publication by Verne’s son, Michel Verne, appearing under the title Hier et demain (1910; Yesterday and Tomorrow, 1965). Verne also wrote various nonfictional works on the history of exploration and took over from Théophile Lavellée a multivolume project called Géographie illustrée de la France et de ses colonies, which was issued in the period 1867-1868. Many of his novels were adapted to dramatic form and were usually represented as collaborations when produced or subsequently published as plays. Of his early articles, the most important is an essay on Edgar Allan Poe that he published in 1864 in the journal Musée des familles.
Jules Verne is remembered today chiefly as one of the two most notable writers of science fiction in a time before that term existed. I. O. Evans has described Verne as the “founder” of science fiction, and Peter Costello has called him the “inventor” of science fiction. The claim is justified, but it should be remembered that Verne did not see himself in this way—he was quite sincere in seeing no real literary relationship between his own work and that of H. G. Wells, with whom he was frequently compared during the last decade of his life. What Verne actually set out to do, consciously and methodically, was to use geography as an ideative resource in the same way that Alexandre Dumas, père, had used history. Only a fraction of his work can be described as science fiction, yet all of it fits into a single pattern that is suggested by his use of the term les voyages extraordinaire as a kind of series title for his oeuvre. The medium that Verne invented and developed might more appropriately be called “the novel of imaginary tourism”; the science-fiction element in his work arose out of his occasional ambitions to send his tourists to places never before visited by humans (the North Pole, the moon, and cave systems beneath the earth’s surface). In some instances, he had to devise new modes of travel—Barbicane’s space-gun and Robur’s flying machine—but, for the most part, he was content to employ conventional means of transport or slightly more luxurious versions of already existing machines (balloons and submarines).
There is a sense in which Verne’s reputation has been distorted by the emphasis on his achievements as a precursor of modern science fiction. He has been described by Franz Born as “the man who invented the future” and by Peter Haining as “the master of prophecy,” but these descriptions are plainly absurd. Apart from two whimsical essays and his last, most somber, short story, “L’Eternel Adam” (written c. 1900 and included in Yesterday and Tomorrow; “The Eternal Adam”), Verne wrote nothing set in the future. Many of his novels deal with achievements not yet accomplished in the real world, but they were all achievements that Verne believed to be perfectly possible in the context of his own times. Even in his own day, Verne was hailed as the inventor, in his...
(The entire section is 959 words.)
What is innovative in Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth?
How do you account for Captain Nemo’s enduring appeal to readers?
What were Verne’s sources in his life and reading that enabled him to be the inventor of science fiction?
Science and the aspirations of science are always advancing. What keeps the science or pseudoscience of Verne’s works from becoming uncommonly boring to modern readers?
What modern artistic works blend an appreciation of scientific possibilities and mythological structures as did Verne’s works?
Butcher, William. Jules Verne: The Definitive Biography. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006. An exhaustive examination of Jules Verne that is large in scope, revealing rich—and sometimes controversial—details of his life.
Butcher, William. Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Self: Space and Time in the Voyages Extraordinaires. London: Macmillan, 1990. A comprehensive study of Verne’s science fiction, with detailed notes and a comprehensive bibliography.
Costello, Peter. Jules Verne Inventor of Science Fiction. New York: Scribner’s, 1978. A readable biography that puts the fiction in historical context. Includes a bibliography.
Jules-Verne, Jean. Jules Verne. New York: Taplinger, 1976. Written by Verne’s grandson, this readable and entertaining biography draws on material in the family archives and explores Verne’s methods and the experiences that led to his stories and novels. Also a good portrait of the times in which Verne lived and wrote. Includes detailed bibliography and index.
Lottmann, Herbert. Jules Verne: An Exploratory Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. A graceful study by a veteran biographer of many French subjects. The detailed notes reflect extensive new research.
Lynch, Lawrence. Jules Verne. New York: Twayne, 1992. A reliable introductory study with chapters on Verne’s early life, his early fiction, his period of masterpieces, and his final fictions. Includes an appendix listing film adaptations of Verne, detailed notes, a chronology, and an annotated bibliography.
Martin, Andrew. The Mask of the Prophet: The Extraordinary Fictions of Jules Verne. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1990. Attempts to recapture Verne for modern readers, focusing on his fictions of subversion and law and disorder, and on the prophetic nature of fiction itself.