For most of his career, Verne strongly advocated the study of science, sharing the nineteenth centurys optimism about technological progress. Early novels such as A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1872), From the Earth to the Moon, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1873) illustrate his attitudes and artistic practices. He called these novels voyages extraordinaires. Some later ones fell into that category as well, but he demonstrated a growing distrust of science. Although critics have recognized the importance of the novels as science fiction, they have often claimed that Verne relied too heavily on conventions of the adventure or travel story.
Verne based his novels on possible or probable developments of present or near-future science, emphasizing realism through exact description. He set his characters in a particular time and place, put them in confrontation with physical nature, and dramatized their responses in the form of a journey or quest. With the exception of Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, his characters were recognizable types such as the scientist, the professor, or the adventurer. He subordinated them to the surroundings or circumstances that science had created for human action. The journeys of his characters to the Moon, to the center of the earth, to the bottom of the sea, or to the far reaches of the solar system conveyed the wonder and excitement of scientific discovery. Verne’s characters embodied practicality, independence, tenacity, energy, and wonder, strengthening them against obstacles of nature. Working outside institutions, Barbicane and Ardan solved one problem after another to achieve spaceflight.
Verne’s combination of plausibility and speculation convinced his readers that a trip to the Moon or on an advanced submarine was not a fantasy but a scientific possibility. His vision of things to come inspired writers and scientists, anticipating future reality in several ways.
Verne optimistically estimated the effects of scientific advances on society,...
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- Critical Essays