Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 515

Although Verne’s career as a writer had begun in 1850, his works enjoyed little popular success before the publication of A Journey to the Centre of the Earth in November, 1864. The novel sold so well that his Parisian publisher, Jules Hetzel, offered Verne a 50 percent increase in payments...

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Although Verne’s career as a writer had begun in 1850, his works enjoyed little popular success before the publication of A Journey to the Centre of the Earth in November, 1864. The novel sold so well that his Parisian publisher, Jules Hetzel, offered Verne a 50 percent increase in payments for all future novels. Hetzel had no qualms about paying three thousand French francs per novel because he believed that Verne’s future novels also would sell well. This significant increase in his earnings enabled Verne to resign his job as a stockbroker. He spent the remaining years of his life as a full-time writer of science-fiction novels. His work remained popular both in France and around the world.

Verne’s publisher at first thought that A Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Verne’s many other science-fiction novels describing fantastic voyages would appeal almost exclusively to young children. Adult readers, however, also discovered much of interest in Verne’s writings, and sales of Verne’s books were higher than expected.

A superficial reading of A Journey to the Centre of the Earth or other, equally popular novels by Verne such as From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) might make them appear to be little more than highly fanciful but almost unbelievable descriptions of trips to distant places in outer space, under the water, or under Earth’s crust. The novels, however, also reveal profound psychological insights into the effects of these mysterious voyages on their characters. A Journey to the Centre of the Earth is not an objective third-person narrative that describes an unsuccessful effort to find the center of the earth but rather a first-person narrative. This form helps Verne to show how a terrifying trip transformed the narrator, Axel, from an immature young man into a thoughtful and psychologically stable adult.

Axel’s entrance into the Mount Sneffels volcano constitutes the beginning of his voyage of self-discovery. He is forced to face his fear of dying, his alienation from his obsessive Uncle Otto, and his doubts about the depth of his feelings for his girlfriend, Graüben. Several times during the voyage, Axel is separated from his companions. This solitude gives him the opportunity to reflect seriously on the meaning of his existence. Unlike his blindly optimistic uncle, Axel is not at all certain that he will not lose his life in this dangerous effort to prove the validity of Saknussemm’s double hypothesis that Earth is hollow and that, therefore, people can travel to its center. Axel comes to realize that this voyage into a volcano represents a voyage into the unknown, of which he is afraid.

By means of this fictional voyage, Verne helps readers to deal with the hidden and mysterious elements in their own personalities and psyches. The title of William Butcher’s Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Self (1990) suggests the profound psychological voyage of self-discovery that Axel undertook. Readers can experience such self-discovery for themselves when they appreciate the many levels of meaning in Verne’s novel.

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Critical Context