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Jules Verne

Jules Gabriel Verne; 8 February 1828 – 24 March 1905) was a French novelist, poet, and playwright best known for his adventure novels and his profound influence on the literary genre of science fiction.

Verne was born to bourgeois parents in the seaport of Nantes, where he was trained to follow in his father's footsteps as a lawyer, but quit the profession early in life to write for magazines and the stage. His collaboration with the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel led to the creation of the Voyages extraordinaires, a widely popular series of scrupulously researched adventure novels including Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873).

Verne is generally considered a major literary author in France and most of Europe, where he has had a wide influence on the literary avant-garde and on surrealism. His reputation is markedly different in Anglophone regions, where he has often been labeled a writer of genre fiction or children's books, largely because of the highly abridged and altered translations in which his novels are often reprinted.

Verne has been the second most-translated author in the world since 1979, ranking between Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare. He has sometimes been called the "Father of Science Fiction", a title that has also been given to H. G. Wells and Hugo Gernsback.

Thanks to his visits to salons, Verne came into contact in 1849 with Alexandre Dumas through the mutual acquaintance of a celebrated chirologist of the time, the Chevalier d'Arpentigny. Verne became close friends with Dumas' son, Alexandre Dumas, fils, and showed him a manuscript for a stage comedy, Les Pailles rompues (The Broken Straws). The two young men revised the play together, and Dumas, through arrangements with his father, had it produced by the Opéra-National at the Théâtre Historique in Paris, opening on 12 June 1850.

In 1851, Verne met with a fellow writer from Nantes, Pierre-Michel-François Chevalier (known as "Pitre-Chevalier"), the editor-in-chief of the magazine Musée des familles (The Family Museum). Pitre-Chevalier was looking for articles about geography, history, science, and technology, and was keen to make sure that the educational component would be made accessible to large popular audiences using a straightforward prose style or an engaging fictional story. Verne, with his delight in diligent research, especially in geography, was a natural for the job. Verne first offered him a short historical adventure story, "The First Ships of the Mexican Navy", written in the style of James Fenimore Cooper, whose novels had deeply influenced him. Pitre-Chevalier published it in July 1851, and in the same year published a second short story, "A Voyage in a Balloon"(August 1851). The latter story, with its combination of adventurous narrative, travel themes, and detailed historical research, would later be described by Verne as "the first indication of the line of novel that I was destined to follow."

Dumas fils put Verne in contact with Jules Seveste, a stage director who had taken over the directorship of the Théâtre-Historique and renamed it the Théâtre Lyrique. Seveste offered Verne the job of secretary of the theatre, with little or no salary attached. Verne accepted, using the opportunity to write and produce several comic operas written in collaboration with Hignard and the prolific librettist Michel Carré. To celebrate his employment at the Théâtre Lyrique, Verne joined with ten friends to found a bachelors' dining club, the Onze-sans-femme (Eleven Bachelors).


For some time, Verne's father pressed him to abandon his writing and begin a business as a lawyer. However, Verne argued in his letters that he could only find success in literature. The pressure to plan for a secure future in law reached its climax in January 1852, when his father offered Verne his own Nantes law practice. Faced with this ultimatum, Verne decided conclusively to continue his literary life and refuse the job, writing: "Am I not right to follow my own instincts? It's because I know who I am that I realize what I can be one day."

Meanwhile, Verne was spending much time at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, conducting research for his stories and feeding his passion for science and recent discoveries, especially in geography. It was in this period that Verne met the illustrious geographer and explorer Jacques Arago, who continued to travel extensively despite his blindness (he had lost his sight completely in 1837). The two men became good friends, and Arago's innovative and witty accounts of his travels led Verne toward a newly developing genre of literature: that of travel writing.

In 1852, two new pieces from Verne appeared in the Musée des familles: "Martin Paz", a novella set in Lima, which Verne wrote in 1851 and published 10 July through 11 August 1852, and Les Châteaux en Californie, ou, Pierre qui roule n’amasse pas mousse (The Castles in California, or, A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss), a one-act comedy full of racy double entendres. In April and May 1854, the magazine published Verne's short story "Master Zacharius", an E. T. A. Hoffmann-like fantasy featuring a sharp condemnation of scientific hubris and ambition, followed soon afterward by "A Winter Amid the Ice", a polar adventure story whose themes closely anticipated many of Verne's novels. The Musée also published some nonfiction popular science articles which, though unsigned, are generally attributed to Verne. Verne's work for the magazine was cut short in 1856, when he had a serious quarrel with Pitre-Chevalier and refused to continue contributing (a refusal he would maintain until 1863, when Pitre-Chevalier died, and the magazine went to new editorship).


While writing stories and articles for Pitre-Chevalier, Verne began to form the idea of inventing a new kind of novel, a Roman de la Science (novel of science), which would allow him to incorporate large amounts of the factual information he so enjoyed researching in the Bibliothèque. He is said to have discussed the project with the elder Alexandre Dumas, who had tried something similar with an unfinished novel, Isaac Laquedem, and who enthusiastically encouraged Verne's project

In 1862, through their mutual acquaintance Alfred de Bréhat, Verne came into contact with the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, and submitted to him the manuscript of his developing novel, then called Voyage en Ballon. Hetzel, already the publisher of Balzac, George Sand, Victor Hugo, and other well-known authors, had long been planning to launch a high-quality family magazine in which entertaining fiction would combine with scientific education. He saw Verne, with his demonstrated inclination toward scrupulously researched adventure stories, as an ideal contributor for such a magazine, and accepted the novel, giving Verne suggestions for improvement. Verne made the proposed revisions within two weeks and returned to Hetzel with the final draft, now titled Five Weeks in a Balloon. It was published by Hetzel on 31 January 1863.

To secure his services for the planned magazine, to be called the Magasin d'Éducation et de Récréation (Magazine of Education and Recreation), Hetzel also drew up a long-term contract in which Verne would give him three volumes of text per year, each of which Hetzel would buy outright for a flat fee. Verne, finding both a steady salary and a sure outlet for writing at last, accepted immediately. For the rest of his lifetime, most of his novels would be serialized in Hetzel's Magasin before their appearance in book form, beginning with his second novel for Hetzel, The Adventures of Captain Hatteras (1864–65).


When The Adventures of Captain Hatteras was published in book form in 1866, Hetzel publicly announced his literary and educational ambitions for Verne's novels by saying in a preface that Verne's works would form a novel sequence called the Voyages extraordinaires (Extraordinary Voyages or Extraordinary Journeys), and that Verne's aim was "to outline all the geographical, geological, physical, and astronomical knowledge amassed by modern science and to recount, in an entertaining and picturesque format that is his own, the history of the universe." Late in life, Verne confirmed that this commission had become the running theme of his novels: "My object has been to depict the earth, and not the earth alone, but the universe… And I have tried at the same time to realize a very high ideal of beauty of style. It is said that there can't be any style in a novel of adventure, but it isn't true." However, he also noted that the project was extremely ambitious: "Yes! But the Earth is very large, and life is very short! In order to leave a completed work behind, one would need to live to be at least 100 years old!"

Hetzel influenced many of Verne's novels directly, especially in the first few years of their collaboration, for Verne was initially so happy to find a publisher that he agreed to almost all of the changes Hetzel suggested. For example, when Hetzel disapproved of the original climax of Captain Hatteras, including the death of the title character, Verne wrote an entirely new conclusion in which Hatteras survived.[71] Hetzel also rejected Verne's next submission, Paris in the Twentieth Century, believing its pessimistic view of the future and its condemnation of technological progress were too subversive for a family magazine.[72] (The manuscript, believed lost for some time after Verne's death, was finally published in 1994.)


In 1867, Verne bought a small ship, the Saint-Michel, which he successively replaced with the Saint-Michel II and the Saint-Michel III as his financial situation improved. On board the Saint-Michel III, he sailed around Europe. In 1870, he was appointed as "Chevalier" (Knight) of the Légion d'honneur. After his first novel, most of his stories were first serialised in the Magazine d'Éducation et de Récréation, a Hetzel biweekly publication, before being published in book form. His brother Paul contributed to 40th French climbing of the Mont-Blanc and a collection of short stories – Doctor Ox – in 1874.


The decades after Verne's death saw the rise in France of the "Jules Verne cult", a steadily growing group of scholars and young writers who took Verne's works seriously as literature and willingly noted his influence on their own pioneering works. Some of the cult founded the Sociéte Jules Verne, the first academic society for Verne scholars; many others became highly respected avant garde and surrealist literary figures in their own right. Their praise and analyses, emphasizing Verne's stylistic innovations and enduring literary themes, proved highly influential for literary studies to come.

In the 1960s and 1970s, thanks in large part to a sustained wave of serious literary study from well-known French scholars and writers, Verne's reputation skyrocketed in France. Roland Barthes' seminal essay "Nautilus et Bateau Ivre" ("The Nautilus and the Drunken Boat") was influential in its exegesis of the Voyages extraordinares as a purely literary text, while book-length studies by such figures as Marcel Moré and Jean Chesneaux considered Verne from a multitude of thematic vantage points.

French literary journals devoted entire issues to Verne and his work, with essays by such imposing literary figures as Michel Butor, Georges Borgeaud, Marcel Brion, Pierre Versins, Michel Foucault, René Barjavel, Marcel Lecomte, Francis Lacassin, and Michel Serres; meanwhile, Verne's entire published opus returned to print, with unabridged and illustrated editions of his works printed by Livre de Poche and Éditions Rencontre. The wave reached its climax in Verne's sesquicentennial year 1978, when he was made the subject of an academic colloquium at the Centre culturel international de Cerisy-la-Salle, and Journey to the Center of the Earth was accepted for the French university system's Agrégation reading list. Since these events, Verne has been consistently recognized in Europe as a legitimate member of the French literary canon, with academic studies and new publications steadily continuing.


Verne's novels have had a wide influence on both literary and scientific works; writers known to have been influenced by Verne include Marcel Aymé, Roland Barthes, René Barjavel, Michel Butor, Blaise Cendrars, Paul Claudel, Jean Cocteau, François Mauriac, Raymond Roussel, Claude Roy, Antoine Saint-Exupéry, and Jean-Paul Sartre, while scientists and explorers who acknowledged Verne's inspiration have included Richard E. Byrd, Yuri Gagarin, Simon Lake, Hubert Lyautey, Guglielmo Marconi, Fridtjof Nansen, and Wernher von Braun. Ray Bradbury summed up Verne's influence on literature and science the world over by saying: "We are all, in one way or another, the children of Jules Verne."