As a child, and even later as an adult, I enjoyed reading the books by Jules Verne. Over the years several of the books have been made into movies, such as “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Around the World in Eighty Days”. My favorite among the movies was the 1954 Disney film “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” starring James Mason as Captain Nemo and Kirk Douglas as Ned Land. The movie actually inspired me to read my first Jules Verne book and I found the story about the mysterious Nautilus ship, a fascinating mix of action and drama with a little bit of science fiction.
In this post I will discuss the life and times of the French author, poet and playwright Jules Verne (Born: February 8, 1828 Died: March 24, 1905). Verne was born in the tiny seaside town of Nantes, France. His parents were Pierre Verne, a successful attorney and Sophie Allote de la Fuye, her family were a local seafaring family. Verne had one younger brother and three younger sisters.
Verne was sent to boarding school at the age of six and later to a Catholic school, Ecole Saint Stanislas, were he enjoyed subjects such as geography. As a child Verne loved stories about the sea and life aboard ships. There is a story about an eleven year old Verne secretly intending to become a cabin boy on the “Coralie” which was scheduled to depart Nantes for a three year voyage to the Indies. Luckily, his father found out just in time to rescue his son and Verne was urged to make a promise that the only way he was to travel in the future was in his imagination and his father also strongly suggested that the young boy stay close to home until he was much older.
During the following years the Verne family moved several times within the area of Nantes. Verne was also enrolled in several religious schools nearby and he soon began to realize that he enjoyed writing stories. By 1847, at the age of nineteen, Verne wanted to pursue a literary career and his father was greatly disappointed in the decision because he was hoping that his son would join the family law practice.
But, that was not the only problem and Verne would soon to suffer a great romantic loss when his cousin Caroline, who he had been in love with for many years, married a much older man. Verne’s father quickly decided to take advantage of the situation and urged Verne to distance himself from his first love and he was sent to Paris to begin his studies in law school. After his first year in Paris, Verne fell in love with Rose Grossetiere and using his writing skills he expressed his love to her in a series of thirty romantic poems. Unfortunately, her parents did not approve of the relationship and she was quickly married off to a rich older man. Verne took this new loss extremely hard and it seemed to deeply affect him not only on a personal level but also in his future literary works.
In 1848, upon returning to Paris for this second year of law studies, the city was in the midst of the French Revolution and the government had recently been overthrown causing great political changes. With the use of his family connections, Verne now decided it was time to make his entrance into Paris society and he started attending literary salons (or parties). While still continuing his law studies, Verne soon found a love of the theatre and inspired by the Victor Hugo’s play, “Notre Dame de Paris”, Verne began writing a series of plays.
Unfortunately during this time, Verne began experiencing health problems. His severe stomach cramps were diagnosed as colitis and he also suffered from several mysterious attacks of facial paralysis which were later determined as being caused by an inner ear infection. All these medical concerns prevented Verne from being required to enlist in the French military which was a relief since he had very strong views against war and these feelings were to remain with him throughout his life.
Given all his medical conditions, Verne somehow managed to continue attending the literary salons while also pursuing his writing. He was very busy because in addition to these activities he was still continuing his law studies and after a few years he graduated with a law degree in 1851. Even though he was set to start a career as a lawyer, Verne was soon offered a writing opportunity by Pierre Chevalier for a French magazine, “Musee des Families”. Verne started researching and writing articles for the magazine about geography, history, science and technology. The magazine job quickly lead to writing short stories and ultimately a position as secretary for the Theatre Lyrique. Verne wrote and produced several comic operas.
With his literary career making progress Verne soon abandoned the thought of being a lawyer despite the fact that his father had given him an ultimatum to join the family lawyer practice. It was while Verne was doing research for his stories that he met an explorer named Jacques Arago. During his intense discussions with Arago, Verne was inspired because he had found a new topic concerning the subject of world travel for his future stories. Verne was also developing an increased interest in the field of science and he was thinking of combing these two ideas into a new style for writing books.
On January 10, 1857 Verne married Honorine de Viane Morel, who a twenty-six year old widow with two young children. During a trip to Sweden and Denmark, the trip was abruptly cut short when Verne was called back to Paris by his wife and he arrived back home shortly after the birth of his son, Michel. By this time Verne had started a brokerage business in order to support his new family but he continued to write and develop his style for adventure books. Then in 1862, Verne met the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel and through their collaboration Verne wrote a series of books known as the “Voyages Extraordinaires”. His first book, “Five Weeks in a Balloon” was published in the beginning of 1863. Several more books were published over the following years and these very popular adventure novels included the books “Journey to the Center of the Earth” published in 1864, “From the Earth to the Moon” in 1865, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” in 1870 and “Around the World in Eighty Days” in 1873. Unfortunately, the normally good relationship between Hetzel and Verne became strained over a disagreement regarding the storyline of “Twenty Thousand Leagues”. Despite their difficulties the professional collaboration between the two continued as Verne wrote additional books that Hetzel continued to publish.
Verne finally fulfilled his passion for travel and the sea by purchasing a small ship, the “Saint-Michel”, after the success of his first books. Then, as his fame increased with more books published and his wealth continued to improve his financial situation, Verne bought and replaced several more ships over the years. Sadly, on a personal level, Verne’s relationship with his son became very difficult due to his grown son’s bad behavior and his poor lifestyle choices and the two became distant but eventually the situation improved and the father and son became close again toward the end of Verne’s life.
In 1888, Verne took a political position and was elected town counselor of Amiens, France which is located about 75 miles north of Paris. He served in that position for the next fifteen years. In 1905, Jules Verne died from complication with diabetes and he is buried in the cemetery in Amiens.