My French Life: Happy Birthday Jules Verne

Written by on February 8, 2013 in French Icons

 Jules Verne portrait

Born in Nantes, western France, February 8, 1828 Jules Verne grew up with a fascination for the ships he saw in the docks where he lived and for the places to which he imagined they travelled.

The author of many books his most well-liked being Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) he is immensely popular to this day and is known as the  “Father of Science Fiction”.

His stories have inspired countless generations, spawned films and copies and astonished all who read them. How a man in 1864 could so precisely seem to predict how life might be in the future when he lived in an age when such technology was hardly even conceived of continues to astound and entertain us in the 21st Century and I think it always will.

Jules Verne illustration

His stories include predictions of submarines which used a clean power source that could convert water to fuel – similar to today’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology; airborne machines, computers, landing on the moon, weapons of mass destruction, skyscrapers, chemical warfare and television are all featured.

One of his less well-known books outside of France is “Paris in the 20th Century”. He wrote the book in 1863 but his publisher rejected it and it was incredibly only published in 1994 in France where it became a best seller. The story is of life in Paris in 1960-61. A 16 year old boy who loves poetry and literature but who lives in a world where only business and technology are valued struggles to have a happy life. There are no jobs for soldiers as war is waged by scientists, there are no jobs for journalists as arts are not valued and so there is no real news. In a society where food is expensive and crops have failed due to poor weather he must eat food that is produced synthetically. It is a grim picture of life in the future – is it not?!

Jules Verne illustration Earth to the Moon

Verne started off training to be lawyer, and then tried to be a playwright – but he wasn’t very good at it despite the encouragement of his good friend Alexander Dumas (The Three Musketeers) – then a stockbroker. He published his first book aged 34 about three explorers who go across African in a balloon called “Five Weeks in a Balloon”. He had never been to Africa and he had never been up in a balloon and yet his tale was so convincing that Le Figaro newspaper ran a feature which considered whether this was a true story or not? No-one could tell and the book became a best seller.

Jules verne, illustration of balloon of Felix Nadar CC Wikipedia

Where did Jules Verne get his ideas from? A question that intrigues many people. He definitely moved in scientific circles, including Felix Nadar who built an enormous 6000 m²balloon -which inspired “Five weeks in a Balloon”. Verne also knew many who were interested in ballooning and aerial exploration. He wasn’t widely travelled and yet his stories cover India, China, Africa, Arabia, the North Pole and all over the world and we can only surmise that he learned from books, journals and friends.

There is a museum dedicated to Jules Verne in Amiens, northern France where he lived for 18 years. He died on March 24th 1905 leaving a legacy which has inspired generation after generation – from science fiction writers to explorers and those who read his books as children and grow up with a yearning to follow in the footsteps of the memorable characters Jules Verne created.

A bientot



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