History of Literature

Jules Verne

"Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea"

Illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou

"The Children of Captain Grant"

Illustrations by Édouard Riou

"The Mysterious Island"

Illustrations by Jules Ferat


Jules Verne



Jules Verne

French author

born Feb. 8, 1828, Nantes, France
died March 24, 1905, Amiens

prolific French author whose writings laid much of the foundation of modern science fiction.

Verne’s father, intending that Jules follow in his footsteps as an attorney, sent him to Paris to study law. But the young Verne fell in love with literature, especially theatre. He wrote several plays, worked as secretary of the Théâtre Lyrique (1852–54), and published short stories and scientific essays in the periodical Musée des familles. In 1857 Verne married and for several years worked as a broker at the Paris Stock Market. During this period he continued to write, to do research at the Bibliothèque Nationale (National Library), and to dream of a new kind of novel—one that would combine scientific fact with adventure fiction. In September 1862 Verne met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who agreed to publish the first of Verne’s Voyages extraordinaires (“Extraordinary Journeys”)—Cinq semaines en balloon (1863; Five Weeks in a Balloon). Initially serialized in Hetzel’s Le Magasin d’éducation et de récréation, the novel became an international best seller, and Hetzel offered Verne a long-term contract to produce many more works of “scientific fiction.” Verne subsequently quit his job at the stock market to become a full-time writer and began what would prove to be a highly successful author-publisher collaboration that lasted for more than 40 years and resulted in more than 60 works in the popular series Voyages extraordinaires.

Verne’s works can be divided into three distinct phases. The first, from 1862 to 1886, might be termed his positivist period. After his dystopian second novel Paris au XXe siècle (1994; Paris in the 20th Century) was rejected by Hetzel in 1863, Verne learned his lesson, and for more than two decades he churned out many successful science-adventure novels, including Voyage au centre de la terre (1863, expanded 1867; Journey to the Centre of the Earth), De la terre à la lune (1865; From the Earth to the Moon), Autour de la lune (1870; Trip Around the Moon), Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1870; Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), and Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (1873; Around the World in Eighty Days). During these years Verne settled with his family in Amiens and made a brief trip to the United States to visit New York City and Niagara Falls. During this period he also purchased several yachts and sailed to many European countries, collaborated on theatre adaptations of several of his novels, and gained both worldwide fame and a modest fortune.

The second phase, from 1886 until his death in 1905, might be considered Verne’s pessimist period. Throughout these years the ideological tone of his Voyages extraordinaires began to change. Increasingly Verne turned away from pro-science tales of exploration and discovery in favour of exploring the dangers of technology wrought by hubris-filled scientists in novels such as Sans dessus dessous (1889; Topsy-Turvy), L’Île à hélice (1895; Floating Island), Face au drapeau (1896; For the Flag), and Maître du monde (1904; Master of the World). This change of focus also paralleled certain adversities in the author’s personal life: growing problems with his rebellious son, Michel; financial difficulties that forced him to sell his yacht; the successive deaths of his mother and his mentor Hetzel; and an attack by a mentally disturbed nephew who shot him in the lower leg, rendering him partially crippled. When Verne died he left a drawerful of nearly completed manuscripts in his desk.

The third and final phase of the Jules Verne story, from 1905 to 1919, might be considered the Verne fils period, when his posthumous works were published—after being substantially revamped—by his son, Michel. They include Le Volcan d’or (1906; The Golden Volcano), L’Agence Thompson and Co. (1907; The Thompson Travel Agency), La Chasse au météore (1908; The Chase of the Golden Meteor), Le Pilote du Danube (1908; The Danube Pilot), Les Naufragés du Jonathan (1909; The Survivors of the Jonathan), Le Secret de Wilhelm Storitz (1910; The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz), Hier et demain (1910; Yesterday and Tomorrow, a collection of short stories), and L’Étonnante aventure de la mission Barsac (1919; The Barsac Mission). Comparing Verne’s original manuscripts with the versions published after his death, modern researchers discovered that Michel Verne did much more than merely edit them. In most cases he entirely rewrote them—among other changes, he recast plots, added fictional characters, and made their style more melodramatic. Scholarly reaction to these discoveries has been mixed. Some critics condemn these posthumous works as contaminated; others view them as a legitimate part of the Verne père et fils collaboration. The debate continues.

With Michel Verne’s death in 1925, the final chapter of Jules Verne’s literary legacy was more or less complete. The following year American publisher Hugo Gernsback used a representation of Verne’s tomb as a logo for his Amazing Stories, the first literary magazine featuring tales of “scientifiction.” As the term scientifiction evolved into science fiction, the new genre began to flourish as never before, and Verne became universally recognized as its patron saint.

During the 20th century, Verne’s works were translated into more than 140 languages, making him one of the world’s most translated authors. A number of successful motion pictures were made from Verne novels, starting in 1916 with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (remade in 1954 by Walt Disney) and including The Mysterious Island (1929 and 1961), From the Earth to the Moon (1958), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), and, perhaps the most popular, Around the World in 80 Days (1956).

Verne’s influence extends beyond literature and film into the world of science and technology, where he inspired generations of scientists, inventors, and explorers. In 1954 the United States Navy launched the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, named for Verne’s Nautilus. And for more than 130 years, adventurers such as Nellie Bly (1890), Wiley Post (1933), and Steve Fossett (2005) have followed in the footsteps of Verne’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg by attempting to circumnavigate the globe in record-breaking times. Verne and his enduringly popular Voyages extraordinaires continue to remind us that “What one man can imagine, another will someday be able to achieve.”

Arthur B. Evans



Journey to the Center of the Earth

Jules Verne

Journey to the Center of the Earth revives the literary tradition of the descent into hell, completely renewed in the form of science fiction. One of the great scientific questions of the mid-nineteenth century, which the novel explores, concerned the geothermic temperature deep within the earth's core, and the question of whether hot or cold temperatures prevail under the earth's crust. In the character of Axel, a kind of intellectual alter-ego, the novelist creates a defender of the theory of a central fire, who is opposed to his uncle, the woolly-minded professor Lindenbrock, defender of Humphrey Davy's theory of a cool center. With extraordinary imaginativeness, the novel adopts the latter hypothesis and takes place in a Gruyere-like Cold Earth, where the volcanoes and the sea are linked by a series of channels. Having managed to enter the earth through an extinguished volcano in Iceland, named the Sneffels, the characters find themselves in a huge cavity, sheltering an "inner Mediterranean sea," which they explore until they are ejected by the volcanic lava flow of the erupting Stromboli chimney. Their journey can be divided into two main parts. The first takes the heroes back through time, through successive geological layers, until they reach the "primitive granite." The second is the discovery of the inner sea, that is, of a paleontological space populated with "living fossils," where all periods of biological classification are mixed. The discovery of a human jaw in Abbeville in 1863 prompted the writer to introduce into his narrative an "antediluvian shepherd," recalling the great anthropoids, who were—for the Darwinians who were debating the issue of evolution at the time—the ancestors of modern man.



Around the World in Eighty Days

Jules Verne

Around the World in Eighty Days won Jules Verne worldwide renown, and was a fantastic success for the times, selling one hundred and eight thousand copies, with translations into English, Russian, Italian, and Spanish as soon as it was published.The book's new subject was bound to cause a great sensation: making a bet with the members of the Reform Club, Phileas Fogg, a rich British eccentric who lives as a recluse, lays his entire wealth as a wager that he can go around the world in eighty days.
Accompanied by his valet Passepartout, he sets out on a journey that first takes him to Suez, and on to meet a series of characters—cruel Hindus, a company of Japanese acrobats, Sioux Indians, and so on. Much of the richness and poetry of the novel depends on the antagonism between the characters Fogg and Passepartout.The geometric and impassive Phileas Fogg, a man of the"fog,"who does everything as regularly as clockwork, and for whom the world is reduced to twenty-four time zones, contrasts with the emotive and lively Passepartout, who is forever in sympathy with places and people whom he meets. Yet numerous accidents and unpredictable events will finally get the better of the bachelor's little quirks.




Type of work: Novel
Author: Jules Verne (1828-1905)
Type of plot: Adventure romance
Time of plot: 1866-1867
Locale: The Seven Seas
First published: Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers, 1870 (English translation 1874)


An imaginative romance prophetic of modern scientific inventions, most notably the submarine, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is an exciting adventure story that features the exploits of Captain Nemo of the Nautilus.


Principal Characters

Captain Nemo, a mysterious man who designs and builds the submarine Nautilus on a desert island. It provides its own electricity and oxygen, and the sea supplies food for its crew. Nemo hates society but uses gold recovered from sunken ships to benefit the unfortunate.
Professor Pierre Aronnax (pyeV a-ronax'), of the Paris Museum of Natural History, who heads an expedition aboard the American frigate Abraham Lincoln to track down a mysterious sea creature that has attacked and sunk ships all over the world.
Ned Land, a harpooner taken along on the theory that the killer is a gigantic nerwhal. An explosion aboard the Abraham Lincoln tosses him, along with Aronnax and Conseil, aboard the Nautilus, where he and Nemo save each other's lives.
Conseil (kon-sey'), the servant of Aronnax, who shares their adventures aboard the Nautilus in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Polar Oceans. When a maelstrom overcomes the submarine in Norwegian waters, Aronnax, Land, and Conseil recover consciousness on an island, in ignorance of the fate of Captain Nemo or the Nautilus.


The Story

In different parts of the ocean, a number of ships had sighted a mysterious monster, gleaming with light, such as no man had ever seen before. After this monster had attacked and sunk several vessels, people all over the world were both amazed and alarmed. Finally an American frigate, the Abraham Lincoln, was fitted out to track down and destroy the mysterious sea creature. Among its passengers was Pierre Aronnax, Professor of Natural History in the Museum of Paris, who had published his opinion that the monster was a giant narwhal. One of the crew was Ned Land, an expert harpooner. For quite a while, the ship sailed without sighting anything even remotely resembling the reported terror of the seas.
The creature was sighted at last. When an opportunity presented itself, Ned Land threw his harpoon, but the monster was uninjured and Land realized that it was protected by a thick steel-like armor. During a pursuit in the darkness, a terrific explosion rocked the ship. Professor Aronnax, Ned Land, and Conseil found themselves floundering in the water. Aronnax fainted. Regaining consciousness, he discovered that they were aboard some sort of underwater craft. Later, two men came to greet them. The survivors from the ship spoke to them in various languages, but the men appeared not to understand. Then the captain of the vessel appeared and spoke to them in French. He revealed that his name was Nemo, that the vessel was a submarine, that they were, in effect, prisoners who would have every liberty aboard, except on occasions when they would receive orders to retire to their cabins.
Aronnax learned that the submarine Nautilus had been built in a complicated manner. Parts of it had been secured from various places and secretly assembled on a desert island. Then a fire had been set to destroy all traces of the work done there. The ship manufactured its own electricity, had provisions for quantities of oxygen which allowed it to remain submerged, and was as comfortable as any home. All food came from the ocean. There was fish, but fish such as Aronnax had never before tasted. There were cigars, not of tobacco but of a special seaweed. Captain Nemo showed them air guns, which allowed him and the crew to go hunting, as well as a device that permitted the crew to walk on the ocean floor.
In the Pacific, Captain Nemo invited the three survivors to a hunt in the marine forest of Crespo, where Ned Land saved Captain Nemo's life by killing a creature which was about to put an end to the captain. Later, the captain saved Land's life. In Ceylon they watched the pearl divers in the oyster beds. There Nemo saved an Indian from the jaws of a shark.
Off the coast of Borneo the three survivors decided to go ashore in the hope of bagging some land game. While they were hunting, they were attacked by natives. Although they managed to get back to the Nautilus, the savages remained clustered about the ship. Aronnax was alarmed, certain that the natives would board the submaiine when the hatches were opened for oxygen the next morning. He took his problem to Captain Nemo, who was not at all worried. Instead he told the professor about an eighteenth century ship that had sunk with a full cargo of gold. The next morning, when the hatches were opened, the natives did try to come aboard, but the few who touched the rails let out a shriek and retreated in terror. Ned Land touched the rail and was paralyzed with shock; the rail was electrified.
The captain announced suddenly that he would enter the Mediterranean. Aronnax supposed that he would have to circle the Cape of Good Hope. To his astonishment, he learned that the captain had discovered a passage under the Isthmus of Suez. The submarine entered the Mediterranean through the underwater passage.
On one occasion, the three companions were ordered to go to their cabins. Some sort of encounter occurred, and later Aronnax was called upon to treat a crew member who had been injured. When the sailor died, he was buried in a coral forest on the ocean floor. By that time, the survivors had discovered that Captain Nemo had a tremendous fortune in gold salvaged from sunken vessels. Although the captain had some mysterious hatred against society, he nevertheless used the money to benefit his unfortunate fellowmen.
Ned Land grew to dislike the captain intensely. He told Aronnax that he would escape as soon as an opportunity presented itself. They thought such an opportunity had come when they rounded Spain, but their plan did not materialize. When they came close to Long Island, they thought the time for escape had come, but a sudden hurricane blew the ship off its course, toward Newfoundland.
On another occasion the captain astonished them by heading toward the South Pole. There the ship was endangered by an iceberg, and for several days, passengers and crew were in danger of their lives. Escaping, they headed northward. As the Nautilus approached the coast of Norway, it was suddenly drawn into the notorious maelstrom, the deathtrap for so many ships. Shortly before, the submarine had encountered a mysterious ship, which had attacked it. The submarine succeeded in sinking the unknown vessel. Aronnax believed that in this incident there was a clue to Captain Nemo's hatred of society.
The professor never knew what actually happened after the Nautilus was drawn into the maelstrom. When he awoke, he and his companions were safe and sound on a Norwegian island. They also had no idea how they had reached the island. They were the only men who now knew the secrets of the ocean—if Captain Nemo and his crew had perished.


Critical Evaluation

Jules Verne was a fascinating and gifted man about whom most readers of his works know relatively little. Americans usually base their opinions of Verne solely upon the inaccurate and shoddy translations of his works. Unfortunately, many of Verne's books were published and translated hurriedly in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and they lost much of the detail and concern for accuracy which Verne had put into the French originals. Consequently, Jules Verne is regarded as a great storyteller, even the father of science fiction by many; but in no way do most people respect him as a writer who drew to the full extent on the science of his time. A study of Verne in his original French offers a much more impressive look at the author's expertise in his field. The plots of his books are structured around pages and pages of scientific notes, observations, and investigations made into his subject matter. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is no exception. Before writing the book, Verne interviewed marine engineering specialists, scientists, fishermen, sailors—in short, everyone who could add new dimensions to the plans he had for a novel about the fascinating depths of the ocean floor and travel in that realm in an enclosed vessel. After much thought, Verne developed a plot around these many facts and used his fictional characters to bring it to life.
The basic outline of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a simple one. The greatest creation is Captain Nemo, whose name means "no one." He has rejected all that society represents and has taken refuge in his underwater realm. As captain of the Nautilus, he is the supreme commander who holds the fate of his three prisoners in his hands. He is, on the one hand, kind, patient, and cultured; on the other, he is vengeful and mysterious. His tragic flaw is the hatred he has for society, a hatred never fully explained. The senseless and unjust destruction of the warship in the last pages of the book makes Professor Aronnax all too eager to escape the Nautilus and the clutches of Captain Nemo.
Professor Aronnax is the most real character in the book. The professor narrates this story and answers the questions of his comrades while dispensing great amounts of information regarding things he has studied about marine life and the underwater world. The professor thus provided Verne with an outlet for some of the innumerable details which he collected for his story.
Conseil, the professor's servant whose devotion to his master is unquestioned, is a simple character, pleasingly eccentric. Ned the harpooner represents the more physical, temperamental, and self-reliant personality. He is the common man whose makeup reflects extremes of good and bad. Ned's passions and his anger at being made a prisoner of Captain Nemo make him seem a little more normal than the rest.
Throughout the book, Verne combines science fiction with humor and fascinating characterization with vivid detail and description. Verne was not an especially great literary stylist, but he was, without doubt, a great researcher. In his enthusiasm for the discoveries of science and his communication of such findings through his writings, he foresaw the future's shape, and he built a valuable stepping-stone for writers of science fiction in the decades that followed.



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