9 Interesting Facts about Jules Verne


Portrait of Jules Verne by Nadar in 1878. Sourced from Wikipedia

Considered as the father of science-fiction, Jules Verne’s popularity remains very high one century after his death. He is the second most translated author in the world since 1879, behind Agatha Christie but before Shakespeare.

His most famous books like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days made the dreams of many generations and led many teenagers to embrace a scientific career. But the man behind the book is less famous: Jules Verne was a discreet man.

Jules Verne had been called a visionary by many. But there is often a confusion between the inventions he imagined himself and the ones where he “only” anticipated the future evolution of an already discovered invention. It is important to take a closer look to assess the exact nature of Verne’s genius.

Let’s discover 9 interesting facts about him and his works !

1. Verne had troubles to become a writer

Jules Verne was born in 1808 in Nantes, a rich city and harbor in the west of France. He was the son of a lawyer who expected the young Jules to take his law practice after his retirement. He followed law studies and spent years to convince his family to accept his desire to become an artist.

Once an adult, his first writings were not appreciated by the publishers. He also tried to write some plays which were accepted but received poor success. To bring money to his household, Jules Verne worked as a stock broker at the stock market. He remained poor nonetheless. Being a man of discipline and strong will, he still continued to write before and after his worktime.

After having met fifteen refusals, Jules Verne met the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel. Hetzel saw the potential of Jules Verne and accepted to publish his first novel under the conditions of a strong revision of the text. It became Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863).

Portrait of Hetzel by Nadar. Sourced from Wikipedia

Pierre-Jules Hetzel and Jules Verne became close friends.

The publisher had the experience and intuition necessary to orientate Jules Verne and gave him good advice. Under his direction, Jules Verne met a rapid success that lasted throughout his long career.

He published a total of 62 novels and 12 short stories.

2. Verne was not considered a great writer by his peers

Jules Verne did not aim to only entertain his public but wanted to be recognized for his literary talent. He and his publisher spent a great amount of time editing his texts and elaborating his literary style.

Eventually his talent was recognized, thanks to his amazing ability to stimulate the imagination of his reader. The characters and inventions he depicted seemed realistic and perfectly believable. However, the theme of his books around travels and adventures classified him only as an author for youth.

In France in the 19th century, one literary institution was very important to assess the literary qualities of the authors. L’Académie Française was composed of writers, poets and sometimes scientists elected for life for their literary talent. Every time a member died, the remaining members voted to elect the author who would take his seat.

The French Institute, seat of the Académie Française. Sourced from Wikipedia

Jules Verne’s application for a seat was proposed many times but each time another author was elected. L’Académie Française gave him a literary prize but never more than this.

In 1892, at the end of his career, Jules Verne wrote that his biggest regret is that he never ‘mattered’ to French literature.

3. Verne was shot with a gun

Jules Verne had a calm and studious life and was never strongly involved in the literary and political polemics of his time. He did not have enemies or fierce opponents. Despite this, Jules Verne was shot in 1885.

The culprit was his nephew, Gaston Verne. One afternoon, as Jules Verne was coming home, he found Gaston waiting in his house, who opened fire on him. Jules Verne was hit in his legs. The bullet could never be removed and Jules Verne had to hobble for the rest of his life.

Even though Jules Verne could consider himself lucky to get away with only this, the event had a strong impact on his mental health. He had to give up sailing, which was his favorite hobby.

The motives of Gaston were never clear. The father of Gaston said he wanted to attract the attention to Jules Verne to promote his admission in the Académie Française. Considered as mad, Gaston Verne spent the rest of his life in an asylum.

The house of Jules Verne in Amiens, where he was shot. Sourced from Wikipedia

4. Verne was not a scientist

Jules Verne is admired by his capacity to anticipate the future of science. His novels feature the last inventions of his time and some which were only projects or even dreams at the time he wrote about them.

Yet, Jules Verne never studied or practice science.

The author compensated by dedicating several hours per day to read in a library in Amiens, where he lived. He took many notes, writing on cards for future use.

Jules Verne also asked many questions to the scientists around him among his friends and family. When he became famous, it became easier for him to meet and to interview scientists.

His work provoked the enthusiasm of scientists when he was alive and this continued much later. Many scientists and explorers mentioned Jules Verne as critical in their decision to embrace their career. Among them we can mention Yuri Gagarin, first cosmonaut to journey in the outer space.

5. Verne was pessimistic about the future role of science

Despite being so inspirational about the progress and the possibilities of science, Jules Verne was not so optimistic about it. He did not share the idea that science would eventually solve all the problems of society, as some believed in his time.

His position is not completely clear because of the influence of Hetzel on his work. His publisher wanted him to write what people wanted to read. Verne was encouraged to show optimism and to keep a light tone.

At the end of his life, his work became darker: is it linked to the bitterness of his old age? Or is it because, after Hetzel’s death in 1886, Jules Verne was free to speak his mind?

Jules Verne’s pessimism and the censorship of Hetzel is best shown in a book published after his death called Paris in the Twentieth Century.

6. Verne wrote about the future of Paris

Paris in the Twentieth Century was written in 1863, just after the first publication of Jules Verne. Hetzel refused to publish it because it was too dark and not believable. The manuscript was rediscovered after his death and eventually published in 1994.

The book is set during 1960 in a dystopian world, one century after it was written. The future Paris is presented as technologically advanced but culturally backwards.

The main character Michel has a degree in literature in a world where only technology and business matter. He cannot find the books of the great authors of the nineteenth century like Victor Hugo in the bookstores, journalism does not exist anymore and poetry is despised.

The technological background of the novel, which was not the main concern of Jules Verne, is today the most fascinating part.

The author imagined the “gas-cabs” powered by internal combustion engines, a metro system functioning thanks to compressed airs, electricity and skyscrapers everywhere.

Many of his prediction became reality, like the invention of weapons of mass destruction which made modern warfare impossible.

7. Verne anticipated the mission Apollo 11

In 1865, Jules Verne published From the Earth to the Moon. The tale of these men attempting to land on the moon included many resemblances with what happened a century later.

In Jules Verne’s novel, the initiative comes from the Baltimore Gun’s Club. These veterans of the American Secession War and out-of-work artillerymen use their knowledge to prepare the journey.

In reality, World War II was also decisive in the scientific progress that allows the expedition. Artillerymen also contributed to the planning of core logistics in the Apollo project.

Like what happened in the reality, Jules Verne bet on the Americans to accomplish this task. This newly industrialized nation seemed full of promises at the time of the author.

The author considered and calculated that Florida would be the best starting point, an option also followed by NASA. The site they chose, Merrit Island, is only 139 miles away from the one chosen by Jules Verne, Stone Hill.

The arrival of the projectile in Stone Hill, illustrated by Pannemaker and Montaut. Sourced from Wikipedia

Jules Verne chose the name Columbiad for the canon projecting the men into the moon. Columbia will be the name of the space ship taken by Neil Armstrong and his companion, as a tribute to Verne’s work.

Among other resemblances, we also notice the choice of the aluminum for the space ship and the costs of the mission were foreseen by Jules Verne.

8. A “television” is present in one novel

In 1892 Jules Verne wrote the Carpathian Castle. A novel that is very likely to have inspired the novel of Bram Stoker Dracula five years later. It revolves around mysterious events in and around a castle in Austria-Hungary.

The owner of the castle, the Baron Rodolphe de Gortz, was in love with an Italian opera singer La Stilla that he thought to be dead.

He is mesmerised to see her image and to hear her voice in what looks like a modern television.

Illustration of the Carpathian Castle by Benett. Sourced from Wikipedia

In the novel, the vision is revealed to be a still image projected on a mirror of La Stilla singing accompanied with perfect recordings of her voice. The baron watches it as we would watch a television today.

The possibility to record a voice already existed at the time of Jules Verne, even though the sound produced could not be mistaken for a real voice.

9. Verne had insights about the future of submarines

In Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea, captain Nemo navigates with a 70 meter submarine. In 1869, when Jules Verne wrote the novel, this was not possible even if some inventors were working on it.

In 1797, an American engineer called Robert Fulton had invented the first submarine with military potential. He called his boat the Nautilus, a name which was taken by Jules Verne for his novel. The first nuclear submarine paid a tribute to the novel by being called the USS Nautilus. What an interesting play between literature and reality!

Jules Verne imagined a boat powered with electricity, a technology that was new at his time. The invention of the turbine would allow the Spanish Navy to launch the first electrical submarine in 1887.

It is only in the thirties that some submarines reached the size of the boat of captain Nemo.

The Nautilus represented in the Walt Disney World. Sourced from Wikipedia

Jules Verne is credited with many other anticipations: helicopters, video-conference, drones, electrical chairs, guided missiles, solar sails and more.

It is funny to think that all this imagination came from a man who had a very steady life, between his home and his library. He wrote about many different places and even invented some but did not travel much himself.

On your trip in France, it is possible to learn more about Jules Verne in a museum dedicated to him in Nantes (3 rue de l’Hermitage) and in Amiens (2 rue Charles Dubois).

If you are visiting Paris, why not book a table at the haute cuisine Jules Verne Restaurant. It is within the Eiffel Tower, offering a magnificent view.

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