One of my favorite French authors is Jules Verne. This fact was clear to me even as a child when I didn’t know what an author was!
I vividly remember the first time I saw Disney’s version of Verne’s classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in all its cinematic glory. After the climactic scene where the giant squid attacks the Nautilus (which is much more dramatic on screen than in Verne’s novel), I was hooked for life. This began a life-long love of all things aquatic. I still have the LP live action recording with James Mason narrating and Kirk Douglas as harpooner/crooner Ned Land. I began indoctrinating my grandson, George, to this underwater adventure at an early age.
I have since read Twenty Thousand Leagues several times and continue to be drawn to Verne’s reverent descriptions of the natural world, which emphasizes the significance and majesty of nature. This is true in each of Verne’s novels. Whether it is space exploration in Journey to the Moon, the geographical exploration of subterranean oceans in Journey to the Center of the Earth, Verne’s unique contribution of scientific research enriches his “fictional” tales and incites me to join him in these journeys.
While reading Franz Born’s biography Jules Verne: The Man Who Invented the Future, I have come to learn the incredible motivation behind this Frenchman who “created modern science fiction” through the technological inventions in his novels as well as some possible reasons for my affinity to this great writer.
Born supports his assertion of Verne’s posterity by giving many examples of world renown inventors and explorers who were inspired by Verne’s novels:
- Simon Lake vowed as a young boy to build a submarine that would travel under the seven seas after reading Twenty Thousand Leagues: he accomplished this task thirty years later by building his own Nautilus (10)
- Admiral Byrd, who conquered both poles from the air and explored the Antarctic was inspired by Verne’s Adventures of Captain Hatteras
- Norbert Casteret, the great pioneer in cave exploration, was inspired by Verne to penetrate the Pyrenees caves
- Auguste Picard read Twenty Thousand Leagues as a young boy and later invented a diving bell, the bathysphere, to plumb the depths of the ocean near Cape Verde Islands.
- (I love this!!) Verne wrote From the Earth to the Moon one hundred years before our own space exploration to the moon, when this idea was almost unthinkable. Yet, Verne was able to predict: 1) a missile could fly faster than the speed of sound, 2) that heat is generated by friction in the atmosphere, 3) what the Earth would look like from space, 4) the law of physics using retro-boosters and that 5) a space-ship returning to Earth would need to land in the ocean.
- **Perhaps the greatest honor to Verne would be that in the United States Navy named its first atomic submarine The Nautilus in a nod to his inventiveness (140).(Apparently whoever decided to suggest this had not read Twenty Thousand Leagues as this goes against everything Captain Nemo stood for and fought for!). In 1958, the Nautilus traveled the entire distance beneath the polar ice cap from the West and created a new route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
In addition to the love of science and aquatic life, there are several similarities that Verne and I share. First, we both attended the Sorbonne university in Paris; Verne, 1849, in the school of Law and myself, 2012, in the Cours de la Civilisation Francais (I know these grades diplomes hardly compare but at least we possibly walked the same hallowed halls).
Secondly, we share the same first name. When I studied abroad, I chose“Jules Claire”as my nom de plume in a nod to the great novelist. The third similarity is that we both lived in a chambre de bonne in the Latin Quarter near the Jardin des Plantes (of course, in my visions of grandeur I will chose to believe it is one in the same!)
The final similarity is that we both liked to slide down bannisters. There were much different outcomes to this reckless past time, however; I was sent to the Principal’s office and Verne would meet the great writer Alexandre Dumas, in a head-on collision. Dumas did not take offense to this embarrassing incident but rather struck up a friendship with Verne. This soon led to a mentorship which would benefit Verne in his writing of great manuscripts.
Born’s biography of Verne’s great novels of science fiction, there were over eighty which were published before 1900, includes the inspiration behind several of Verne’s great novels: Five Weeks in a Balloon, Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Diary of a Journalist of the Year 2850, and The Adventures of Captain Hatteras. I am currently reading Journey and will then continue on with my Vernequest.
Perhaps you will join me!
Copyright 2020 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)
Born, Franz. (1963). Jules Verne: The Man Who Invented the Future. Translated from the German by Juliana Biro. Prentice Hall Publishers.