We love Jules Verne on this side of the Atlantic!

Over the past ten years, I have read many biographies and critical reviews of the works of Jules Verne. Most of these were by American Scholars:

  • Terry Harpold and Claude Petel–  The Cartographies of Jules Verne (this is so good!)
  • Arthur B. Evans- The New Jules Verne, Illustrators of Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaries,
  •  Ron Miller-Extraordinary Voyages A Reader’s Guide to the Works of Jules Verne
  • Allen A Debus’ Reframing the Science of Jules Verne in Journey to the Center of the Earth
  • Franz Born Jules Verne: The Man Who Invented the Future (excellent biography! Even for die-hard Vernians)
  • William Butcher The Manuscripts of ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues’ (AMAZING to read the original hand-written manuscripts with notations)
  • John Breyer and William Butcher Nothing New Under the Earth: The Geology of Jules Verne’s ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’
  • Carter Kaplan Jules Verne, Herman Melville, and the ‘Question of the Monster’(thank you for introducing to me this whole concept- Melville’s Ahab could only observe his “monsters” after death or for a brief moment, when they surfaced for air; Verne’s Nemo lived among with his “monsters” in the deep blue—so cool!)

[I hope you will have the chance to review my synthesis of this scholarship in my blog posts! Just type in Jules Verne in the search bar]

It is obvious from this scholarship that the works, and the person, of Jules Verne are greatly revered on this side of the Atlantic! This remains true today.

What do French scholars have to say about Verne’s novels?

I have recently begun to examine the French reviews of Verne’s works, starting with Ghislain de Diesbach, a French writer and biographer who received the prestigious Prix Goncourt de la Biographie. The article I am referencing was published in the Revue des Deux Mondes in Mai, 1969 (jstor 44599920)

[My translation]

The sum of Jules Verne’s books stands, in the face of posterity, as one of the finest attempts that have ever been dared to make man in general the absolute master of creation. Each of his books bears witness to a civilization that has reached its peak, the image of a Europe imposing its law on the rest of the universe. But it is above all a part of this mysterious cargo, in which readers can find, still exemplary and respected, these virtues of courage, audacity, honor and willpower which seem devalued today.

Invigorating like the sea breeze, the work of Jules Verne, a veritable act of faith in the human species as well as hope in a better world, admirably justifies the words of its author in l’Ile mystérieuse when he writes, after having discussed the future plans of one of its heroes:

So it is with the heart of man: the need to do work that lasts, that survives him, is the sign of his superiority over all that lives here below. This is what his dominion is based, and this is what justifies him throughout the world” (247).

At the time of Verne’s death in 1905, many of his works were unpublished, and more importantly, had not been translated. The world, therefore, had only a glimpse into the magnificent future reserved for this Man of Science and the prodigious visionary that he was.

In the 19th century, according to Diesbach, Jules Verne was falsely considered a fictional character. This would soon change in the 20th century; he would become a legend. Before his death, he was able to translate aspirations, describe the values and determine the atmosphere at the very moment he was about to disappear.

Why were Jules Verne’s science fiction stories so popular? Why are they still popular today?

Diesbach observes that as Verne came from the old world which was feverishly on the threshold of the new, he managed to imbue his work with nostalgia and, at the same time, project a future that we could imagine together (237).

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.[ excerpt from my blog: JULES VERNE: The Man Who Invented the Future]

[My translation]

Diesbach describes Captain Nemo’s passion for the sea:

The sea, the vast sea, which supports our hard work,  is everything for Captain Nemo who adores her like a lover of a mistress: Its life is pure and healthy. It is the immense desert where man is never alone, because he feels life tremble at his side. The sea is only the vehicle of a supernatural and prodigious existence; it is only movement and love; it is living infinity… It is with the sea that the globe has, so to speak, begun and who knows if it will not end there. The sea is the supreme tranquility (237).

Many learned geographers who have bent over their planispheres or their famous terrae incognitae of past centuries, including the Société Royale de Géographie de Londres, have applauded Jules Verne for these expeditions to the outer limits of the world and the universe.

Teaching Verne to the Next Generation!

I began reading Verne’s novels to my grandchildren early on. Two reasons for this: one, for Nostalgia:  I grew up watching the movie and listening to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea on the LP of the Disney version (starring James Mason as Captain Nemo, Kirk Douglas as Ned Land, Peter Lorre as Conseil, and Charles Grodin as “Drummer”!) This started an early obsession of all things aquatic and all things Verne!

The second reason I read Verne novels to my grandchildren is to have a passion and a future we can imagine together. What great joy it brings to imagine worlds below our feet(Journey to the Center of the Earth), under the ocean (20,000 Leagues), and into the universe (From the Moon) with my grandchildren George, Margot and Jack.

George and I imagining our journey to the center of the Earth!

Captain Nemo’s adventure, imagined by George (my childhood LP of 20,000 Leagues!)

George and Grammar descending down Snaefellsjökell crater in Iceland–maybe someday we can visit this in person!

Jack on his adventure to the center of the Earth.

Margot using pastels to draw her layers of the Earth!

Teaching Verne’s journey as a Science lesson!

Most recently, I have recruited a few new Verne fans as I shared the Journey story with my daughter Jamie’s Kindergarten class.

JJ’s Kindergarten class taking a journey to the center of the Earth! Jamie found this object lesson on Pinterest (credit http://www.123homeschool14me.com] and assembled the Earth kits for us! It was a hit!

Our next adventure

More adventure awaits us! Where will Jules Verne take us next? Au Pôle Nord ou au Pôle Sud? Une mere libre? La Banquise? Une montagne? Un Sphinx de glace? A Edimbourg, à Londres, à Berlin, à Stockholm, à Paris, à New York? I have a new granddaughter, Lucy and a grandson on the way! I can’t wait to include them in our next adventure!

Work Cited

Ghislain de Diesbach (1969) Revue des Deux Mondes (Mai 1969)