Jules Verne (1828-1905) was born and raised in the port of Nantes. His father was a prosperous lawyer and hope his son would follow in his footsteps. After completing his studies at the lycée, Verne went to Paris to study for the bar. About 1848, in conjunction with Michel Carré, he began writing librettos for operettas. Verne discovered a love for writing and discovered he had a knack for writing travel adventures. His uncle introduced him into literary circles and he soon became friends with Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas (fils). Verne's one-act comedy The Broken Straws was performed in Paris when he was 22. When his father learned that Jules aspired to be a writer, he withdrew all financial support. Though he struggled to make ends meet, Verne obtained his law degree.
In 1854 Charles Baudelaire translated Edgar Allan Poe's works into French. Verne became one of the American author's most ardent admirers. His first science fiction tale, 'A voyage in a Balloon' (1851), was heavily influence by Poe's work. Verne would later write a sequel to Poe's classic, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, entitled The Sphinx of the Ice Fields (1897). While struggling to establish himself as an author, Verne supported himself as a stockbroker, until a meeting Pierre-Jules Hetzel changed his life. Hetzel was one of the most important French publishers of the 19th century, who also published Victor Hugo, George Sand, and Erckmann-Chatrian, among others. When they met, Verne was 35 and Hetzel 50, and from then, until Hetzel's death, they formed an excellent writer-publisher team. Hetzel's advice improved Verne's writings, which until then had been rejected again and again by other publishers. Hetzel read a draft of Verne's story about a balloon exploration of Africa that other publishers had found "too scientific". With Hetzel's help, Verne rewrote it, adding humour and giving the story a broader appeal. In 1863 Cinq semaines en balloon (Five Weeks in a Balloon) hit the shelves. Verne's days as a stockbroker would soon come to an end.
Verne's novels quickly became popular throughout the world. He spent vast amounts of time researching his stories and locations, striving always to provide realistic, practical details. Verne complained that H.G. Wells had to invent cavourite to get his characters to the moon in The First Men in the Moon. "I sent my characters to the moon with gunpowder, a thing one may see every day. Where does M. Wells find his cavourite? Let him show it to me!" However, Verne could bend the science to his will to tell a better tale. A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) is not based on hard geological evidence. The hollow Earth theory had long been discredited. In Hector Servadac (1877) a comet takes Hector and his servant on a trip around the Solar System. In a tongue-in-cheek episode they discover a fragment of the Rock of Gibraltar, occupied by two Englishmen playing chess.
In Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, Verne introduced one of the forefathers of modern superheroes, the misanthropic Captain Nemo and his elaborate submarine, Nautilus, named after Robert Fulton's steam-powered submarine. Nemo would later reappear in The Mysterious Island a Robinson Crusoe type of adventure tale set on an unknown island. In these works, filmed several times, Verne combined science and invention with fast-paced adventure. Some of Verne's fiction became fact: the Nautilus predated the first successful power submarine by a quarter century, and his spaceship used use retro-rockets similar to those assisting Neil Armstrong and his crewmates almost a century later. The first electric submarine, built in 1886 by two Englishmen, was named Nautilus in honour of Verne's vessel, as was the first nuclear-powered submarine launched in 1955.
The film version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1954), produced by Walt Disney and directed by Richard Fleischer, won an Oscar for its special effects, which included Bob Mattey's mechanically operated giant squid. It fought with the actors in a special studio tank. Interior sets were built as closely as possible to Verne's own descriptions of the Nautilus. James Mason played Captain Nemo and Kirk Douglas played 'lusty sailor' Ned Land.
Mike Todd's film Around The World in 80 Days (1957) won an Academy Award for Best Picture. It starred David Niven and contained 44 cameos by a variety of stars including Buster Keaton, Frank Sinatra, Peter Lorre and Shirley MacLaine. Verne's classic tale was based on a real journey by the American traveller George Francis Train (1829-1904). Almost 70,000 extras were employed in the film. 8,552 animals made their screen debut, most were Rocky Mountain sheep, buffalos, and donkeys. Four ostriches added to the film's exotic elements.
In the first part of his career Verne's outlook was rather optimistic. He believed strongly in the benefits of technical development and hoped Europe would play a positive central role in the social development of the world. These ideas were molded by Hetzel, who believed that optimistic texts would generate higher sales. After Hetzel's death, Verne's work took on a darker tone. His later novels reflected the doom-laden fin-de-siècle atmosphere. In his tale 'The Eternal Adam' a far-future historian discovers the 20th-century civilization was overthrown by geological catalysms, and the legend of Adam and Eve becomes both true and cyclical. In Robur the Conqueror (1886) Verne predicted the birth of heavier-than-air craft, but in the sequel, Master of the World (1904), the great inventor Robur suffers from megalomania, and plays a cat-and-mouse game with authorities.
Though his only balloon ride lasted 24 minutes, Verne travelled extensively on his private yacht, the Saint Michel. While sailing in the Mediterranean, he was celebrated in Gibraltar, North Africa and in Rome. Pope Leo XIII blessed his books. He travelled with his brother Paul to the United States in 1867, where he visited Niagara Falls. However, he never saw most of the exotic places described in his novels. In 1871 he settled in Amiens and was elected councillor in 1888. On March 9, 1886, as Verne was coming home, his twenty-five-year-old nephew, Gaston, with whom he had entertained lengthy and affectionate relations, shot at him with a gun. One bullet missed, but the second bullet entered Verne's left leg, giving him a limp that would never be cured. Gaston spent the rest of his life in an asylum.
For over 40 years Verne published at least one book per year on a wide range of subjects. Verne's oeuvre includes 65 novels, some 20 short stories and essays, 30 plays, some geographical works, and several opera librettos. Verne died in Amiens on March 24, 1905. His novels have inspired 120 feature films. Georges Méliès was the first to adapt one of Verne's classics with A Trip to the Moon in 1902. Walt Disney produced 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1954 and Henry Levin directed Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1959. A remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth starring Brendan Fraser was released in 2008.