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Jules Verne wrote French farces and was the Father of Science Fiction

Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature, Science on Friday, 27 September 2013

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This edited article about Jules Verne originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 412 published on 6 December 1969.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, picture, image, illustration

Nautilus in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

In 1801 a young American inventor named Robert Fulton sailed in French waters in a strange vessel of his own design which he called a submarine. After demonstrating that his craft actually could travel under water, he offered the submarine, the Nautilus, to the Emperor Napoleon. His offer, however, was scornfully declined, and Fulton returned to America where he used his engineering genius to perfect the steamboat. At the time, the author Jules Verne had not even been born. But nearly 70 years later he used Fulton’s invention to great effect in his famous adventure novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.

He kept the submarine’s original name, Nautilus, and gave her an enigmatic and ill-tempered captain called Nemo – the Latin word for “nobody.” Nemo has an abiding hatred of civilised society, and, together with three castaways, he decides to explore the unknown world of the deep. Free to sail among whales and icebergs, Nemo spends his leisure time playing the organ which is aboard the Nautilus. So he enjoys the three things that were paramount in Verne’s life – freedom, music, and the sea.

The writer was born in Nantes on the River Loire in 1828, and as he grew up he was fascinated by the ocean-going vessels which passed by his home. When he was eleven he changed places with a cabin-boy on a sailing ship bound for the West Indies. He did not, however, get very far. His lawyer father followed the ship and brought Jules back before he had reached the open sea.

Nine years later, Verne left Nantes for Paris, where he got a job as a poorly-paid theatre secretary, and wrote a number of farces and musical comedies. But it was not until 1863 when he published a novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, that he first tasted success. During the next few years he produced a number of best-selling books, including Journey to the Centre of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, Clipper of the Clouds, and Around the World in Eighty Days.

Nearly all his romances were based on inventions that were being discussed or worked upon at the time. Verne helped to popularise and anticipate the machines of the future and so justified his title as the Father of Science Fiction. Once his reputation was secure, Verne and his wife went to live in Amiens, where he bought and sailed his own yacht. And when he died in 1905 his funeral was attended by scores of children who had thrilled to his fantastic but credible books.

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