Table of Contents
LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION
William Butcher, the noted critic has written that Verne has a very considerable renown with the public but is not always known for his writing. Butcher explains that to an average American, Verne was and is the inventor of science fiction and predicted much of the twentieth century, including the explorations of the depths of the sea, of the interior of the earth, and of outer space. He is also meant to have foreseen the submarine, the airplane, and perhaps the motor car. But, the same average man might not be able to recall the actual books where these predictions were made and would know very little about the writer himself.
Amongst the novels with a more or less scientific theme, three or four stand out for their originality and popularity. Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea - 1870 recounts a submarine with Captain Nemo as the enigmatic hero. Dramatic episodes pervade the narrative such as the passage under the Antarctic ice cap, the planting of a flag on the South Pole and the discovery of the ruins of Atlantis. But, the source of much interest is the intense if distant relationship between Nemo and his guest prisoner, Dr. Aronnax, who is also the first person narrator.
In A Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864, Prof Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel descend into an extinct volcano in Iceland. They eventually discover an underground world containing plants, fish, a marine dinosaur, and finally human beings: a dead white man, a Giant Shepherd herding Giant Mastodons. The final episode, where the heroes ride a volcanic eruption on a wooden raft is an unlikely event described in the most plausible way possible.
From the Earth to the Moon, 1866 is a story about a vessel capable of escaping from the Earth’s gravitation. The novel ends with the launch of the three passengers towards outer space. A sequel to the launching of this vessel is provided in Around the Moon, where relatively accurate solutions are found to the problems of airlessness, weightlessness and the navigation of the projectile. The two space volumes are light hearted in tone due to the presence of the character Ardan, who has his real life image in a close friend of Verne’s and a famous French photographer.
Apart from the above mentioned very well known science fiction books, there is a another category of popular books by Jules Verne, which include the following: 1873 - Around the World in Eighty Days, which describes the journey undertaken for a bet by an eccentric Englishman called Phileas Fogg. The mood is humorous and the pace fast moving. But, there are also serious points to the work - for Verne, the shrinking of the world is caused notably by the end of the age of exploration and the building of the railways. In contrast, the 1863 - Five Weeks in a Balloon conducts its heroes across the still unexplored areas in Central Asia, while playing games with the dates of real exploration, and also with those of its own publication.
In Travels & Adventures of Captain Hatteras (1866) takes the obsessed captain of the title ever further north over the Arctic cap. The story involves murder and cannibalism and even the hero is meant to die at the Pole at the end, but Verne’s publisher doesn’t let Verne kill the Captain and the plot is changed.
The Mysterious Island (1874) represents the culmination of many long maturing Vernian ideas. It deals extensively with the desert island dream, but is also designed to show up the facile and implausible manipulation of the plot in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. It re-employs characters from Captaine Grant as well as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Robur - the Conqueror (1866) centers on the still vigorous debate between the protagonists of the ‘lighter than air’ balloons and the ‘heavier than air’ fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. Robur is a rebel, a spiritual descendant of Nemo, a man whose brilliant aeronautical ideas are ignored and who resorts to violence to prove his point. His aircraft is memorable for its ship like characteristics.
From 1875 - 1905, Jules Verne’s novels undergo a large number of transformations. The subject is not always exploration and scientific innovation as it was before, but is more often tourism; the mood is more pessimistic, ironical, or bitter. The British and the Americans are no longer presented favorably, the novels often close with death or madness and the few machines that are depicted are eventually destroyed in the stories. These novels sold progressively less well. It has been pointed out though that the irony, skepticism, and self-analysis in these novels make them more ‘modern’ than in the more straightforward novels. Verne’s novels of his final thirty years work less well as adventure stories, but many of them may be considered interesting or important in other ways.
The six or seven works that appeared after Verne’s death were very different again. " Jonathan" goes much deeper in its analysis of anarchism, socialism and communism than any of the previous works; and seems to conclude that solitude is the only satisfactory social or political solution. "The Eternal Adam" is a masterpiece. It ranges 20,000 years forward and back to the very beginnings of human history. The narrative includes the Flood, Atlantis and finally the total destruction of civilization. The book seems to conclude that all man’s " efforts in the infinity of time" are destined to be fruitless, that we must realize the " eternal recommencement of all things". The main message of the book is that only by benefiting directly from the experience of elders, can man begin to escape the cycle and hence achieve true wisdom. This wisdom is situated somewhere between a hopeless pessimism and a blind optimism.
For a long time critics debated as to why most of Verne’s posthumous releases were so different from those that were published when he was alive. Only in 1978 was the question settled. Piero Gondolo della Riva discovered that there were considerable differences between the 1905 typescripts of the posthumous works and the published works; these differences could be ascribed to the efforts of Verne’s son - Michel. Thus, it was shown that ‘La Mission Barsac’ was mostly by Michel and ‘ L’Eternel Adam’ was probably entirely by him. It has been necessary to accept that Michel is an authentic writer in his own right.
The most popular of Jules Verne’s novels till now are the three books: Around the World in Eighty Days, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and A Journey to the Center of the World. All three have many things alike. For one, they could all be classified as adventure novels. Another is that they all involve a journey of some sort. In Around the World in Eighty Days people journey around the world. In A Journey to the Center of the Earth people are journeying to the center of the earth. And finally in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, they are journeying under water. The settings of these books are very similar, yet different. All of them are very exotic. Lush forests at the center of the earth, lost cities under water, etc. Also in all three of these books, Verne focuses on one or two people or things about them, and really emphasizes it. In Around the World in Eighty Days it was how precise Mr. Fogg was about his daily routine. In A Journey to the Center of the World it would probably be Professor Hardwigg’s stubbornness. And in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo’s strange independence and war against civilization is emphatically emphasized.