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Jules Verne, a native of Nantes
Pierre Verne, originally from Provins (near Paris) set up as a solicitor in Nantes in 1826 and married a local girl, Sophie Allotte de la Fuÿe the following year. Jules, the eldest of five children, was born on 8th February 1828,
His early years were spent on the Feydeau Island in Nantes which at that time was still an island cut off from the city by the Loire river. For the first fourteen years of his life, he lived at 2 Quai Jean-Bart in a house overlooking the confluence of the Loire and Erdre rivers. The family also had a house int he country at Chantenay from where the young Jules could watch the boats pass by on their way to the nearby port.
Although Jules did not see the ocean for the first time until he was twelve, islands, ports and ships were already familiar sights to him. The subject of his childhood fantasies, they were later to become favourite themes in many of his works.
A poet at fifteen
Occasional verse was common practice in the Verne family, as they would celebrate family occasions such as weddings and births with poems on love and the family. Jules also began writing verse at an early age. In 1904 he told a journalist : From the age of 12 or 13 on, I always carried a pencil with me wherever I went and in the days when I attended school I wrote endlessly, mainly practising verse.
As a teenager he began filling the pages of notebooks with poetry of every description, from lyricism to satire, from romantic fervour to cabaret rhymes. Two notebooks to which he was to continue adding verse throughout his life were to remain unpublished until 1989.
Verne later turned lyricist when he asked his composer friend Aristide Hignard to set his poems to music. A compilation of the resulting songs Rimes et Mélodies was published in 1857.
The tribulations of a native of Nantes in Paris
Although Jules Verne studied law in Nantes, he had to move to Paris to take his final exams. Although unaware that he would later succeed in becoming a novelist, Verne already knew in the early 1850s that he would never practice law and would not return to Nantes to take over his father's practice. Hoping for eventual fame and fortune from his literary work, he delighted in whatever Parisian pleasures he could afford while doing odd jobs to supplement the modest allowance he received from his father.
His correspondence with his parents focused on his daily life and on-going predicament : how could a young man considering a literary career possibly be seen around the Parisian salons in a tattered shirt ? How could he resist the temptation to buy, on credit, the piano or wonderful collection of books he so wanted ?
However, he soon began publishing material in the Musée des familles edited by PitreChevalier, a fellow native of Nantes.
From the local stage in Nantes to the Châtelet Theatre in Paris
Jules Verne had always thought of himself as a playwright. At the age of 17, he was already imitating Victor Hugo in romantic plays and his initial successes were to come with light comedy and operetta. His early work, Broken Straws and Blind Man's Bluff were set to music by his faithful friend Aristide Hignard and performed at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris.
Many years later, Verne and D'Ennery's stage adaptations of Around the World in Eighty Days, Michael Strogoff and Captain Grant's Children were hailed with great success. Allied with the pomp of lavish productions, the playwright's expertise drew in the crowds and performances were sold out every night for months at the Châtelet and Porte-Saint-Martin theatres in the capital. Along with the novels, it was the theatre, his first calling that earned Jules Verne fame and fortune.
31st January 1863
A novelist was born. On that date, an unknown writer's first novel went on the market, published by Pierre-Jules Hetzel. It was Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne. While two thousand copies were initially printed, a total of 76,000 copies would be sold in the author's lifetime. It was to be outsold only by Around the World in Eighty Days which sold 108,000 copies.
Jules Verne signed an agreement with Hetzel the following year to deliver two books per year. From 1865 on, three volumes were published every year. When Hetzel passed away in 1886, his son took over and continued publishing the Extraordinary Journeys, reaching 62 titles in 47 volumes.
Within the publishing house, Jules Verne was more than a prolific writer. He was also joint editor of Magasin d'éducation et de récréation, a periodical created by Hetzel and Jean Macé intended to offer families a serious and attractive learning tool, agreeable to parents as well as beneficial to children.
The publishing house on Rue Jacob, Paris
Prior to setting up a publishing house at 18, rue Jacob, Hetzel had been highly involved in the word of publishing and politics.A committed republican, he had taken part in the February 1848 revolution and held office in the interim government as head of staff to Foreign Minister Lamartine. As a result, he had to flee abroad to Belgium when Napoleon III came to power and was unable to return to France until 1859.
In 1844, he had started Le diable à Paris, a journal gathering contributions from Balzac, Théophile Gautier, Alfred de Musset, Gérard de Nerval, Charles Nodier, George Sand, Stendhal and Eugène Sue, and illustrations by Gavarni, Grandville and Bertall. Later, further prestige came to the group when it was joined by Erkmann-Chatrian, Victor Hugo and Jules Sandeau.
Publishing was not Hetzel's sole activity ; he was also a translator and a writer. Under the pen nam of P.-J. Stahl, he helped fill the pages of the Magasin d'éducation et de récréation and was also responsible for the stories in the children's books he published.
Amiens, Pop. 61,063
Jules Verne spent the first twenty years of his life in Nantes followed by twenty three years in Paris and thirty four in Amiens, pop. 61,063, as highlighted in his Geography of France.
Married in 1857 to Honorine de Viane from Amiens, he moved to his wife's hometown in 1871 with their son Michel and Honorine's two daughters from her first marriage. While he led a well-ordered bourgeois existence and dutifully entertained high society, at his wife's request, the lonely toil of his study held more appeal for him than polite small talk around the drawing room.
A crowning achievement for such a leading citizen, Jules Vernes was elected town councillor in 1888 with responsibility for all theatre activities. For the next 15 years, Verne attended council meetings and dedicated considerable time to the local theatre and his civic duties, delivering speeches at local schools and officially opening the Municipal Circus in 1889.
A passion for the sea and ships
Accordin to family legend, eleven-year old Jules ran away from home and boarded the Coralie, a three-masted schooner bound for India, as a stowaway. While there may be no foundation to this story, Jules Verne's passion for ships and seafaring was well and truly real. The many novels inspired by the author's real life travels dispel a second widespread belief which maintains that the Extraordinary Journeys is the work of a homelover at heart.
Verne's first journey to Great Britain in 1859 gave rise not only to Backwards to Britain, first published in 1989, but also to The Black Indies and The Green Ray. A Floating City amounted to a romanticised account of his Atlantic crossing aboard the largest steamship in the world, the Great Eastern.
Jules Verne owned three different boats, all three of them named Saint-Michel. With the third one, he made several extended cruises of the Mediterranean which provided inspiration for Mathias Sandorf and Clovis Dardentor.
A slave to longhand
Newly settled in Picardy and overburdened by Hetzel's assignments, Jules Verne humorously signed off a letter to his publisher with « yours grindfully ». As Balzac did with La comédie humaine, or contemporary Zola with Les Rougon-Macquart, he put together a vast body of fiction novels. Although impressive in size, Verne's Extraordinary Journeys represented a mere fraction of his entire work.
Verne's manuscripts, most of which are kept in Nantes library, were the fruit of nearly sixty years of relentless toil, from his first attempts at playwriting, in odd-sized notebooks criss-crossed with emendations, to the mature novelist's works, laid out methodically and systematically. While there were changes in themes and working methods, it took both the visionary's dazzling inspiration and the writer's daily toil at his desk to produce From the Earth to the Moon and Around the World in Eighty Days.
Not satisfied with his relentless correcting and repeated rewriting, Jules Verne wrote to his publisher several times every week, often ending his letters with a pressing request for new proofs, which never came soon enough !