Authors: Jules Vernes
A PHOENIX PAPERBACK
edition first published In Great Britain by
Phoenix Paperbacks In 1999
Selection, introduction and other critical apparatus
© Phoenix Paperbacks 1999
appears courtesy of the translator, Edward Baxter
© Edward Baxter 1990
Orion Publishing Group
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a collaborative ebook
was born on 8 February 1828 at Nantes, where his
father was a lawyer. When Verne left school in 1844 he too was to be a lawyer
like his father, but he had already begun to write poems and plays.
Sent to Paris to finish his law studies, he
was one of the generation affected by the revolution of 1848. Abandoning law he
became secretary to a theatre in Paris.
In 1851 he began publishing his first
stories, and in 1857 he married a widow with two daughters, by whom he had a
son Michel (born in 1861). To support his family he became a stockbroker.
In 1863 he published a new kind of novel,
Five Weeks in a Balloon,
the first in the series to be called ‘The
Extraordinary Journeys’, which was an immediate success. Verne abandoned the
stock exchange, and developed into one of the most significant of
nineteenth-century authors, with a world-wide reputation and influence. Aside
from his writing, music and sailing were his great passions.
His last years were clouded by illness and loss. He died on 24 March
1905 at Amiens, where he had lived since his marriage, and where he is buried.
, a writer and literary historian based in Dublin, is
the author of a biography of Jules Verne, among other literary and historical
Jules Verne is often called ‘the father of
science fiction’, but he wrote many kinds of novels: stories of adventure,
political satires, and social comedies. These aspects of his output are
reflected in the short stories which he wrote from time to time over the six
decades of his career.
When he died in 1905 he was one of the most
popular writers in the world, and he has remained so, with new editions of his
novels every year in many languages. But it is usually the earlier and better known
novels, such as
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
World in 80 Days,
that are read. Large areas of Verne’s output, whole
fictional continents, are unexplored territory to readers outside France.
Verne’s tales have fallen victim to this Anglo-Saxon neglect.
The first piece in this selection, his own
account of his childhood and its influence on his career, was intended by Verne
himself to be included in a collection of his short stories which was planned
at the time of his death. But it never was, and this is its first publication
in its integral form in English. It makes an essential entree to his fictional
Verne’s first published stories were in a
family magazine, for which he wrote not only the stories about the origins of
the Mexican navy and a balloon flight with a madman included here, but also a
set in Peru, which announced Verne’s sympathies
with the oppressed at a very early date in his career. There he also published
‘Master Zacharius’, a story influenced by the tales of German fantasist E.T.A.
Hoffmann, a writer he invokes by name in this haunting parable of a pact with
the demon of time. Another important influence on Verne from a literary point
of view was the American Edgar Allan Poe, of whom he was one of the first
admirers in France.
Verne relished Hoffmann’s and Poe’s tales
of the fantastic and strange. But he was also fascinated by travel, geography
and history. These were all-important elements in all his novels, but they are
especially strong in his tales.
With the publication of his first novel,
Five Weeks in a Balloon,
in 1863, Verne had started on the first of a long series
which was to be called ‘The Extraordinary Journeys’. Though today his named is
linked with the rise of science fiction, it was the romance of travel and
adventure that first established him, rather than revelations of the future.
His first love was always geography, a more prominent science in the nineteenth
century than it is today.
Yet even when he became an established
novelist, Verne still found time for shorter pieces, though the actual dates of
composition are known only approximately in some cases. ‘The Humbug’, though
his son Michel dated it from 1863, seems from internal evidence to have been
written no earlier than 1869, two years after Verne himself had travelled to
America on the
and made a trip up the Hudson, along the
route in the story. Verne was astonished by the new country and the style of
its citizens. This story of American enterprise owed much to the legendary
figure of P.T. Barnum, but also the notorious Dr Albert C. Koch, who had
displayed a fake fossil sea-serpent in the 1840s, and the celebrated ‘American
Goliath’, the so-called Cardiff Giant, which caused a sensation in 1869-70. So
soon after the appearance of Darwin’s theory of how evolution worked, geology
was a radical, even dangerous science in some eyes, and fossils dangerous
symbols of change, a challenge to established belief systems.
With ‘Dr Ox’s Experiment’ in 1872 Verne returned
to the vein of satiric fantasy, drawing on certain ideas of contemporary
physiologists about the effects of oxygen. But the theme of whether personality
is innate or due to social influences, and the dangers inherent in some kinds
of scientific research, while made with comic verve, were nevertheless
seriously intended. Again Verne was commenting on a psycho-social debate that
The rest of the stories selected for this
volume developed this theme of science and change. ‘An Ideal City’ was read to
a local audience in Amiens, and is a vision of that town (of which he was an
elected councillor on the Radical ticket) in the year 2000
‘Dr Trifulgas’, a fantastic tale of the
grotesque, was again an elaboration of the Hoffmann or Poe themes. Along with
‘Master Zacharius’ it is my favourite in this collection. ‘Gil Braltar’,
another fantastic tale, inspired it seems by Verne’s visit on his yacht to
Gibraltar in 1884, satirises Verne’s dislike of British (though not French)
imperialism. It was left untranslated for eighty years, as it did not fit into
Anglo-Saxon conceptions of Verne.
‘An Express of the Future’ is a comic piece
suggested by a contemporary idea of a tunnel under the Atlantic, an engineer’s
dream typical of the nineteenth century. It is unclear what part his son Michel
played in writing this story, which lifted some notions of the future from a
novel by a contemporary French writer named Robida, as well as the strange
schemes of the American, Colonel Pierce, whom Verne may have met on a trip to
‘In the Twenty-Ninth Century’, though it
may have been suggested by conversations with Jules Verne, was written in
English by his son Michel though published under Verne’s own name (as
contemporary correspondence reveals). Verne’s own English was poor. But the
notions in the story cannot be said to have been Michel’s alone. Some come
again from Robida, for instance, and the speculations of contemporary
scientists, material Verne drew on for all his books. However the French
version, from which the translation here has been made, was revised by Verne
Michel’s role in the novels and stories of
his father’s last years has become a vexed one for some critics. In 1910 Michel
edited ‘The Humbug’ for publication in a collection of stories entitled
doing no more than authors and their publishers have always
done. Jules Verne was not a writer whose first draft was the last. He often
needed up to eight sets of printed proofs to get the story right. The
manuscripts were mere drafts of a final idea he was striving for. When he
became ill and blind towards the end of his life, his son arranged for a typist
to take his dictation. To work at all, Verne needed their co-operation.
When Verne died in 1905 several manuscripts
remained unpublished, and these were publicly listed by Michel. In bringing
them before the world, however, he took some editorial decisions that have
earned him the opprobrium of censorship and of passing off his own work as his
father’s. But Michel Verne never saw himself as an author in his own right. He
merely wished to do what his father, or his publisher, would have done: present
as well as possible to the public. The
secondary to this.
The books as published (as his grandson and
biographer Jean Jules-Verne emphasised when this controversy arose in recent
years) were as Jules Verne would have intended them to be. His father had done
no more than carry out the revision which his grandfather would have wanted.
Thus ‘The Eternal Adam’ is based on a draft
entitled ‘Edom’ by Jules Verne; the elaborations have been seen as a distortion
of Jules Verne’s views, especially his political views. But Verne had been a
radical with anarchist sympathies since 1848, and this bleak piece of science
fiction remains true to his intentions. Even if the final words in which they
are expressed passed through his son’s hand, the vision was Verne’s own.
Verne remains one of the world’s most
widely read authors, rivalling the Bible, Mao, and Lenin in this respect. He
continues to surprise us, as the recent appearance of his unpublished novel
in the XXth Century,
written in 1863 and about which there are no editorial
doubts, shows. Its theme of an isolated artist in a society of the future links
it thematically with these stories of Verne’s last years, completing the circle
of his life’s work. We can only speculate on the direction Verne’s work might
have taken if it had been published as his first novel, instead of
Weeks in a Balloon.
Be that as it may, Verne’s influence on the development
of science fiction was immense, but his own work is charming and unique, as the
stories in this volume will show.