Robinson in the crib

It was year 1828, more precisely 8th February, when a little Robinson saw the light of our solar system for the first time in his life. He was born on a tiny island inside of a French city Nantes, how symbolical. Nowadays, you wouldn’t find a small island called Feydeau as it’s not an island anymore. He couldn’t choose a better place. If the crib of one of the most adventurous and science oriented man, an explorer of the unusual islands and a guide of extraordinary journeys, is standing on an island, it’s a thought for destiny believers and historians. Looking at the islet itself, you cannot deny that it used to have a shape of a boat.

But anyone who was leaning over the cradle wouldn’t ever imagine that there was this little man who will become one of the most wise travellers, a globetrotter and a pilgrim of fantasy and dreams.

And here began the journey of Jules Verne.

He was born into the house of his grandparents because the young newlyweds didn’t have yet their own place to live. This house was standing on the sandy islet, the smallest but the most remarkable from the other islands. The river Loire washed the shores. This tiny island was an observer of a commercial port and industrialized city of Nantes.

The family wish

While young Pierre Verne was walking dreamily through the colorful leaves covering the ground of the Feydeau in the autumn of 1826, he met an exquisite inhabitant of an old and lonely neighborhood. Her beauty blew him away. He couldn’t forget about her, so he needed to ask around. It was Sophie from a house of Allotte de la Fuye. He longed to see her again, and even in these strict and tense moral times, not that difficult to find someone you were looking for.

So they found each other. The wedding of an attorney with a heart of a poet, Pierre Verne and Sophie, coming from a local family of shipowners and navigators, took place 19th of February 1827 and soon after a year their first child, little Robinson, was born. 11 o’clock in the morning, the last month of winter, when everyone is expecting spring. Isn’t verne (alder) the announcer of nearly coming spring?

They moved the christening to spring. The old ones didn’t want to miss this event as they did already missed the wedding of Pierre and Sophie. They didn’t want to spend five days on a stagecoach during the murderous frost at their age. After all, the seer of the century was born 25 years before the railroad reached Nantes.

Uncle Prudent, a retired shipowner, came even seven miles by foot!

One auntie said to Pierre:

“He has your eyes, brother, but the nose and the lips of your wife. He will be a poet in the heart as you and roguish and tender as Sophie.”

Uncle Prudent said to the lady on his side:

“Yes, dear lady, even when I was young, I sailed a lot of. I became afterwards a countryman in wooden boots and I’m doing great, which I cannot say about my brother who is just wandering around and having nothing. So I wish to my little nephew to inherit the peaceful pleasures of our ancestors. Before they started with shipbuilding, the Allotes lived for seven generations in a country castle with a pigeon turret, taking care of pigeon rights in neighboring fields. Hence our name from the word fuie (dovecote). And if we are talking about the name Allote, it came from some man Alotteda, a Scottish archer...”

“Now we will get the story about the archer in the services of Louis XI...,” interrupted the story Pierre Verne with a laugh.

“My son will be an attorney, after me, and I hope he will have a successful advocate bureau.”

The first discoveries

The beginning journeys of Jules Verne were around his room. The unpleasant smell of fish coming from Kervegan street was the first telescope of the future navigator over the whole globe. At the end of the street, he could see masts of sailboats and ships floating upstream or anchoring on the shore of the river. This was all written into the memory of Jules and one day it will reflect in almost all of his novels.

He loved the sandy parts of the islet, masculine and tanned man working on the ships. But mostly, he loved sea - even though he didn’t see one for many years yet. He was playing outside, listening to stories of sailors, seeing bizarre items sold at local shops. The stands full of coconuts, bananas, pineapples and pink shells. There was a shop near to Jule’s home, selling birds and animals from far-off lands. At night, Jules could sometimes hear the cries of birds and monkeys from the shop.

The port district in Nantes (from The unknown Jules Verne)

Already as a young boy, Jules wanted more than anything to see the places those ships, bizarre things and exotic fruits came from. But his father Pierre had already other plans for him.

But Jules had a nice childhood. His mother was gentle, and his father was a nobleman who wanted all the best for his son. The surrounding seemed almost idyllic for a soul and biological development of a poet and a writer of Verne’s type.

The little brother.

After about a year, the Verne family moved into a part of the city, which was on the mainland. And Jules was not alone anymore. The faithful and intimate friend of the next chapters of his life was born in 1829. They named him Paul. As Pierre was a very successful lawyer, they could afford a pleasant home with room for two maids who were helping their mother, Sophie.

One day, when Jules could fish daces on a small boat, he dreamed about being on a big ship and starting one of his adventures of a big catch hunt, where he later on became a mister of storytelling. But the children’s world differs from the adulthood. But already at this age, his imagination was growing and his vision became hyperbolic and more rich than by other kids of his age.

There is not much about Jules’s childhood. But there is one letter that he wrote at age 7. Little Jules wrote it to his aunt in Lorient (funny enough, he wrote L’Orient - which is in French East):

“Please, come to visit us, because I love you from my whole heart. And you also wanted to bring us a telegraph, that you promised to us. Also, one for Paul because he cannot write, but he is just starting and I’m already for one year in the boarding school. Goodbye dear auntie and do not forget the small telegraphs, please!”

And the telegraph wasn’t even a thing. But the apple doesn’t fall far away from the tree. How couldn’t he not know? His father was a very smart man with a lot of knowledge in literature, law but also interested in scientific things.

The first schools

When Jules was 6 years, they sent him and Paul to a boarding school. Even though the school wasn’t far from their home, they lived at the school. They learnt there how to read, write and solve math problems.

It’s also interesting to see that the first teacher of Verne was a woman. Mrs. Sambaine, a widow of a naval captain who disappeared some 30 years before. She would often tell students that her husband was a shipwreck castaway and that he would eventually return as Robinson Crusoe from his desert paradise (the robinsonade would stay with Verne throughout his life and show up in many of his novels) or did he wander over the seas like Simbdbad? For certain, Mrs. Sambaine still had some hopes that her beloved one will come back to her one day.

Little did she know that one day in the future Jules will fulfill her wish at least on a paper (Mistress Branican).

So Jules’ childhood went well, with no emotional conflicts or serious encounters with the will of his deliberate father. Jules is 9 years old and Paul 8. Their uncle Chateaubourg painted them together with the fresh air of English portraitists. Even though Paul is holding in his hand a big chase wheel, it was time to learn Latin at École Saint‑Stanislas.

École Saint‑Stanislas was a catholic school which was suiting the religious taste of their father. Together with Latin, they were studying geography, Greek, poetry and signing as well.

Jules and Paul on the portrait from Chateaubourg (from The unknown Jules Verne)

In 1836, Father Pierre bought a vacation villa for the family in a village called Chantenay, further east along the river. The boys could rent a boat and finally they learnt how to sail. (The villa still exists at 29 bis Rue des Reformes, opposite the church of Saint-Martin de Chantenay).

In a summer of 1838, Jules was sailing alone on the boat. Part of the bottom of the boat broke, and the boat sunk. Surviving this small shipwreck on the sandbank made him feel like a castaway. Later on, he even wrote that the thought of making a hut or creating a fishing line, strongly influenced by Robinson Crusoe.

"Castaways" from Who was Jules Verne

The time of technology

And since 1836 Jules’s mind is not filled only with local stories and castles, but his technology time came. Massive pyroscafs (steamboats) and first omnibuses. Pyroscafs replaced the first steam machines from Americans Fonwick and Strobel. They were faster, more regular, and it’s hard to say how did they get their name. Two horses drew the first omnibuses, so 2HP to say. They named them The White Ladies, which was bringing up strange associations in Jules’s mind. Hard to say, maybe he was already familiar with The White Lady ghost from the legends all around the world.

The White Ladies 

The Vernes had already five children. Two sons and three daughters. Sofie was living with the daughters in Chantenay in their villa and from Easter to All Souls’ Day (2nd November) she was staying there.

One day Pierre took Jules, Paul and their classmate to the ride in The White Lady. The ride was slow and Jules wanted to see his mother and sisters, but he had deep and sincere compassion for the horses. And during all this, he suddenly said to his father:

“Father, I was thinking about one thing. I should design an omnibus similar to pyroscaf. “

“What are you saying? Try to explain it better.”

“So, father, they could build powerful machines from iron which could have a form of a horse, such as Trojan horse or an elephant. In the middle of the elephant's body, you would put a steam engine similar to pyroscaf’s. The steam would come out from the trunk and it would move with the legs of the elephant. He would not have to be whipped to walk or run.”

“That would be so cool.” Said Paul excitedly.

“Where are you going to put the travelers?” asked their classmate.

“If it’s too cold, then into the elephant and if not, then on his back there would be a tent platform.”

Pierre laughed: “Do not forget to write your invention into your journal and ask your uncle Chateaubourg to draw your steam elephant. If you do the calculations, description and mechanics and build this machine, you will have a colossal success.”

Pierre supported Jules dearly. Even Jules’ classmates said that his workbooks were full of sketches of flying and sailing machines.

The interesting thing to note is that his teachers didn’t see him as a genius, or a miracle kid with a huge fantasy. Nor his own father could see. But of course, not every kid with advanced skills, enormous fantasy and fascination for science will become a famous writer, right?

Jules’ teachers remembered him more like a big game leader, enthusiastically plunging himself into every physical exercise. No mentions about his intellectual talents or skills or either study achievements. Jules was probably already living in his own worlds. But he could drag other classmates in any game he came with.

But even Balzac or Tolstoj weren’t much of outstanding students interested in school.

The legend of the traveller

Legend has it that Jules, at 11 (some sources say 13) left home already at 6 o’clock in the morning leaving his mother scared to death. Literary, she thought that something bad happened to him when he didn’t show up even around 1 p.m at home. The only person who saw Jules that morning was one of the maids. Sofie was anxious - it was exactly three years since his cousins drawn in a swamp. Obviously, there were catastrophic stories running throughout her mind and same for his brother Paul and his sisters.

But luckily there was a witness, a sailor. When he was in a pub, he saw young Verne in a boat with two other sailors coming to ship Coralia. Coralia was a post ship, getting ready to sail to India. In that morning, the ship raised its anchors that it could still stop in the afternoon in Paimboeuf (Paimboeuf was a port, a rival to Nantes).

Why and how did this happen? The desire to travel, to explore the unknown. Seeing the unseen and to experience the uninitiated. All of this was sitting in every young boy at his age. Plus, Jules wanted to bring his cousin Caroline a coralline necklace, a real one. And maybe he could find the missing husband of Mrs. Sambaine.

His plan was to get a contract from a hired sailor, to exchange dress with him and to head to coral reefs on Coralia. But luckily, his fraud was revealed even before they reached Paimboeuf. An experienced captain revealed simply a boy among the sailors, because the naval craft is physically very demanding.

So after this failed adventure, he promised to his mother that he will never think of journeys to India and that his travels will be only in the meadows around the river Loire:

“I will never travel other than in my dreams.”

Whenever it's a legend or not, I truly believe that this happened, at least based on some actual events. Little did he know that for many years he will keep his promise.

The future of Jules’s and Paul’s path

In 1840 the Vernes moved again to a larger apartment, and both brothers went to school Saint-Donatien. That was another catholic school. Apparently, Jules found out that he didn’t like school much, but he did like writing. He wrote poetry and short stories and he read as much as he could.

And maybe this was the point, that he realized that the lawyer carrier wouldn’t be something for him.

From 1844 to 1846, Jules and Paul entered the Royal High School of Nantes. After finishing the classes of rhetoric and philosophy, he passes the tests of the baccalaureate in Rennes and receives the mention “quite well”, July 29, 1846.

Both brothers were growing up very close to each other and both of them wanted to leave their home and join a ship’s crew. Paul soon started to train as a marine cadet.

The First Love

The first emotional outburst of Jules was towards his cousin Caroline Tronson, one year and a half older than him. He wrote dedicated poems to Tronson, gave her presents and attended dances with her. This was also the cousin he wanted to bring the coral necklace to. Unluckily, she didn’t feel the same way. In 1847, when Verne was 19 and Tronson was 20, she married a man two decades her senior.

Photo by cottonbro via Pexels

This left Jules heartbroken and having some depressions. His mother Sophie and father Pierre decided that this was a good time to send their son to perceive the path of a lawyer and far away from the distraction of a wedding of Caroline.

So here ended the common plan of both brothers to spend their lives on a ship.

Path to becoming a lawyer

A disappointed Jules went to Paris to fulfill his father's wishes. But he loved Paris, the bustling streets filled with people from around the world, big houses and the theaters that showcased plays and music. At first he lived with a great-aunt. Word has it she wasn’t exactly friendly. But after two weeks of studying and joining the Parisian life, Jules suddenly forgot about his disappointment.

After the first exam, he would pack his stuff and run back to Nantes to get help from his father for preparations for the second exam. He still didn’t forgive Caroline. Jule’s mother was worried about his disappearances during days and nights, trying to occupy him with night social events.

But Jules didn’t like the urban starchy environment. Some lady dared to say that he is boring as rain. His brother Paul sailed for weeks on the sea in a merchant ship that he could gradually prepare himself for upcoming sea voyages. And Jules wanted as well to run away from the law, the civil and criminal law, and sail on the ship, but his strict father is deciding to send him back to the second exam.

It was that he met Rose Herminie Arnaud Grossetiere, for whom he was going to experience a violent passion. Her first book of poetry contains many allusions to the young woman. Jules’s love seemed to be mutual for a moment, but the romance broke pretty soon. Herminie’s parents have a problem with their daughter getting married to a young student whose future is not yet assured. They intend it to Armand, a rich owner of ten years his eldest. Jules Verne is mad with rage once again.

These broken loves will reflect in later work of Jules. There would be mentions of women who were forced to marry.

It’s year 1848 and there is a revolution starting in France, that will affect whole Europe. Jules’s great-aunt doesn’t feel her legs anymore and so she is moving out to the countryside. So Jules is starting a battle with his parents to live with his cousin Garcet. Once again, Jules repeated his promise to travel only in his mind.

But there are not many mentions about the revolutions in the biographies of Jules Verne. Which is amazing as this event will become a foundation of the view of the world for Jules Verne and his later work. The dream of liberating humanity and man. But at that time, this optimism is coming from a faith that the science will free the humanity. But only later on he will realize that science is not a universal key we were looking for.

Jules decided to conquer his fame on the boards of the theater. Pierre didn’t have any idea what was Jules doing behind his back.

In August 1848, he passed his tests and became a lawyer.

The life after graduation

After graduation, he moved to a small furnished apartment with his friend Edouard Bonamy. Both were very poor, the family was sending little money and maybe they just didn’t want to support any strange ideas to the both guys. The landlady of theirs was actually bringing them some meals. Jules and Bonamy were collecting all tickets for their parents to prove where the money went.

Jules’s uncle introduced him to many other writers such as Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, sr.. Jules went to the premiere of the first part of Three Musketeers and he was thrilled. This event made him to dream about him being “played” in the theatre as well.

He also became friends with Alexander Dumas, jr. who introduced him to people in the publishing business. Jules later wrote: "I may say he was my first protector."

Soon afterwards, in 1850, the first play of Jules Verne ran for two weeks in Paris. It was a success. One rich and noble man donated money that they could print this play as a book. In the summer holiday, Jules found out that people in Nantes are talking about him and his book could be bought in the bookstores.

When Pierre found out, he was very upset, as he still didn’t believe that his son would never succeed as a writer. It’s not known how much money this play brought to Jules. Jules’s mother thinks that Pierre is a little too strict. But Jules himself was looking for a critic from his father, even acknowledged the father’s comments:

“I know these works are not that serious, but I have different thoughts in my head, thousands of targets which I can’t currently phrase. If the thing I imagine is good enough, you will see one day, but I need time and patience.”

In 1851, Jules sold his first magazine story, and soon after another story, "A Balloon Journey" appeared. Airplanes wouldn’t be invented for another fifty years, so a little few people knew how to fly.

Distancing from the father

In 1852, Pierre, Jules’s father, decided that he had enough. He cut all the income for Jules but offered him to take over his law business if he would come home and give up his dreams about being a writer. It is funny, but Jules actually never worked all his life as a lawyer. He took writing jobs whenever he could, since the disagreement with his father.

Jules was spending his free time with Alexandre Dumas and other writer friends, and at the same year of 1852, he started to work at the Lyric theater as a secretary. He was creating posters, taking care of the theater’s budget and helped to choose plays. This would bring him a steady job to cover his bills.

26 years old Jules Verne (from The unknown Jules Verne)

In 1856 Jules went to a wedding in Amiens (the historical city of industry and textile) of an old college friend, meeting there Honorine de Viane Morel for the first time. Previously, his visit should last only two days. In the end, it was a week and Jules was still there. And deeply in love. As stated in his letter to his mother, that the wedding was still on and the friendly family of Viane asked him to stay a little longer. Mentioning a very young and cute widow, Honorine with two children, daughters Valentine and Suzanne. But Jules was concerned in the beginning that she had children. It was clear that he decided to marry her at that very moment.

But his income wasn’t allowing him to marry a woman of any class. Even the most modest. So he rethought his lifestyle. After returning from Amiens, he immediately wrote to his father that he jumped at her brother’s offer to go into business with a broker. The brother of Honorine was making big money. And Jules decided he could do the same as Honorine’s brother, but in Paris. In that letter Jules asked his Pierre to let him know if he would free up money to buy a part of an exchange office.

One of the letters written to Jules' father (from The unknown Jules Verne)

But Pierre is again in shock. His son is suddenly giving up the fame on the boards of the theater for even more risky Parisian bourse? He took his time. Two months didn’t answer to his son, but Jules didn’t give up. Pierre was very hesitant. Jules provided his father with a complete work of numbers for why this purchase is good. He calculated all benefits and guarantees. But the thing that moved with his parents was Jules’s loneliness and a sentence he wrote them in the letter:

“From my side, it’s only necessary to be happy, nothing more, nothing less.”

Verne plunged into his new business obligations, leaving his work at the theater and taking up a full-time job as an agent de change in the Paris Bourse, where he became the associate of the broker Fernand Eggly. Verne woke up early each morning so that he would have time to write, before going to the Bourse for the day’s work.

The newlyweds

The Viane’s family was quite suspicious about the Vernes at first. Who are these people? But eventually, they found out that the family is popular and well known in Amiens. Their daughter and her kids were just adorable.

So there were no obstacles, no reasons to say no. Jules was pushing on his father to send an official letter and finally he did so and in 1856, the answer from the Viane’s family was well received. Honorine was a very modest woman. She didn’t want any diamonds, neither gold, no wedding gifts such as robe or laces. The wedding needed to be simple and small, for the closest ones, so Jules came with a sneaky idea!

He announced to the Amiens people that wedding is in Nantes, the Nantes ones that the wedding is in Paris and the Parisian people that the ceremony will take place in Amiens.

10th of January 1857 in Paris, the gothic cathedral St. Eugene united Jules Verne and Honorine de Morel. Honorine brought a dowry to their marriage so the family could live comfortably.

And from now on, Jules lived his double-life. He was waking up at 5 in the morning, eating whatever he could find in the kitchen, reading, writing and taking notes, studying until 10 o’clock. Then he put his formal mask on and worked hard as a broker. And he was not bad at it. He learnt a lot of new skills and once again met interesting people.

The expired promise

It was a year 1859 when Jules just happily crossed Nantes full of excitement. On the 25th of July, he finally took his first sea voyage with his friend Aristride to England and Scotland. His mother just noted how happy he was and since then, the promise from childhood became expired - no more traveling just in dreams. And maybe he could finally figure out the legend of the archer about which his uncle Prudent couldn’t stop talking.

In Scotland, Jules saw places he had only read about in books. He was thrilled and inspired by what he experienced. The Parisian life was nothing compared to Scottish highlands and hiking through mountains.

New member of the family

In 1861, Jules and Honorine had their first and only child, named Michel. But before Michel was born, Jules didn’t want to miss his already planned trip to Norway and Scandinavia, again with his friend. He would return earlier and left his friend in Denmark because he needed to run for his unborn son. So Jules made it just in time to Paris and on the 3rd August he wasn’t just a husband anymore, he became a father.

Jules loved his son, but the cry and scream from a baby wasn’t always easy. But Jules still believed that one day, he will become a well-known writer.

The long-lasting friendship

Jules was struggling for some time to find a publisher. There was just no one out there who would publish his work. But he didn’t give up.

In 1962, Jules met a person with whom he would have a long-lasting friendship. Pierre-Jules Hetzel. He was a magazine and book publisher, who worked with many famous writers such as Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Georges Sand. Hetzel was a night owl, and he worked only with writers he liked. He lived in exile for 7 years and then returned after amnesty, decided to re-open his publishing company and founded a library for youth and was thinking of creating an educational, fun and illustrated magazine.

So Jules handed over his manuscript to Hetzel and waited for endless 14 days. Hetzel was looking for something modern, new. He wanted to bring out the unknown scientific discoveries, preferably in fiction genre, to open it up for the entire world.

Hetzel, portrait from 1860 (from The unknown Jules Verne)

After the traumatic 2 weeks of waiting, Jules came back to Hetzel with a sense of insecurity, awaited the same decision as he heard already before many times.

“To my regrets and despite all the great values of this work, I can not, unfortunately..”

Jules didn’t even let Hetzel finish, squeezed furiously the papers and turned over to the exit. But Hetzel stopped him with an incredibly kind voice:

“You have all signs of a big storyteller.” Marking parts of text and noting to Jules what everything should be reworked and mastered.

Hetzel could see the hope in Jules’ eyes. Jules just ran back as fast as he could to start to work.

But here is a white spot as nobody knows what Jules brought over to Hetzel as his first manuscript. After two weeks of hard work he returned to the publisher with a novel of a new kind, "Five weeks in a balloon". This time Hetzel didn’t hesitate. The experienced eye recognized what a treasure he was holding in his hands. The style, clarity, modern precision, sentence simplicity, irresistible fun and the storytelling just blow him away. And Jules came exactly at the right time. In 1863, the novel was published.

At first the book didn’t sell very well but thanks to Jules’s friend Nadal who launched an enormous balloon called Le GÉANT (The Giant) inspired people to buy the book.

These times- all around in Europe and far away in America, many new ideas were coming to life, steam power engines for ships and trains, men experimenting with gliders and flying machines, explorers were coming back with new discoveries from African jungle, the mountains of Asia and many other magical parts of the globe

At 35, Jules had a contact signed for next twenty years. Hetzel believed that Jules’s interest in science and his talent for creating stories could be profitable for both men. Some resources mention Jules needed to provide two books per year, some that one. Each book would be published in a magazine chapter by chapter and once the story would be finished, the chapters would be combined and printed as a book (serial writing). This was a very smart move from Hetzel.

In summer 1864 Jules wrote a long article about Edgar Allan Poe’s work and the mystery and horror in Poes’ pieces had influenced Jules’s work hardly.

The same summer Jules was returning to Nantes, now as a published author, and was very welcome at home. While in Nantes, he was working on "Journey to the center of the earth". This book became so popular that one year later, a larger illustrated version with two additional chapters was published.

"Four details about future" from Who was Jules Verne

Jules was no longer working as a broker. He devoted his all time to write books. He also joined the Circle of the scientific press to keep up with a science news and hear lectures from famous scientists.

Meanwhile, Jules was taking trips every year either alone or with his family (until late 80s) to gather ideas by traveling around France and other parts of Europe.

In 1867, it was actually one of the few times Jules ever left Europe; he took a trip to the US together with his brother Paul. They sailed across an Atlantic ocean on a steamship. When they stopped in London, he took a small boat and rowed around to inspect the ship close up. And while in New York, they stayed in a fancy hotel on Fifth Avenue and the hotel had a first elevator in the entire city.

The same year, the Universal Exposition brought the wonders of the world right to his doorstep.

So once again, Jules was just full of ideas and adventures.

Jules took nearly three years to write Twenty thousand leagues under the sea. Hetzel published it in two separated volumes, six months apart. He even delivered the first part before the book was finished, so that was a good chance to ask for changes.

There was a submarine named Nautilus at the Universal Exposition in Paris. But the Jules’s one was different, not cramped, smelly and dark. It had large bedrooms for passengers. There was a museum filled with paintings that Nemo collected on his travels together with natural wonders such as giant clams, tiny corals and colorful starfish.

Big changes

After all the hard work, Jules took a break and bought a larger sailing ship. He named the ship Michel after his son. The Verne’s family returned to Amiens, the city where Honorine grew up to have a larger house and more space which they couldn’t find in Paris. Also Honorine could build again relationships with people from her youth.

In the late 70s, war came between France and Prussia. On the same night of invasion, before the empire fell apart, Hetzel suggested to the minster to give Jules the Decree of the Legion of Honor. The empress even signed it. One of the last signatures before the fall.

Pierre, Jules’s father, wanted to see his son with the news in person. Little did Jules knew, that it was fatal. After 48 hours upon his arrival to Chantenay, a war order arrived.

Pierre accompanied him to the threshold of the house, mumbled:

“Goodbye, my firstborn.”

Prepared, suitcase in his hand, Jules turned back to his father, waving with his hat:

“Goodbye my father.”

Jules did not know that this was for the last time he would see his father alive.

Pierre Verne at his 70s (from The unknown Jules Verne)

Jules was too old to become a soldier, but they ordered him to use his ship Saint Michel as a patrol boat. He was sailing around the French coast for weeks and never saw an enemy. So he spent all his time writing.

It wasn’t a joyful year for Jules. His father passed away in November the same year. But his note probably meant a lot of to Jules. He wrote to him he is thrilled that Jules is dedicated to a fair French writing.

"The Franco-Prussian War" from Who was Jules Verne

When Jules made it to Paris to bring over the manuscripts, the office of the publisher was closed. It was impossible to do business because of the fights on the streets. The typographers were in the ranks of the insurgent. And Jules became a broker once again. But luckily Frances’ war troubles came to the end by summer 1871.

But it seemed the luck was turning back to Jules. Hetzel could come back to his business and started to pay Jules again. In 1872 they published “Around the world in eighty days”. The book became so popular that they sent every chapter all over the world and later on also turned to a stage play and making more money than the book itself.

The same year, Jules moved also to Amiens.

The house of Jules Verne in Amiens (from The unknown Jules Verne)
Funny things is that in some countries the readers didn’t understand that the story is fiction, so they were searching for the main character Phileas Fogg themselves.

In 1889, Nellie Bly, also known as Elizabeth Cochran, was inspired by Phileas Fogg. An American journalist was racing against this character, traveling, by train, steamship and horseback, eventually making it in 72 days. Early on, she even took a detour and visited Jules.

The last voyage

Soon after, Jules built a larger yacht, Saint Michel II. and later even Saint Michel III. Jules was in mid 40s. Michel was a young man, bringing a lot of troubles. He didn’t stay at school and couldn’t keep up his job. Jules was paying for Michels’ debts.

Yacht St. Michel III. (from The unknown Jules Verne)

But Jules continued to write at least 2 novels each year. When Jules wasn’t writing, he was a part of a social life in Amiens, together with his wife, Honorine. They were throwing parties for friends and neighbors. The years 1872-1886 were the top of the fame for Jules Verne for both literary and material achievements.

It was March, 1886. Jules was coming to open the door. He saw a shadow of a man who was aiming at him with a revolver. Two shots were heard. One ended in the door, the second one deeply in Jules’s left leg. Jules, with his servant, disarmed the young, 26-year-old unknown man. What a shock it had to be to recognize in that man one of his nephews, Gaston, son of Paul. Later on it was found out that Gaston was overworked from studies, showed signs of mental disorder, all the time saying that he needed to revenge to someone. Gaston ran away from his parents’ house with a revolver in his pocket. He didn’t show any resistance when Jules and his servant were disarming him. Gaston is quiet oat the police. Doctors examined him and sent to the asylum of mentally ill.

Few weeks after the shooting took place, Pierre-Jules Hetzel died of body paralysis. Jules, tied to a bed, couldn’t even see him noir to attend his funeral. He sent a letter to his son, first lines after the attack he could write:

“I couldn’t be in the last moments of your father, who was a lot of mine as well, and I’m not able to accompany him together with you to the last rest. My mother and I are sharing our tears with tears of Mrs. Hetzel and yours.”

Soon after, like it was not enough, Jules received a message that his mother died. She outlived Pierre by 15 years.

The time, when he was slowly distanced from Paris and adventures, came. He would never walk like he used to. In the spring of 1886, Jules went to Nantes for the settlement of the mother’s estate. He sold his ship for the half of the price.

“Bye, my beautiful ship.” And after years he came back to his promise, to travel only in the dreams.

Jules stayed in Amiens and signed up for the town council. In 1888 he was elected. The same year, the only children’s book “Two Years’ Holiday”, was published. This time under Hetzel’s son.

William Golding (1911-1993) was a young reader of Jules’s Verne stories. He became a teacher and later on an author by himself. Strongly influenced by Verne, he published “Lord of the Flies” in 1954 and the book became one of the most-read books for young people in the world.
Jules as councilor of Amiens and his wife Honorine (from The unknown Jules Verne).

The old polar bear

Jules was working and asking his brother to help him with edits of the latest work. His brother even bought a boat and named it Jules Verne.

His son was finally married and living a “normal” life.

Paris was no longer just filled with omnibuses and horses. Electricity, electric light, gas lamps, steam and electric trams...

Verne was still working too much, same as his whole life. His wife, Honorine, said that he will kill himself one day due to overworking. But Verne didn’t feel that way. He felt that if he didn’t work, he wouldn’t live.

20th century began, Jules continued to write. Wounded leg bothered him, eyesight failed, hands were cramped from the handwriting. The relationship between Jules and his son Michel became closer. Michel came to visit his father with his wife and work on his book, which will be as a pre-sequel to my work.

In a letter to his brother Paul, he remembered the times they could sail together. But his brother, his best friend, was leaving him soon, in August 1897, on a heart disease.

Jules, half deaf, half blind, still continued to work. At 77, his diabetic crisis became worse. He already had one before, but almost nobody knew about it. Before this happened, he took his wife for a last walk in a garden.

Two weeks after the crisis Jules had a stroke. His right side of the body was completely paralyzed. Once his sister Marie got this message, she rushed to see her brother. Michel came as well. Honorine caressed him lovingly.

Very fast, Jules stopped to recognize his closest ones. When Hetzel, jr. managed to come, he was just a stranger to him. There were coming letters from readers from all over the world, watching his last fight, last voyage. Preparations before the last sail.

Before he fell unconscious, Thursday morning, he hugged his son Michel and his wife Honorine and whispered for the last time:

“Be good.”

Jules Verne on his deathbed (from The unknown Jules Verne)

On Friday, 24th of March 1905, 2am, Jules fell into a coma. Before the end, for a moment, he became clear conscious. His last moments invoked an irresistible memory of the last lines he wrote in his “Lighthouse at the end of the world”.

A notice board on the Nantes bourse, where his voice once was heard, said:

The famous writer died quietly at 8 in the morning.

Jules was buried in Amiens after a huge funeral full of hymns and praise, delegations of writers, scientists and artists. His wife and Michel put those words engraved on the tombstone:

To Immortality and the Eternal Youth.

Tomb of Jules Verne (source De Standaard)

Michel continued to publish his father’s work for more than a decade. Some books were finished before Jules died, some were finished by his son (which was not known for years)

We are all, in one way or another, the children of Jules Verne (Ray Bradbury)

- many stories have been turned into movies, and Jules Verne and his work inspired many adventurers

- Richard Byrd flew an airplane over the North Pole in 1926 and said: “Jules Verne guides me.”

- submarine pioneers pointed to Captain Nemo as their inspiration

- Jules wrote in 1863 a book which Hetzel refused to publish, “Paris in the Twentieth Century”, it became a best seller in 1994 when published


EXTRA: How did Jules came to his name?


May, 1875.

Two-story villa on the corner of Dubois street and boulevard Longueville.

An unknown visitor is entering the salon of the spacious villa, requesting a meeting with the owner of the house. The novelist was just sitting at the table, having breakfast with his wife and son-in-law. For sure, he was very excited to leave the tasty food and fulfilling conversation with his closest ones.

He gestured politely to the unknown man in black, holding a briefcase under his arm, that he can share what was on his mind.

“Mr., everyone thinks you are French, but you cannot keep secrets away from me! I know from safe sources who you are. I know every bit about your life.” started the pedantic looking man.

“Speak,” said again the novelist shortly.

“You are Polish of a Jewish origin, born in Plock, close to Warsaw. Your real name is Olszewicz, coming from word olsze (alder), which is a tree called Vergne in old French, so Verne. You have even translated your own name! You were in Rome around 1861, renounced the Hebrew faith to marry a very rich and noble Polish, a princess!”

Photo by Kristine Cinate / Unsplash

The novelist was in shock by this stranger. A blackmailer, a madman, perhaps? But shortly he felt more amused.

“Your engagement with noblewoman Kryzanowska broke apart. At this very moment, the French government offered you a beautiful place in the Ministry of the Interior. That said, France bought your pen. And since then you have never admitted your origin.”

“You were wrong on few points,” interrupted him the novelist with a bitter tone.

“The Polish noblewoman was Krak...ovicova. I kidnapped her. We used to live on the shores of Lake Geneva (le Leman). What a remembrance. The lake waters were so calm and shimmering. Every time we came, the lake surface rose and rippled like a splash of two souls from different social classes. After the love quarrel, my noblewoman run into the lake. This is an eternal remorse of my life. But, shush. Not even a word about my origin. I want to be known here as a perfect Christian.”

The author finished his improvisation so deadly serious that the stranger disappeared, convinced that they baptized this popular writer at a mature age, long after they subjected him to an Israeli ritual ceremony as a newborn.

The novelist returned to his wife and son-in-law, very cheerful, to finish his interrupted breakfast.

Apparently, in 1925 Georges Lefebvre was still laughing about this story - based on words from Allote de la Fuye, the niece and the most devoted biographer of his life.

Allote de la Fuye (Françisque de la Celle de Chateaubourg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

But hard to say if he would still laugh finding out that in the 20th century after occupation, in a Parisian magazine, his name was still between famous pseudonyms as Olsewicz. The top of the cake was when Parisian News asked its readers if the novelist was or wasn’t French.

The sense of humor, love for mystery and adventures left many people without a sleep. But the author himself just fed this legend and probably didn’t care what others know or don’t know about him.


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You can download nicely designed PFD bio of Jules Verne below, simply click the pic and it will take you to my DropBox.

All used resources you can find below:

Jules Gabriel Verne
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