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Jules Verne
A Century of FantaScience

Jules Verne has always triggered my fantasies, and when a little girl I dreamed of adventuring the world like he did in his fantastic fiction stories.  I did come to travel the world, not in eighty days like Verne, but in eighty months -- but that's a different story ... :)  In the centenary of his death I have found it appropriate to set up a small philatelic web page about him.  

Jules Verne was born and raised in the port of Nantes. His father was a prosperous lawyer. To continue the practice, Verne moved to Paris, where he studied law. His uncle introduced him into literary circles and he started to publish  plays under the influence of such writers as Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas (the Younger), whom Verne also knew personally. Verne's one-act comedy The Broken Straws was performed in Paris when he was 22, and in spite of busy writing, Verne managed to pass his law degree. 

Jules Verne is regarded as the founder of modern science fiction -- or FantaScience, term coined by San Marino in 1998. 

However, from 1848 until 1863 he earned his living by writing opera librettos and plays, and only in 1863, at the age of 35, he achieved his first real success with the publication of Five Weeks in a Balloon, a short fantasy that anticipated his later work. He rode a wave of 19th-century interest in science and invention to enormous popular favour. 
  • France 1955.  Jules Verne. 50th death anniversary. 
  • France 2005. "Five Weeks in a Balloon". The six stamps in this set are cut from a sheet. Click here to see the full sheet. The link opens in a new window. 

France 2005. Jules Verne. 50th death anniversary.

France 2005. Jules Verne. "Five Weeks in a Balloon".

France 1961. Georges Méliès. Birth centenary.

Laying a carefully documented scientific foundation for his fantastic adventure stories, he forecast with remarkable accuracy -- nearly prophecy -- many scientific achievements of the 20th century. He anticipated flights into outer space, submarines, helicopters, air conditioning, guided missiles, and motion pictures long before they were developed. Beginning with A Trip to the Moon, by the pioneer French film director Georges Méliès, Verne's works have been the source of many films. He was awarded the Légion d'Honneur in 1892. 

  • France 1961. Georges Méliès. Birth centenary. 

In 1854 Charles Baudelaire translated Edgar Allan Poe's works into French. Verne became one of the most devoted admirers of the American author, and wrote his first science fiction tale, A voyage in Balloon (1851), under the influence of Poe. Later Verne would write a sequel to Poe's unfinished novel, "Narrative of a Gordon Pym", entitled The Sphinx of the Ice-Fields (1897). 

France 1982. Jules Verne. "Five Weeks in a Balloon".

France 1982. Jules Verne. "Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea".

When his career as an author progressed slowly, Verne turned to stockbroking, an occupation which he held until his successful tale Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863) in the series "Voyages Extraordinaires". Verne had met in 1862 Pierre Jules Hetzel, a publisher and writer for children, who started to publish Verne's "Extraordinary Journeys", and their cooperation lasted until the end of Verne's career. Hetzel had also worked with Balzac and George Sand. Verne's early work, Paris in the Twentieth Century was turned down by the publisher, and it did not appear until 1997 in English. 
  • France 1982. Two semi-postals for the benefit of French Red Cross. "Five Weeks in a Balloon", and "Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea". 

In 1856, at the age of 28, Verne had married Honorine de Viane, a young widow, acquiring two step-children. He lived with his family in a large provincial house and yachted occasionally. Verne spent an uneventful, bourgeois life from the 1860s. He traveled with his brother Paul in 1867 to the United States, visiting the Niagara falls. When he made a boat trip around the Mediterranean, he was celebrated in Gibraltar, North Africa, and in Rome, where Pope Leo XIII blessed his books. In 1871 he settled in Amiens and was elected councilor in 1888. Verne survived there in 1886 a murder attempt. His paranoid nephew, Gaston, shot him in the leg and the author was disabled for the rest of his life. Gaston never recovered his sanity. 

Around the World in Eighty Days was about Philèas Fogg's daring but realistic travel feat on a wager, based on a real journey by the US traveller George Francis Train (1829-1904). A Journey to the Centre of the Earth is vulnerable to criticism on geological grounds. The story depicted an expedition that enters in the hollow heart of the Earth.  
  • France 2005. Around the World in Eighty Days.
  • France 2005. A Journey to the Centre of the Earth. 


France 2005. Jules Verne. "Arouond the World in Eighty Days".


France 2005. Jules 'Verne. "A Jurney to the Centre of the Earth".

In Hector Servadac (1877) a comet takes Hector and his servant on a trip around the Solar System. In a tongue-in-cheek episode they discover a fragment of the Rock of Gibraltar, occupied by two Englishmen playing chess. 

Verne's novels gained soon a huge popularity throughout the world. Without the education of a scientist or experiences as a traveler, Verne spent much of his time in research for his books. In the contrast of fantasy literature, exemplified by Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" (1865), Verne tried to be realistic and practical in details. However, when the logic of the story contradicted contemporary scientific knowledge, Verne did not keep to the facts and probabilities too slavishly. 

France 2005. Jules Verne. "Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea".

San Marino 1998. Jules Verne. "Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea".

In Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, Verne introduced one of the forefathers of modern superheroes, the misanthropic Captain Nemo and his elaborate submarine, "Nautilus", named after Robert Fulton's steam-powered submarine. 
  • France 2005. "Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea". 
  • San Marino 1998. Idem. The stamp is cut from the sheet where San Marino in 1998 introduced the term "FantaScience". Click here to see the full sheet. The link opens in a new window. 

The Mysterious Island was about industrial exploits of men stranded on an island. In these works, filmed several times, Verne combined science and invention with fast-paced adventure. Some of Verne's fiction has also become a fact: his submarine Nautilus predated the first successful power submarine by a quarter century, and his spaceship predicted the development a century later. The first all-electric submarine, built in 1886 by two Englishmen, was named "Nautilus" in honor of Verne's vessel. The first nuclear-powered submarine, launched in 1955, was named "Nautilus", too. 

In the first part of his career Verne expressed his technophile optimism about progress and Europe's central role in the social and technical development of the world. 

What concerns technical inventions, Verne's imagination sometimes contradicted facts. 

In From Earth to the Moon a giant cannon shoots the protagonist into orbit. Any contemporary scientist could have told Verne, that the passengers would be killed by the initial acceleration. However, the idea of the space gun first appeared in print in the 18th-century. 

  • France 2005. "From Earth to the Moon". 

France 2005. Jules Verne. "From Earth to the Moon".

Michel Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar was written in 1876. By the critics it is considered one of Verne's best book. Unlike some of Verne's other famous novels, it is not science fiction, and the book has been adapted several times for films and cartoon series. The Czar must get a message from Moscow to his brother the Arch Duke who is currently on the other side of Russia in the city of Irkutsk. He calls upon his best courier, Captain Michel Strogoff, to secretly get the message across the Siberian frontier, which is currently being invaded by the Tartars, led by the Emir of Bokhara. 

France 2005. Jules Verne. "Michel Strogoff".

The Czar warns Michel about a Russian traitor named Ivan Ogareff, who is assisting with the invasion. 

During Michel's journey he encounters a girl who is also traveling to Irkutsk, to be reunited with her father who's living there in exile. He also meets two reporters, Harry Blount of The Daily Telegraph and Alcide Jolivet (who reports only to his "Cousin Madeleine"), who are covering the invasion. 

  • France 2005. "Michel Strogoff". 

Verne's major works were written by 1880. In later novels the author's pessimism about the future of human civilization reflected the doom-laden fin-de-siècle atmosphere. In his tale The Eternal Adam a far-future historian discovers the 20th-century civilization was overthrown by geological cataclysms, and the legend of Adam and Eve becomes both true and cyclical. In Robur the Conqueror (1886) Verne predicted the birth of heavier-than-air craft, but in the sequel, Master of the World (1904), the great inventor Robur suffers from megalomania, and plays cat-and-mouse game with authorities. 

To the horror of his family, Verne admired the Russian Prince Pyotr Kropotkin (1842-1921), who devoted himself to a life as a revolutionary, and whose character possibly influenced the noble anarchist of "Survivors of the Jonathan" (1909). Kropotkin wrote of an anarchy based on mutual support and trust. Verne's interest in socialistic theories was already seen in Mathias Sandorf (1885).

For over 40 years Verne published at least one book per year on a wide range of subjects. Although Verne wrote about exotic places, he traveled relatively little -- his only balloon flight lasted only twenty-four minutes. Verne's works have inspired a number of film makers from Georges Méliès "A Trip to the Moon", 1902) and Walt Disney "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1954) to such Hollywood directors as Henry Levin "Journey to the Center of the Earth", 1959) and Irwin Allen "Five Weeks in a Balloon", 1962). 

Also the Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico was a great admirer of Verne and wrote on him in the essay 'On Metaphysical Art': 

But who was more gifted than he in capturing the metaphysical element of a city like London, with its houses, streets, clubs, squares and open spaces; the ghostliness of a Sunday afternoon in London, the melancholy of a man, a real walking phantom, as Phineas Fogg appears in "Around the World in Eighty Days"?  The work of Jules Verne is full of these joyous and most consoling moments; I still remember the description of the departure of a steamship from Liverpool in his novel "The Floating City". 

Verne died in Amiens on March 24, 1905. Verne's oeuvre include 65 novels, some twenty short stories and essays, thirty plays, some geographical works, and opera librettos. According to the UNESCO-statistics, he is the most translated novelist in the world, in 148 languages. 

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