Jules Verne interview
Interview with Jules Verne made up of actual quotes by Verne, researched, assembled and edited by Jean-Marc Lofficier
And then came Jules Verne, and everything changed forever.
Verne made his genre beginnings with two novellas entitled “Un Voyage en Ballon” (A Voyage in a Balloon), an adventure tale published in 1851, and “Maître Zacharius”, a story belonging to the fantastique featuring a clockmaker and the Devil, published in 1854. Verne’s literary influences were Edgar Allan Poe, from whom he drew his sense of wonder and the ability to project the cold light of scientific logic upon the wildest of notions, Victor Hugo for his romantic spirit, and Alexandre Dumas, for his sense of drama and adventure. In 1850, Verne had a play, Les Pailles Rompues (The Broken Straws), produced at Dumas’ Theâtre Historique in Paris. And in 1897, he penned his own sequel to Poe’s The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym entitled Le Sphinx des Glaces (The Sphinx of the Ice). It is also worth noting that Verne, who was born in the Atlantic port city of Nantes, had tried to embark on a ship when he was young.
Verne burst onto the litterary scene with the serialized version of Cinq Semaines en Ballon (Five Weeks in a Balloon), the tale of a Trans-African balloon journey, published in 1863 in a magazine founded by visionary publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who immediately realized Verne’s enormous potential.
Strangely, Verne and Hetzel’s relationship began with a rejection. The second novel -- or more appropriately novella -- submitted by Verne to Hetzel in 1863 was entitled Paris au 20ème Siècle (Paris in the 20th Century). It was a grim, Orwellian story about a young poet, Michel, who desperately tried to fit into a soulless, technological society dominated by huge corporations, and who, having failed in his efforts, eventually died from the cold, homeless. (The handwritten manuscript of Paris in the 20th Century was found by accident in a forgotten safe , and published in 1994 by Verne’s great grand-son, Jean. It was reviewed in Starlog No. XXX.)
Verne’s first, full-blown genre novel was therefore the enormously successful Voyage au Centre de la Terre (Journey to the Center of the Earth) (1864), which introduced all the elements which became characteristic of his style, and indeed of much of later science fiction: An initial fantastic concept, a thrilling adventure, a sense of wonder, some wonderful vistas, a few momentary views into even more fantastic elements, but always careful to not go too far in order to never become unbelievable. For example, in this novel, the heroes crossed a vast, inner sea and glimpse the occasional living, prehistoric monster, but nothing more. In a startling break with the past, and in a fashion that has since become a hallmark of science fiction writers, Verne was always careful to strive for believability before all. Another of Verne’s archetypal contributions to the genre was the character of the daring, often eccentric, even renegade, scientist-hero, whose genius is doubted by his peers, and whose will and boundless curiosity drives the plot forward. Professor Liddenbrock from Journey to the Center of the Earth was but the first in a very long line of similar characters who are still with us today.
It was followed by the classic De la Terre à la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon) (1865), and its sequel, Autour de la Lune (Around the Moon) (1870), which became the seminal works on spaceflight of the 19th century, and inspired Tsiolkovsky, Goddard, Oberth, Von Braun and Gagarin. Again striving for believability, Verne deliberately sacrificed some scientific accuracy for the sake of fictional verisimilitude. Still, no less an authority than Professor Von Braun stated that his calculations were “nearly as accurate as the knowledge of the time permitted”.
The enormous success of From the Earth to the Moon proved that Verne’s approach was right. In 1867, Hetzel granted Verne his own imprint dubbed “Voyages Extraordinaires” (Extraordinary Voyages), a first in publishing history. For almost forty years, thereafter, Verne continued to produce a regular, steady flow of novels.
His next seminal work was Vingt Mille Lieues Sous les Mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) (1870) which, with its sequel, L'Île Mystérieuse (Mysterious Island) (1875), introduced the character of Captain Nemo. The Byronesque figure of Nemo, a brilliant scientist, an adventurer, a loner beyond the reaches of man’s society, has since joined the ranks of Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Superman, etc. as one of the most famous modern fictional characters. The name of his sub-marine, the “Nautilus,” is as well known today as Star Trek’s “Enterprise,” and was given by the U.S. Navy to the world’s first nuclear submarine in 1954.
It is impossible to underestimate the impact of Jules Verne on modern science fiction. Others may have been more brilliant, or better writers, but it was Verne who reached the masses, who popularized the concepts of science fiction and gave them their modern form.
Like Robert Heinlein much later, Verne made scientific anticipation popular with both younger and older readers. He came to exert such a powerful influence on the genre that it can safely be claimed that, without him, there would be no science fiction. The Luxembourg-born father of modern American science fiction, Hugo Gernsback, was a fan of Verne and published translations of his stories in his magazine “Modern Electrics” starting in 1908, which eventually led to the creation of “Amazing Stories” in 1926.
Thanks to the breakthroughs in temporal engineering recently achieved by the Starlog-Yoyodyne research facility in Upper Gallifrey, it was a relatively easy matter to take a brief jaunt to the peaceful city of Amiens, in Western France, time zone 1900, to interview the beloved French author who was one of the fathers of modern science fiction.
At that time of his life, five years before his passing away, Verne was still remarkably active, in spite of a cataract in his right eye. When led into the great man’s study by the friendly Madame Verne, one was pleasantly surprised to recognize the two little busts of Molière and Shakespeare, and the watercolor painting of the Bay of Naples, so often described by other visitors.
We sat in the adjoining library, well filled with hundreds of volumes, including entire rows of Verne’s own novels, translated into dozens of languages. The writer was unfailingly pleasant, and his mood was generally good, although occasionally a darker cloud would come and cast a shadow. We had agreed in advance to not discuss the future, alas far too similar to the great man’s predictions in his now-rediscovered Paris in the 20th Century. Instead, we spoke of the past…
Question: Let us start at the beginning. Can you tell us about your childhood and family?
Verne: I was born in Nantes on the 8th of February, 1828. We were a most happy family. Our father, who was an admirable man, was a Parisian by education, for he was born in Brie, but educated in Paris, where he went to university and took his degree as a barrister. My mother was a Bas-Bretonne, from Morlaix, so that I am a mixture of Breton and Parisian blood. I had a very happy youth. My father was a solicitor and barrister at Nantes, and in a good position of fortune. He was a man of culture, and of great literary taste. He wrote songs at a time when songs were still written in France, that it to say, between 1830 and 1840. But he was a man of no ambition, and, though he might have distinguished himself in letters had he chosen to put himself forward, he avoided all publicity. His songs were sung in the family; very few of them ever got into print. I may remark that none of us have been ambitious; we have tried to enjoy our lives and to do our work quietly. My father died in 1871, aged seventy-three. My mother died in 1885, leaving thirty-two grandchildren, and, if one counts the cousins and cousins-german, ninety-seven descendants. All the children lived; that is to say, death has not removed any one of the five children. There where two boys and three girls, and they are all alive today. Men and women are of solid build in Brittany. My brother Paul was and is my dearest friend. Yes, I may say that he is not only my brother but my most intimate friend. And our friendship dates from the first day that I can remember. What excursions we used to take together in leaky boats on the Loire! At the age of fifteen there was not a nook or a corner on the Loire right down to the sea that we had not explored. What dreadful boats they were, and what risks we, no doubt, ran! Sometimes I was captain, sometimes it was Paul. But Paul was the better of the two. You know that afterwards he entered the navy, and might have become a very distinguished officer had he not been a Verne, that is to say, had he had any ambition. I suppose that one may see in my love for adventure and water, what was to be the bent of my mind in later years.
Question: Were you a precocious writer?
Verne: I began to write at the age of twelve. It was all poetry then, and dreadful poetry, too. Still, I remember that an address which I composed for my father's birthday -- what we call a “compliment” in France -- was thought very good, and I was so complimented that I felt quite proud. I remember that even at that time I used to spend a long time over my writings, copying and correcting, and never really satisfied with what I had done. Certainly, the method of work which I had then has clung to me all through my life. I don't think I have ever done a piece of slovenly work.
Question: Were you particularly attracted to science at school?
Verne: No, I cannot say that I was. Indeed, I never have been; that is to say, I have never practically studied of experimented in science. But while I was quite a lad I used to adore watching machines at work. My father had a country-house at Chantenay, at the mouth of the Loire, and near there is the government machine factory of Indret. I never went to Chantenay without entering the factory, and standing for hours together watching the machines at work. This taste has remained with me all my life, and today I have still as much pleasure in watching a steam-engine of a fine locomotive at work as I have in contemplating a picture by Raphael or Correggio. My interest in human industries has always been a marked trait of my character, as marked, indeed, as my taste for literature and my delight in fine arts, which has taken me to every museum and picture-gallery. This Indret factory, or excursions on the Loire, and my scribbling of verses were the three delights and occupations of my youth.
Question: How did you become a professional writer?
Verne: I cannot remember the time when I did not write, or intend to be an author; and as you will soon see, many things conspired to that end.
I was educated at the lycée of Nantes, where I remained till I had finished my rhetoric classes, when I was sent to Paris to study law. My favorite study had always been geography, but at the time I went to Paris I was entirely taken up with literary projects. I was greatly under the influence of Victor Hugo, indeed, very excited by reading and re-reading his works. At that time I could have recited by heart whole pages of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but it was his dramatic work that most influenced me, and it was under this influence that, at the age of seventeen, I wrote a number of tragedies and comedies, not to mention novels. Thus, I wrote a five-act tragedy in verse, entitled Alexander VI, which was the tragedy of the Borgia pope. Another five-act tragedy in verse, written at that time, was The Gunpowder Plot, with Guy Fawkes as hero. A Drama under Louis XV was another tragedy in verse, and for comedy there was one in five acts and verse called Les Heureux du Jour. All this work was done with the greatest care and with constant preoccupation after style before me. I have always sought after style, but people have never given me credit for this.
Anyway, I came to Paris as a student. I cannot say that I frequented many of my fellow-students' rooms, for we Bretons, you know, are a clannish people, and nearly all my friends where schoolmates from Nantes, who had come up to the Paris University with me. My friends were nearly all musicians, and at that period of my life I was a musician myself. I understood harmony, and think I may say that, if I had taken to musical career, I should have had less difficulty than many in succeeding. Victor Masse was a friend of mine as a student, and so was Delibes, with whom I was very intimate. These were friends I made in Paris. Among my Breton friends was Aristide Hignard, a musician, although he won a second Prize of Rome, never emerged from the crowd. We used to collaborate together. I wrote the words and he the music. We produced one or two operettes which were played, and some songs. One of these songs, entitled Les Gabiers, which used to be sung by the baritone Charles Bataille, was very popular at the time.
Another friend whose acquaintance I made as a student, and who has remained my friend ever since, is Leroy, the present deputy for Morbihan. But the friend to whom I owe the deepest debt of gratitude and affection is Alexandre Dumas, whom I met first at the age of twenty-one. We became chums almost at once. He was the first to encourage me. I may say that he was my first protector. I never see him now, but as long as I live I shall never forget his kindness to me nor the debt that I owe him. He introduced me to his father; he worked with me in collaboration. We wrote together a play called Pailles Rompues, which was performed at the Gymnase; and a comedy in three acts entitled Onze jours de Siège, which was performed in the Vaudeville Theatre. I was living then on a small pension allowed me by my father, and had dreams of wealth which led me into one or two speculations at the Paris Stock Exchange. These did not realize my dreams, I may add. But I derived some benefit from constant visits to the coulisses of the Exchange, for it was there that I got to know the romance of commerce, the fever business, which I have often described and used in my novels.
Whilst speculating at the Stock Exchange, and collaborating with Hignard in operette and chanson, and with Alexandre Dumas in comedy, I contributed short stories to magazines. My first work appeared in the Musée des Familles, where you can find a story of mine about a madman in a balloon, which is the first indication of the line of novel that I was destined to follow. I was then secretary to the Lyric Theatre, and afterwards secretary to M. Perrin. I adored the stage and all connected with it, and the work that I have enjoyed the most has been my writing for the stage. But, I did not find that it brought me anything in the way of substance of fortune.
I was twenty-five when I wrote my first so-called science fiction novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon. It was published by Hetzel in 1861, and was a great success at once. Yet, I have never lost my love for the stage and everything connected with theatrical life. One of the keenest joys my story-writing has brought me has been the successful staging of some of my novels, notably Michel Strogoff.
Question: Had you the knowledge of ballooning, any experience?
Verne: (laughing) None whatever! I wrote Five Weeks in a Balloon, not as a story about ballooning, but as a story about Africa. I always was greatly interested in geography and travel, and I wanted to give a romantic description of Africa. Now, there was no means of taking my travellers through Africa otherwise than in a balloon, and that is why a balloon is introduced. At that time, I had never made an ascent. Indeed, I have only once travelled in a balloon in my life. That was in Amiens, long after my novel was published. And it was only “three-quarters of an hour in a balloon,” for we had a mishap in starting! Godard, the aeronaut, was kissing his little boy just as the balloon rose, and we had to take the lad with us, and the balloon was so weighted that it could not go far. I may say that at the time I wrote the novel, as now, I had no faith in the possibility of ever steering balloons, except in an absolutely stagnant atmosphere. How can a balloon be made to face currents running at six, seven or eight metres to a second? It is a mere dream, though I believe that if the question is ever to be solved it will be with a machine which will be heavier than the air, following the principle of the bird, which can fly, though it is heavier than the air which it displaces.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing that story, and, even more, I may add, the researches which it made necessary; for then, as now, I always tried to make even the wildest of my romances as realistic and true to life as possible. Once the story was finished, I sent the manuscript to the well-known Paris publisher, Monsieur Hetzel. He read the tale, was interested by it, and made me an offer which I accepted. I may tell you that this excellent man and his son became, and have remained, my very good friends, and the firm are about to publish my seventieth novel.
Question: Then you had no scientific studies to draw from?
Verne: None whatever. As I said, I have never studied science, though in the course of my reading I have picked up a great many odds and ends which have become useful. I may tell you that I am a great reader, and that I always read pencil in hand. I always carry a notebook about with me, and immediately jot down anything that interests me or may appear to be of possible use in my books. To give you an idea of my reading, I come here every day after lunch and immediately set to work to read through fifteen different papers, always the same fifteen, and I can tell you that very little of in any of them escapes my attention. When I see anything of interest, down it goes. Then I read the magazines, such as the Revue des Deux Mondes, Tissandier's La Nature, and Flammarion's L'Astronomie. I also read through the bulletins of the scientific societies, especially those of the Geographical Society, for geography is my passion and my study. I also read and re-read, for I am a most careful reader, the collection known as Le Tour du Monde, which is a series of stories of travel. I have thus amassed many thousands of notes on all subjects, and to date, at home, have at least twenty thousand notes which can be turned to advantage in my work, as yet unused. Some of these notes were taken after conversations with people. I love to hear people talk, provided they talk on subjects with which they are acquainted.
Question: How could you have written all the science fiction novels you wrote without scientific studies?
Verne: I had a good fortune to enter the world at a time when there were dictionaries on every possible subject. I had just to turn in my dictionary to the subject I wanted information upon, and there it was. Of course, in my reading, I picked up a quantity of information, and, as I said, I have a great number of scientific odds and ends in my head. It was thus that, when, one day in a Paris café, I read in the Siècle that a man could travel round the world in eighty days, it immediately struck me that I could profit by a difference of meridian and make my traveller gain or lose a day in his journey. There was my dénouement already found. The story was not written until long after. I carry about ideas in my head for years -- ten or fifteen years, sometimes -- before giving them form.
Question: Have you travelled as extensively as your heroes?
Verne: I have yachted for my pleasure, but always with an eye to getting information for my books. This has been my constant preoccupation, and every one of my novels has benefited by my voyages. Thus, in Le Billet de Loterie is to be found the narrative of personal experiences and observations in a tour in Scotland and to Iona and Staffa; as also of a journey in Norway in 1862, when we travelled from Stockholm to Christiana by Canal, mounting ninety-seven locks, an extraordinary voyage of three days, and three nights in a steamer, and when we took carriage to that wildest part of Norway, the Tolemark, and visited the Gosta falls, nine hundred feet high.
In Les Indes Noires is the relation of my tour in England and my visit to the Scotch lakes. Une Ville Flottante came from my voyage to America in 1867, on the Great Eastern, when I sailed for New York, visited Albany and Niagara, and had the great good fortune and joy to see Niagara icebound. It was on April 14, and there were torrents of water pouring into the open jaws of ice.
Mathias Sandorf comes from a tour from Tangiers to Malta on my yacht, the St. Michel, called after my son Michel, who accompanied me, with his mother and my brother Paul, on the voyage.
In 1878 I had a very instructive and most pleasant yachting tour with Raoul Duval, Hetzel the younger, and my brother, in the Mediterranean.
Travelling was the pleasure of my life, and it was with great regret that, in 1886, I was forced to give it up, in consequence of my accident. You know the sad story of how a nephew of mine, who adored me, and of whom I was also very fond, came to see me at Amiens one day, and, after muttering something wildly, drew a revolver and fired at me, wounding my left leg and laming me for life. The wound has never closed and the bullet has never removed. The poor lad was out of his mind, and said he had done this in order to draw attention to my claims to a seat in the French Academy. He is now in an asylum, and I fear that he will never be cured. The great regret that this causes me chiefly that I shall never be able to see America again. I should have liked to have gone to Chicago, but in the state of my health and with this ever-open wound it was quite impossible.
I do so love America and the American. As you are writing for America be sure to tell them that if they love me -- as I know they do, for I receive thousands of letters every year from the States -- I return their affection with all my heart. Oh, if I could only go and see them all, it would be the great joy of my life!
Question: Let us talk about your works. Unlike most French writers of your time, you seem to enjoy making your heroes English or American. Why?
Verne: I consider that members of the English-speaking nations make excellent heroes, especially where a story of adventure, or scientific pioneering work, is about to be described, or when, as in the case of Mr. Phileas Fogg, the nature of the plot requires them to be confronted at every moment with formidable and entirely unforseen difficulties. I thoroughly admire the pluck and go-ahead qualities of the nation which have planted the Union Jack on so great a portion of the Earth's surface.
Question: Certainly, many British or American lads have spent numerous hours of delight in the company of your books.
Verne: I am proud to think that it is so. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to learn that my books have been the means of providing interest and instruction -- for I always intend them to be in a certain sense instructive -- to young people whom otherwise I should never have been able to come in contact. During my present misfortune I have received numberless telegrams and messages of sympathy from English readers, and only a short time ago I was charmed to receive a beautifully mounted walking stick from some of my young friends over there.
Question: By the standards of my century, it has also been pointed out that women play far too small a part in your novels. What is this so?
Verne: I deny that in toto! Look at Mistress Branican, and the charming young girls in some of my stories. Whenever there is any necessity for the feminine element to be introduced you will always find it there. But (smiling) love is an all-absorbing passion, and leaves room for little else in the human breast; my heroes need all their wits about them, and the presence of a charming young lady might now an again sadly interfere with what they have to do. Again, I have always wished to so write my stories that they might be placed without the least hesitation in the hands of all young people, and I have scrupulously avoided any scene which, say, a boy would not like to think his sister would read.
Question: People say that you have successfully predicted many technological marvels of the 20th century. What do you say to this?
Verne: Yes, people are kind enough to say so. It is flattering, but as a fact it is not true.'
Question: Still, what about the Nautilus, for example?
Verne: Aucun rapport. The Italians had invented submarine boats sixty years before I created the Nautilus. There is no connection between my boat and those now existing. These latter are worked by mechanical means. My hero, Nemo, being a misanthropist, and wishing to have nothing to do with the land, gets his motive force, electricity, from the sea. There is scientific basis for that, for the sea contains stores of electric force, just as the earth does. But how to get at this force has never been discovered, and so I have invented nothing. Most of it is a mere coincidence, and is doubtless owing to the fact that even when inventing scientific phenomena I always try and make everything seem as true and simple as possible.
I have merely made suggestions, which, after due consideration, I deemed to rest upon a practical basis, an these I then elaborated in a more or less imaginative manner to suit the purposes which I had in view.
Question: But many of these, which twenty years ago were rejected as impossible, became accomplished facts?
Verne: Yes, that is so, but again, these results are merely the natural outcome of the scientific trend of modern thought, and as such have doubtless been predicted by scores of others besides myself. Their coming was inevitable, whether anticipated or not, and the most that I can claim is to have looked perhaps a little farther into the future than the majority of my critics.
As to the accuracy of my descriptions, I owe that in a great measure to the fact that, even before I began writing stories, I always took numerous notes out of every book, newspaper, magazine, or scientific report that I came across. These notes were, and are, all classified according to the subject which they dealt, and I need hardly point out to you how invaluable much of this material has been to me.
Question: What do you think is the secret of your success?
Verne: I cannot see what interest the public can find in such things; but I will initiate you into the secrets of my literay kitchen, though I do not know that I would recommend anybody else to proceed on the same plan, for I always think that each of us works in his or her own way, and instinctively knows what method is best.
Well, I start by making a draft of what is going to be my new story. I never begin a book without knowing what the beginning, the middle, and the end will be. Hitherto I have always been fortunate enough to have not one, but half-a-dozen definite schemes floating in my mind. If I ever find myself hard up for a subject, I shall consider that it is time for me to give up work. After having completed my preliminary draft, I draw up a plan of the chapters, and then begin the actual writing of the first rough copy in pencil, leaving a half-page margin for corrections and emendations; I then read the whole, and go over all I have already done in ink. I consider that my real labour begins with my first set of proofs, for I not only correct something in every sentence, but I rewrite whole chapters. I do not seem to have a grip of my subject till I see my“work in print ; fortunately, my kind publisher allows me every latitude as regards corrections, and I often have as many as eight or nine revises. I envy, but do not attempt to emulate, the example of those who from the Chapter I to the word Finis, never see reason to alter or add a single word.
Question: This method must slow down your productivity?
Verne: I do not find it so. Thanks to my habits of regularity, I invariably produce two completed novels a year. I am also always in advance of my work; I usually have five manuscripts ready for the printers. Of course, this has not been achieved without sacrifice. I soon found real hard work and a constant, steady rate of production incompatible with the pleasures of society. When we were younger, my wife and myself lived in Paris, and enjoyed the world and its manifold interests to the full. During the last twelve years I have become a townsman of Amiens; my wife is an Amienoise by birth. It was here that I first made her acquaintance, fifty-three years ago, and little by little all my affections and interests have centered in the town. Some of my friends will even tell you that I am far prouder of being a town councillor of Amiens than of my literary reputation. I do not deny that I thoroughly enjoy taking my share in municipal government.
Question: What are your working habits?
Verne: I rise every morning before five -- a little later, perhaps, in the winter -- and at five a.m. I am at my desk, remaining at work until eleven. I have made a point of doing three hours' writing before breakfast. The great bulk of my work was always done in this time, and though I would sit down for a couple of hours later in the day, my stories have really nearly all been written when most folks are sleeping.
I work very slowly and with the greatest care, writing and rewriting until each sentence takes the form that I desire. I have always at least ten novels in my head in advance, subjects and plots already thought out. But it is over my proofs that I spend most time. I am never satisfied with less than seven or eight proofs, and correct and correct again, until it may be safely said the last proof bears hardly any traces of the original manuscript. This means a great sacrifice of pocket, as well as of time, but I have always tried my best for form and style, though people have never done me justice in this respect.
Question: Which of all your books is your favorite?
Verne: That is a question which has often been put to me. In my opinion, an author like a father, should have no favourites. All his works should be alike in his eyes, for they are the product of his best endeavours, and though naturally produced under varying conditions of mood and temperament, each represents the full limit of thought and energies at the moment of its creation.
Question: What are your favorite authors?
Verne: My favorite author, however, is, and always has been, Dickens. I don't know more than a hundred words of English, and so I have to read him in translation. But I have read the whole of Dickens at least ten times over. I consider that the author of Nicholas Nickelby, and David Copperfield possesses pathos, humour, incident, plot, and descriptive power, any one of which might have made the reputation of a less gifted mortal; but here, again, is one of those whose fame may smoulder but will never die. I cannot say that I prefer him to Maupassant, because there is no comparison possible between the two. But I love him immensely.
I am also and have always been a great admirer of Fenimore Cooper's novels. All my life I have also delighted in the works of Sir Walter Scott. England has been at the vanguard of stories of adventure, notably with that classic, beloved alike by old and young, Robinson Crusoe; and yet perhaps I shall shock you by admitting that I myself prefer the dear old Swiss Family Robinson. People forget that Crusoe and his man Friday were but an episode in a seven-volumed story. To my mind the book's great merit is that it was apparently the first romance of the kind ever perpetrated. We have all written Robinsons (laughing), but it is a moot question if any of them would have seen the light had it not been for their famous prototype.
I also thoroughly enjoy Captain Marryat's breezy romances. Owing to my unfortunate inability to read English, I am not so familiar as I should like to be with Mayne Read and Robert Louis Stevenson; still, I was greatly delighted with the latter's Treasure Island, of which I possess a translation. It seemed to me, when I read it, to possess extraordinary freshness of style and enormous power.
Question: Any contemporary writers?
Question: There is an author whose work has appealed to me very strongly from an imaginative standpoint, and whose books I have followed with considerable interest. I allude to Mr. H.G. Wells. Some of my friends have suggested to me that his work is on somewhat similar lines to my own, but here, I think, they err. I consider him, as a purely imaginative writer, to be deserving of very high praise, but our methods are entirely different. I have always made a point in my romances of basing my so-called inventions upon a groundwork of actual fact, and of using in their construction methods and materials which are not entirely without the pale of contemporary engineering skill and knowledge.
Take, for instance, the case of the Nautilus. This, when carefully considered, is a submarine mechanism about which there is nothing wholly extraordinary, nor beyond the bounds of actual scientific knowledge. It rises or sinks by perfectly feasible and well-known processes, the details of its guidance and propulsion are perfectly rational and comprehensible. Its motive force even is not secret: the only point at which I have called in the aid of imagination is in the application of this force, and here I have purposely left a blank for the reader to form his own conclusion, a mere technical hiatus, as it were, quite capable of being filled in by a highly-trained and thoroughly practical mind.
The creations of Mr. Wells, on the other hand, belong unreservedly to an age and degree of scientific knowledge far removed from the present, though I will not say entirely beyond the limits of the possible. Not only does he evolve his constructions entirely from the realm of the imagination, but he also evolves the materials of which he builds them. See, for example, his story The First Men in the Moon. You will remember that here he introduces an entirely new anti-
gravitational substance, to whose mode of preparation or actual chemical composition we are not given the slightest clue, nor does a reference to our present scientific knowledge enable us for a moment to predict a method by which such a result might be achieved. In The War of the Worlds, again, a work for which I confess I have a great admiration, one is left entirely in the dark as to what kind of creatures the Martians really are, or in what manner they produce the wonderful heat ray with which they work such terrible havoc on their assailants. Mind, in saying this, I am casting no disparagement on Mr. Wells' methods; on the contrary, I have the highest respect for his imaginative genius. I am merely contrasting our two styles and pointing out the fundamental difference which exists between them, and I wish you clearly to understand that I express no opinion on the superiority of either the one or the other.
Question: As a writer, where do you see yourself, and your oeuvre?
Verne: My object has been to depict the Earth, and not the Earth alone, but the universe, for I have sometimes taken my readers away from Earth, in the novel. And I have tried at the same time to realize a very high ideal of beauty of style. It is said that there can't be any style in a novel of adventure, but it isn't true; though I admit it is very much more difficult to write such a novel in a good literary form than the studies of character which are so vogue to-day. And let me that I am no very great admirer of psychological novel, so-called, because I don't see what a novel has to do with psychology, and I can't say that I admire the so-called psychological novelists. I except, however, Daudet and Maupassant. For Maupassant I have the very highest admiration. He is a man of genius, who has received from heaven the gift of writing everything, and who has produced as naturally and easily as an apple-tree produces apples.
Dumas used to say to me, when I complained that my place in French literature was not recognized, “You ought to have been an American or an English author. Then your books, translated into French, would have gained you an enormous popularity in France, and you would have been considered by your countrymen as one of the greatest masters of fiction.” But as it is, I am considered of no account in French literature. Fifteen years ago Dumas proposed my name for the Academy, and, as at that time I had several friends there, there seemed a chance of my election and the formal recognition of my work. But it was never carried through, and today, when I get letters from America addressed to “Monsieur Jules Verne of the French Academy,” I have a little smile to myself. Since the day when my name was proposed, no less then forty-two elections have occurred at the French Academy, which, so to speak, has entirely renewed itself since then. But I am passed over. That is the great regret of my life.'
Question: You were, however, awarded the rank of Officer in the Legion of Honor…
Verne (glancing at the red rosette in the button-hole of his jacket: Yes, that is some recognition… (Smiling) I was the last man decorated by the empire. Two hours after my decree was signed, the empire had ceased to be. But it is not decorations that I hanker after, any more than gold. It is that people should see what I have done or tried to do, and should not overlook the artist in the tale-teller. I am an artist.
Question: To finish, I’d like to ask you about your current projects?
Verne: It is my intention to complete, before my working days are done, a series which shall conclude in story form my whole survey of the world's surface and the heavens; there are still left corners of the world to which my thoughts have not yet penetrated. As you know, I have dealt with the Moon, but a great deal remains to be done, and if health and strength permit me, I hope to finish the task.
The introduction is adapted from Jean-Marc Lofficier’s French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Pulp Fiction (McFarland, 2000).
Jules Verne’s answers come from interviews granted to R. H. Sherard (McClure's Magazine, January, 1894; T.P.'s Weekly, October 9, 1903), Marie A. Belloc (Strand Magazine, February, 1895), and Gordon Jones (Temple Bar, June 1904), edited and collected by Brian Taves in his article, Jules Verne’s Autobiography.
Thanks to Marc Madouraud for help in gathering the information contained therein.