Jules Verne was born on February 8, 1828, at Nantes, an industrial town on the Loire River in western France. His father, Pierre Verne, was a magistrate and his mother, Sophie Allotte de la Fuye Verne, was a descendant of an established, well-to-do French family. Verne completed his legal training but never took over his father’s law practice as intended. Instead, he pursued an interest in literature and drama. He began to write plays for production in the Parisian theatre, most of which were unsuccessful. In 1850 one of his plays (The Broken Straws) was successfully produced by the famous author Alexandre Dumas at the Theatre Historique. Verne served as secretary of the Theatre Lyrique in Paris from 1852 to 1854.
While still involved in the Parisian theater, Verne read Charles Baudelaire’s translations of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories and began to write similar tales. Verne thought that Poe’s tales would have been more convincing if they had been more scientifically credible. Verne, however, did not really discover his own gift for writing scientific romances until 1857, when he married a widow with two daughters. He abruptly discarded his assumed bohemian poverty for a career as a stockbroker and continued to write plays, comedies, and stories.
In 1863 he published the first of what he called his Voyages extraordinaires, or fantastic voyages-Cinq Semaines en ballon, translated into English six years later as Five Weeks in a Balloon. The success of this story and the discovery of a reliable publisher, Jules Hetzel, made it possible for him to devote all of his time to writing. Over the next four decades he produced a series of incredible tales, sending his heroes to the moon, inside the earth, or under the sea, and became a wealthy man from the international sales of his stories and books. When he was unsure about the geography or scientific details of a story, Verne would consult his brother Paul, a sea captain with a head for engineering, who often helped design Verne’s miraculous vehicles.
Unlike many struggling writers, Verne quickly won public acclaim. In 1870 he was awarded the Legion of Honor. After the 1870s, however, Verne’s fantastic voyages, or scientific romances as they had come to be called, took on a gloomy cast. Some critics have blamed his growing pessimism on personal problems, such as difficulties with his son Michel, but it is more likely that he was increasingly disillusioned by the failure of science and technology to produce the utopian world that he had envisioned.
Verne died at Amiens on March 24, 1905, from complications due to diabetes. He is remembered for anticipating many scientific advances-including helicopters, television, incandescent lighting, air conditioning, missiles, tanks, skyscrapers, the aqualung, and manned space flight-and for his contributions to the development of science fiction.