Jules Verne was not supposed to be a writer. Both he and his father had chosen law for him as his profession, but the draw of literary life was too great, and soon he gave up his law career to concentrate on writing. Good news for the rest of us.
Born this week in southern France, he grew up in the seaport city of Nantes. His earliest stories, written for magazines and the stage, were about the sea and the often-fantastical sea creatures that sailors purported to encounter on their voyages. Those were repeated in his book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and alluded to in his Journey to the Center of the Earth. Those two stories, along with From Earth to the Moon led to his being dubbed one of the “Fathers of Science Fiction,” along with H.G. Wells and Hugo Gernsback.
Verne has the interesting distinction of having one of his book premises challenged in real life. In 1890, journalist Nellie Bly of The New York World decided to “race” against Verne’s character Phileas Fogg to see if she could beat his Around The World in 80 Days record. She did it in 72 days and also established herself as one of the daredevil adventurers of her time. During the trip, she stopped in France to visit Verne and see where he did his writing. Expecting to find a glorious writing den, she instead found that Verne worked in a small, nondescript room with a small writing desk and a typewriter.
“It’s not the place you write that matters,” Verne told the young and upcoming American writer. “It’s what you produce there that matters.” Nellie said it was advice she always remembered and emulated for the rest of her life.
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