Travelling around the world in 80 days | Sunday Observer

Travelling around the world in 80 days

More than 100 years ago, a big-built man with a red beard visited the French Education Minister’s office. The receptionist looked at the visiting card and his face with some curiosity. Then she said, “Monsieur Verne, pray be seated. With all the travelling you do, you must be tired.”

Jules Verne should have been tired because he had travelled around the world many times. Once, he did it in 80 days. He had voyaged 60,000 miles under the sea. He made an arduous trip to the moon long before anyone else could land there. The most difficult trip he undertook was exploring the centre of the earth. In addition, Verne had met cannibals in Africa and Indians on the Orinoco. In fact, there was hardly any place in the world he had not set foot.

Strangely, the man who had travelled extensively throughout the world did not leave his small room of the red brick tower in Amiens. He wrote all his science fiction books for many years and took roughly six months to complete one book. Today, Jules Verne is considered the Father of Science Fiction. Being a highly imaginative man, he had access to radio and television long before they were invented. He used to call them ‘Phonotelephoto.’ He had helicopters before the Wright Brothers flew in their plane. Although he belonged to the Victorian Age, his science fiction had submarines, airplanes, neon lights, moving sidewalks, air-conditioners, skyscrapers, guided missiles and tanks used in war. He seems to have been guided by the motto: “What man can imagine, man can do.’

Law studies

Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) was born in Nantes, studied law in Paris and wrote opera librettos and plays. In 1863 he wrote his debut science fiction ‘Cinq Semaines en Ballon’ (‘Five Weeks in a Balloon’). It was a short fantasy, a prelude to his later work. Those who lived in the 19th century were interested in science and inventions. As a result, his science fiction books became very popular among readers. He had a carefully documented scientific foundation for his fantastic adventures. Through his fiction he forecast the advent of many scientific inventions of the 20th century. He knew that man would conquer space. Among his most popular books are ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ (1864), ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ (1865), ’20,000 Leagues Under the sea’ (1870), ‘Mysterious Island’ (1870), and ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ (1872).

Jules Verne’s scientific novels were so precise that scholars began to argue about them and mathematicians spent weeks checking his figures. When he published ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ 500 readers volunteered to join the next expedition! He inspired a generation of explorers. Admiral Byrd who had returned from his flight over the North Pole claimed that Jules Verne was his guide. Simon Lake, Father of the Submarine wrote in his autobiography, “Jules Verne was the director general of my life.” Auguste Piccard, balloonist and deep-sea explorer and Marconi who invented the radio admitted that Jules Verne fired their imagination.

Although his lawyer father wanted him to study law, Jules Verne was more interested in literature. He wrote poems and plays before writing science fiction. He was born at a time when scientists were doing many experiments. It was during his life that the first railroad was made. He saw steamers crossing the Atlantic still carrying sails to supplement the engines.

Alexander Dumas

One day, Jules Verne accidentally met Alexander Dumas, the author of ‘The Three Musketeers.’ Young Verne told him that he too wanted to be a writer. Then they wrote a play which had some success. After his association with Dumas, Verne decided to write on geographical fiction as his mentor was writing on historical fiction.

While Verne was following a literary career, his father was unhappy with his son’s progress in education. He withheld the allowance paid to him for studies. Then Verne was forced to find some form of employment. He worked in a theatre for some time and wrote to his mother, “My stockings are like a spider-web in which a hippopotamus has been sleeping.” With all his financial problems, he fell in love with a girl and got married to her.

During the lean years, his father helped him to become a stock-broker. Although his financial position improved, Verne lived in an attic and continued to write. He started contributing science articles to a children’s magazine. Later he wrote his first book ‘Five Weeks in a Balloon’ and tried to get it published. Fifteen publishers rejected his manuscript. Verne was so annoyed that he threw the manuscript to the fire. However, his wife rescued it and asked him to find another publisher. The 16th publisher agreed to publish it. ‘Five Weeks in a Balloon’ became a best seller and it was translated into several other languages. Then he gave up his job as a stock-broker and signed an agreement with a publisher to produce two novels a year.


His second book was ‘A Voyage to the Centre of the Earth’ which spelt everything science knew or could guess that went on in the bowels of the Earth. Added to such knowledge, there was enough of adventure. When his wife gave birth to a son, the Vernes moved from Paris to Amiens where they built a house with a tower. He spent 40 years there surrounded by maps and books. That was a very prosperous period in his life.

Verne is remembered today mainly because of his wonderful book ‘Around the World in 80 Days’. It was originally serialized in ‘Le Temps’ of Paris. The hero of the story Phileas Pogg attracted the attention of journalists in New York and London. Once, Pogg rescued an Indian widow from death and fell in love with her. On another occasion he was attacked by Red Indians.

Although Jules Verne was a patriotic Frenchman, he fell in love with America.

He was fascinated by the great spaces and America’s engineering marvels. He preserved a letter that arrived from White House signed by Kermit Roosevelt. It said, “My father (Theodore Roosevelt) asks me to mention that he has read all your books and enjoyed them immensely.”

Jules Verne goes down in history as the most-read French author. Although he was a prolific writer, intellectual circles sneered at him. He was not even elected to the prestigious French Academy. In the meantime, he suffered from poor eye-sight and diabetes. Towards the end of his life he wrote books filled with the coming of tyrants and totalitarianism. When he died in 1905, all the 30 members of the French academy attended his funeral. A Paris newspaper paid him a glowing tribute: “The old story-teller is dead. It is like the passing of Santa Claus.”

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