Was Futurist Jules Verne a Late Bloomer?

Was Futurist Jules Verne a Late Bloomer?

“But the Earth is very large, and life is very short! In order to leave a completed work behind, one would need to live to be at least 100 years old!” ~Jules Verne

Do you consider 35 too young to be a “late” bloomer? I argue, at least for baby boomers and earlier generations, it’s not.

Until very recently, we became adults sooner. People often married, started a family, and embarked on life-long careers while still in their teens. With so much responsibility so young, embracing a creative passion after age 35 seemed infeasible (it still does), especially for those born to the working classes.

But family money guarantees little if you resist the status quo, as Jules Verne (1828-1905) discovered. When Verne decided to pursue the theater instead of a law career, his father disowned him.

Yet today we know Jules Verne, not as a playwright or attorney, but as the author of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, and Around The World In 80 Days.

How did he evolve from a rebellious law student and failed playwright to the “father of science fiction” starting at age 35?

Stocks and Operas

Jules-Gabriel Verne was born on a small island in the middle of the Loire River 189 years ago today. From the window of his family’s summer-house, he watched schooners and clipper ships arrive from exotic ports of call, which gave him a life-long yearning for adventure and faraway places.

One family legend recalls how when Jules was 11, he shipped off as a cabin boy on a clipper, only to have his father, Pierre, catch up to him before the ship reached the high seas. Pierre made young Jules promise to travel “only in his imagination.” He wanted Jules to follow in his footsteps and become an attorney.

Celebrating the life of Jules Verne at LaterBloomer.com
Nantes in 1894

Jules’s mother Sophie came from a long line of sailors and shipbuilders. Verne once said her imagination was “like a tornado” compared to his. At age 19, Jules left for Paris to study law. Sophie made sure her brother, a painter, took her son under his wing.

Verne’s uncle introduced him to Paris’s theaters and literary salons. The bohemian Latin Quarter completely seduced Verne. Verne met Alexandre Dumas fils (son of the famous Three Musketeers author), who encouraged him to write. Young Dumas even premiered Verne’s play at his father’s Lyric Theatre.

Verne graduated from law school at 22 and informed his father he had no intention of joining the family business. He explained to his mother, “I can become a good writer, but I would be a poor lawyer since in everything I see only the comic side and the artistic form, and do not sense the serious reality of things.” Pierre cut off his allowance.

Dumas convinced his father to hire Verne as the Lyric’s secretary. Dumas senior became both employer and mentor to Verne. For the next eight years, Verne wrote almost two dozen plays and operettas, but the theater only produced a few, which didn’t do well.

At 29, Verne journeyed to a wedding in the provincial town of Amiens, where he met Honorine de Viane, a young widow with two daughters. In complete contrast to Verne, she was a socialite fond of fashionable clothes and parties. They fell in love, as opposites do, and wanted to marry. But her family rejected Verne’s lifestyle since he could barely support himself.

Verne petitioned his father for 50,000 francs to buy into the Paris stock exchange, the Bourse. Pierre had finally accepted that his son would be a disappointment, but this new vocation gave him some hope. But Verne explained, “It is not a question of my giving up literature, for that remains my chosen career, but of pursuing a more lucrative profession at the same time. I want to create a presentable situation for myself.”

Pierre understood and gave him the money. Honorine and Verne wed and, in 1861, their only child, Michel, was born.

Verne rose at 5 am and wrote for five hours most days before going to the stock exchange. He’d begun to experiment with new literary forms and genres. But he hated his job and its preoccupation with money. He had nothing in common with his coworkers.

Honorine desired a conventional marriage and couldn’t relate to Verne’s passion for writing. Their relationship quickly went cold. Verne escaped into his stories and went on long sailing trips with his friends.

At age 35, Verne felt he’d failed in both love and art. He’d written an adventure story titled Five Weeks in a Balloon that he felt had promise, but several magazines had rejected it. Finally, his former employer Alexander Dumas introduced Verne to Pierre-Jules Hetzel, one of the most successful publishers of the time, who loved Verne’s concept and suggested some edits.

The novel sold well. Verne and Hetzel created an exciting new hybrid genre—adventure fiction fused with science and geography—and planned a series of “Voyages Extraordinaires.” From their 20-year collaboration came our most-beloved science fiction and adventure stories.

Verne followed Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863) with The Adventures of Captain Hatteras (1864), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), In Search of the Castaways (1865), and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1869). In 1870, Twenty Thousand Leagues finished its serial run Hetzel’s magazine. Verne could finally leave the stock exchange and live on his writing income. He was 42.

Verne indulged his childhood dream and acquired a small yacht that he named the St Michel. He hired a factotum named Antonie Delon, whom his American editor called “a veritable sea-wolf, who loves danger because he has always overcome it.” Together they explored the English coast as far as Scotland and visited the Channel Islands.

Verne divided his time between the St Michel and Amiens, where he and Honorie had moved to be near her family. He wrote most of Around the World in Eighty Days at sea. By the time it was published, Jules Verne was a household name.

Fame and Tragedy

But at the height of his success, Verne’s life took a tragic turn. His only son, Michel, who’d caused Verne constant heartache, eloped with an older actress then abandoned her and abducted an underage girl. Creditors constantly hounded Verne for Michel’s gambling debts.

Then Verne’s paranoid nephew Gaston attacked him and shot him in the leg. The Verne family concealed the incident from the press and committed Gaston. But the wound never healed. Verne limped for the rest of his life.

Pierre-Jules Hetzel passed away a week after the shooting. Verne lost both a publisher and a dear friend. Hetzel’s son took over, but he didn’t have his father’s passion for the venture.

A year after Hetzel passed away, Verne’s mother died. She’d been the only person supportive of his writing career in the early days. Verne was left crippled and rudderless. His storylines grew depressing. They predicted futuristic weapons of war, including the guided missile.

But at least Verne found happiness in his last decade. He and Honorine reconciled, and Verne took her on a grand tour of the Mediterranean. Michel, the prodigal son, settled down and became Verne’s assistant and collaborator. Verne regained his momentum for several years, but passed away from complications of diabetes at age 77, leaving several novels for Michel to finish.

Science and Fiction

Most people regard Verne as an astonishing visionary. Just how many of our modern marvels did he foresee?

National Geographic summarizes “8 Jules Verne Inventions That Came True.” They include:

  • electric submarines
  • newscasts
  • solar sails
  • lunar modules
  • videoconferencing
  • the concept of the Internet

But Rosalind Williams, historian of technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, doesn’t find Verne’s prophecies so revolutionary:

“He predicted a lot of things that have happened, but that’s because he was reading a lot and talking with people and he knew what was going on in the world around him, so why should we be surprised?

“It wasn’t magic. He was just paying attention to things.”

Jules Verne in 1892, colorized by Neitshade at LaterBloomer.com
Jules Verne in 1892, colorized by Neitshade

In 1989, Verne’s great-grandson discovered a lost manuscript titled Paris In The 20th Century.

The story describes fax machines, global communications, high-speed trains, cars powered by gasoline, and skyscrapers made of glass and steel. But, according to Publisher’s Weekly, “…as the book’s protagonist discovers, not even the most talented poet can find a place for himself unless he’s willing to produce odes to blast furnaces or locomotives.”

Paris In The 20th Century was Verne’s second novel, but Hetzel rejected it as too dark. He published Journey To The Center Of The Earth instead, then kept Verne focused on mass-market offerings.

In his 20s, Jules Verne broke away from his bourgeois upbringing and spent ten years following his passion for the theater. In his 30s, he became a stockbroker to support his family, but never abandoned his love of drama and storytelling.

His path to later blooming was a series of stops and starts and useful mistakes, which little by little led to his own truth.

“Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.”
~A Journey to the Center of the Earth

Thoughts for Your Midlife “Voyages Extraordinaires”

  • Jules Verne reminds us to keep the fire alive, even when responsibility calls, by paying attention and practicing daily. What you start at age 35 (or 45 or 55…) may not come to fruition for years. But the point is to start.
  • “The chance which now seems lost may present itself at the last moment.” ~Around The World In Eighty Days
  • Later blooming is a spiral process, not a linear one. What useful mistake have you made that led to the next level?

More About Jules Verne

34 Responses

  1. Barbara Franklin
    | Reply

    I love Later Bloomers. I’m in my 60s and am currently re-training myself as a writer and playwright (while still working as a communication consultant.) I’ve never really believed in or cared much about age — I think it is mostly social construct. I’ve always hated being pigeonholed or faced with age-based expectations. I’ve felt that way my whole life, at every age. I hated the book Passages! I adopted a kid at 65 and didn’t like when people said “Wow…at your age” Why do we ever limit our sense of who we are or what we can do? We should not! Your posts always make me feel great! Keep it up. Barbara

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Yay, Barbara! I agree with you. Age is a construct, something we’ve absorbed from a culture obsessed with youth, which doesn’t value the wisdom of elders like many have in the past. And don’t get me started on the concept of “retirement.” You’ve made my day. Thank so much for commenting!

  2. viviane
    | Reply

    Love your blog Elle! We do not have an expiration date on our development and you give real life examples and how much folks can transform themselves in a life time.

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks so much, Viviane. You’ve said it perfectly, “We do not have an expiration date on our development.” I might have to use that!

  3. Blair Sedgewick
    | Reply

    I hadn’t heard this side of Jules Verne before. How interesting! I agree, it’s never too late to make a new start and begin a new path. Jules Verne was truly the founder of science fiction in my eyes. Funny how his journey to become who we know him for was not his plan from the beginning. I’ve always believed in this quote “find out who you are, and do it on purpose” – Dolly Parton

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks for stopping by, Blair. That’s a great quote by Dolly Parton. Your Syfy movie based on Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island looks phenomenal. I’ll be happy to help promote it to my readership if you have that sort of thing going.

  4. Louise Behiel
    | Reply

    thanks so much for this series of blogs, Debra. As a fellow late bloomer it’s motivating to have this info at my fingertips and I look forward to your posts.

    • Debra Eve
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      They’re a joy to write and research, Louise. Glad you like them!

  5. Fabio Bueno
    | Reply

    I begun to read Jules Verne when I was 10. He’s one of my favorites authors ever, top 5, really. A genius and a visionary. I lived in his worlds.
    I didn’t know he was a late bloomer, though. Thank you so much for shining a light on him, Debra!
    (BTW, I like the concept of later blooming being a spiral process.)

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks, Fabio. Have to admit Verne’s one of my favorites, especially after his failed career as a comic opera writer. So many would have just given up then!

  6. David Stevens
    | Reply

    What a tremendous offering Debra, always have loved the Jules Verne stories/movies. Very interesting past that you have divulged, thankyou
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, David. He’s an amazing individual. Glad you enjoyed it.

  7. florence fois
    | Reply

    Now, I have found you !! I wanted to comment about Jules Vern and his amazing science fiction. There were few in history who have been noted as predicting the inventions as he did. I am partial to Journey to the Center of the Earth, but loved his great adventures and vision 🙂

    • Debra Eve
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      It is amazing when you think about it. There’s no doubt he was observant, but then his magnificent imagination took over. Thanks, Florence!

  8. August McLaughlin
    | Reply

    Thanks for the informative post, Debra! You’re a savvy teacher. 😉

    • Debra Eve
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      My pleasure, as always, August!

  9. Marcy Kennedy
    | Reply

    I have a feeling I’m not your target audience at all (since I’m only 30), but I love these posts. It’s so inspiring to hear about how some of these very successful people got to where they are. This was especially appealed to me since I’m a fantasy writer and grew up loving the stories of Jules Vern.

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks, Marcy. Only 30? You write with such talent and authority! Verne is one of my favorites too. I believe he truly was a visionary, not just an observant guy. I’m still waiting for a truly superb modern movie adaption of any of his works.

  10. Rachel Funk Heller
    | Reply

    Debra, this is so funny as my husband is a lawyer, he loves to read science fiction and when we met, his on-line name was based on a Jules Verne character. Plus all of your posts give me — a very late bloomer — lots of hope. Keep up the good work.

  11. Melinda VanLone
    | Reply

    I love the comment “He was just paying attention”. Um, yes and that’s how most discoveries are made! That doesn’t make them any less visionary. HE noticed them, the rest of the masses didn’t. So easy to scoff in hindsight, isn’t it? One of those “I could have thought of that” type statements. Yes, but you didn’t, did you?!

    I’m enjoying these posts, and I’m not going to comment on whether or not I’m in the target audience ;-). It’s inspiring, no matter what age you are. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Debra Eve
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      Thank you, Melinda. I agree — that’s such a typical academic statement. As far as I’m concerned, my target audience is anyone who took a detour somewhere along the way 🙂

  12. Michelle
    | Reply

    A wonderful post. One of the first books I ever read was “Around the World in 80 days,” but I had no knowledge of the author until now. Thank you so much for sharing his story. 🙂

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
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      You’re welcome, Michelle. He is such a fascinating man. Glad you enjoyed it!

  13. Cathy
    | Reply

    Thank you, Debra Eve, for this wonderful post. This is the first e-mail/letter I have received after subscribing and, if this one is an indication, will be eagerly looking forward to all of them. Also a late bloomer (started my family at age 31) and have found that my daughters not only keep me young but are my greatest encouragers. In response to your e-mail query, I would vote “yes” to a mid-month post.

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
      |

      I really appreciate your input, Cathy, especially as a new subscriber. I’ve been having a hard time figuring what works and what doesn’t. It’s all a learning process still!

  14. Pia Louise
    | Reply

    Debra – I so thoroughly enjoy reading your posts. Thank you for delving into the backgrounds of these “Later Bloomers”. The stories are inspiring and have motivated me to return to my jewelry arts designs. I can no longer say it’s too late or I’m too old! Thank you for the time and commitment to offer these encouraging examples of people who pursued passion regardless of age. (Sometimes circumstances do come first…) Cheers! Pia Louise

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
      |

      Thanks, Pia! I do find circumstances are downplayed on many blogs, especially “personal development” ones. I’ve always wanted Later Bloomer to be a place where encouragement and actuality have equal weight.

  15. Patricia
    | Reply

    Awesome post! And Jules Verne was a handsome devil wasn’t he?

    Great stuff. And I love the newsletter. Keep it up.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
      |

      Thanks for the encouragement, Patricia! Now that you mention it, yes he was quite handsome, wasn’t he? Looks like a hero from one of his books.

  16. Fran
    | Reply

    I used to think that must be living my life backwards. But since finding Later Bloomers, I have found a much more exciting and uplifting explanation. Interesting that some of my favourite flowers are late bloomers! I look forward to each post, and think the mid-month idea is great.

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
      |

      I’m so happy to hear this, Fran! Comments like yours keep me doing this every month. And I, too, am a gardener, so it’s one of my favorite analogies. Thank you.

  17. Karen McFarland
    | Reply

    I always learn so much from your posts Debra. It was interesting to see the drive Jules Vernon had for his true passion. He let nothing stand in the way, be it personal tragedy, or financial obligations. A lot can be said for keeping our focus. His story gives us a formula for success. I do have to tell you, since you asked, that your new formate for emailing is not the easiest to use. It took me quite some time, clicking on this and that in order to get to this blog post and read it in its entirety. Might you consider going back to the old version? It was so much easier. ((Hugs))

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
      |

      Thank so much for the feedback, Karen. I kind of felt it was a bit confusing too. One thing I could do is include the post in its entirety, but that might make for an awfully long email. I’ll keep working on it! Thanks for stopping by.

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