A brief biography of Jules Verne, author of “Around the World in Eighty Days”

Early Life

Jules Verne, circa 1878

Jules Verne, circa 1878

Jules Gabriel Verne (8 February 1828 – 24 March 1905) was born into a middle class family in Nantes. His father, a lawyer, expected Jules as the oldest son to follow him into the legal profession, although Jules very early displayed much greater interest in travel, science and writing. However, he was sent to Paris at the age of 19 and received his law degree when he was just 23.

The following year Verne’s father offered to give Jules his own law practice and Jules refused. Instead he began to write for a magazine, The Family Museum, which sought both well-written fictional stories, and straight-forward non-fiction. He excelled in careful research, especially about geography.

Verne also worked as a stock broker for a time, in order to improve his financial situation enough to court Honorine de Viane Morel, a widow with two young children. They married in 1857, and had one son, Michel, born in 1861. The following year Verne met publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, and submitted to him a draft of his first novel, which would eventually be published as Five Weeks in a Balloon.  This led to Verne’s being commissioned to write the series of novels which would become known as Voyages Extraordinaires (Extraordinary Journeys). These lavishly-designed volumes were considered both literary and popular successes, and are today highly-prized collector’s items.

Literary Career

A volume from Jules Verne's vast output

A volume from Jules Verne’s vast output

Among the more than fifty novels in the series are such titles as: Five Weeks in a Balloon; From the Earth to the Moon; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; The Mysterious Island; Master of the World; Journey to the Center of the Earth; and—of course—Around the World in 80 Days.

Over time, Verne’s growing popularity led to suspicion of him in literary circles. Early, poor-quality English translations led British and American readers to consider him a children’s writer of sensational adventure stories. Today however, Verne’s reputation as a gifted researcher and writer has earned him a place in the pantheon of great French writers. New, accurate translations of his work into English are greatly enhancing his popularity as a writer for adults, and respect for his work is growing. In fact, Verne is now the second-most translated author in the world .

“Verne’s meticulous attention to detail and scientific trivia, coupled with his sense of wonder and exploration, form the backbone of the Voyages. Part of the reason for the broad appeal of his work was the sense that the reader could really learn knowledge of geology, biology, astronomy, paleontology,oceanography and the exotic locations and cultures of world through the adventures of Verne’s protagonists.”

Although he is often referred to as “the father of science fiction,” Verne did not ever claim to be a science writer per se. He was fascinated by the natural world, and had a vivid imagination. The fact that many of his more fanciful creations (heavier-than-air flying machines, underwater ships) eventually became reality was more coincidence than prophecy, according to contemporary critics and his own opinions.

Literary and Scientific Influences

Verne claimed to have been inspired by several earlier writers, including Victor Hugo and James Fenimore Cooper.  In his turn, he is pointed to as a major influence by more recent writers, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; Arthur C. Clarke, Margaret Drabble and Ray Bradbury.

Naval engineer and submarine designer Simon Lake credited Jules Verne with being “the director-general of my life.” Sir Earnest Shackleton and Jacques Cousteau also pointed to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as being a profound inspiration. Among a long list of scientists influenced by Verne’s books, the most familiar include: Edwin Hubble, Wernher von Braun, Guglielmo Marconi, and Yuri Gagarin.

Whether one regards Jules Verne as a great travel writer, a science fiction creator, or an author of epic adventure tales, he has earned a lasting place among the world’s best-loved literary giants.

[Source:  Wikipedia]

Recommended reading:  JULES VERNE, The Definitive Biography, by William Butcher, with an introduction by Arthur C. Clarke. copyright 2006

PLOT SUMMARY, Around the World in Eighty Days


Jules Verne’s classic novel, published in 1873, is said to be his most popular book (at least in English–its french title is Tour du Monde en Quatre-Vingt Jours). Unlike most of Verne’s works, it is neither science fiction nor fantasy. Instead, it follows the journey of Phileas Fogg, an eccentric Englishman, who has made a wager with the Reform Club that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less. Fogg and his servant, Passepartout, set out to win a purse of £20,000 (roughly £1.6 million today, according to Wikipedia), after reading in the newspaper that a railway in India has been completed, ostensibly making it possible to travel all the way around the world by train and ship.

Meanwhile, a London bank has been robbed and circumstantial evidence leads Detective Fix to suspect Mr. Fogg. He (pardon me, SHE–in our production) sets out to follow and arrest Fogg, and becomes caught up in the adventures (and misadventures) of circumnavigating the globe.

A daring rescue, an escape by elephant, a typhoon, an Indian attack in the American west, and a runaway train are among the perils awaiting the unflappable Phileas Fogg and his faithful manservant. But will they make it back to London in time?

Here is a map of the route taken by Fogg, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Production Design: STEAMPUNK!?

80days-final-graphic-crop   Astute viewers may have guessed last Spring that our upcoming production of Around the World in Eighty Days will be presented with a steampunk-themed stage design. For you, the show art said it all, and I don’t have to explain or justify anything.

But for the rest of you, some explanations are necessary. What IS steampunk? Why is it appropriate for this show? How are we going about designing with this theme?

First of all, thanks are due to Michael Wilhelm, who suggested both the show and the steampunk stage design. I will admit that most of us associated with afO immediately asked, “What in the world is ‘steampunk‘?”

We’re glad you asked! (You did ask, didn’t you?)

“Steampunk refers to a subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy—also in recent years a fashion and lifestyle movement—that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. (Oxford University press, as quoted in Wikipedia)  

…Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.”  

Wild Wild West

Actor Kenneth Branagh in steampunk wheelchair, from 1999 film “Wild, Wild West”

One early example of steampunk in visual media is the television show, The Wild, Wild West, which aired from 1965 to 1969, and inspired a 1999 feature film.

Authors who are associated with steampunk (art, illustration, film or stage productions) include H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Mary Shelley.  All three imagined technologies which did not (and still don’t, in some cases!) exist, and described them in terms consistent with scientific knowledge and materials of the 1800s.

pocket watch goodAlthough Around the World in Eighty Days is not actually fantasy or sci-fi, the combination of steampunk-associated author Jules Verne with then still-new use of steam engines for transportation make steampunk a logical design choice.  Images strongly associated with steampunk include clocks and watches, gears and machinery. Look for all those things on the set (and costumes) for our production!

AND, stay tuned for an exciting opportunity to OWN some of the custom pieces being designed for us!


80days-final-graphic-cropall for One is thrilled to announce that its season finale, Around the World in Eighty Days, will be the first afO production to be presented on our new home stage: the PPG ArtsLab. The ArtsLab is an innovative black box theatre in the Auer Center for the Arts, located on Main Street directly across from the Arts United Center.

This comedic journey across four continents will be directed by Jeff Salisbury. The cast includes:

Gabe Schneider   as   Phileas Fogg

Evan Fritz             as   Passepartout

Rachel Maibach*  as   Detective Fix

Bridget Bogdon   as   Aouda

and an ensemble of actors who play over 30 roles between them:  Nate Chen, Dennis Nichols, Eli Ramsour, Corrie Taylor*, and Michael Wilhelm.    [* indicates afO debut]