Illustration for article titled Journey To The Bottom Of Jules Vernes Legacy

We all know Mary Shelley was the mother of science fiction, but was Jules Verne the father? One blogger claims Verne wasn't really interested in science at all. But Verne's reputation has an unexpected defender: literary novelist Margaret Drabble.


John Derbyshire wrote in the New Atlantis a while back:

You could make a case, in fact, that Verne was not really interested in science at all, so much as in technology. Certainly he was a magpie for curious technological and biological factoids, and had a fairly good head for numbers. The imaginative side of science, though - the side that actually propels science forward - was a thing he had no acquaintance with. I am sure he would have been baffled by Vladimir Nabokov's remark about "the precision of the artist, the passion of the scientist." The great pure-science advances of his time made no impression on him. I do not know of anything in Verne's works that would be different if Maxwell's equations had not appeared in 1865. About Darwin's theory he seems to have been utterly confused, employing a sort of crude pop-Darwinism in books like The Aerial Village (1901), yet declaring himself "entirely opposed to the theories of Darwin" in an interview he gave at about the same time. This was not likely an opposition based on religious belief. Though he always, when asked, described himself as a "believer," this was part of the bourgeois façade that Verne chose to live behind after some youthful dabbling in la vie Bohème. He actually gave up attending Mass in the 1880s, and probably died an agnostic.

Though a gifted storyteller, in fact, at any rate in his early years, Verne had not sufficient powers of imagination, or scientific understanding, to rise to true science fiction.


Drabble, author of many amazing literary novels including The Millstone, has no particular opinion over whether Verne was writing science fiction, but she confesses to being a huge fan of his work — something she kept secret until she realized he was actually avant garde. Writes Drabble:

I used to be somewhat ashamed of my love of Verne, but have recently discovered that he is the darling of the French avant-garde, who take him far more seriously than we Anglo-Saxons do. So I'm in good company.

What do you think? Science-fiction pioneer? Gee-whiz technologist? Avant-garde darling? Or all of the above?

[John Derbyshire via Isegoria, and L.A. Times]


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