Verne was born in Nantes to attorney Pierre Verne and his wife Sophie. The oldest of the family's five children, he spent his early years at home with his parents, on a nearby island in the Loire River. This isolated setting helped to strengthen both his imagination and the bond between him and his younger brother Paul. At the age of nine, the pair were sent to boarding school at the Nantes lycée. There Jules studied Latin, which was used later in his short story Le Mariage de Monsieur Anselme des Tilleuls (mid-1850, not yet translated into English). The following legend was created by his second French biographer, Marguerite Allotte de la Fuye: Verne's fascination with adventure asserted itself at an early age, inspiring him at one point to stow away on a ship bound for the Orient. His voyage was cut short, however, as he found his father waiting for him at the next port.
After completing his studies at the lycée, Verne went to Paris to study for the bar. About 1848, in conjunction with Michel Carre, he began writing librettos for operettas. For some years his attentions were divided between the theatre and work, but some travellers' stories which he wrote for the Musée des Familles seem to have revealed to him the true direction of his talent: the telling of delightfully extravagant voyages and adventures to which cleverly prepared scientific and geographical details lent an air of verisimilitude.
When Verne's father discovered that his son was writing rather than studying the law, he promptly withdrew his financial support. Consequently, the author was forced to support himself with the income from his work, which he found to be a difficult proposition with his limited contacts. During this period, he met the authors Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, who offered him some advice on his writing.
It was during this period that Verne met and married Honorine Deviane, born Morel, a widow with two daughters. At his father's urging, Verne took a job as a stockbroker, though with his wife's encouragement he continued to write. In 1861 his son, Michel Jean Pierre Verne, was born.
Verne's situation improved when he met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, one of the most important French publishers of the 19th century, who published also Victor Hugo, George Sand, and Erckmann-Chatrian, among others. Hetzel read a draft of Verne's story about the balloon exploration of Africa, which had been rejected by other publishers on the ground that it was "too scientific". With Hetzel's help, Verne rewrote the story and in 1863 it was published in book form as Cinq semaines en ballon (Five Weeks in a Balloon).
The story was an enormous success, and was republished in a number of languages. Verne is the most translated novelist in the world, in 148 languages, according to the UNESCO statistics. Verne became wealthy and famous. From that point on, and for nearly a quarter of a century, scarcely a year passed in which Hetzel did not publish one or more of his stories. The most successful of these include: Voyage au centre de la terre (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864); De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the Moon, 1865); Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers (20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, 1869); and Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days), which first appeared in Le Temps in 1872. After his first novel, most of his stories were first serialized in the Magasin d'Education et de Recreation, a Hetzel biweekly publication, before being published in the form of books.
Most famous works:
- Cinq semaines en ballon (Five Weeks in a Balloon, 1863)
- Voyage au centre de la Terre (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864)
- De la Terre à la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon, 1865)
- Les enfants du Capitaine Grant (In Search of the Castaways, 1867-1868)
- Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers (20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, 1870)
- Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days, 1872)
- L'Île mystérieuse (Mysterious Island, 1874)
- Michel Strogoff (Michael Strogoff, 1876)