Butcher, William. Jules Verne: The Definitive Biography. Intro. by Arthur C. Clarke. New York: Thunder’s Mouth, 2006. xxxii + 369 pp. $28.00 hc.
Dumas, Olivier, Volker Dehs, and Piero Gondolo della Riva, eds. Correspondance inédite de Jules et Michel Verne avec l’éditeur Louis-Jules Hetzel (1886-1914). Tome I (1886-1896).Geneva: Slatkine, 2004. €44 hc.
Dusseau, Joëlle. Jules Verne. Paris: Perrin, 2005. 562 pp. €24 pbk.
Margot, Jean-Michel, ed. Jules Verne en son temps. Amiens: Encrage, 2004. 254 pages. €28 pbk.
Although, to my mind, no biography can ever be truly “definitive,” the two new biographies on Verne by Butcher (in English) and Dusseau (in French) far surpass previous efforts—such as those by Jean Jules-Verne (1973) or Herbert Lottman (1996)—by their accuracy, balance, and familiarity with the latest discoveries about the personal life of this sometimes secretive author. Both are highly recommended. Many such secrets pertaining to Verne’s complex relationship with his publisher and “spiritual father” Pierre-Jules Hetzel have been brought to light during the past few years by the publication (in three volumes) of their voluminous correspondence by Dumas, Dehs, and Gondolo della Riva (see my review in SFS 28.1 [March 2001]: 97-106). The above-listed book by the same trio of Vernian researchers is the first of two more volumes in this richly revelatory series that will now reprint all Verne’s correspondence with Hetzel’s son after the latter took over the business following his father’s death in 1886. The final volume of the series should be especially fascinating: the letters exchanged between Verne’s son Michel and Hetzel fils throughout the period when Jules’s posthumous works were being published—works that have triggered great controversy when found to be as much by Michel’s hand as by his father’s. Finally, Margot’s book is a wonderful anthology of book and theater reviews, newspaper stories, magazine articles, entries from literary journals, short book chapters, and obituaries that were published on Verne in France from 1863—the date of publication of his first novel—to his death in 1905. These many nineteenth-century témoignages [eyewitness testimonies/evidence] clearly show to what extent, during his lifetime and among his own countrymen, Verne was a well-loved celebrity but recognized mostly (and erroneously) as a writer for children and a prophet of science and technology.
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