Jules Verne - A Novelist, Poet, Playwright And The 'Prophet' Of Modern Technologies

Mayukh Bari18 July 2020 6:09PM IST
3 min read248

Most of us know Jules Gabriel Verne, as a French novelist, poet, and playwright. Verne has been the second most-translated author in the world since 1979, ranking between Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare. Surprisingly, most of us don't know that Verne's science-fiction reputation makes him a 'prophet' of modern technologies. To better understand that you need to read this.

Many years after his death in 1905, the great-grandson of Verne decided to sell his ancestor's house In 1989. While clearing out the place, he had to get rid of an old, bronze safe. The key was missing. Out of curiosity, he decided to crack it with a blowtorch and, to his surprise, found a stack of papers inside. Those papers are unpublished manuscripts written by the famous author. These papers revealed the unknown side of Verne.

The manuscript is named as 'Paris in the Twentieth Century'. It was written by Jules Verne in 1863. It was so interesting that Verne's great-grandson published it in 1994. The book's description of the technology of 1960 was in some ways remarkably close to actual 1960s technology and sometimes after 60s.

The novel is about 16-year-old Michel Dufrénoy who lives in 1960s and struggles unsuccessfully to live in a technologically advanced, but culturally backward world. The work paints a grim, dystopian view of a technological future civilization.

Modern Cabs

The book described cars powered by internal combustion engines ("gas-cabs") together with the necessary supporting infrastructure such as gas stations and paved asphalt roads.

Skyscrapers & Elevators

Verne wrote about skyscrapers and inside those there are 'elevators' which relieve people from taking the stairs. The mass production of everything has made life comfortable, luxurious, and cheap.

Street Lights

There are street lanterns in every corner of the city and those are electrical (in the 1860s there was no electric bulb, first bulb was invented in 1878 by Edison). These advance lanterns light on automatically at night.

High-speed Metro Trains

The city also has elevated and underground passenger train systems that transport passengers with speed and safety. These high-speed trains are powered by magnetism and compressed air.

Fax, Computer & Internet

He also pictured fax machines and primitive computers. These machines can send messages to each other with electricity and a network system which clearly resembles modern-day internet.

Mass Education

The book also predicts the growth of suburbs and mass-produced higher education (the opening scene has Dufrénoy attending a mass graduation of 250,000 students). All are pursuing careers in science, business, and technology. Arts were somewhat forgotten.

Electronic Music

Verne predicted the rise of electronic music and describes a musical instrument similar to a synthesizer, and the replacement of classical music performances with recorded music industry.

Weapons Of Future

There are remotely-controlled weapons systems in the country and those are so destructive that war is unthinkable.

He mentioned alarm systems, wind energy, electric chair and many more in this science fiction. It's a dystopian vision, but a precise one nonetheless. Verne didn't pull any of these out of his imaginary hat. All he did was to mentally fast forward the best science and technology had to offer at the time. The man was a master extrapolator. Verne once said,

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.