Jules Verne was born and raised in Nantes, France. He died in 1905 at the age of 77 from complications from diabetes.
Verne was Catholic, as you would expect of a Frenchman, but the degree of his devotion is a matter of debate. It doesn’t help our cause that the writer, at the age of 70, burned all his papers. Nevertheless we have a few anecdotes: when he met with Pope Leo XIII, who was a fan of his writing, rumor has it he was moved to tears by the holy man, plus he described himself as “a believer.” But he apparently also stopped attending mass several decades before his death, causing some to speculate that he ended his life as an agnostic.
If we are to look to Verne’s literature for clues to his religiosity, it necessarily revolves around two seemingly contradictory worldviews: science and Catholicism. The writer was obviously deeply devoted to science and technology–it is that which defined his life’s work. During his life he saw the world transformed by the industrial revolution, but he kept his sights on the future–even predicting the modern space program with eerily accurate detail.
But he was a Romantic–not a rationalist. He was more interested in the extraordinary possibilities that technology could offer humankind, rather than the meat of scientific theory. In fact he rejected one of the most important scientific achievements of his time, saying he was “entirely opposed to the theories of Darwin.”
It seems that he was able, at least for most of his life, to reconcile a scientific worldview with a religious one–even though the extent to which he believed in church dogma, we’ll never know. Regardless of his attendance record at mass later in life, I think it’s safe to say that to some degree or another, Verne was a lifelong Catholic. We’d love to hear your disagreements in the comments.
Just as Verne’s religious views were complicated by the seeming contradiction between religion and science, so his political views muddled between left and right. Verne was all over the board in reaction to his little slice of French history.
He supported the leftist, pro-labor Revolution of 1848, but then opposed an uprising the next year in favor of the more conservative government. When Louis Napoleon named himself emperor, Verne was at first skeptical, but eventually supported the regime and rejected the socialist Paris Commune of 1871. In 1888, he ran for town council as a leftist, and in the following decade, he stood on the side of antisemitic conservatives during the Dreyfus Affair.
His books embody the same contradictions. They promote the philosophies of the right: libertarianism, suspicion of state power, free enterprise, individualism. But at the same time they warn against imperialism and unbridled capitalism, and they celebrate pacifism and community.
Perhaps his political beliefs can be summed up from a campaign speech he made during his leftist run for office. He said,
In social matters my taste is order; in politics my hope is to create within the present government a reasonable party that balances respect for justice and religious belief with consideration for people, the arts, and life itself.
A little left; a little right: aren’t we all?