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Edgar Allan Poe was a prolific American writer who wrote a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, magazine pieces, a book, and a novel. Poe's work, especially his gothic short stories of the weird and macabre, has inspired many authors since his time. Poe is regarded as America's first trained story writer, having relied solely on writing stories and newspaper articles for a living. Among his well-known works are The Cask of Amontillado, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, and others. However, it was his single book and a newspaper article written in the New York Sun that influenced Jules Verne to write his epic science fiction novel. " It is his sole novel and newspaper article that ran in New York Sun however that inspired Jules Verne into writing his epic science fiction novels. Jules Verne is a documented lifelong fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. Science Fiction critic Gernsback cites Allan Poe as the pioneer of science fiction (Westfahl).
In his letters to his father, editor and other correspondents Verne stated that Poe’s works inspired him to write stories in the science fiction genre. Unlike Poe who wrote in multiple genres, Jules Verne specialized in the novel. Poe died at the early age of 40 in 1849. Thirteen years after Poe’s death, and 17 years after the publication of his Balloon Hoax, Jules Verne’s foundational work of science fiction, “Five Weeks in a Balloon” was published. Verne is the succeeding second-generation science fiction writer. H.G Wells works especially his initial narratives e.g. The Time Machine are other popular novels in this genre.
While Poe is generally remembered for his gothic stories, he also extended his mastery in narration into science fiction. His only known novel, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”, was published in 1938. It has a scientific bearing with many instances of scientific knowledge that did not exist at the time and is therefore classified as a work of science fiction. In a contributory article to the Amazing Stories Quarterly of 1929, Jack Williamson presents Allan Poe as the pioneer of the second-generation science fiction (Westfahl). Williamson contends that H.G Wells and Jules Verne perfected the genre (Westfahl). Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” details the adventures of one Arthur Gordon Pym in his journey on a sailing ship as a stowaway. The novel is a tale of cannibalism, adventure and mutiny. The science fiction aspect of the story is in Poe’s intricate weaving of advances in deep-sea exploration into the story. Critics have drawn parallels from the deep-sea adventure stories to the adventures in space stories. Both rely on the unknown nature of the medium within which the story occurs. Authors of deep sea and deep space science fiction anchor their tales on the foundational knowledge that exists after which they allow their imaginations to run wild as in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and more recently, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
The influence of Allan Poe’s work is visible in Verne’s writing. Poe’s story, now referred to as “The Balloon Hoax”, ran in The New York Sun in 1850 and captured Verne’s attention. This led to his writing a story of a similar vein, “Five Weeks in a Balloon”. The Balloon Hoax, which was published as a true story and at the time was quite believed to be true, was about a man who sailed across the Atlantic in a hot air balloon. He accomplished the journey in a remarkable 75 hours during which he journalized his progress. Verne’s “Five Weeks in a Balloon” was accepted and published by Hetzel & Company and was quite popular among French readers. Both stories are about a balloon voyage and are written around assumed scientific advances. In Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon, three Englishmen journey over the yet to be explored Africa in a hot air balloon stopping ever so often to be involved in swashbuckling proceedings. Poe’s initial account of a balloon journey is however more fantastic in its description of the balloon as compared to Verne’s. He for example says that the balloon is made of silk covered by liquefied gum caoutchouc (Poe). Verne on the other hand strives to give a scientific basis to his narrative and his description of the hot air balloon. For the most part however, he focuses on the geography and lay of the land, the people encountered and the history of the areas explored. This is true of his other best selling work, Around the World in 80 Days. Poe later wrote that he used a flippant tone in his Hoaxes; The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall was another, so that his informed readers could see through the hoax and enjoy the story as the fiction it was.
Another work of Julius Verne that stems directly from Poe’s work is the well-received “The Antarctic Mystery”. Verne wrote that he desired to complete Poe’s work on The Narrative of Arthur Pym of Nantucket, which according to him, Poe left incomplete (Westfahl). Poe ended the novel with Arthur Pym and a fellow traveller journeying to the South Pole. The “Antarctic Mystery” details the travels of a Jeorling as he travels from the Kerguelen Islands back to the U.S aboard the Halbrane.
Verne’s novels as a contrast to Poe’s brief work in science fiction have a better foundation in science that makes them more plausible to a reader. After interacting with Poe’s the Balloon Hoax, Verne wrote to his father praising the story (Westfahl). We however gather from the letter that he was however not impressed by the lack of scientific foundation and implausibility (Westfahl). He said that in his future writing, he would aim at a more realistic plot (Westfahl). This foundation on the plausible may be the reason Verne gained widespread success in France. His novels strike the reader as being true but never pretend to be so. Verne’s narratives that occurred above land were filled with geographical and historical information in the form of anecdotes and explanations that satisfied the curiosity of a science fiction reader. At the time of his novel’s publications, most of the lands he spoke of notably Africa, India and the Indian Ocean Islands were unexplored and full of mystery to the ordinary Frenchman. Verne also put in his fanciful descriptions alongside the factual information. This makes it easier for readers to believe the fanciful that is a critical part of the narrative.
In his comments on Poe’s Balloon Hoax, Verne felt that the characters in Poe’s narrative were too fanciful and implausible to the ordinary reader (Westfahl). This was deliberate on Poe’s part but Jules Verne felt that it was central to the story that the characters be realistic. In the Balloon Hoax a wealthy Victorian named Monck Mason sails across the Atlantic accompanied by a Mr. Harrison Ainsworth. Monck Mason is a clichéd wealthy Victorian and the nephew of a Lord.
The use of flamboyant and eccentric characters is however ingrained in Poe’s writing. Looking at Poe’s fiction as a whole, Monck Mason is a much more dilute character. Poe evidently paid less attention in the characterization of Mr. Mason. This may be because the narrative appeared as a true account of the astounding feat of human technology. For this reason, Poe paid more attention to the description of the Balloon, how it operates and how the journey was accomplished. Poe’s characters have eccentric personalities that make them memorable to the reader long after the story is complete. The intense emotions of his characters are almost tangible to the reader. One can remember just how angry the narrator in “The Cask of Amontillado” was at Fortunato over the many ills he had suffered in his hands long after completing the book. Verne on the other hand sticks to moderate characters with a few eccentric habits. Phileas Fogg in Verne’s Around the World in 80 days is the impersonation of the ideal character for Jules Verne.
Both the works of Verne and Poe explore the nature of humanity. For Poe, this goes beyond his few works of science fiction to his short tales of the macabre. Both writers explore just what a person is capable of with Poe taking a darker turn compared to his counterpart. In Poe’s short stories, The Tell Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado and The Fall of the House of Usher, the central characters are either pushed towards murder or purposefully murder someone for reasons as inconsequential as the victim’s glass eye was irritating to the murderer and the victim abused and mistreated the murderer. Poe’s background in gothic novels and Verne’s lack of it is responsible for the difference in atmosphere in Verne’s novels and Poe’s only novel. Poe approaches an adventure in the sea from the same perspective of an exploration of human nature as he does in his short stories. In The Narrative of Arthur Pym, Poe not only explores the human-environment conflict but also the human-human conflict. The most striking example of the human-human conflict is in his graphic detailing of cannibalism. Poe indicates that in great starvation and the absence of rules human beings lose their humanity to the extent of eating their species. The conflict in Verne’s novels on the other hand is usually human-environment. In the event that there is a human-human conflict as in Five Weeks in a Balloon where the natives try to eat a missionary, Verne treats these natives as part of the new environment chalking this down to a human-environment conflict.
As a rule, both Poe and Verne wrote their science fiction stories for entertainment purposes and emerging themes were to propel the plot rather than draw the reader’s attention to a certain issue in society. Both writers have used revenge as a central theme to propel the plot in their stories. In “The Cask of Amontillado” Montresor, the narrator, kills Fortunato to avenge himself of the abuse and mistreatment he has suffered in Fortunato’s hands. In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Verne explains Captain Nemo’s behavior as being motivated by revenge. Nemo sinks the ships of a specific nation since that nation killed his family. Verne’s letters reveal that he Polish uprising of 1863 against Russia inspired his Captain Nemo (Romney). Captain Nemo was Polish in Verne’s intial manuscript and would sink Russian ships. Verne’s publisher, aware of his Russian readership, convinced him to remove the Polish-Russian conflict from the narrative (Romney).
Poe’s career and life was a tale of woe in the U.S during his lifetime. While he had a small group of ardent followers, his work was shunned in literacy circles and did not get the widespread readership it deserved and now commands. Poe’s translated works were however very popular in France. His inspiration to Verne’s literary career helped create an important part of the science fiction genre. Both writers used the unknown quantity of the sea to create mystery and tell a plausible tale within speculative technology that entertained their readers.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Balloon Hoax.” 1850, Retrieved from
http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/poe/balloon.html. Accessed 8th December 2017
Romney, Rebecca. “Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea: The Influences
of Jules Verne.” Bauman Rare Books, 21 Oct October, Retrieved from https://www.baumanrarebooks.com/blog/twenty-thousands-leagues-sea-influences-jules-verne/. Accessed 8th December 2017
Westfahl, Gary. “The Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe Type of
Story': Hugo Gernsback's History of Science Fiction”. November 1992, Retrieved from https://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/58/westfahl58art.html. Accessed 8th December 2017
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