by ELLEN COPPERFIELD
Jules Verne was pleased he resembled his sister. "How I'd have loved to be a woman!" he famously crowed. The writer's bisexual proclivities consumed him. Sex with women had its many pleasures; sex with men was more of an incidental directive. Consumed with one fling or another, he left off the writing of the second and third volume of his history of human exploration to a ghostwriter.
By the age of 60 Verne was no less productive than ever, but the toll his behavior took on his wife Honorine was extensive. She wept at his controlling and domineering treatment of her. In fall of 1876, Verne complained to a friend that "life in Paris with my wife, such as you know it, is impossible." The worst thing he ever did was get married, from his point of view.
Verne still wrote every morning from five to eleven, like clockwork. He had lost whatever ingenuity he possessed by then, and replaced it with a commonplace commercialism. The ideas were there, some of them, but the connections stayed unbound.
Brothels had occupied his attention since he was a young man. Yet it only hinted at a very disturbed sexual pathology; once in a letter he expressed his jealousy of a wet nurse. Such topics were not even off-limits in correspondence with his mother. Frustration was either the symptom or the cause. Before Verne met his wife, he struggled to attract one, whining that, "The lover of a married woman saves on two servants and a maid."
Sexual symbolism constantly plagued his novels as well. Few other bad writers had been read so widely, and the public was about fed up with the spewing geysers and tumescent erections in a decidedly female Earth by this time. No one took him seriously as an artist, but his paint-by-numbers adventures continued to sell decently even after his editor and publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel died.
After visiting the Pope in Rome for over an hour, Verne was approached by his nephew Gaston in front of his Paris home. The boy shot at him, aiming for Verne's penis and hitting him in the ankle. Rumors circulated to the effect that the would-be assassin had been the author's biological son. Verne was buried with the bullet still lodged there in 1905.
After the attempted murder, morphine became the better part of Jules Verne's life. He decided to run for political office and won a position as a city councillor in his hometown of Amiens. His local views revolved largely around the importance of preservation; on a macro level he despised both socialism and capitalism for their absolutionist qualities.
His one trip to America revolved around a six-week stay in the New York metropolitan area. He and his companions had no English, or suitable translators. There was something about the wildness of the place that amazed him, but after that elation had dissipated he was left only with the loss that follows. "Members of English speaking races make good heroes," he recalled, "because of their coolness and go-ahead qualities." Provisionally he added, "Americans are undoubtedly the most practical, but they surely lack taste."
Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. She last wrote in these pages about the director Luis Buñuel. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.
The Best of Ellen Copperfield on This Recording
Dorothea Lange's Failed Marriage
Sex Life Of Marlon Brando
Lifetime of Threats and Insults
The Onset Of The Western Canon
Entitled To Madonna's Opinion
Barbra Streisand Grows Up In Flatbush
A Sneaking Suspicion of Literature
Anjelica Huston Falls Off The Horse
Prefer To Be Simone de Beauvoir
The Marriage of Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra
Elongated Childhood of Jorge Luis Borges
Jokes At The Expense Of Tom Hanks
Which One Is The Gay?
"Holy War" - The Moth & The Flame (mp3)