The novel From the Earth to the Moon, by Jules Verne is considered to be among the first in the genre of scientific fiction. In this novel Jules Verne described successful attempt of flight to the Moon by means of projectile fired from gun, which remained to be a fantasy. Yet, the estimations, research and accuracy of data in the novel surprises modern reader, as most of Verne’s predictions were close to reality. Jule Verne’s calculations and engineering estimations, even though were not scientifically accurate, but were made by methods used by scientists today. In a general scope we can consider, that this novel is the first which is based on realistic research and scientific knowledge, which wasn’t typical for earlier writings of that time, as earlier authors mainly relied on their imagination and fantasy, but not on scientific knowledge. Another quite important detail is the place which is mentioned in the novel where the projectile was launched – Florida.
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In the novel “From the Earth to the Moon” Jules Verne depicted science and basically applied science as an only engine of progress and social balance, which filled moral and ethical vacuum of individual of a new age, who often belonged to mercantile and narrow-minded people. In a wide scope Jules Verne pictured members of the gun club as fanatics, whose only way of life is creating new artillery devices and guns. War was perceived as a mean for club plans’ realization, as it subsidized their projects and allowed to test their new weapons on battlefield. Moral side of this issue was of no use to members of gun club. Most of them had disablement, due to serious war injures, yet nothing could stop them from creating new weapons: “Pitcairn that throughout the Gun Club there was not quite one arm between four persons and two legs between six.” It is described quite clear, that applied science turned into a religion for them, with easy success as their supreme pagan. It gave them chance for self-realization, made them equal in society of adherents, gave them change to be honored in case of success and satisfy their vanity: “Nevertheless, these valiant artillerists took no particular account of these little facts, and felt justly proud when the dispatches of a battle returned the number of victims at ten-fold the quantity of projectiles expended.” Another aspect of fanatic attitude towards project of launching a projectile to the Moon was fundraising. As project was expensive in global scope it was decided to collect money from all over the world and surprisingly project received great feedback worldwide, which was an evidence of global impact of scientific knowledge.
Another witness of universal spread of scientific ideas was total involvement and total interest to this project and Moon studies. The most complicated physical and astrophysical concepts were studied in details by every American, vanishing religious survivals and misunderstanding of the universe structure. Everyone took part in the discussion of this project starting from academic institutions and ending with Sunday schools. Flight to the Moon became an event which unified millions worldwide, as it allowed reaching cosmos, unexplored and unknown space which remained to be mysterious for centuries, having one of the key roles in Christian religion.
One of the main characteristic features of the novel is different view on destiny of man and its place in the universe, which is not typical for other writers of the 19th century. In novels of Jules Verne a man is described not as individual who depends upon circumstances, caused either by social pressure or nature, which was typical for heroes of Romanticism epoch. His heroes, even though described in humorous and satirical manner were independent personalities who could freely make decisions and who could resist nature. Such narration was quite radical in the nineteenth century, even though that a lot of technical inventions were introduced in daily life, yet society lived according to stereotypes which existed for centuries, having a narrow minded outlook. People were mostly superstitious and were much influenced by religious survivals of earlier ages. This was the main reason why all technological innovations were perceived with skepticism. Jules Verne decided to describe flight to the Moon made by military officers of the US army for many reasons. The USA was more technically advanced than Europe in the nineteenth century, new inventions were widely accepted in the USA and met less skepticism, as Americans even in the early years were more practical and enterprising:
“But the point in which the Americans singularly distanced the Europeans was in the science of gunnery. Not, indeed, that their weapons retained a higher degree of perfection than theirs, but that they exhibited unheard-of dimensions, and consequently attained hitherto unheard-of ranges… Simple tradesmen jumped their counters to become extemporized captains, colonels, and generals, without having ever passed the School of Instruction at West Point; nevertheless; they quickly rivaled their compeers of the old continent, and, like them, carried off victories by dint of lavish expenditure in ammunition, money, and men.”
American society was less conservative and could freely accept challenges, especially useful technical innovations, which could bring profit. Despite the fact that there were bunch of similar inventions made in Europe telegraph, telephone, phonograph, electric bulb, steamship and other inventions of the 19th century were first successful in the USA as Americans were ready to accept innovations.
That makes us think about science in Jules Verne novel as a new form of religion. Science gave opportunities to men to travel to space, to make new practical inventions to serve the whole humanity, and eventually to become “superman” discovering Nature’s secrets. Such philosophy which is propagandized by Jules Verne can be perceived as secular religion of science or religion of rationalism, which gave opportunity to people to look on nature with sober eyes, without fears and confusion which was typical in middle Ages.
In “From the Earth to the Moon” Jules Verne didn’t make any antireligious appeal or any aim to question foundation of religious beliefs, he instead showed that rationalism and scientific approach is the only right way to understanding of the universe and establishing harmony in humanity’s development.
Verne, Jules From the Earth to the Moon Bantam Classics, 1993.