The Voyages Extraordinaires (literally Extraordinary Voyages or Extraordinary Journeys) are a sequence of fifty-four novels by the French writer Jules Verne (1828-1905), originally published between 1863 and 1905. According to Verne’s editor Pierre-Jules Hetzel, the goal of the Voyages was “to outline all the geographical, geological, physical, and astronomical knowledge amassed by modern science and to recount, in an entertaining and picturesque format … the history of the universe.” Verne’s meticulous attention to detail and scientific trivia, coupled with his sense of wonder and exploration, form the backbone of the Voyages. Part of the reason for the broad appeal of his work was the sense that the reader could really learn knowledge of geology, biology, astronomy, palaeontology, oceanography and the exotic locations and cultures of the world through the adventures of Verne’s protagonists. This great wealth of information distinguished his works as “encyclopaedic novels”. The works in this series included both fiction and non-fiction, some with overt science fiction elements (e.g., Journey to the Centre of the Earth) or elements of scientific romance (e.g., Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea).
In the system developed by Hetzel for the Voyages Extraordinaires, each of Verne’s novels was published successively in several different formats. This resulted in as many as four distinct editions of each. The books on display here (and currently in the Wren Library) are taken from the Kessler collection and are examples of Cartonnages dorés et colorés (gilded and coloured bindings): complete editions of the text, published in grand in-8º (“large octavo”) book form with a lavishly decorated cover. These deluxe editions, designed for Christmas and New Year’s markets, include most or all of the illustrations from the serializations.