Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas: A World Tour Underwater is a classic science fiction adventure novel by French writer Jules Verne; it was first published in 1870.
The novel was originally serialized from March 1869 through June 1870 in Pierre-Jules Hetzel's periodical, the Magasin d'éducation et de récréation. A deluxe octavo edition, published by Hetzel in November 1871, included 111 illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou. The book was widely acclaimed on its release and remains so; it's regarded as one of the premiere adventure novels and one of Verne's greatest works, along with Around the World in Eighty Days and Journey to the Center of the Earth. The presentation of Captain Nemo's ship, the Nautilus, was considered ahead of its time, as it accurately describes many features of modern submarines, which in the 1860s were comparatively primitive vessels.
Jules Gabriel Verne (8 February 1828 – 24 March 1905) was a French novelist, poet, and playwright.
Verne's collaboration with the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel led to the creation of the Voyages extraordinaires, a widely popular series of scrupulously researched adventure novels including Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873).
Verne is generally considered a major literary author in France and most of Europe, where he has had a wide influence on the literary avant-garde and on surrealism.His reputation was markedly different in Anglophone regions where he had often been labeled a writer of genre fiction or children's books, largely because of the highly abridged and altered translations in which his novels have often been printed (until the 1980s, when his "literary reputation ... began to improve")
They are all found in the beginning 6 chapters of '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
On 10 March 1868, Jules Verne was excited. He was deep in the first volume of his latest book – whose working title had recently changed from Journey Under the Waters to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – and it was going well. That day he wrote to his editor, Pierre-Jules Hetzel: "Oh my dear Hetzel, if I don't pull this book off, I'll be inconsolable. I've never held a better thing in my hands."
I can't think of a better thing to read on the sands. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is arguably Verne's masterpiece. As a classic it has aged wonderfully well: it is escapist fun, but still retains its literary and scientific significance. To dismiss it as simply an adventure story does it a disservice. Yes, Verne's oceanic journey around the world is a ripping yarn, but it is also an eerie tale of isolation and madness, packed full with geographical and scientific accuracies that make the fantastic uncomfortably believable.
The narrator, oceanic scientist Professor Pierre Aronnax is on a mission to determine the animal (or otherwise) nature of an unknown being attacking ships around the world. Aronnax, along with his faithful servant Conseil and the boisterous harpooner Ned Land, are kidnapped by their target, a horned submarine called the Nautilus. Their captor is the mysterious Captain Nemo, an intelligent, quiet man who hates all who live on land (for reasons mostly unexplained, unless you read Verne's The Mysterious Island).
Without a doubt, Nemo is what elevates Twenty Thousand Leagues above the rest of Verne's work. The devil in the deep blue sea, Nemo lives in stasis in his metal cocoon, roaming the oceans to leer at wreckages and attack ships. His appreciation for human achievements, seen in his collection of art, books and music, clashes with his furious hatred of civilised society. He is an intriguing, Byronic figure, unmatched in depth of character even today.
The relationship between Aronnax and Nemo is an intriguing dance between understanding and uneasiness. Initially, both of them delight in finding another academic mind. Aronnax is thrilled by the unexpected luxuries of the Nautilus, with its world-class collections of underwater treasures, inventively cooked seafood dishes and unending supply of seaweed cigars. Meanwhile, Nemo revels in showing off the Nautilus's capabilities to someone who understands them, taking Aronnax on little field trips to hunt sharks, visit the South Pole and explore the underwater city of Atlantis.
Nemo becomes increasingly sinister despite Aronnax's romanticised eye: he drugs his captives, refuses to explain the violent death of a crew member and alternates between sorrowful melancholia and cold fury. Ultimately it is Aronnax's transition from admiration and envy to complete fear that makes Twenty Thousand Leagues so eerie and exciting. At the climax when Nemo finally attacks a ship with Aronnax on board, the reader, Aronnax and the "archangel of hate" Nemo reach a satisfyingly simultaneous understanding. The two men watch in silence as the drowning sailors sink into an ocean crevasse like "a human antheap caught out by the invasion of the sea", and everyone finally understands that Nemo will never let his captors live. Later, when Aronnax literally crawls across the salon floor in complete darkness, desperate to avoid the sobbing Nemo who is playing his organ in the same room, my heart was pounding thrillingly hard. I've read Twenty Thousand Leagues multiple times and Nemo's madness still scares me.
Its episodic chapters may not appeal to some, but as a beach read, Twenty Thousand Leagues is the perfect book to pick up and put down. You are consistently rewarded with iconic scenes: a battle with a giant squid, an underwater funeral, a trip to Atlantis. Verne's detailed descriptions of geography and sea life fill me with a curiously Victorian sense of potential for discovering the unknown.
But, layered between all the fun is the sobering parallel drawn between Nemo and his sanctuary: like the tortured Captain, the ocean is a dangerous, unpredictable and completely isolating force.
After reading Twenty Thousand Leagues, you will never be able to look at the sea in the same way again. Was that a whale or a custom-made submarine harbouring a broken, vengeful man? I'll stay on shore, thanks.
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