(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Verne created a character, Captain Nemo, who would continue to haunt the imagination of generations to come in the manner of Homer’s hero, from whom Nemo took his name. In the Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614), Ulysses calls himself Nemo, or“No one,” in order to hide his identity from the Cyclops. Verne’s unknown renegade, making war on injustice, has likewise become a myth.

The best known of Verne’s works was also the one that took the longest to find its way into print. It is certain that the author was working on a story tentatively titled “Voyage Under the Waters” in 1865. After his exploration of the air in Five Weeks in a Balloon and his A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, it was logical that Verne would pursue his pedagogical mission by exploring the bottom of the sea.

This novel, though, was to be different from the others. Verne was very excited about the creation of a hero entirely cut off from the earth and humanity. His publisher, Hetzel, on the other hand, was very uneasy about Nemo. Verne refused to explain who his captain was and what his past had been. Letters show that the author would have liked to have made Nemo a Pole, oppressed by Russia. For commercial reasons, this was impossible, as Verne’s books were translated into Russian. The violence of Nemo’s hatred of his enemies, and his cruel sinking of ships, given with many hair-raising details, worried Hetzel, but Verne was adamant in preserving the hero driven by hatred.

As is usual with Verne, the motivation in the novel is a double one: scientific, with the description of the submarine vessel and the underwater world that the submarine allows the heroes to explore, and entertaining, with an unprecedented series...

(The entire section is 736 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In different parts of the ocean, a number of ships sight a mysterious monster, gleaming with light, such as no man ever saw. After this monster attacks and sinks several vessels, people all over the world are both amazed and alarmed. Finally an American frigate, the Abraham Lincoln, is fitted out to find and to destroy the mysterious sea creature. Among its passengers is Pierre Aronnax, professor of natural history in the Museum of Paris, who published his opinion that the monster is a giant narwhal. One of the crew is Ned Land, an expert harpooner. For quite a while, the ship sails without sighting anything even remotely resembling the reported terror of the seas.

The creature is sighted at last. When an opportunity presents itself, Land throws his harpoon, but the monster is uninjured, and Land realizes that it is protected by a thick steel-like armor. During a pursuit in the darkness, a terrific explosion rocks the ship. Aronnax, Land, and Conseil find themselves floundering in the water. Aronnax faints. Regaining consciousness, he discovers that they are aboard some sort of underwater craft. Later, two men come to greet them. The survivors from the ship speak to them in various languages, but the men appear not to understand. Then the captain of the vessel appears and speaks to them in French. He reveals that his name is Nemo, that the vessel is a submarine, and that they are, in effect, prisoners who will have every liberty aboard, except on occasions when they will receive orders to retire to their cabins.

Aronnax learns that the submarine Nautilus was built in a complicated manner. Parts of it were secured from various places and secretly assembled on a desert island. Then a fire was set to destroy all traces of the work done there. The ship manufactures its own electricity, has provisions for quantities of oxygen that allow it to remain submerged, and is as comfortable as any home. All food comes from the ocean. There is fish, but fish such as Aronnax never before tasted. There is clothing made from some sort of sea fibers. There are cigars, not of tobacco but of a special seaweed. Captain Nemo shows them air guns that allow him and the crew to go hunting as well as a device that permits the crew to walk the ocean floor.

In the...

(The entire section is 936 words.)