illustration of Captain Nemo's ship, the Nautilus, ramming a giant squid

20,000 Leagues under the Sea

by Jules Verne

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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The United States government prepares an expedition to seek and destroy the suspected sea monster, enlisting the aid of Professor Aronnax of the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Aronnax theorizes that the creature is a giant narwhal. The expedition therefore includes harpooner Ned Land, a Canadian. After months of fruitless search, they sight an immense marine object. It turns out to be a giant submarine, which sinks them.

Only Aronnax, his servant Conseil, and Land survive, to be captured and taken on board the submarine Nautilus. There they meet Captain Nemo, who, because he will never release them, reveals to them the Nautilus’ wonders.

Aronnax discovers in Nemo a congenial fellow scientist but also a misanthrope who has vowed never again to set foot on inhabited land. At first Aronnax is fascinated by such wonders as scenes of the ocean from the submarine’s window, explorations of the sea bottom in diving gear, a funeral in an undersea coral cemetery, Atlantis by night, and an underwater volcanic explosion. Ned Land, however, grows moody and discontented, constantly planning escape.

When they are nearly trapped under ice at the South Pole, Aronnax agrees to flee at the next opportunity. The Nautilus then travels northward and, when approaching the coast of Norway, is drawn into a maelstrom. Aronnax, Conseil, and Land regain consciousness on an island, and the Nautilus has disappeared. Whether it escaped, they do not know.


Allotte de la Fuÿe, Marguerite. Jules Verne. Translated by Erik de Mauny. London: Staples Press, 1954. A biography of Verne by a member of his family which includes a commentary on his works, including the chapter “Nemo, Genius of the Seas.”

Butor, Michel. “The Golden Age in Jules Verne.” In Inventory. London: Cape, 1970. An excellent essay which discusses the symbolic significance of Nemo and his vessel in the context of Verne’s oeuvre.

Costello, Peter. Jules Verne: Inventor of Science Fiction. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1978. Chapter 8 of this critical biography deals with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Miller, Walter James. The Annotated Jules Verne: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. New York: Crowell, 1976. The first full translation of the text, elaborately annotated.

Verne, Jules. The Complete Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: A New Translation of Jules Verne’s Science Fiction Classic. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. Eman-uel J. Mickel’s introduction offers a comprehensive study of the novel’s background and a survey of critical analyses of Verne’s work.

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Critical Evaluation