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ClassicsOnline Home » VERNE, J.: 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (Abridged)
The year is 1866. The maritime world is gripped by fear after reported sightings of a huge and terrible sea monster. Monsieur Aronnax, a distinguished Professor of Natural History, pronounces the creature to be a giant narwhal and is invited to join an official expedition to track down the beast. But Professor Aronnax is proved wrong; the beast is not of the natural world, but a huge submarine. When he is pulled out of the sea by the enigmatic Captain Nemo, and imprisoned on the Nautilus, he experiences at first hand the marvels and perils of submarine life. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is possibly the first and finest work of science fiction plausible, terrifying and utterly gripping.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Jules Verne’s fascination with the sea began in the great
French seaport of Nantes, where he was born in 1828. Such was his passion for
ships that in 1839, when he was only eleven, he ran away from home to be a
sailor. His adventure did not last long however, and after returning home in
disgrace, he promised his distraught mother: ‘After this I
will travel only
in the imagination.’ But it would be many years before he
could give free rein to his imaginative powers.
In 1848 he was sent to Paris to complete his studies as a
lawyer. Radical socialist thinking was sweeping through Revolutionary France,
and Verne was drawn to the radical writers, scientist and musicians of the
time. He turned his back on his studies and became the secretary to the Théâtre
Lyrique. During this time he wrote several plays and short stories, but he had
little talent as a dramatist. In 1856, Verne married a young widow, Honorine
Morel. She already had two children and in order to support his new family,
Verne took a job on the Paris Bourse.
However, Verne did not give up on his literary ambitions. He
continued to write, and his friendship with the radical Pierre-Jean Hetzel was
to prove crucial. Hetzel started a magazine for young people and Verne became
one of its most popular contributors. Now Verne was able to combine his
lifelong fascination for geography, science and technology with his talent for
entertaining and accessible writing and his first successful novel, Five Weeks
in a Balloon was published in 1863. Next came Journey to the Centre of the
Earth, an extraordinary exploration of the earth’s core, followed by From the
Earth to the Moon. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was published in two parts in
1869 and 1870.
At this time, underwater exploration was in its infancy. A
diving apparatus had been introduced in 1865, but compressed air was not used
until 1875. Thus he used primitive new technology and took it into near realms
of sophistication while still remaining well within the limits of possibility;
this understanding of technology imbues his writing with the vital ingredient
of all fine science fiction: plausibility. Verne was also the master of
adventure and suspense but his political ideas were never far from the surface.
Through Captain Nemo, he was also able to explore his abiding interest in the
freedom of the individual: Nemo could only really be free under the sea, beyond
the control of oppressive nation states.
Verne’s abiding popularity lies therefore in his
extraordinarily prescient view of the future, his huge talent as a storyteller
and in his fascination for the natural world and the men who are destined to
explore its mysteries.
Notes by Heather Godwin
John Carlisle is a familar figure on the British stage. He has
been a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company for over a decade where, as an
Associate Artist, he has taken a variety of key roles in classical drama from
Shakespeare to Chekhov, as well as in 20th century works. He has also been seen
regularly on television in work including Lovejoy and Cyrano de Bergerac.
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VERNE, J.: 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (Abridged)