Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea


Jules Verne

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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jules Verne

Jules Verne was born in the port city of Nantes, France. He began writing fiction and poetry while a schoolboy, but was sent to study law in Paris by his father, who was himself an attorney. From an early age, Verne was fascinated by maritime exploration and adventure. As a young man, he fell in love with two women who ended up marrying other men: first his cousin Caroline, then a young woman named Rose Herminie Arnaud Grossetière. Verne lived in Paris during the French Revolution of 1848. He frequented literary salons, and became friends with the writer Alexander Dumas. Although Verne’s father tried to force him to give up writing in favor of becoming a lawyer, Verne persisted, and ended up inventing a new genre: the Roman de la Science (novel of science), which is now regarded as an early form of science fiction. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, published in 1870, is an example of this new genre of novel. Verne was a prolific writer, publishing two books a year for a number of years. He was wealthy and successful in his own time, and is remembered as one of the founders of science fiction. Having contracted diabetes, Verne died at home at the age of 77.
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Historical Context of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea incorporates a number of real historical events into its narrative, including its references to the famous maritime explorers Matthew Fontane Maury; Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse; and Dumont d’Urville, as well as imperialists ranging from James Cook to Pedro Fernández de Queirós. Broadly, the novel responds to the legacy of global imperialism in several ways. It captures the sense of excitement and triumph that accompanied Western explorers’ “conquering” of different regions of the globe, but also alludes to the injustice, exploitation, and violence that were central to colonial exploration. The novel also responds to the advances in scientific technology that accelerated in the 19th century, including the increasingly widespread use of electricity and the shifting understanding of the natural world inaugurated by the theories of scientists such as Charles Darwin.

Other Books Related to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Other early examples of science fiction include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Voltaire’s Micromégas, and, later, the novels of H.G. Wells. Verne was heavily influenced by Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe, which, like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, explores themes of maritime adventure, imperialism, and the solitude of exile from Western society. The novel also closely echoes Victor Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea, a work explicitly mentioned in the narrative. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in turn inspired many novels from the Golden Age of Science Fiction (which stretched roughly from the 1930s to the 1950s) and beyond. Other science fiction and fantasy novels that are set underwater (or otherwise focus on the ocean) include Michael Crichton’s Sphere, Frank Herbert’s The Dragon in the Sea, Carol Severance’s Reefsong, and China Miévelle’s The Scar.
Key Facts about Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
  • Full Title: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: A World Tour Underwater
  • When Written: 1869-1870
  • Where Written: Paris, France
  • When Published: 1870 (English translation 1872)
  • Literary Period: Romanticism; Realism
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Setting: Across the world’s oceans
  • Climax: Captain Nemo attacks an approaching warship in a fit of vengeful rage, killing everyone on board.
  • Antagonist: Captain Nemo, though he is also portrayed sympathetically
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Lost in Translation. The first English translation of the novel, by Rev. Lewis Page Mercier, was filled with errors—both accidental and intentional—yet this remained the standard English version for 100 years.

Fish Are Friends. The eponymous fish in Pixar’s 2003 animated film Finding Nemo is named after Verne’s Captain Nemo.