The novel was originally serialized from March 1869 through June 1870 in Pierre-Jules Hetzel's periodical, the Magasin d'Éducation et de Récréation. The deluxe illustrated edition, published by Hetzel in November 1871, included 111 illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou. The book was highly acclaimed when released and still is now; it is 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 description of Nemo's ship, called the Nautilus, was considered ahead of its time, as it accurately describes features on submarines, which at the time were very primitive vessels. Thus, the book has been able to age well because of its scientific theories, unlike some of Verne's other works, like Journey to the Center of the Earth, which are not scientifically accurate and serve more simply as adventure novels.
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About the Author
David Coward (translator) is emeritus professor of French at the University of Leeds. He has translated numerous French classics, including Molière’s plays, Simenon’s novels, and Albert Cohen’s Belle du Seigneur, for which he was awarded the Scott-Moncrieff prize in 1996.
Coralie Bickford-Smith (cover design) is an award-winning designer at Penguin Books (U.K.), where she has created several highly acclaimed series designs. She studied typography at Reading University and lives in London.
Date of Birth:February 8, 1828
Date of Death:March 24, 1905
Place of Birth:Nantes, France
Place of Death:Amiens, France
Education:Nantes lycée and law studies in Paris
Read an Excerpt
A Shifting Reef
The year of grace 1866 was made memorable by a marvelous event which doubtless still lingers in men's minds. No explanation for this strange occurrence was found, and it soon came to be generally regarded as inexplicable. A thousand rumors were current among the population of the seacoasts and stirred the imagination of those millions who dwelt inland far from the shores of an ocean. But of course it was the seafaring men who were most excited. And everyone in Europe or America that had to do with navigation was deeply interested in the matter — whether sailors or merchants, captains or pilots, naval officers or rulers of empire.
For some time prior to the opening of our story ships at sea had been met by an enormous object, a long thing shaped like a spindle and infinitely larger and more rapid in its movements than a whale. At times it was phosphorescent.
The various log books which described this miraculous object or creature agreed as to its main characteristics: its shape, the darting rapidity of its movements, its amazing locomotive power, and the peculiar kind of life with which it seemed endowed. If it were some sort of marine animal, it far surpassed in size any of which science had record. To arrive at an estimate of its length, it is best to reject equally the timid statements of those who guessed it to be some two hundred feet long and the wild exaggerations of such as swore it measured a mile in width and stretched three miles from tip to tip. But, whatever average we might strike between these two extreme views, it still remains clear that this mysterious being outstripped immensely in its dimensions any known to the scientists of the day, if it turned out to exist at all.
And that it did exist was undeniable. There was no longer any disposition to class it in the list of fabulous creatures. The human mind is ever hungry to believe in new and marvelous phenomena, and so it is easy for us to understand the vast excitement produced throughout the whole world by this supernatural apparition.
It was on the 20th of July, 1866, when five miles off the east coast of Australia, that the "Governor Higginson," a ship of the Calcutta and Burnach Steam Navigation Company, had come upon this moving mass. At first Captain Baker thought himself in the presence of an uncharted sand reef. In fact, he was just taking steps to determine its exact position, when two columns of water, projected from this inexplicable object, shot with a hissing noise one hundred and fifty feet up into the air. Now, either the sand reef had been submitted to the intermittent eruption of a geyser or the "Governor Higginson" had fallen afoul of some aquatic mammal, until then unknown, which could spout from its blowholes pillars of water mixed with air and vapor.
A similar experience was recorded on the 23d of July in the same year, in the Pacific Ocean, by the "Columbus," of the West India and Pacific Steam Navigation Company. It thus was apparent that this extraordinary animal could transport itself from one place to another with surprising velocity. For in an interval of only three days the "Governor Higginson" and the "Columbus" had observed it at two points on the chart which were separated by a distance of over seven hundred nautical leagues.
A fortnight later, two thousand leagues farther off, two steamers signaled the presence of the monster in 42° 35' north latitude and 60° 35' west longitude. These vessels were the "Helvetia," of the Compagnie Nationale, and the "Shannon," of the Royal Mail Steamship Company, both sailing to windward in that part of the Atlantic which lies between the United States and Europe. In these observations, which were taken at the same moment, the ships' captains thought themselves justified in estimating the minimum length of the mammal at more than three hundred and fifty feet, since it was longer than either the "Shannon" or the "Helvetia," and they measured but three hundred feet over all.
Now, the largest whales in the world, those which inhabit the sea around the Aleutian, the Kulammak, and the Umgullich Islands, never exceed sixty yards in length, and it is questionable whether they ever attain such size.
Other reports regarding the monster continued to come in. Fresh observations of it were made from the transatlantic ship "Pereira," and from the "Etna," of the Inman Line, which suffered a collision with it. An official report was drawn up by the officers of the French frigate "Normandie," and a very accurate survey made by the staff of Commodore Fitz-James on board the "Lord Clyde." All this greatly influenced public opinion. To be sure, lightminded people everywhere jested about the phenomenon, but grave and practical nations, such as England, America, and Germany, were inclined to treat the affair more seriously.
Wherever great multitudes assembled, the monster became the fashion of the moment. They represented it on the stage, sang of it in the cafes, made fun of it in the newspapers. Every imaginable sort of yarn was circulated regarding it. The journals contained comic pictures of every gigantic creature you could think of, from the terrible white whale of polar regions to the prodigious kraken, whose tentacles seize a vessel of five hundred tons' register and plunge it into the abyss of ocean.
Half-forgotten legends of olden times were revived. People spoke of how historians who lived long before the Christian era had claimed to know of such miraculous creatures. The Norwegian tales of Bishop Pontoppidan were recalled to memory and published, as were the accounts of Paul Heggede and the statements of Mr. Harrington. The last-named gentleman, whose good faith no one could impugn, stoutly affirmed that in the year 1857, from the ship "Castillan," he had seen this enormous serpent, which until that time had never frequented any seas other than those of the ancient "Constitutionnel."
Then there burst forth in the pages of scientific journals and in the meetings of learned societies the unending warfare between the true believers and the heretics. The question of the monster seemed to inflame all minds. Editors of scholarly periodicals began to quarrel with everyone who put his trust in the supernatural. Seas of ink were spilled in this memorable campaign, and not a little blood. For, from fighting about the sea serpent, people soon came to fighting with one another.
A six months' war was waged, with changing fortunes, in the leading essays of the Geographical Institution of Brazil, the Royal Academy of Science of Berlin, the British Association, and the Smithsonian Institution of Washington. Constant skirmishes were carried on in the discussions of the Indian Archipelago, in Abbé Moigno's Cosmos, in Petermann's Mittheilungen, and in the scientific articles of the important journals of France and other countries. The cheaper magazines replied delightedly and with an inexhaustible zest, twisting a remark of the great Swedish naturalist Linnaeus, which had been quoted by disbelievers in the monster, to the effect that "Nature did not create fools." These satirical writers begged their learned fellows not to give the lie to nature by acknowledging the existence of krakens, sea serpents, Moby Dicks, and other inventions of mad sailormen. Finally, an essay in a famous satirical magazine, written by a favorite contributor, the chief of the journal's staff, settled the fate of the monster once for all by giving it the death blow amid a universal burst of laughter. Wit had conquered science by laughing it out of court.
And so, during the first months of the year 1867, the whole matter of the monster seemed to be buried beyond all hope of resurrection. Then suddenly new facts were brought before the public. Without warning, the question became no longer a scientific puzzle to be solved, but a real danger difficult to be avoided. The situation had assumed an entirely different shape: the monster had turned into a small island, a rock, a reef, but a reef of indefinite and shifting proportions.
During the night of March 5, 1867, in 27° 30' latitude and 72° 15' longitude, the "Moravian," of the Montreal Ocean Company, struck on her starboard quarter a rock that was indicated in no chart of those waters. With the united efforts of the stiff wind and her four hundred horsepower, the good ship was steaming at the rate of thirteen knots. Now, had it not been for the exceptional strength of the "Moravian's" hull, she would have been shattered by the shock of collision and have gone down with all hands, plus the two hundred and thirty-seven passengers she was bringing home to Canada.
The accident occurred just at daybreak, about five o'clock in the morning. The officers hurried from the bridge to the after deck of the vessel. They studied the surface of the sea with the most scrupulous care. But, stare as they would, they saw nothing except a strong eddying wash of troubled waters, some three cables' length off the side of the ship, as if the surface had been recently and violently churned. The "Moravian" at once took her bearings very accurately and thereafter proceeded under full headway without apparent damage.
What could have happened? Had the ship struck on a barely submerged rock or scraped across the wreckage of some huge derelict? The officers could not decide. But when the ship later was lying in dry-dock, undergoing repairs, an examination of the bottom showed that part of her keel was broken.
This fact, so gravely important in itself, would perhaps have been forgotten as many other like incidents had been, if three weeks afterward the scene had not been again enacted under quite similar conditions. This time, however, thanks to the nationality of the victim of the shock, thanks also to the reputation of the company to which the vessel belonged, the circumstances of the accident became extensively circulated.
In a smooth sea, with a favorable breeze, on the 13th of April, 1867, the "Scotia," of the Cunard Company's line, was in 15° 12' longitude and 45° 37' latitude. Her gauges showed a speed of thirteen and one-half knots. At seventeen minutes past four in the afternoon, while the passengers were still assembled at lunch in the main saloon, a slight shock was felt against the hull of the "Scotia" on her quarter a trifle aft of the port paddle.
The "Scotia" had not done the striking; she had been struck, and apparently by some object that was sharp and penetrating rather than blunt. The jar to the vessel had been so slight that no one felt himself alarmed until he heard the cries of the carpenter's watch, who rushed up on the bridge, shouting, "We're sinking! We're sinking!"
At first the passengers were badly frightened, but Captain Anderson soon hastened to reassure them. The danger could not be imminent. The "Scotia," divided as she was by stout partitions into seven compartments, could with immunity brave any leak. Captain Anderson plunged down into the ship's hold and discovered that the sea was pouring into the fifth compartment. The rapidity of the inflow was sufficient evidence of the great force of the water.
Now by good fortune this compartment did not contain the boilers, or the fires would have been immediately extinguished. Captain Anderson ordered the engines stopped at once, and one of the crew was sent down to ascertain the extent of the damage. Within a few minutes the existence of a large hole in the ship's bottom was discovered, some two yards in diameter. It was impossible to stop such a leak while at sea. And the "Scotia," her paddles half submerged, was forced to continue on her course. She was then three hundred miles out from Cape Clear, and it was after a three days' delay which caused great uneasiness in Liverpool that she limped up to the company's pier.
The engineers visited the "Scotia," which was put in dry-dock. They could scarcely believe the evidence of their own eyes when they saw in the side of the vessel, two and one-half yards below her watermark, a regular rent in the shape of an isosceles triangle. The broken place in the iron plates was so perfectly defined that it could not have been more neatly done by a punch-drill. It was therefore evident that the instrument which caused the perforation was of no common stamp. And after having been driven with terrific force, sufficient to pierce an iron plate one and three-eighths inches thick, the tool, whatever it was, had withdrawn itself by a retrograde motion which was truly inexplicable.
Such was the last fact regarding the marvelous sea monster, which resulted in once more exciting to fever pitch the state of public opinion. From this moment on, all dire casualties which could not be otherwise explained were put down to the score of the prodigy. On this imaginary creature alone rested the responsibility for all queer shipwrecks, the number of which was unhappily considerable. For, out of the three thousand ships whose loss was annually reported at Lloyd's, sailing and steam ships that, in the absence of all news, were supposed to be totally gone amounted to not less than two hundred.
Now it was the monster that, fairly or unfairly, was accused of almost any vessel's disappearance. And, thanks to the reputation of this fabulous creature, communication between the different continents became in the popular mind more and more dangerous. The public demanded bruskly that at any cost the seas must be relieved of the presence of this formidable cetacean.
Two Sides of an Argument
At the time that the events described in the last chapter were taking place, I had just returned to New York from a scientific expedition into the bad lands of Nebraska. Because I am an assistant professor in the Museum of Natural History in Paris, the French government had attached me to that tour of research. Now, after a half-year's sojourn in Nebraska, I had come back to New York toward the end of March, bringing with me a precious collection of specimens. My departure for France was scheduled for the first days of May. In the interim I was occupying myself most busily in classifying my mineralogical, botanical, and zoölogical riches, when the puzzling accident happened to the "Scotia."
Of course I knew the subject which was the question of the day by chapter and verse. How could it well be otherwise? For I had read and read again everything the American and European newspapers had had to say about it. But that does not imply that I had come any nearer to a conclusion in the matter. The mystery puzzled me still, and, as I could form no opinion that was satisfying, I kept jumping from one extreme to the other. One thing, and one thing alone, was certain: a monster of some sort existed, and anyone who doubted this fact could be invited politely to place his finger on the gaping wound in the "Scotia."
When I got to New York discussion of the question was on every lip. Any belief that the marvel was a floating island or an unapproachable sand bank had been abandoned; in fact, from the beginning such theories had been supported only by minds that were little competent to form a proper judgment. And indeed, unless this shoal should possess a powerful engine in its interior, how could it change its position with such astonishing rapidity? For this very reason people had been forced to give up any idea that the prodigy was the submerged hull of an enormous wreck.
Excerpted from "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea"
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Table of ContentsPart One
A Shifting Reef
Two Sides of an Argument
I Make My Decision
The Great Adventure
Full Steam Ahead
An Unknown Species of Whale
Our New Quarters
Ned Land Attacks
The Man of the Seas
The Soul of the Nautilus
Captain Nemo Explains
The Black River
A Note of Invitation
On the Bottom of the Sea
A Submarine Forest
Four Thousand Leagues under the Pacific
The Island of Vanikoro
Arcadian Days on Land
Captain Nemo's Thunderbolt
The Realm of Coral
The Indian Ocean
The Island of Ceylon
A Pearl of Great Price
The Red Sea
Under the Isthmus
The Grecian Archipelago
The Mediterranean in Forty-eight Hours
The Lost Continent
Submarine Coal Mines
The Sargasso Sea
Cachalots and Whales
The Great Ice Barrier
The South Pole
An Overturned Mountain
A Living Tomb
From Cape Horn to the Amazon
The Gulf Stream
We Visit a Tomb
Captain Nemo's Last Words