s before the arrival of Jacques Cousteau and technicolor film.
Lastly the book has stature as a novel of character. Even the supporting cast is shrewdly drawn: Professor Aronnax, the career scientist caught in an ethical conflict; Conseil, the compulsive classifier who supplies humorous tag lines for Verne's fast facts; the harpooner Ned Land, a creature of constant appetites, man as heroic animal.
But much of the novel's brooding power comes from Captain Nemo. Inventor, musician, Renaissance genius, he's a trail-blazing creation, the prototype not only for countless renegade scientists in popular fiction, but even for such varied figures as Sherlock Holmes or Wolf Larsen. However, Verne gives his hero's brilliance and benevolence a dark underside--the man's obsessive hate for his old enemy. This compulsion leads Nemo into ugly contradictions: he's a fighter for freedom, yet all who board his ship are imprisoned there for good; he works to save lives, both human and animal, yet he himself creates a holocaust; he detests imperialism, yet he lays personal claim to the South Pole. And in this last action he falls into the classic sin of Pride. He's swiftly punished. The Nautilus nearly perishes in the Antarctic and Nemo sinks into a growing depression.
Like Shakespeare's King Lear he courts death and madness in a great storm, then commits mass murder, collapses in catatonic paralysis, and suicidally runs his ship into the ocean's most dangerous whirlpool. Hate swallows him whole.
For many, then, this book has been a source of fascination, surely one of the most influential novels ever written, an inspiration for such scientists and discoverers as engineer Simon Lake, oceanographer William Beebe, polar traveler Sir Ernest Shackleton. Likewise Dr. Robert D. Ballard, finder of the sunken Titanic, confesses that this was his favorite book as a teenager, and Cousteau himself, most renowned of marine explorers, called it his shipboard bible.
The present translation is a faithful yet communicative rendering of the original French texts published in Paris by J. Hetzel et Cie.-- the hardcover first edition issued in the autumn of 1871, collated with the softcover editions of the First and Second Parts issued separately in the autumn of 1869 and the summer of 1870. Although prior English versions have often been heavily abridged, this new translation is complete to the smallest substantive detail.
Because, as that Time cover story suggests, we still haven't caught up with Verne. Even in our era of satellite dishes and video games, the seas keep their secrets. We've seen progress in sonar, torpedoes, and other belligerent machinery, but sailors and scientists-- to say nothing of tourists--have yet to voyage in a submarine with the luxury and efficiency of the Nautilus.
F. P. WALTER
University of Houston
Units of Measure
CABLE LENGTH In Verne's context, 600 feet
CENTIGRADE 0 degrees centigrade = freezing water
37 degrees centigrade = human body temperature
100 degrees centigrade = boiling water
FATHOM 6 feet
GRAM Roughly 1/28 of an ounce
- MILLIGRAM Roughly 1/28,000 of an ounce
- KILOGRAM (KILO) Roughly 2.2 pounds
HECTARE Roughly 2.5 acres
KNOT 1.15 miles per hour
LEAGUE In Verne's context, 2.16 miles
LITER Roughly 1 quart
METER Roughly 1 yard, 3 inches
- MILLIMETER Roughly 1/25 of an inch
- CENTIMETER Roughly 2/5 of an inch
- DECIMETER Roughly 4 inches
- KILOMETER Roughly 6/10 of a mile
- MYRIAMETER Roughly 6.2 miles
TON, METRIC Roughly 2,200 pounds viii
A Runaway Reef
THE YEAR 1866 was marked by a bizarre development, an unexplained and downright inexplicable phenomenon that surely no one has forgotten. Without getting into those rumors that upset civilians in the seaports and deranged the public mind even far inland, it must be said that professional seamen were especially alarmed. Traders, shipowners, captains of vessels, skippers, and master mariners from Europe and America, naval officers from every country, and at their heels the various national governments on these two continents, were all extremely disturbed by the business.