Study Guide: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

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Jules Verne - BIOGRAPHY

Adapted from “A Chronology of Jules Verne” in William Butcher’s 1998 translation.

Jules Verne is an immensely important and prolific French writer. Along with H.G. Wells, he is responsible for the founding of science-fiction writing. Jules Verne was born on 8 February 1828 in Nantes, France. His father was a successful lawyer, from a family of many lawyers and his mother was from a military family. Jules was the oldest of five children; he had one brother and three sisters.

In school he did very well in geography and wrote fiction and poetry frequently. He moved to Paris to study law, and became engaged to his cousin, Caroline Thompson--although, they never married. During this time he befriended playwright Alexander Dumas and began writing plays, such as Alexander VI and La Conspiration des poudres. He continued to write and produce plays. He passed the law exam.

In 1857 he married Honorine de Viane and became a stockbroker in Paris. In 1861 his only child, Michel, was born. In 1870, Verne became a member of the coast guard in the French military during the Franco-Prussian War. Verne became very interested in geology and engineering. He spent many hours reading books on these subjects and incorporated his knowledge into many of his books.

Verne’s writing career was very successful and he was able to make an excellent living. As his books increased in popularity, he bought a yacht and sailed frequently. On 17 March 1905, Verne died from complications with diabetes.

His many works include:
1863. Cinq Semaines en Ballon (Five Weeks in a Balloon)
1863. Paris au XXè siècle (Paris in the 20th Century)
1864. Voyage au centre de la terre (Journey to the Center of the Earth)
1865. De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the Moon)
1866. Voyages et aventures du Capitaine Hatteras (The Voyages and Adventures of Captain Hatteras
1868. Les Enfants du Capitaine Grant (The Children of Captain Grant)
1870. Autour de la Lune (Round the Moon)
1870. Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea)
1871. Une Ville flottante (A Floating City)
1872. Aventures de trois russes et trois anglais dans l'Afrique australe (The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in Southern Africa)
1873. Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in 80 Days)
1873. Le Pays des fourrures (The Fur Country)
1873. Le Pays des fourrures (The Fur Country)
1874. L'Ile mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island)
1875. Le Chancellor (The Chancellor)
1876. Michel Strogoff (Michael Strogoff)
1877. Les Indes Noires (Black Indies)
1877. Hector Servadac
1878. Un Capitaine de quinze ans (A Captain at Fifteen)
1879. Les Tribulations d'un chinois en Chine (The Tribulations of a Chinaman in China)
1879. Les Cinq cents millions de la Bégum (The 500 Millions of the Begum)
1880. Le Maison à vapeur (The Steam House) [ 2 volumes ]
1881. La Jangada (The Jangada)
1881. L'Ecole des Robinsons (The School of Robinsons)
1882. Le Rayon vert (The Green Ray)
1883. Kéraban le Têtu (Kéraban the Inflexible) [ 2 volumes ]
1884. L'Archipel en feu (The Archipelago on Fire)
1884. L'Etoile du Sud (The Star of the South)
1885. Mathias Sandorf [ 3 volumes ]
1885. L'Epave du Cynthia (Salvage from the Cynthia a.k.a. The Wreck of the Cynthia)
1886. Robur le conquérant (Robur the Conqueror)
1886. Un Billet de loterie (The Lottery Ticket)
1887. Nord contre Sud (North Against South)
1887. Le Chemin de France (The Road to France)
1888. Deux ans de vacances (Two Years Holiday)
1889. Famille-sans-Nom (Family Without a Name)
1889. Sans dessus dessous (The Purchase of the North Pole)
1890. César Cascabel
1891. Mistress Branican (Mrs. Branican)
1892. Le Château des Carpathes (The Carpathian Castle)
1892. Claudius Bombarnac
1893. P'tit-Bonhomme (Foundling Mick a.k.a. Little Fellow)
1894. Mirifiques Aventures de Maître Antifer (The Wonderful Adventures of Captain Antifer)
1895. L'Ile à Helice (Propeller Island)
1896. Face au Drapeau (For the Flag)
1896. Clovis Dardentor
1897. Le Sphinx des Glaces (The Sphinx of the Ice Fields)
1898. Le Superbe Orénoque (The Mighty Orinoco)
1900. Seconde Patrie (Second Fatherland)
1901. Le Village aérien (The Aerial Village)
1901. Les Histoires de Jean-Marie Cabidoulin (The Stories of Jean-Marie Cabidoulin)
1902. Les Frères Kip (The Brothers Kip)
1903. Bourses de voyage (Traveling Scholarships)
1904. Un Drame en Livonie (A Drama in Livonia)
1904. Maître du Monde (Master of the World)
1905. L'Invasion de la Mer (The Invasion of the Sea)

Posthumous (Published by Michel Verne after Jules Verne’s death)
1905. Le Phare du bout du monde ( The Lighthouse at the End of the World )
1906. Le Volcan d'or (The Golden Volcano)
1907. L'Agence Thompson and Co. (The Thompson Travel Agency)
1908. La Chasse au météore (The Hunt of the Meteor)
1908. Le Beau Danube jaune a.k.a. Le Pilote du Danube (The Danube Pilot)
1909. En Magellanie a.k.a. Les Naufragés du 'Jonathan' (Magellania a.k.a. The Survivors of the "Jonathan")
1910. Le Secret de Wilhelm Storitz (The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz)
1910. Hier et demain (Yesterday and Tomorrow)
1919. L'Etonnante aventure de la mission Barsac (The Barsac Mission)


When reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, particularly because it is a work of science-fiction, it is very important to remember that it was written in 1870. At this time people traveled by horse and carriage, ships, and increasingly, railroads. Therefore, the idea of a submarine that could reach the bottom of the sea was astounding. It might be comparable with an individual traveling through space today.

Jules Verne’s idea of a submarine was not entirely original, neither was his name for the vessel, Nautilus. In the latter part of the nineteenth century many people were experimenting with diving bells, commonly called Nautile and Nautilus. In fact, the first plans for a submarine were produced in 1580 and it is thought that the first working submarine was created in 1623. Submarines that would have more greatly influenced Verne are Fulton’s Nautilus, 1801 and the infamous Confederate Hunley, used during the American Civil War. These vessels were much more successful.

Another important historical trend to consider is the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution was a period of dramatic change that began in England in about 1750 and lasted through 1830--continuing in other countries later. This period dramatically changed the lives of ordinary individuals as well as national and international economy. The American Civil War, which concluded in 1865-- one year before this novel begins-- was the first war to really utilize the progress of the Industrial Revolution. Ships were steam powered, weapons could be produced on massive scales, and submarines were used as well. The American Civil War gain national attention and was extremely gruesome. It was an excellent example of how scientific technology could be used to destroy humanity. In 1870, when the novel was published, the public would certainly have still had this fear.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a science-fiction novel. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are credited with founding the genre. Science fiction engages science and technology. Works in this genre typically create situations that could not arise in the world as we know it, but do through the use of advance science and technology.

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