Tag Archives: classic literature

Book Review: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Book Name: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
Author: Jules Verne
First Published: 1870

Jules Verne was born the son of an French attorney in Nantes, France. As a boy, Verne developed a great love for travel and exploration, which was reflected in his science fiction writings. His interest in storytelling often cost him progress in other school subjects. It is rumored that the child Verne was so enthralled with adventure that he stowed away on a vessel going to the West Indies, but his voyage of discovery was cut short when he found his father waiting for him at the next port of call.

As Verne grew to adulthood, he began to write libretti for operettas even as he was studying in law school. When his father discovered that he was not attending to his law studies, his educational funds were cut off. Jules Verne turned to being a stockbroker to make his living, a profession that he hated. Around this time, he met and married Honorine de Viane Morel, a widow with two daughters. Honorine encouraged her husband to do what he loved, to write.

Verne’s writing career improved when he met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, an important French publisher, after being rejected by many other publishers. Verne and Hetzel formed a successful writer-publisher team until Hetzel’s death. Verne was prone to be overly scientific and melancholy in his writing, Hetzel forced the author to be more upbeat and to add in more adventure and less science. The combination proved to be gold. Verne began publishing his novels two years after the birth of his son and generally published two books a year after that point. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of his more famous works and one of the earlier novels that he published.

The novel begins in 1866 when a mysterious sea monster is sighted by ships of several countries. In New York City, an expedition to track down and kill the menace is formed by the US government. Professor Pierre Aronnax, a renoun french marine biologist, is invited to join the expedition at the last minute. Aronnax, his assistant Conseil and harpoon master Ned Land set sail from Brooklyn aboard the naval ship Abraham Lincoln and travel around Cape Horn and entering the Pacific Ocean.

The monster is discovered and the ship enters into battle. During the fight, the three men are thrown overboard and find themselves stranded on the “hide” of the monster. Much to their surprise, they find that the animal is a metal ship. The men are captured and brought on board the strange vessel where they meet its creator and commander, Captain Nemo. The vessel is an electrically powered submarine known as the Nautilus which roams the oceans to carry out marine biology research and to serve as an instrument of revenge for her captain. Nemo and Aronnax form a friendship as Aronnax is enthralled by the undersea views, despite the fact that Nemo has forbidden the three passengers to leave the vessel. Only Ned Land continues to plan their escape.

The title of 20,000 leagues under the sea does not refer to the depth that the electrical submarine dives, but rather the distance that the vessel travels in the ocean during the story. The passengers of the Nautilus see the coral reefs of the Red Sea, the shipwrecks of the battle of Vigo Bay, the Antarctic ice shelves and the fictional sunken nation of Atlantis. The crew does battle with sharks and other marine life and the ship itself is attacked by a giant octopus.

In the end, Nemo’s vessel is attacked by a ship from Nemo’s home nation. The battle pushes Nemo into an emotional depression and in his grief, he allows the Nautilus to enter a whirlpool off the coast of Norway. During this distraction, Aronnax, Conseil and Land manage to escape the submarine and return to land. However, the fate of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus remains a mystery.

I can’t remember a time when I did not know of and love the stories of Jules Verne. So many of his stories have been adapted into movies, his characters have been adopted into other novels, and there was once a ride in Disneyland based on the book. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was the first of his novels that I read, prompted by seeing the Disney movie by the same name starring Kirk Douglas (who sings!) produced in 1954. This movie is likely the most famous of numerous films based upon this book. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is considered one of his “Voyages Extraordinaires” novels which also include Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mysterious Island, and From the Earth to the Moon. Many of the inventions that Verne wrote about are now real technology that we see everyday. Verne paid attention to the state of the art scientific information of his time and embellished upon it with his vivid imagination to create his fantastic worlds of the future. If you have not read Jules Verne, I urge you to look into his novels. You’ll see long ago dreams that now have become the shape of life as we know it.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is considered in the public domain and is available for free download at Project Gutenberg or at your local public library.

Book Review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Book Name: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Author: Lewis Carrol
Illustrator: Sir John Tenniel
First Published: 1865

Lewis Carrol, born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was a mathematician with an innate sense of order and logic, colored with his absurd observations of society around him. Dodgson was a prolific writer of original fiction, including his popular children’s stories, but he also wrote essays, political pamphlets, poetry and mathematical textbooks. He was a mathematical lecturer and a Deacon at Christ Church. Three years before Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published, Reverend Dodgson took a rowing trip on the Isis river near Oxford with the three young children of Christ Church Dean Henry Liddel. During this journey, he made up a impromptu story about a bored little girl named Alice and entertained the children as he rowed. Afterward, ten year old Alice Liddel begged him to write down the story for her and the next day Dodgson began to work on the manuscript. This first draft of Alice in Wonderland has been lost.

On 26 November 1864, Reverend Dodgson gifted Alice Liddel a handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, with illustrations by Dodgson himself, fulfilling his promise to her. He dedicated the novel as “A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer’s Day”. It is an earlier draft of the final version of the novel. Once Dodgson finished the final version and allowed the children of his friends to read it and gained their positive responses, he approached John Tenniel to illustrate the book. He told the artist it was a novel beloved by children based on these informal readings. The novel’s first print run of 2000 copies in 1865 was held back due to Tenniel’s objections of the print quality. Dodgson switched to a New York publishing house where the print run sold out. Over time, the novel gained in popularity and is now considered a classic of the literary nonsense genre and it has not been out of print since. Sir John Tenniel is best known as an illustrator for his work in this and other Lewis Carrol books.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland begins on a summer day while Alice and her older sister are sitting on a river bank. Alice’s sister is reading a book and Alice noticed that the book didn’t have any pictures, which made the little girl lose interest in it. Being bored, Alice looks over the meadow and sees a large white rabbit running past her while looking at his pocket watch and speaking how he will be late. The rabbit disappears down a rabbit hole and Alice, being curious, follows him.

She enters a crazy world filled with fantastical characters and social situations where her innocence protects her from the insanity around her. She meets a hookah smoking caterpillar, joins in a mad tea party with the March Hare and the Hatter, is greeted by the Cheshire Cat and challenges the Queen of Hearts. As Alice begins to seek her way home, she is constantly being challenged by characters to solve word games, mathematical problems and having her own good sense questioned. A mixture of poetry, nonsense and social irony greets the young girl until she returns to the world above ground. Was it all just a fanciful dream in the end? You will have to decide.

I remember reading Alice in Wonderland for the first time as a child. It was a book that I happened to pick up in my school’s library. It was an enjoyable read and all the fantastical characters made me smile. It was not until I was older that I realized that there were layers to this novel, comments about the way that people were changing from a agricultural society into an industrial one and all the shifts in perception that this caused. As you study more about Lewis Carrol and his times, new perceptions of this book will strike you. This book has become a major influence on me as a writer. It it not just a story for the kids, it has meaning for adults as well.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Book CoverYou can find a free download of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at Project Gutenberg. It was one of the first novels that was transcribed there.

Tenniel Illustrations for Alice in Wonderland by Sir John Tenniel is also available for free download.

Book Review: Persuasion

Book Name: Persuasion
Author: Jane Austen
First Published: 1818

Jane Austen was forty years old when she penned her last complete novel, Persuasion. Her health was failing as she wrote and she would die at the young age of 41 before this novel would see print. Persuasion was bundled together with an earlier novel, Northanger Abby, and would prove to be her biggest bestseller. It was also the first of her novels to be published under her real name. Previously, all her novels had been written by the pen name “a lady”. While Persuasion lacks some of the polish of her earlier works due to the little time she had left to revise it to perfection, there are many who claim that it is her finest novel and most mature work of all. Persuasion has not been out of print for at least 150 years and is considered in the public domain.

Until this novel, Austen had always taken as her heroine a young inexperienced woman, falling in love for the first time. In Persuasion, Anne Elliot is twenty-seven years old, a spinster with common sense and decency, but with a beaten spirit. For her, love is something that belongs to her past, not the present. Before the novel opens, Anne is briefly engaged to marry a young naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but was persuaded to break off the understanding by her god-mother for reasons of prudence. She has spent the last eight years regretting this decision, and she does not expect to discover love again.

At the opening of the novel, Sir Walter Elliot, a vain and imprudent baronet, must rent his country house and move himself and his family to Bath to pay off his debts. Where once he and his three daughters were rich and respected, now they are poor and the subject of ridicule. His new tenants are Admiral Croft and his wife, Captain Wentworth’s sister. The pair move into Anne’s former home and invite Wentworth to join them. The tables have turned on the fortunes of Captain Wentworth, where once he was a poor navel officer with dubious prospects, now he is wealthy and an eligible bachelor. Being paid off by the navy, he is of a mind to settle down with the “first woman between 15 and 30” to catch his eye. Anyone, that is, except for Anne Elliot, the woman who had broken his heart.

Anne remains in the area to care for her ill sister, Mary Musgrove and tend to her nephews. Time has not been kind to Anne and she has become wane and thin, exhaustion taking its toll on her appearance. Anne and Captain Wentworth meet again due to proximity. The captain treats Anne with cool formality as he flirts with Mary’s two sister-in-laws. The younger women hero-worship Wentworth as they vie for his attentions, each hoping to capture his heart. At the same time, Anne notices small gestures of kindness in Wentworth’s behavior toward her, as if he can not bear to see her in discomfort, gestures that pull the spinster into a private mix of hopeless pleasure and pain, as Anne realizes that she still loves the captain.

During a two-day visit to the village of Lyme, the Musgroves and Anne meet the naval friends of Captain Wentworth and are charmed by their warmth and hospitality. Released from her obligations and refreshed by the sea air, Anne begins to regain some of her youthful complexion. This is noticed by not only Wentworth, but she is admired by other gentlemen in the village. The party’s visit is brought short by an accident on the Cobb and it is Anne’s common sense that saves the day.

After the visit to Lyme, Anne rejoins her father and elder sister in Bath, convinced that Captain Wentworth is to marry another woman. She takes the addresses of her cousin, William Elliot more seriously as she tries to move on with her life. Bath’s society paint the two as all but engaged. Then word comes that Wentworth and his intended have parted and she finds that the captain has suddenly arrived in Bath. Anne is overjoyed that this might mean she has a second chance at happiness with her captain, but how is she to let him know that he still is in her heart and that she has not accepted William Elliot’s offer of marriage? Would the captain risk making a second offer to her after she had refused him all those years ago?

Attempting to branch out my reading habits from a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy novels, I found a list of classic literature that I decided to use to guide my choice of novels from the local library. One of the authors on this list was Jane Austen. I could not decide which of her novels to begin with and because Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice were not available in the public library, I picked up Persuasion to be the first to cross off my list of recommended Austen classics. Opening the book, I found myself lost in a world of loneliness, sadness and of the hope of a second chance, not only by this quiet young woman, but by a dashing naval captain who was all to human in his hurt and memories of the past. I not only found myself in sympathy with Anne Elliot, but I was fascinated by the culture of the time. The breaking down of the tradition English class system, the elevation of men based on their merits instead of their birth, and the pride that the English people had in their navy. Persuasion reads today as a historical novel with contemporary overtones although it was penned during the Regency period itself. The characters are timeless and the situations as believable today as they were over 200 years ago. I’ve gone on to read all of Austen’s novels, but Persuasion remains my favorite of all her works and to my belief, is the most romantic of them all.

Persuasion Book CoverYou may find Persuasion at Project Gutenberg and in your local library.