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Old 03-23-2013, 09:16 PM   #31
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OK - what to say.

Firstly, the essence of this adventure story was great and brought back memories. The reason I wanted to read this story this year was as a tribute to the great adventure stories that really fuelled my interest in reading (albeit in abridged for younger reader editions). So the story itself I really enjoyed except for the ending. I've never been a fan of the unconsciousness mechanism that seems to be used by authors to avoid logically tough conundrums in plot - maelstrom anyone? It's a really lazy plot device and I don't appreciate it.

I didn't mind the queer dialogue even though it was unbearably polite. I'm used to dirtier language in my books.

Where I got bogged down in this story was the cataloguing, science and history. In fact, I could have enjoyed most of the science and history if they weren't inundated with endless lists of sea creatures. Lists in general are not great things to have in stories and there were so many in this book I felt like I was looking at an underwater grocery receipt. Putting aside the complete cop-out at the end of the story, it was the cataloguing that marred my appreciation of this story, even if it may have made it even more appropriate for the book club category than I imagined it would be.

Now - back to the story. I thought that perhaps we could view this story as one of three characters: Nemo, Ned Land and Conseil. I'm removing the narrator from the equation as I don't think he really exists.

Nemo seems to represent a rebellion against the aggressor and a hero for the oppressed. To me, such a study is always going to be fascinating because it's bound to bring up all sorts of contradictions and Nemo is certainly no exception.

His history is fairly mysterious and leaving aside what we might find out The Mysterious Island or from understanding Verne's original plans for Nemo's nationality, the important details are actually given in this work. Everyone he loved was destroyed by an oppressor and this is what motivates him to separate himself almost entirely from humanity. However, this separatism - even as an ideal - becomes muddied and problematic.

Before we even get into any actual examples, we have the basic problem of his attitude towards Nautilus itself. It is a vessel to conquer - if not the other vessels of man, than the sea itself. How invincible he is in Nautilus is brought up several times. What he can do that others can't is almost deliberately demonstrated to the narrator time and time again. Nemo has the attitude of a conqueror with a sympathy for the oppressed and already I'm a little uneasy. This is enhanced when we see Nemo claiming the Antarctic for himself, a land grab being one of the many reasons that we experience oppressors and oppressed throughout history.

One thing I found interesting was that when his invincibility is really tested, Nemo doesn't cope all that well. The first example of this was when one of the crew dies during the secret attack that happens "off screen". Two other key examples are the battle of the octopi and the battle with nature when trapped in the ice bank. Nemo does not cope very well with any of these situations and I think his reactions are somehow the point of these encounters in the story. I'm not sure I can put my finger on it yet so I'll keep thinking about it.

Then, there are the more interesting aspects of Nemo's "noble" appreciation of the oppressed versus his actual responses. There were a couple of places where I noticed this.

Firstly, the support of the oppressed in Crete against the Ottoman Empire. This was a more subtle response by providing funds to the oppressed.

The second for me was the support of the Baleen whales against the Sperm whales. In some ways, I thought this was Nemo's most contradictory response in the novel and the first time I really thought that Verne might be making a strong statement about not just the notion of revenge, but that of rebellion. I found it interesting to juxtapose Nemo against Ned Land throughout this scene. This is where I thought that Land might have represented the status quo of humanity - the choice of his surname being quite deliberate. Land does want to harpoon the baleen to which Nemo objects on the grounds that it's not needed and that the baleen whale is a useful beast. The position isn't totally off-centre, but then Nemo's response, the slaughter of the Sperm whale seems like such a horrible over-reaction in response, to destroy rather than protect. Land is quite happy with the sport, but not that content with the slaughter and Nemo and Land are definitely at odds at the end of the debacle.

The whale scene was much more powerful to me than the final scene, where Nemo destroys the ship of his nameless oppressors. Although this was an act of revenge and Nemo could have easily avoided the slaughter, at the same time, he was at least being attacked. The ship in question would have happily destroyed Nemo and Nautilus and so I find the destruction unleashed somewhat less pronounced than that of the whales. Nevertheless - the whale scene to me is a precursor of this one.

So we have Nemo and Land - civilisation and the rebel, the oppressor and the avenger. Then we have Conseil, who I think represents the dispassion of science. I think this character is there to support Verne's respect for science. Conseil is constantly edified in almost every reference. While the narrator lends and withdraws support from Land and Nemo throughout the novel, there is nothing but praise for Conseil, the cataloguer extraodinaire. And given just how much scientific explanation and oceanic research is evident in the novel, I think a case can be made that Verne elevates this above the battle represented by Nemo and Land.

It was only in the latter half of the novel that some of these ideas started occurring to me. I'm known for not bothering to read accepted analyses of books like this partly for lack of time and partly because I like to extract what I can independently, so there may be plenty of flaws in my thinking, but feel free to correct or expand upon my ideas as discussing books is fun.
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Old 03-24-2013, 05:30 AM   #32
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That's a very fine post! It gives me lots to think about. Thanks!
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Old 03-24-2013, 10:41 AM   #33
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I'm still reading, but think I've enjoyed the endnotes as much as the story itself so far.

I'm fascinated by Verne's vision and definitely liked reading a little of his own history in the preface of my edition, though the story is reading slower than I would've thought. I did not realize that it had originally been published as a serialization. I can imagine readers of the day looking forward with great excitement to the next instalment. Maybe I can employ that tactic, setting aside a bit to read each day, to get me to the end. It normally makes up my lunchtime reading...which of late is only about 15 minutes a day.

Great comments by all so far....leaving me with fresh perspective as I dive back in (pun intended).
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Old 03-24-2013, 02:45 PM   #34
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I'm still reading, but think I've enjoyed the endnotes as much as the story itself so far.

I'm fascinated by Verne's vision and definitely liked reading a little of his own history in the preface of my edition, though the story is reading slower than I would've thought. I did not realize that it had originally been published as a serialization. I can imagine readers of the day looking forward with great excitement to the next instalment. Maybe I can employ that tactic, setting aside a bit to read each day, to get me to the end. It normally makes up my lunchtime reading...which of late is only about 15 minutes a day.

Great comments by all so far....leaving me with fresh perspective as I dive back in (pun intended).
Many of the classics were published in a serialized format originally. Dickens was well known for that and Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde was as well I believe. We don't often think of that fact because we have the finished product available to us.
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Old 03-24-2013, 04:07 PM   #35
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Many of the classics were published in a serialized format originally. Dickens was well known for that and Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde was as well I believe. We don't often think of that fact because we have the finished product available to us.
Not just "many" but "virtually all", if we're talking about those published in the middle to end of the 19th century.
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Old 03-25-2013, 07:28 PM   #36
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Not just "many" but "virtually all", if we're talking about those published in the middle to end of the 19th century.
I stand corrected.
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Old 03-26-2013, 12:33 AM   #37
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I wonder what Mr. Verne would have said if someone had told him that his book would still be being read and discussed some 143 years after it was published.
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