Thursday, April 5, 2012

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne

I've never read Jules Verne before, so the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge was a good chance to get around to trying one out. It was pretty enjoyable; I was slow to get into it, but after a while I was very interested. What a story!

I read a different version than most people see. Back in the early 90's, the Naval Institute Press came out with a new translation, complete with annotations and plenty of nice lithograph illustrations. It's a big book, and a bit unwieldy. The important thing was the new translation, which is much more exact and includes all the original material.

I was surprised to learn that the usual English version of 20,000 Leagues is about 75% as long as it ought to be. Much of the technical and descriptive material was just left out or skimmed over. The notes of my edition were pretty ticked off about this, and had a lot to say about how scholars have criticized Verne over and over for his lack of scientific accuracy, because they relied on a faulty translation and never bothered to check the original French, which is as accurate as any fanatic could wish it to be. The editor was, in fact, kind of obsessed with this point, and really hammered it home at great length.

The inhabitants of the amazing Nautilus submarine travel all over the world. They visit tropical islands and the South Pole, with plenty of adventure. They also kill a lot of animals. I know they're Victorians and don't have the same ethics, but it's still a bit jarring to read something like "we found this amazing, beautiful bird which is very rare, so we ate it." Or even "maybe we shouldn't kill this dugong, since they're being hunted to extinction, but...what the heck." (Come to think of it, this is a funny quirk of mine. I'm mostly just fine with reading horrifically sexist antique literature; that's part of the deal if you read old books. The animal-killing bugs me more--and I don't even like interacting with animals much.)

The other thing I learned was about the "20,000 leagues" part. Somehow I'd always assumed that the title was a poetic exaggeration of the depth to which the Nautilus plunged, but in fact the story is a chronicle of a journey 20,000 leagues long that takes place under the sea. I gather that this is not an uncommon error, and so, if you thought that too, now you know. Or maybe I'm the only one and I'm just not very clever.

I can't say that rip-roaring adventure in the Verne style is exactly my favorite sort of thing, so I don't know that I'll read more, but it was a good story and I'm happy to have broadened my literary horizons a bit.


amanda @ simplerpastimes said...

It's good to know that about the translation. It's on my Classics Club list and I probably would have just picked up the first copy I found. I too has assumed 20,000 leagues referred to a depth, so you're not the only one!

Cassandra said...

What?! The 20,000 leagues do not refer tothe depth?! We should make a survey to find out how many people know this, I bet it's less than 1% of the world's population.

Also the fact that many parts from the original are simply left out seems to be not so uncommon as one might think, at least regarding French books. I can't tell you how many pains it took me to find an unabridged German translation of Les Misérables: the common one only has 600 pages instead if 1700. I know I have already whined about this, butI just can't believe that no one except for me seems to be bothered!

Oh, and I love your examples for the characters' tendency to kill animals, they make them sound really clever :)

Amy said...

Well, now I feel compelled to get the new translation. That incomplete one sitting on my shelf upstairs is going to bug me until I do. I *hate* abridgements--it must be the whole thing, even if I don't actually read it all!

And, uh, yes, I also didn't know that about the 20,000 leagues. :)

Jean said...

Yay, I'm not the only one! I'm happy about that, and also that you all understand about the necessity of a good translation. Once I saw this edition, I knew I had to read it and took back the other copy I'd already gotten from the public library.