Verniana — Jules Verne Studies / Etudes Jules Verne — Volume 2 (2009–2010) — 125–132

Nemo, the Nautilus, and the Triumph of the Instrumented Will

Robert O'Connor


The monstrous in science fiction is commonly an externalization of all or part of the solitary will, the overreacher's selfhood manifested in some embodiment manufactured by his own conscious or subconscious mind. A parallel science-fiction phenomenon empowers the individual or the collective self to achieve feats beyond the body's limited capacities through the ingenuities of engineering. Combining aspects of the willed monstrous and the engineered and logically explicable marvelous, Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas focuses on a character whose ego combines many elements of 19th century willfulness and whose monstrous embodiment, the Nautilus, empowers its creator's will. As engineer, as collector, as taxonomist, as artist, as polymath, as imperialist, as revolutionary, as autocrat, as avenger, as misanthrope, as mercantilist, as environmental sentimentalist, as environmental rapist, as self-indulgent potentate, and as surrogate god, Captain Nemo is of his age though he believes himself opposed to it, and the Nautilus is the instrument by which he magnifies himself.

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