Places: The Mysterious Island

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: L’Île mystérieuse, 1874-1875 (English translation, 1875)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: 1865-1869

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Richmond

*Richmond. Mysterious Island, TheVirginia capital of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War at the time this novel is set. Although Verne was fond of the United States, he never visited it. His creation of American places, such as Richmond, is based entirely on his reading and imagination. This adventure starts during the last days of the Civil War. The idea of place as prison is encountered in the novel’s initial location, Richmond, shortly before the South surrendered to the North to end the war. Under siege when the novel opens, Richmond becomes a Confederate “island” inside a Yankee ocean. Within the rebel island are five Northern prisoners who escape to begin their adventure.

Balloon

Balloon. Hijacked Confederate balloon that the escaping Northern prisoners use to get out of Richmond. The unfamiliar balloon craft becomes as real a prison to the Northerners as Richmond was, for they are caught for five days in the worst hurricane of the century, which carries them across North America and the Pacific Ocean.

Lincoln Island

Lincoln Island. Uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean on which the escaping Northerners’ balloon lands. There, they become castaways on a deserted island and are once again prisoners. Trapped without much hope of rescue, they determine to make the place a “Little America” and transform it through Yankee ingenuity and technology. They christen the island “Lincoln” in honor of Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States through the Civil War. Their choice of names is ironic, as Lincoln was known as the Great Liberator.

Verne, who loved history as much as geography, watches the five castaways transform a wilderness into a near-paradise, replicating in a short period the entire spectrum of human cultural evolution, starting with the domestication of animals, the introduction of agriculture, the invention of pottery, the development of textiles, and invention of stone tools. Eventually, the castaways find iron, pyrite, coal, clay, and lime, and create a “tiny Pittsburgh.” Steel supplements wood and stone for tools and weapons. A steam engine augments the wind and water power and the muscle power of animals and humans. The men build machinery and even install a telegraph line. Comfort and security characterize Granite House, a home in a cave on the side of a steep cliff. Verne suggests that earth, like Lincoln Island, is a place of profound ambiguity–ripe with opportunity and rife with danger.

<i>Nautilus</i>

Nautilus. Submarine under the command of Captain Nemo (previously introduced in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), who rescues the castaways from the island. Some 232 feet long and 26 feet wide, the submarine is a composite product of the world’s highest technology–its keel is from France, its shaft from London, its iron plates from Liverpool, its screws from Glasgow, and its engine from Prussia. This “Anonymous Giant” embodies for Verne both the positive and negative sides of science in its mission to free humanity from physical oppression. The profound ambiguity of Earth and its species is revealed in the self-willed destruction of the Nautilus, in the nature-caused annihilation of the colonists’ own escape ship. The survivors are later rescued by a U.S. naval ship.

*Iowa

*Iowa. Midwestern state in which the castaways settle after returning to the United States. Verne’s fascination with the American West, evident in Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), surfaces in his conclusion to this novel. Iowa becomes for the castaways both an escape and an opportunity for a new life in a new land. Symbolically it, like the entire West in the American mythos, is a place of new beginnings–the note on which Verne concludes his novel.

BibliographyAngenot, Marc. “Jules Verne: The Last Happy Utopianist.” In Science Fiction: A Critical Guide, edited by Patrick Parrinder. New York: Longmans, 1979. Focuses on a concept of circulation, seen as underlying the mainstays of the author’s narratives: characters, forces of nature, and scientific innovation. Describes Verne as happy in that mobility; views the knowledge that accompanies it as continual and positive.Costello, Peter. Jules Verne: Inventor of Science Fiction. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978. A detailed and lucid study of Verne’s life and works. Includes a thoughtful review and commentary of The Mysterious Island’s events and character significance.Evans, Arthur B. Jules Verne Rediscovered: Didacticism and the Scientific Novel. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1988. Scholarly, forthright discussion explores and clarifies myths and misunderstandings about Verne’s literary reputation and achievements. Perceives the author not as the father of science fiction but of scientific fiction and examines its social benefits.Jules-Verne, Jean. Jules Verne: A Biography. Translated and adapted by Roger Greaves. New York: Taplinger, 1976. Readable volume by Verne’s grandson, with illustrations and quotations adding to intimate flavor. Recounts highlights of the novel and circumstances related to its development.Lynch, Lawrence. Jules Verne. New York: Twayne, 1992. The first critical assessment of the complete works by the author. Includes generous synopsis of the novel and analysis of major themes, such as the island itself, and its interconnection with themes from other of Verne’s epics. Excellent introductory resource.
Categories: Places