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THE SURVIVORS OF THE CHANCELLOR was issued in 1875. Shipwrecks occur in other of Verne's tales; but this is his only story devoted wholly to such a disaster. In it the author has gathered all the tragedy, the mystery, and the suffering possible to the sea. All the various forms of disaster, all the possibilities of horror, the depths of shame and agony, are heaped upon these unhappy voyagers. The accumulation is mathematically complete and emotionally unforgettable. The tale has well been called the "imperishable epic of shipwreck."
The idea of the book is said to have originated in the celebrated French painting by Gericault, "the Wreck of the Medusa," now in the Louvre gallery. The Medusa was a French frigate wrecked off the coast of Africa in 1816. Some of the survivors, escaping on a raft, were rescued by a passing ship after many days of torture. Verne, however, seems also to have drawn upon the terrifying experiences of the British ship Sarah Sands in 1857, her story being fresh in the public mind at the time he wrote. The Sarah Sands caught fire off the African coast while on a voyage to India carrying British troops. There was gunpowder aboard liable to blow up at any moment. Some of it did indeed explode, tearing a huge hole in the vessel's side. A storm added to the terror, and the waters entering the breach caused by the explosion, combated with the fire. After ten days of desperate struggle, the charred and sinking vessel reached a port.
The extreme length of life which Verne allows his people in their starving, thirsting condition is proven possible by medical science and recent "fasting"' experiments. The dramatic climax of the tale wherein the castaways find fresh water in the ocean is based upon a fact, one of those odd geographical facts of which the author made such frequent, skillful and instructive use.
"Michael Strogoff" which, through its use as a stage play, has become one of the best known books of all the world, was first published in 1876. Its vivid, powerful story has made it a favorite with every red-blooded reader. Its two well-drawn female characters, the courageous heroine, and the stern, endurant, yearning mother, show how well Verne could depict the tenderer sex when he so willed. Though usually the rapid movement and adventure of his stories leave women in subordinate parts.
As to the picture drawn in "Michael Strogoff" of Russia and Siberia, it is at once instructive and sympathetic. The horrors are not blinked at, yet neither is Russian patriotism ignored. The loyalty of some of the Siberian exiles to their mother country is a side of life there which is too often ignored by writers who dwell only on the darker view.
The Czar, in our author's hands, becomes the hero figure to the erection of which French "hero worship" is ever prone. The sarcasms thrown occasionally at the British newspaper correspondent of the story, show the changing attitude of Verne toward England, and reflect the French spirit of his day.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER I THE CHANCELLOR