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20 000 leagues under the sea (book)

Last modified: 2017-11-04 by peter hans van den muijzenberg
Keywords: 20000 leagues under the sea | 20000 lieues sous les mers | nemo | captain nemo | verne (jules) | n (yellow on black) | anchor (yellow on black) |
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Captain Nemo

The flag flown by Captain Nemo in the book 20 000 lieues sous les mers" (Jules Verne) is described thusly:

Captain Nemo unfurled a black banner, bearing an N in gold embroidered on its quartered bunting.

Ron Miller, 10 April 2002

The flag reference is at the end of chapter 14 of part II:

So saying, Captain Nemo unfurled a black flag bearing a gold "N" on its quartered bunting.
This Gutenberg e-text (original French — but I don't have the book and can't check now) says:
Et ce disant, le capitaine Nemo déploya un pavillon noir, portant un N d'or écartéle sur son étamine.

Jan Mertens, 18 May 2005

The description is a tad unclear — quartered how, crosswise or diagonally? With what? And where's the N supposed to go — the center or in one of the quadrants? The lack of detail provided may mean that the flag cannot be reconstructed.
Eugene Ipavec, 10 May 2005

It is possible that Jules Verne was either being poetic or didn't know much about heraldry in the first place.
Marc Pasquin, 20 May 2005

Hetzel's illustrations

Here is a contemporary illustration from an early edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The picture is smallish, but can be mostly made out: a black flag, no visible quartering, a smallish "N" and above it, something. I also note that the flag in the illustration seems narrower than 2:3. Not quite in keeping with the book's description, but it does have seniority…
Eugene Ipavec, 14 May 2005

The book text, in my own opinion, does have seniority over any depiction, even one from the original editition (unless the illustrator were Jules Verne himself, which is not the case, though.)
António Martins, 15 May 2005

Something against the presence of a coat of arms is that Nemo had relinquished his princely title and become an anonymous rover of the seas. In the book, a related personal mark (the words "MOBILIS IN MOBILE" surrounding a letter "N") does not contain anything else which might indicate noble descent. I remember some engravings from the original edition (faithfully reproduced in various other-language reprints) showing the "N" very clearly – but nothing else. Note: the "N" in said engravings is rather thin! (But I haven't been able to find such image.)
Jan Mertens, 16 May 2005

I don't say it's not in the image but there shouldn't be a coat of arms! Nemo is 'nobody' [that's the meaning of his name], someone who has renounced his ties to any nation or title: Verne is clear on this. Another line of pursuit is to look up the original 'authorized' engravings — only showing the "N", I'm sure.
Jan Mertens, 18 May 2005

Escutcheon crowned "N" centered

reconstruction from unclear image
[version #3]
image by Eugene Ipavec, s/d

Examining the high-resolution enlargement of the engraving, it looks to me like a sketchy sort of escutcheon above the "N". One has to wonder if the idea wasn't suggested to Verne and the illustrator by Napoleon Bonaparte's family cipher.
William Dunning, 14 May 2005

It looks a bit like a quartered heraldic shield or something like that… The whole thing looks quite napoleonic…
António Martins-Tuválkin, 15 May 2005

It looks far more like an escutcheon if you open up the large version of the file.
James Dignan, 16 May 2005

Actually, it does look like an escutcheon. There seems to be a shield with a squarish shape inside, and an arch or cap-like thing above it all.
Eugene Ipavec, 16 May 2005

Anchor crowned "N" centered

reconstruction from unclear image
[version #2]
image by Eugene Ipavec, s/d

I could be mistaken but I think the thing could be some form of anchor. Would make sense.
Marc Pasquin, 14 May 2005

I'll go along with the anchor interpretation. The engraving is simply not detailed enough to make it clear, but the wider part at the top of the enlargement makes it quite probable that Marc is right. Since the captain is not here to explain, I think that's where we'll have to leave it.
William Dunning, 15 May 2005

Regular "N" on canton quarter

[version #5]
image by António Martins, 15 May 2005

If you look at this image taken from this page, the "N" is shifted towards the canton.
Jan Mertens, 18 May 2005

I'd agree with having the "N" in the upper fly. I think Verne may have been confusing "écartéle" (old Fr. "escartelé" or "esquartelé"), "quarterly", with (old Fr.) "ou quartier", meaning "on the canton" or "in the dexter chief".
"Antallan Picocosm", 19 May 2005

Ethymologicaly, "écarteler" means "torn into four parts" and as such was the French word used for the sentence known in English as "drawn and quartered" and the blason term for a field cut into four parts. By analogy, it came also to mean stretch by all (four) sides.
Marc Pasquin, 20 May 2005

Jules Verne having confused "écartéle" with "au quartier" is a very plausible hypothesis. In old French, "esquarterer" means to divide into quarters; the modern sense of "écarteler" is to divide into four ("quatre") parts, that is "to quarter". Heraldry and torture use the same word, either in French or English.
Ivan Sache, 20 May 2005

Overall "N" on quartered field

reconstruction from unclear original text
[version #1]
image by Eugene Ipavec, 10 May 2005

The "N" is «quartered upon the cloth», and this seems to mean "to spread out" on it (no dictionary I consulted confirmed this opinion of mine however). Engravings of the original edition will show… or I recall that they showed… the "N" firmly in the centre of the flag.
Jan Mertens, 18 May 2005

Stylized "N" on canton quarter

reconstruction from unclear text
[version #4]
image by "Antallan Picocosm", 19 May 2005

You could render this without using an "N" glyph, but with two pales and a bend.
"Antallan Picocosm", 19 May 2005

Verne could have meant "écartéle" in the sense of "stretched to occupy most of the space".
Marc Pasquin, 19 May 2005

Is that a meaning of "écartéle"? It's certainly not a meaning of "quarterly"!
"Antallan Picocosm", 20 May 2005