Disegni di Robert Fulton


“….. Master, how many adventurous dreams we dreamed on the plots of your books: the earth, the sea, the sky and the universe. With you, with you poet of wonders, we crossed into a dream beyond science….” (in Death of Jules Verne 1905)

In fact, the novels of this writer take us on adventures set in the air, space, underground and sea.

He skilfully combines a flowing narrative style, full of optimism, with plausibility, based on the scientific and technological advances of his time of which he is a great researcher and popularizer.

From this wonderful mix, he lets himself be influenced, giving life to his stories that established him as one of the fathers of modern science fiction.

He anticipated technological developments and applications but, as a careful researcher, he was also inspired.

It is in the cycle of novels defined as “scientific”, exactly in the second volume of the trilogy composed of “The Children of the Captain” and “The Mysterious Island”, that we find, described by Captain Nemo, the Nautilus, in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. Verne was inspired by the work of the first operating submarine in the world, designed by American engineer Robert Fulton, built in 1800 for Napoleon, but the production was not funded either by the French or the British State, as it was considered “a terrible weapon, a morally unacceptable device”.

Here are some drawings by Robert Fulton:

Drawings by Robert Fulton


USS –Nautilus (SSN -571)

“Twenty thousand leagues under the sea” was first published in 1870. The motto of Verne’s Nautilus is “Mobilis in Mobili”  or “Mobile in a mobile element”, and is described as follows:

“It’s a very elongated cylinder with conical tips. It closely resembles the shape of a cigar, a form already adopted in London for many marine constructions. The length of this cylinder, from end to end, is exactly seventy meters and its maximum width is eight meters. It is not, therefore, built with the same proportions as your vapors, but its lines are sufficiently elongated and its hull is very tapered, so that the displaced water easily slides and does not oppose any resistance to its march. The two measures I have given you will allow you to easily obtain, with a simple calculation, the surface and volume of the Nautilus.” Its area measures 1,011.45 square meters and contains 1,500.2 cubic meters. Once fully immersed, it displaces 1500.2 cubic meters of water, or 1500.2 metric tons. The vessel can travel up to 50 knots (92.60 km/h).

It normally submerges leaving its upper part uncovered by one-tenth, but if the tanks are filled with water, it can submerge entirely disappearing from view and blending with the sea. It is amphibious and driven by “clean” electric motors powered by sodium-mercury batteries, and can reach speeds up to 50 knots. It can also operate an effective defense against the huge creatures that inhabit the seas.”

Drawing by Jules Verne

Drawing by Verne:

In an atmosphere of Cold War between the United States of America and the Soviet Union and frantic pursuit of the primacy for technological development between these two superpowers, in January 1954 the Americans launched the first nuclear-powered submarine in the history of all military navies: USS-Nautilus (SSN -571).

It was able to win a large number of records, first among them being the underwater navigation of the entire North Pole, which took place in 1958 from the Bering Strait to East Greenland.

These are the dimensions:

length 97.5 meters – width 8.5 meters; a displacement ranging between 2980 tons surfaced and 3520 submerged. Thanks to the nuclear reactor it was able to reach the speed of about 43 km/h, around 23 knots.

Admiral Rickover

The project was planned and supervised by Admiral Rickover, known as the “Father of the Nuclear Navy”. After a glorious career, in March 1980, the Nautilus was decommissioned from active service. Today it is a museum ship in the port where it all began, in Groton at the Submarine Force Museum.

Il Nautilus


Paris in the 20th Century

I don’t know about you, dear friends, but despite having read many novels of this author, I had missed one of his works that once again demonstrates the extraordinary nature of this character.

The title is “Paris in the 20th Century”, written in 1863 but discarded by the publisher, left forgotten in a drawer and published posthumously in 1994.

Once again, from this work, it emerges how Verne anticipates the times with a new literary genre. Verne has been called the father of modern science fiction and one of the authors who has most influenced the literature of the “fantastic”.

In his earlier novels we can find that atmosphere of collective optimism, of positive—and perhaps utopian—attitude towards a better life thanks to technological discoveries and industrial development.  Slowly, with advancing age and perhaps because of painful family events, this perspective begins to fade.

An image of 20th century Paris

In this story, the mistrust towards progress, machines and a future in which the individual risks losing oneself really transpires. That’s Verne’s intuition, that’s the first dystopian novel!

The paradox of the story lies in the fact that once again the futuristic imagination, the extraordinary foresight describe, in the mid-nineteenth century, the city (and the lifestyle, I might add) in which the work is published a century later.

With acute irony, “Paris in the 20th Century” is a metropolis organized: by machines that move by means of compressed air, on elevated tracks: one for the outward journey and the other for the return journey; by communication systems that recall network immateriality; by carriages held together by electromagnetic force.

No need for maintenance, no smoke, no steam, cars move thanks to an invisible force: an air engine dilated by gas combustion. At night Paris is bright as day with a “glow comparable to that of the sun”.

Here is a brief passage:

“The men of 1960 were not surprised by these wonders, they took advantage of them daily without any contentment, with their fast pace, with their hasty pace and their American impetus. It was clear that the demon of prosperity pushed them forward without rest and delay”.

“Paris”, but this noun could also be replaced with “The World”, pursues a spasmodic search for profit and exploitation and in the triumph of the cynical logic of the economy.

In this society, there is no longer a place for Art, for writers, for professors, for poets and musicians; libraries no longer exist. The radiant progress of science is contrasted by the dark death of Art.

Authors like Balzac and Dumas were unknown to make way for new poetic verses such as “Electric Harmonies” or “Meditations on Oxygen”, not to mention the “Poetic Parallelogram” or the “Decarbonated Odes”. Once again, Verne is able to cast his gaze far into the future.

A Walk Through Paris Early 20th Century – World Capital of Art