With his Head in the Clouds: Jules Verne Visiting Vigo

Anything one person can imagine, others can make real”, said the old author of adventure and science. Today, much of what Jules Verne imagined others have made real, from space travel to telecommunications and transport. Drinking from all the sources of science, Jules Verne created other worlds of possibility in his novels, reminding us of and personifying Einstein’s dictum that the imagination is more important than knowledge.

Verne’s soaring imagination took his readers on trains, submarines, and balloons all across the world, under the world, and over the world, opening wide Victorian eyes to the marvels of other geographies and societies in such books as Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. If these books remain entertaining today, then for Verne’s audience of the nineteenth century his tales of underworld monsters and overseas exotics must have seemed the most incredible.

IMG_2001_lznOn his travels to the British Indies, Verne would soak up the torrent of ethnographic and scientific material which was coming from his contemporaries working in the fields of geography, geology, archaeology, biology, anthropology… On one such journey he stopped by the Atlantic city of Vigo, a city which in his day was steaming ahead in material progress with the engines that revolutionised maritime transport and industry, opening Galicia up to the world’s ports and the continent’s railways.

His imagination could float us into the stratosphere, steam us across the Earth’s crust, submerge us into oceanic trenches, and descend us into the core.

–  Lives and Times

In Vigo Verne learnt of the mythology that surrounds the Battle of the Rande – a battle between Franco-Spanish and Anglo-Dutch galleons that took place in Vigo in 1702 during the Spanish War of Succession – which captivated the author’s imagination with its story of “the greatest treasure that has ever crossed the oceans” being sunk somewhere in the Bay of Vigo. Verne took this legend and used it in his novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, wherein Capitain Nemo endeavours to discover the sunken gold and silver to finance further submarine adventures. In reality, this bounty of New World riches has never been found despite hundreds upon thousands of expeditions and dives to the bottom of the bay.

Statue of Jules Verne in the city of Vigo, imagined seated upon a colossal octopus

Commemorating Verne’s visits to the city and its staring in his Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Vigo today hosts an enchanting exhibition on the life and time of the French author, taking the visitor back to both a childhood and Victorian awe of a natural and human world yet ‘discovered’. This was the golden age of discoveries when the Orient and Occident became inextricably linked through the journeying of naturalists, artists, and merchants who brought home to their audiences their impressions (and misconceptions) about the East.

Verne was a man whose intellectual energies were sustained on an enormous diet of the accounts and chronicles of these travellers and scientists, integrating their experiences and experiments into his fantastic novels which captivated both the lay and learned in his day and ours. His knowledge was impressive, yes, but it was his imagination which could float us into the stratosphere, steam us across the Earth’s crust, submerge us into  its oceanic trenches, and descend us into the core.

This article was inspired after a visit to the Museo Marco of Vigo, which has on display its exhibition Jules Verne: The Boundaries of the Imagination, until September 2018.

Lives and Times…

Lives and Times is inspired by the far flung and the exotic, the fantastic and the preposterous.
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