Here at The Devil of History we were delighted to run across a new edition of Jules Verne’s first take on the American Civil War. The Blockade Runners (Les forceurs de blocus) is a sort of scientific romance—short on the science, long on the romance—that Verne wrote in 1865. It’s one of those classic stories: Boy plans to run the blockade and sell contraband arms to southern slaveholders; Boy meets abolitionist Girl whose father is rotting in a Southern prison; Boy decides to save Girl’s father; Boy does so, while still selling contraband arms to southern slaveholders; Girl swoons; couple marries; Boy’s uncle makes 375% profit on the blockade-running. Yes, Verne really was that sympathetic to social injustice.
Still, The Blockade Runners shows some signs of the genius in Verne’s later work, like with the bluff American servant Crockston, a sort of muscular Passepartout-with-aplomb. Verne unleashes a special sort of enthusiasm in his descriptions of The Dolphin, the Boy’s super-swift Clyde-built blockade runner. If you ever wondered what a French adventure novelist would have thought of the American Civil War, The Blockade Runners is your book: a fascinating trip into a world where ships are fast, women are winsome, and the War is just some ongoing unpleasantness.
The new edition of Jules Verne’s The Blockade Runners (Luath Press, 2011) is translated by Karen Loukes and features an essay on Verne and Glasgow by Ian Thompson.