Melancholic Mirages: Jules Verne's Vision of a Saharan Sea
L’invasion de la mer (The Invasion of the Sea), Verne’s last novel to be published during his lifetime, would appear to be a paradoxical vision of French colonial involvement as it chronicles the attempts of the French army occupying Tunisia and Algeria to capture Tuareg leaders bent on pushing the French out of the Maghreb on the one hand, and thwarting an environmentally disastrous French project on the other. L’Invasion de la mer (The Invasion of the Sea) is a complex, if not melancholic vision of the limits of French expansionism, however. The real-life French army geographer François-Elie Roudaire and his backer, Ferdinand de Lesseps, seem to fascinate Verne the most. Roudaire’s actual plans for the canal Verne writes about failed miserably but at the end of the novel, a tumultuous earthquake allows the “Saharan Sea” to be completed, kills the Tuareg leader and gives the victory to the French despite all their blunders. That Verne gives his final laurels to a failed inventor rather than flag-waving general serves as a wistful fin-de-siècle coda to what had been such innocently exuberant adventures at the start of his century.