The Begum’s Millions

ISBN: 0819567965
ISBN 13: 9780819567963
By: Jules Verne Arthur B. Evans Stanford L. Luce Peter Schulman

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About this book

When two European scientists unexpectedly inherit an Indian rajah's fortune, each builds an experimental city of his dreams in the wilds of the American Northwest. France-Ville is a harmonious urban community devoted to health and hygiene, the specialty of its French founder, Dr. Francois Sarrasin. Stahlstadt, or City of Steel, is a fortress-like factory town devoted to the manufacture of high-tech weapons of war. Its German creator, the fanatically pro-Aryan Herr Schultze, is Verne's first truly evil scientist. In his quest for world domination and racial supremacy, Schultze decides to showcase his deadly wares by destroying France-Ville and all its inhabitants. Both prescient and cautionary, The Begum's Millions is a masterpiece of scientific and political speculation and constitutes one of the earliest technological utopia/dystopias in Western literature. This Wesleyan edition features notes, appendices, and a critical introduction as well as all the illustrations from the original French edition.

Reader's Thoughts


** spoiler alert ** review of Jules Verne's The Begum's Fortune by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 13, 2013 Earlier this yr, I was reading The Science Fiction Stories of Rudyard Kipling (see my review here: ) & there was a capsule review from the Washington Post Book World on the back cover that praised it thusly: "The equal of Wells and the superior of Verne"." Well, I didn't agree so I decided to read some more Verne again - not having done so for a long time. When I was young, probably pre-teen, I'd read the famous ones: A Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, & the less famous Master of the World. Later I discovered the more obscure Lighthouse at the End of the World & the 'lost novel' Paris in the Twentieth Century. Maybe I even read the short bio by Franz Born: The Man Who Invented the Future. But recently I was pleasantly surprised to find 8 more novels by him that I'd never heard of, all part of the "Fitzroy" Edition edited by I. O. Evans, so I plucked them up & decided to read them in chronological order starting w/ this one. "The intention of this new edition [new in 1958, ie] of one of the greatest writers is to make it as comprehensive as possible, and to include his lesser-known, as well as his most popular works." (p 192) Perfect! I'm interested in the "lesser-known" works. The intro by Evans states that: ""Jules Verne" said H. G. Wells, "made some remarkable forecasts" and some of the most remarkable are contained in this book. Yet, as Wells explained, they had a factual basis; and here it was the Franco-Prussian War. This not only brought home to Verne the menace of German militarism but made him realize what war might become when throughly mechanized." [..] "So, perhaps, he derived the idea of the two rival cities, and Dickens' Bleak House suggested a plausible device for bringing them into being.* *From Dickens, too, he gained another idea which he used in a tale of adventure published a little before The Begum's Fortune: a savage chieftain in Dick Sands the Boy Captain dies, though more plausibly than a character in Bleak House, of spontaneous combustion!" Bleak House being my favorite Dickens novel that perked up my interest. The intro continues w/: "He was probably the first to envisage the launching of an artificial satellite; and this may conceivably end, as he showed it as beginning, as a war-weapon." I'm, of course, reminded of the satellite-based aspects of the Strategic Defense Initiative announced on March 23, 1983, by then-President Reagan. "He foresaw, too, the dangers of long-range bombardment with gas shells and showers of incendiary bombs, and the attempts which would be made to counteract them by mass evacuation schemes and the formation of a Civil Defence Service provided with fire-fighting equipment. "He regarded other developments as even more disquieting than such weapons: the attempt of German militarism to dominate the world and the rise of a totalitarian state, rigidly directing its people's lives and infested by political police. Here it is significant that the illustrations of Herr Schultz, in the original French edition of this book, resemble a portrait of Bismarck deprived of his moustache!" - p 6 & all those foresights are nothing to write off as trivial! Let's say this bk predicts nazism. It was written in 1879. Cd you write something NOW, in 2013, that wd foresee a particular political event in, say 2075? This was written 35 yrs before Heinrich Mann's Little Superman, the other main novel that I can think of that predicts nazism (see my review here: ). All in all, I thought this was great. Verne makes fun of pompous ranking titles & otherwise shows an appreciation for more democratized ways of doing things. Nonetheless, I've only given this bk a 3 star rating b/c he also still has plenty of racist & classist dregs in his approach that undermine his egalitarianism. Early on, he describes the way a person's having an abundance of money wrongly influences people's perception of that person. Fair enuf. But then he writes: "Had he been a humpbacked dwarf, an ignorant Hottentot, the lowest specimen of humanity, instead of one of its most intelligent representatives, his value would have been the same as Lord Glandover had expressed it, he "was worth" henceforth just twenty-one million pounds, no more and no less." (pp 35-36) A "humpbacked dwarf" is not necessarily a so-called inferior being. Nor is a "Hottentot" - wch was an offensive name at the time for a member of the Khoikhoin, a pastoral people of Namibia and South Africa. Verne is highly offended by the German devaluing of the French but has no problem devaluing Africans in pretty much the same way. Alas, many aspects of this bk run along similar lines. A main character of the bk, A Frenchman, thru no effort of his own, inherits a HUGE fortune from a distant relative who was imperialistically lording it over the natives in India. Verne doesn't question the justice of this at all. Instead, he has the lucky man enhanced to heroic proportions b/c he makes a seemingly humanitarian proposal: ""Why should we not, by uniting the powers of our minds, produce the plan of a model city, based upon strictly scientific principles?" (Cries of "Her, Hear.") "Why should we not afterwards devote our capitol to the erection of such a city, and then present it to the world as a practical illustration of what all cities ought to be?" (Hear, Hear! and thunders of applause.)" - p 38 The villain, Professor Schultz, then comes into the picture, attempting to wrest the Frenchman's inheritance from him by consulting w/ the English lawyer who's arranged it: "His aim was to demonstrate to this Englishman, this Mr. Sharp, that by rights the German race should, in all things, predominate over all others. His object in putting forth a claim to this inheritance was chiefly that it might be snatched from french hands, which could not fail to make absurd use of it. What he hated in his rival was his nationality. Had he been a German he certainly should not have interfered, etc., etc." If there weren't so much 20th century history of Germany attacking France this wd seem like another unfortunate stereotype. Alas, tho, even that is probably a bit historically inaccurate given that it was France that declared war on Germany in the Franco-Prussian War in Verne's lifetime that was partial inspiration for this bk. Verne even takes a dig at law-suits (w/ the relevance of Bleak House thusly appearing) by parodying the solicitor Sharp's profit motive when considering Schultz's claim to the money: "But this relationship, being in a secondary degree to that of Doctor Sarrasin, would give only secondary rights to the inheritance. The solicitor perceived, however, the possibility of lawfully sustaining them, and in this possibility he foresaw another which would be much to the advantage of Billows, Green, and Sharp, something which would change the Langévol affair, already productive, into a very good thing, indeed, a second case of the "Jarndyce versus Jarndyce" of Dickens. An extensive horizon of stamped paper, deeds, documents of all sorts, rose before the yes of the man of law; and, what was even more enticing, he saw a compromise conducted by himself, Sharp, to the interest of both his clients, which would equally bring to himself honour and profit." - p 47 Sarrasin's plan of a model city is mocked by Schultz, whose negative perception of it is based on his notion of the superiority of the German people. Again, given that this novel's from 1879, what Verne has Schultz thinking, saying, & doing is eerily prescient of nazism. So eerily prescient, in fact, that it's bizarre to think that there was this much advance warning: "He thought this enterprise absurd and to his mind it was sure to fail, as it opposed the law of progress, which decreed the uprooting of the Latin race, its subjection to the Saxon, and at last its disappearance from the surface of the globe. However, these results might be held in check if the doctor started to carry out his programme and even more so, if there were any prospect of its success. It was, therefore, the duty of every true Saxon, in the interest of general order, to obey this appointed law, and bring this insane enterprise to nothing - if he could. In the circumstances it was quite clear that he, Schultz, M.D.., privat docent of chemistry in Jena University, known by his numerous works on the different human races - works in which it was proved that the German race was to absorb all others - it was quite clear that he was especially designed by the great creative and destructive forces of nature to annihilate the pigmies who were struggling against it." (p 54) Substitute Aryan for Saxon & Jewish for Latin & you've got a pretty typical taste of nazi propaganda. Verne seems to further his peaceful notions in his grim depictions of the arms manufacturing city that Schultz then goes on to have built: "In five years there sprang up on this bare and rocky plain eighteen villages, composed of small wooden houses, all alike, brought ready-built from Chicago, and containing a large population of rough workmen. "In the midst of these villages, at the very foot of the Coal Butts, as the inexhaustible mountains of coal are called, rises a dark mass, huge, and strange, an agglomeration of regular-shaped buildings, pierced with symmetrical windows, covered with red roofs, and surrounded by a forest of cylindrical chimneys, which continually vomit forth clouds of dense smoke. Through the black curtain which veils the sky dart red lightning-like flames, while a distant roaring resembles that of thunder or the beating of the surf on a rocky shore." (pp 57-58) I write that "Verne seems to further his peaceful notions" in the above b/c that doesn't necessarily turn out to be true later on. However, while this review has some spoilers I don't wan to give it all away. After all, this is a fairly entertaining novel, worth reading even despite my criticisms. Interestingly, in Schultz's city there's something reminiscent of Centralia, Pennsylvania (& many, MANY other places): "not far from the spot was a coal mine permanently on fire". (p 89) Schultz's megalomania is depicted: "The truth was that Max had. at first glance seen through the character of his formidable patron, and perceiving that blind and insatiable vanity was its leading feature, he regulated his conduct by humouring the egotism which he despised. / In a dew days the young man had acquired such skill in the fingering necessary for this human keyboard, that he could play upon Schultz as easily as one plays on a piano." (pp 91-92) Of course, the "In a dew days" is a typo in the bk & shd read "In a few days". I rather like it so I think I'll treat it as a 'happy accident' & exploit it a little in this review. In the dew course of the narrative, we're treated to a Verne the Frenchman's disdain for German cooking: ""Those sausages were delicious, weren't they?" remarked Herr Schultz, whose love of his favorite dish was unaffected by the Begum's millions. / "Delicious!" returned Max, who had heroically partaken of this mess every evening, till at last he hated the very sight of it." (p 94) In dew time at all, we even get to gassing, that nightmare of diabolical human invention so heavily associated w/ WWI & II: "An enormous volume of carbonic acid gas rushes into the air, and a cold of a hundred degrees below zero seizes upon the surrounding atmosphere. Every living thing within a radius of thirty yards from the centre of the explosion is at once frozen and suffocated." (p 100) Various implausibilities mar the story slightly. As in so many stories of this kind w/ heavy 'good'-guy-vs-'bad'-guy action, the 'bad' guy often prolongs the execution of his enemy in a completely unbelievable way so that the 'good' guy can ultimately, of course, make his escape. The coordinates of Sarrasin's model city are given: ""The place where the new city now stands was five years ago a complete desert. The exact spot lies 43º 11' 3" north latitude, and 124º 41' 17" west longitude. """It will be seen that this is on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and at the foot of the secondary chain of the Rocky Mountains, called the Cascade Mountains, sixty miles to the north of White Cape, Oregon State, North America.["]" - p 119 In 1879, that are of North America must've seemed like extreme wilderness. That got me wondering what's there now. The result I got from is actually IN the Pacific Ocean off Coos Bay in Oregon. Alas, this model city, this exemplar of how the world shd live, is built by "an army of twenty thousand Chinese coolies, under the direction of five hundred overseers and European engineers". (p 120) & in the German newspaper that's reporting on this model city there's a curiously conflicted reporting on these "coolies": "Several states had, in the interest of their own population, actually expelled these unfortunate people en masse." [..] "The wages were deposited every week, in the presence of delegates in the great bank of San Francisco, and every coolie was warned that when he drew it out he was not to return. This precaution was absolutely necessary to get rid of a yellow population, which would have infallibly lowered the tone and standard of the new city." (p 121) So is this description of a 'Yellow Peril' an invention of the racist German newspaper or an unquestioned part of the 'model city'? It's hard to tell from the story but at least the 'coolies' are still thre after the building of the city judging from this description from 5 yrs later after the city's established: "Gangs of coolies banked up the earth, dug trenches" etc. Never, however, are these Chinamen ever mentioned in any context other than as laborers. A 5,000 yr old civilization & all the Chinese are good for is labor? What's wrong w/ this picture? Much of this bk is just Verne's excuse for providing a description of what he imagines to be an ideal city. It doesn't really seem that appealing to me. Take, eg, "The plan of the town is essentially simple and regular, the roads crossing at right angles, at equal distances, of a uniform width, planted with trees, and numbered" & "They are also accustomed to such strict cleanliness that they consider a spot on their simple clothes quite a disgrace." (p 125) But back in the arms manufacturing town, things are even worse: "Invested with almost absolute power over their subordinates, they were each, in regard to Herr Schultz - as they were in regard to his memory - like so many human tools, without authority, without ability to show initiative or any voice in anything. Each ensconced himself within the narrow limits of his duty, waited, temporized, and watched the course of events." (p 160) Nonetheless, one of the remarkable charms of this novel is that it seems to've been written in the 20th century until one gets to passages like this: "The wisest and most prudent among the workmen, those who has foreseen hard times and had laid by for a rainy day, hastened to escape with bag and baggage; and happy rosy-cheeked children, wild with delight at the new world revealed to them, peeped through the curtains of the departing waggons". (p 162) Yes, "waggons", we're back in the 19th century. Verne does dabble w/ class references, but in the usual bourgeois way. In response to impending war, the "common danger had united the citizens more closely. All classes had been brought nearer to each other and knew themselves to be brothers, animated with the same feelings, and affected by the same interests." (p 165) So why are their classes at all? Presumably, even in this 'model city' it's like the English Civil War: the bourgeoisie unites w/ the laborers to knock the aristocracy down a notch &.. then.. it's back to business-as-usual. But Verne isn't completely w/o political sense: "For indeed, isn't the best government the one where the chief, when he dies can be most easily replaced, and which will go on working smoothly, just because all the machinery is open and visible?"" (p 184) Of course, from my anarchist perspective, the 'need' for a government or a chief are both delusional.

Tiago Cardoso

It's incredible to perceive that both good and evil characters come from the heart of the same person. This title reinforces how brilliant Julio Verne was.


An excellent translation complete with notes.


This book creates a very interesting situation but ends with a very abrupt anticlimax. A French doctor (Sarrasin) and a German professor (Schulze)inherit shares in an immense Indian fortune.Both create ideal communities in Oregon (but legallyautonomous). The Frenchman's community, Frankville, is a peaceful, artistic, fanatically hygenic community. (One point Verne makes, which modern medicine seems now to be realizing, is that concentrating sick people together in large hospitals increases the spread of infections.) The German's city, Stahlstadt, is a vast industrial complex with its own coal mines and steel foundries, devoted to producingever larger and more effective weapons, especially cannon.Max Bruckmann, an Alsatian loyal to the French, infiltratesthe German city and learns Schulze's plans for destroyingFrankville; he then escapes by a very neatly foreshadowed variation on the old swim-through-the flooded-tunnel trick, and returns to organize the defense of Frankville. Schulze'sfirst attack fails by an unlikely error, and then Schulze vanishes, abruptly ending the great struggle before it has really begun. At first the people of Stahlstadt are merely confused, but later they all seem to have abandoned the town.(there is a very awkward sudden transition). All in all, the story gives a feeling that Verne decided to abandon the project and huddled together the disappointing ending.


2.5 stars, to be honest.


“Los 500 millones de la begún” no es una profecía, sino un retrato de la obra de Otto Von Bismarck, una visión de la Europa que nació con el Reich.Y si algo debe estremecerles que sea esto: todos sabíamos que nos dirigíamos a la catástrofe pero nadie fue capaz de cambiar el rumbo de la historia.

Ylka Tapia (Malalua)

Julio Verne es uno de mis escritores favoritos desde mi infancia.

Mohamed Abd ellatef

رواية ممتعه


The resemblance to Hitler was eerie--master race, wonder weapons and so forth (and the guys just being lost at the end without their leader--as well as his demise signifying the collapse of the whole thing). I guess Verne was actually thinking of Bismarck, but...still, it's filled with that 19th-century "They attacked us like jerks so let's go beat the hell out of them like God would've wanted it" attitude. There's always something about Verne that seems a little pat--like Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Darq :)

Nice adventure story from one of my best writers, keeps interesting page over page, only the ending wasn't the one I expected, the way author ended the story, the way he finished the war between two cities, the way he rushed the "steel city" and killed the steel's king wasn't the best imaginary production of Vern's fantasy, Anyway I am giving five stars...


Utilizando los avances quimicos y metalúrgicos de su época como trasfondo de una historia que enfrenta el bien y el mal, Julio Verne describe una posible confrontación bélica entre una ciudad Francesa, que lucha por la paz, el bienestar y la higiene, y una Alemana cuyo fin es consolidar la superioridad de la raza aria mediante el empleo del acero en la construcción de un arma absolutamente letal. Verne adelanta en su relato varios acontecimientos y desarrollos posteriores (en su momento ciencia ficción): el espionaje industrial, el impacto de inmensas fortunas en manos privadas, el enfrentamiento de dictaduras y democracias y la construcción de armas de destrucción total. De lectura entretenida y ágil un buen libro para quienes gustan de la ciencia ficción y desarrollos en la trama poco previsibles.

R Heath Foxlee

This dramatically preceeds Twilight for Olympic Peninsula fantasy. Even more interesting is that it preceeded the creation of several Utopian communities in the region. I had expected the reverse. For more info on the communities, see Utopias on Puget Sound 1895-1915 by LeWarne. It is not one of Verne's best, but it lead me to read a biography on him to understand how the book came to happen.

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