The Softer Side of Jules Verne: “Martin Paz” Review by Victoria L. Szulc

Like most struggling writers, Jules Verne penned short pieces to gain an audience long before he wrote the things that made him famous. “Martin Paz” is one of these early works you’ve probably never heard of, but it’s packed with adventure and romance. In addition, some themes in “Martin Paz” echo issues that are still prevalent in modern times such as racism, corruption, and privilege.

What is “Martin Paz” About?

In vibrant Victorian Lima, Peru, Martin Paz is a Native Peruvian Chieftain thrown into the conflicts of a growing multi-cultural city. A beautiful young Jewish woman named Sarah inadvertently interrupts a call to Christian prayer. And an offended muleteer tries to force her to her knees to join in worship. Martin steps in to free her, and Sarah and her duenna (a maiden’s escort) flee to her home. He is immediately taken by Sarah’s beauty, and against the advice of his fellow Indians, Martin follows Sarah home.

Like the classic scene from Romeo and Juliet, Sarah goes to her balcony for fresh air and sees Martin below. He clasps his hands over his heart with desire.

Sarah’s fiancé, Andre, a “half-breed” Spaniard looking to raise his rank amongst the wealthy, witnesses this exchange and challenges Martin to a fight. Our hero wounds Andre in the conflict, and is forced to flee. After he fakes his death, Martin hides with a rich Spanish Marquis. While Andre plots with Sarah’s corrupt father, she prays for her dark-skinned hero. Plot twists abound, including several skirmishes, dirty deals, chases, and even a scuffle with a shark.

Fun Facts and Context

Though you won’t see it much in his serialized fiction, forbidden love is a recurring theme in Verne’s early works. Like Gerande in “Master Zacharius,” Sava in “Mathias Sandorf,” and Ellen in “A Floating City,” Sarah is promised to someone else. From the moment they meet, Martin falls for a woman who is both of a different social class and race. Despite being a leader of his tribe, he is so smitten he ignores the needs of his own people.

In historical reality, Verne unsuccessfully pursued several women due to his status as a poor writer. His cousin Caroline and especially Rose Grossetiere were two women notably and painfully beyond his romantic reach. Verne had an affair with Rose, but she ultimately married a man ten years her senior. In an amorous and drunken stupor, Verne supposedly wrote thirty poems about her and peppered his first works with ladies forced to marry against their will. Scholar Christian Chelebourg noted that Verne seemed to have developed such a steep unrequited complex that his spite was easily reflected in these early pieces.

What I Thought of “Martin Paz”

I enjoyed this story. Verne’s descriptions of Lima and the surrounding countryside are colorful and read like a lush travel guide to Peru. Through his characters, Verne manages to subtly address classism and unrest without being preachy. For the hardcore steampunk or science fiction fan, there may not be enough fantastical elements to hold your attention. The ending felt somewhat abrupt and unexpected. Nonetheless, this romantic tale is filled with intrigue and action.

Martin Paz is a perfect short story for those who enjoy romantic Victorian fiction. I was able to find a free digital version along with another Verne short story, “The Wreck of the Chancellor,” on Google Play Books.

When she’s not writing for the Journal, you can find Victoria writing her own Steampunk fiction, creating Steampunk fashion, and making beautiful masks. Find out more.

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