The Begum's Fortune
by Jules Verne
'The Begum's Fortune' Summary
Two men inherit a vast fortune as descendants of a French soldier who settled in India and married the immensely rich widow of a native prince, the begum of the title. One of the inheritors, a French physician named Dr. Sarrasin, decides to establish a utopian model city constructed and maintained with public health as its government's primary concern. The other is a German scientist Prof. Schultze, a militarist and racist. Schultze decides to make his own utopia—a city devoted to the production of ever more powerful and destructive weapons—and vows to destroy Sarrasin's city. Both men convince the United States government to cede its sovereignty over two cities for the creation of their utopian city-states. One is Ville-France on the western side of the Cascades, and the other is Stahlstadt, on the east side.
Most of the action takes place in Stahlstadt, a vast industrial and mining complex, where ores are made into steel, then made into weapons. Stahlstadt becomes in a few years the world's biggest producer of arms. Schultze is Stahlstadt's dictator, whose very word is law and who makes all significant decisions personally.
An Alsatian named Marcel Bruckmann relocates to Stahlstadt, and quickly rises high in its hierarchy, gains Schultze's personal confidence, spies out some well-kept secrets, and sends a warning to his French friends. It turns out that Schultze is not content to produce arms, but fully intends to use them first against Ville-France, then establish Germany's worldwide rule.
Two weapons are being produced – a super-cannon capable of firing massive incendiary charges to Ville-France, and shells filled with gas. Schultze's gas is designed not only to suffocate its victims but at the same time also freeze them. Unfortunately for Schultze, the incendiary charge fired by the super-cannon at Ville-France not only renders the cannon unusable but also misses its mark. The charge flies over the city and into space. As Schultze prepares orders for the final assault, a gas projectile in the office accidentally explodes and kills him.
Stahlstadt collapses since Schultze had kept everything in his own hands and never appointed any deputy. It goes bankrupt and becomes a ghost town. Bruckmann and his friend, Dr. Sarrasin's son, take it over. Schultze would remain forevermore in his self-made tomb, on display as he had planned to do to his foes, while the good Frenchmen take over direction of Stahlstadt in order to let it "serve a good cause from now on.", its arms production being used to defend Ville-France.
Verne is considered to be an important author in France and most of Europe, where he has had a wide influence on the literary avant-garde and on surrealism. His reputation was markedly different in an...More on Jules Verne
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