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Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Flying Submarine

This week’s post was going to be on a completely different subject. It was a rather dry subject (Victorian science) so I thought I’d try to find a picture to liven it up. To that end I dug out an old book I’ve got called One hundred years of science fiction illustration, 1840-1940. I couldn’t find anything suitable for the post I was thinking about, but I did find the rather intriguing picture shown here. At first glance it appears to depict a formation of Victorian-era flying saucers! On closer inspection, however, they’re actually meant to be submarines seen in profile. But the submarines are flying through the air.

The picture is the work of Albert Robida (1848 – 1926), who I mentioned previously in The End of Books. It comes from an illustrated novel published in 1890 called La Vie Électrique, of which the complete text and illustrations can be found at Project Gutenberg.
The story is set in the mid-twentieth century, so you might think the submarines depicted are purely products of Robida’s futuristic imagination – like the flying machines in his best known work, La Sortie de l'opéra en l'an 2000. But in fact Robida’s submarine is closely modelled on a real one, designed by Claude Goubet and launched in 1887. As you can see from this diagram (taken from the December 1900 issue of Popular Science Monthly) Goubet’s submarine, seen in profile, does have an uncanny resemblance to a classic 1950s flying saucer.

Of course, Goubet’s submarine wasn’t a flying one like Robida’s. But the idea of a flying submarine appears to have been something of a recurring motif in early science fiction. Here is a children’s novel dating from 1912 (just 22 years after Robida’s book) that I found in a second-hand shop a few years ago – The Flying Submarine by Percy F. Westerman:

1 comment:

zoamchomsky said...