Claudius Bombarnac

002 bombarnacTo the Reform Club on Pall Mall last night, legendary location of Phileas Fogg’s famous bet that he would travel around the world in 80 days, to speak about the Silk Road. I found myself talking about a much less well-known creation of Verne’s, the titular hero of Claudius Bombarnac (1892), a French journalist who travels across the south of the Taklamakan desert on the fictional Transasiatic Express, attended by intrigue, scandal and desert bandits.

Just as Fogg was a celebration of the British Empire in the 1870s, Claudius Bombarnac was a love letter to the orientalist romance of the 1890s, with the Russians and the British duelling over Central Asia and the newfangled concept, introduced only in 1877 by the geographer Ferdinand von Richtofen, that there was such a thing as a “Silk Road” trade route connecting east and west through the deserts of Xinjiang.

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