“Apparently, there has been only one prominent event in the history of Mauritius, and that one didn’t happen.” Mark Twain
The sinking of Le Saint Géran off Île d’Ambre in August 1744 and loss of two hundred lives inspired young French writer Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint Pierre (1737–1814) to write the romantic novella Voyage à l’île de France. Set against the idyllic tropical scenery of Mauritius, where Bernadin spent two years as a military engineer, it’s the story of childhood sweethearts, Paul and Virginie, whose plans to marry are cut short by tragic events. A ship carrying Virginie flounders on the reef during a stormy night, and although Paul swims out to save her, modesty prevents her from removing her heavy clothes to swim ashore; Virginie drowns and Paul dies of a broken heart.
Today you can visit Paul and Virginie’s “tomb” in Pamplemousses Gardens, discover pieces recovered from the Le Saint Géran on display in the National History Museum in Mahébourg and see an evocative sculpture of the lovers entwined by Prosper d’Epinay at the Blue Penny Museum in Port Louis. The book is available in English as Journey to Mauritius and can be found in bookshops island-wide.