Title: Around the World in Eighty Days.
Author: Jules Verne.
Publication: 1873, Pierre-Jules Hetzel.
My Edition: 1994, Penguin.
Length: 245 pages.
Genre(s): Classic, Adventure, Cultural.
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Audible
Phileas Fogg is the quintessential (if a little exaggerated) Victorian Englishman. He is a man of habit, liking every task to be completed within the proper moment. So, when his servant arrives at his room a couple of minutes late, Fogg dismisses him, and hires a new servant – a Frenchman by the name of Passepartout. This new servant desires nothing more than to stay put; he spent his younger years travelling (hence the nickname), but he has tired of it, and wants nothing more than to settle down within the employment of his new master. Unfortunately, on the very day that Fogg hires Passepartout, he is involved in a wager with a group of friends, whereby he swears that, as is claimed in a local newspaper, he will be able to travel around the world in just eighty days. His friends doubt him: surely no man alive could travel so far in such a short period of time, yet Fogg is certain that he can accomplish his task, and so he sets off that very evening – a very reluctant Passepartout in tow – to travel the world.
As Fogg attempts this seemingly impossible task, he knows that missing a single train could lose him the wager. Yet he seems calm as he travels from London to France, and from France to India and America. Meanwhile, he encounters a number of challenges as he attempts his epic journey; he must rescue an Indian princess from certain death; fight off an angry group of Native Americans; and even begin a mutiny. Around the World in Eighty Days is a timeless story of adventure, friendship, and even love.
Jules’ Verne’s epic adventure novel is often considered one of the most well-known books of the Victorian period. Yet there seems to be some confusion as to what it is actually about. From the title, you could easily assume it is a story about space or time travel. In fact, one of the most popular genres associated with this book is, according to Goodreads, “Science Fiction”. This is not a sci-fi book: the very story is rooted in the realism of the time: as is indicative of the Industrial Revolution, great advancements had been made to steam-power, whilst Britain’s involvement in the slave trade meant that railways were being built all over the world. This is what Around the World in Eighty Days is really about; there is nothing futuristic about the story, and it concerns itself with industry far more than it does with science.
Despite this confusion, I really enjoyed reading this book. It is a story absolutely filled with action; Fogg begins his journey within the first ten pages, and the drama doesn’t slow, even as the narrative progresses. His desire to win the wager forces the story to move from adventure to adventure, even despite the continual interruptions of legal and religious proceedings. The constant changes to the book’s setting also meant that something new was always being brought to the story. There is no lingering: there are no prolonged descriptions of the people and sights Fogg encounters. Instead, the focus is always very factual, as Fogg continually looks to the future, calculating the best way to achieve his goal and win the wager. This can be seen as both a positive and negative attribute, of course, for although it means that the narrative is constantly progressing, it also means that the book lacks some of the intricate descriptions often associated with the Victorian period – primarily due to the works of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.
Perhaps the most interesting side to this book regards its characters: whilst Fogg is presented as the quintessential Englishman, it can be argued that Passepartout, his servant, is the typical Frenchman. The two characters could not be more different from one another, and this is interesting when you consider the fact that Jules Verne was French, and that Around the World in Eighty Days has been translated into English. Verne presents Passepartout as a fearless hero, constantly willing to risk his life for the sake of his master (and, indeed, he is arguably the most interesting character in the story). Yet Verne demonstrates an appreciation for British rule in his writing; during this time, Britain was a growing empire, and Verne perhaps takes notice of this as he makes Fogg, not Passepartout, his protagonist.
It is also worth mentioning that this is a book about imperialism. Within the narrative of two men travelling the world, there is a tale about slavery and abject racism. Yet this tale is quite subtle compared to the one in the last book about imperialism I read – Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness. It is not as visible, and, as a result, it is not as alienating to a modern audience (who may not be willing to dwell on such brutal truths). You have to actively look for the passing references to the British Empire in order to understand them, and if you don’t look for them, you can read Around the World in Eighty Days as a positive story about the value of friendship.
I can definitely recommend this book; it’s quite light-hearted, and actually had me laughing at one point (whether what I was laughing at was intended to be funny is left up for debate). It’s really interesting to reflect on how incredible this book would have seemed to a Victorian audience as they considered the possibility of travelling the world in a mere eighty days, and I can definitely understand why this book is as popular as it is – it’s timeless, and it tells a great story.
Thanks for reading! For those of you who are following my February 2019 reading challenge, this was the first book I wanted to read before the end of the month, which means that I only have seven more books to go!
You can click here for an A-Z list of all my reviews (so far)!