Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne (1873)

I thoroughly enjoyed the escapades of Phileas Fogg and his trip around the world as he tried to settle a wager of completing his trip in 80 days. With his loyal manservant, Passepartout we are treated to an exciting, armchair-traveling journey that spans the globe, cultures, modes of transportation, class and race from the perspective of the late 19th century.

Phileas Fogg is a gentleman of meticulous habits, who spends most of his days at his club where he takes his meals, reads numerous newspapers, socializes with the other members and spends hours at whist of which he is addicted. Having just dismissed his manservant who poured his shaving water at 84 degrees instead of the mandated 86 degrees Fahrenheit, he is at home waiting to interview his replacement. Once Jean Passepartout arrives, Fogg claims him as his own and he sets off to his club. Once there he finds his friends discussing a bank robbery that has just occurred, right in front of the employees, yet they all missed it. The members of the club conjecture that now that the world is so small with the construction of the Suez canal and rail transportation, there is nowhere for the robber to run without getting caught. Phileas Fogg agrees and says that it would only take 80 days to travel around the world.

“Well, then, go and do it.”

“Very well, The Dover train leaves at eight-forty-five. I shall take it.”

“This very evening?”

“This very evening. Therefore, since today is Wednesday, the 2nd of October, I shall have to be back in London, in this very drawing-room of the Reform Club on Saturday, the 21st of December, at eight-forty-five in the evening, in default of which the twenty thousand pounds deposited in my name at Baring’s will be yours de facto and de jure, gentlemen.”

Just before Fogg leaves to catch the Dover train, he is declared as the culprit who robbed the bank due to his resemblance and his sudden exit confirms to Scotland Yard he should be arrested. When Fogg and Passepartout arrive at Suez, in British-ruled Egypt, a Detective Fix, is waiting for them to serve the arrest warrant. But the ship arrives before the warrant, which happens at each destination until the warrant expires. However, Fix is determined to catch Fogg and follows him throughout the trip. He has befriended Passepartout which is how he learns of Fogg’s mission to travel the world, believing that Fogg is trying to escape from the law.

The adventures are pretty incredible and at times nail biting as each stretch on the journey has to be timed to meet the next boat, train or elephant. Yes, the journey in India includes a passage by elephant and the rescue of a suttee survivor when Passepartout decides to save this unknown woman from her death. Passepartout is rather the comic relief with his emotionalism in his defense of Fogg and the several scrapes he gets himself into that in some cases cause him to miss legs of the journey only to be reunited with Fogg at the most miraculous times.

The four adventurers-Phileas Fogg, Passepartout, Detective Fix and Aouda the Parsee-travel to India, China, Japan, Hong Kong, cross the Pacific and land in San Francisco where they travel by train across the country to New York. And I have to say, reading this book was like being in a traveling time machine. I have no real idea what India, China, Japan and so forth were like in the early 1870s, but Verne describes such a realistic adventure, especially knowing he’d never been to the East. Once the foursome arrive in the US, Verne details train travel, scenery and spends several pages on the Mormons, their present and their history in the region of Utah.

Verne knows about both the major American rail companies and smaller ones and their importance in connecting the West and the East coasts, a feat of immeasurable importance for this country. Having read many ‘travel guides’ myself of Americans traveling from the East to California in the late 19th century, Verne’s knowledge is quite vast, so I wonder how he knew so much? The answer is probably research, which he does well, but still there are so many details he is aware of and I am duly impressed. Just doing some scant research myself on the methods Verne might have used to gather information there were plenty of articles and travel reports, books, foreign newspapers and journal articles he would have found published around the early 1870s. The information he gleaned gives such an immediacy and excitement to the story.

I won’t give away the ending, but I do have to say that just when the reader thinks Fogg has won his bet it is very disappointing when all seems lost. Even with so many international timestamps he has to make and modes of transportation he has to acquire the trip is amazingly easy, so when he is finally arrested by Fix the moment he steps onto Liverpool Pier with only hours left to beat the clock, it is hard to accept his failure. Passepartout, though…and that’s all I’ll say about that!

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