Author: Jules Verne
Category: Literary Fiction
Around the World in Eighty Days could be considered the ultimate adventure/travel book. In 1872, during a game of whist at his favourite haunt, The Reform Club, our protagonist, Phileas Fogg, makes a bet with his friends that it is possible to travel around the world in eighty days. Recently, there has been a robbery at the Bank of England, with the thief stealing 55,000 pounds. Fogg and his friends discuss the fact that the world is becoming more accessible, and therefore travel is becoming faster. It is revealed that the Morning Chronicle newspaper had published an article stating it was possible to travel around the world in eighty days, travelling from London – Suez – Bombay – Calcutta – Hong Kong – Yokohama – San Francisco – New York – London. This had become possible because of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the near completion of a Trans-Indian Railroad. Phileas Fogg makes a bet with his friends for 20,000 pounds that he in fact can travel around the world in eighty days, and sets off on his great adventure that same night.
Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Fix believes Fogg to be the bank robber and writes to Scotland Yard, asking them to issue a warrant for Fogg’s arrest. However, a series of mishaps delays the warrant and sees Fix following Phileas Fogg all the way around the world. Fogg and his French manservant Passepartout have many adventures during their trip. Firstly, Passepartout, who is a somewhat bumbling servant that reminded me of Manuel from Fawlty Towers, leaves the gas on in his room back in London. He then enters a sacred Indian Temple with his shoes on, which results in him losing his shoes and later being arrested. Despite being advertised as complete, the railway from Bombay to Calcutta stops half way, and in order to avoid a delay, Fogg is forced to buy an elephant as a means of transport to Allahabad where they can pick up the train once more. Fogg and Passepartout rescue the Indian Mrs Aouda from certain death, and she accompanies them for the rest of their journey. In Hong Kong, Passepartout visits an Opium Den with Inspector Fix, and becomes so intoxicated he passes out. This results in Fogg missing his ship to Yokohama, although in a comedy of errors, Passpartout manages to stumble aboard the ship as it sets sail, and the two are separated for a time. By the time the four reach London, the “had used all possible means of transport: steamships, railways, carriages, yachts, commercial vessels, a sledge and an elephant”.
Despite his hot-headedness and clumsiness, Passpartout is the most loyal of servants, and his antics provide some humour against the impassiveness that is Phileas Fogg. At the end of the novel, one of Fogg’s Reform Club friends notes that “our colleague is an eccentric of the highest order”, summing up Fogg’s character perfectly. He is the model of a staid English Gentleman, and as the narrator points out “he was the sort of Englishman who gets his servant to do the sights for him”. Despite this cold exterior, Fogg does prove himself to be capable of warmth when he rescues Mrs Aouda. The juxtaposition of these two characters helps the story a lot. Without Passepartout I think the story would have been very dull.
Originally Around the World in Eighty Days was published in Le Temps newspaper as a serial, and was timed to finish on December 21st – the same day that Phileas Fogg arrives home in the novel. I had intended to read this novel as a serial – one chapter a day – but it didn’t quite pan out like that. Still, I can imagine the French public opening their papers every morning with their coffee and croissants and reading of the adventures of Phileas Fogg, possibly wishing that they too could be travelling around the world in eighty days.
This is the second book read for The Classics Club challenge.