Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Journey’s End…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It is Wednesday, 2nd October, 1872, and as he does every day, Mr Phileas Fogg is playing whist with his friends in the Reform Club. But this day the conversation turns to how the world is shrinking as more and more places become linked by fast steamships or railroads. Fogg claims that it is now possible to go around the world in eighty days. His companions pooh-pooh this notion, and Fogg offers to prove his point by making the journey. A wager is hastily arranged for the massive sum of £20,000 – half Fogg’s entire fortune. He intends to use the other half to cover any unforeseen expenses on his travels. And within hours he’s off, accompanied only by his French manservant, Passepartout, whom he had hired just that morning. But, unbeknownst to them, they are being followed…

I started my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge back in March 2016, so it has taken me considerably longer to make the trip than Phileas Fogg allowed himself! When I got close to the end I realised this was the only possible book I could choose to bring me back to London where my journey started all those years ago. And a perfect choice it proved to be! Not only is it a great book in its own right, but it also took me to all the places I’ve read about in the books I picked for my challenge. So when we got to Bombay I thought of playing cricket; when Fogg and his companions travelled by elephant I remembered Solomon’s journey; when they reached Omaha I thought of the World Fair. Anyway, I shall do a proper round-up of the challenge soon, but meantime, back to this book!

Fogg is a man of rigid habits and an obsessive concern with punctuality and exactness in all things. The narrator suggests his background is rather unknown, but that he must have travelled in the past to give him his fairly encyclopaedic knowledge of the world. He is unflappable to an extraordinary degree given that his entire fortune is in the balance, but we eventually see that he has hidden depths. Passepartout, in contrast, is volatile and constantly getting into scrapes, but on the other hand he soon develops strong feelings of loyalty to his master and shows true bravery on more than one occasion. Then there is Detective Fix, trailing Fogg whom he suspects of having robbed Baring Brothers bank on the day he left London so suddenly. Fix spends half the time trying to slow them down and the other half trying to speed them up since he can only arrest Fogg on British soil – and the book reminds us that British soil spreads fairly extensively across the world at this period. The fourth character is an Indian woman they pick up along the way, but I won’t say more about her because to tell her story would be a bit too spoilery.

The book starts a little slow, with a lot of concentration on timetables and dates and so on, and Fogg is not initially a very endearing character. He is interested only in achieving his aim of proving that the journey can be done in the time – he has no interest in the places to which they travel other than how quickly he can get out of them again on the next leg of the trip. Europe gets barely a mention, Egypt is a passing blur, and it’s only really when they reach India that they begin to have adventures. But by that time, Passepartout and Fix have developed into entertaining characters, sometimes friendly, sometimes not, and they give the story the life and liveliness that Fogg’s cold mechanical persona lacks. It’s in India too, though, that for the first time we see signs of humanity beneath that British stiffness, and from there on gradually Fogg also becomes someone we care about.

From India to Hong Kong, to Yokohama, across America – sometimes ahead of the clock, sometimes behind. One adventure after another holds them back, each time throwing Passepartout into gloom and desperation but leaving Fogg unruffled and determined. And each adventure is more fun than the one before – storms and Sioux warriors, acrobats and opium dens, trains and steamships, polygamists and Parsees, and oodles of luck both good and bad. Will they make it back in time? Even though I knew the answer, I must admit I found the last fifty pages or so pretty heart-pounding, and joined Passepartout on his emotional roller-coaster ride between despair and euphoria. And the end is brilliantly done, misdirection and twists abounding!

Jules Verne

The new translation by William Butcher in my Oxford World’s Classics edition is excellent – flowing and fun. His rather scholarly introduction left me somewhat befuddled, in truth. As always, I read the book first, and imagine my surprise on being told that it’s full of sexual innuendo and “brazen homosexual overtures” between the three male characters. I missed all of that! Even though he’s now told me it’s there, nope, I don’t see it. Maybe he’s right – in fact, since he’s a Verne expert and I’m not, I’m willing to assume he is right – but then, on the other hand… sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Butcher goes so far as to say “the book is not designed for callow adolescents”. Hmm, I was probably a callow adolescent when I first read it, and I don’t think it corrupted my innocence! I did enjoy Butcher saying that Verne had portrayed the Mormons as an “erotico-religious group” though – I missed that too…

So an excellent adventure story suitable for all ages, or a walk on the wild side of sexual psychology, depending on whether you believe me or Butcher. Either way, highly entertaining – great stuff!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics.

Book 5 of 20

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54 thoughts on “Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

    • Ha! Yes, I also enjoy the visits to other societies more than the science aspects. I was astonished at how he sped through Europe without a word though! Must think Europeans are too dull to write about… 😉

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  1. “As always, I read the book first, and imagine my surprise on being told that it’s full of sexual innuendo and “brazen homosexual overtures” between the three male characters. I missed all of that!”

    Wow. I am honestly surprised but recounting my experience, I can recall some parts that somehow, to some extent, echo Butcher’s observations. Interesting. Nonetheless, I loved the book and I am looking forward to reading more of Verne’s works. Happy reading!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I feel close male friendship was much commoner in books of that era, and I’m always a bit amused when critics suggest it had to have been sexual. Maybe they’re right, but I’m not convinced! It’s a great book though, and I also thoroughly enjoyed Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas.

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    • Mr Butcher is quite rude about some of the older translations, but then since he’s just done this new one, he may possibly be biased… 😉 I’ve only read a couple of Verne’s books and have enjoyed them both thoroughly – hope you enjoy this one!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I did look into the translations, and, based on others’ opinions, although Butcher’s was maybe better, Towle’s one seemed perfectly acceptable, which was good enough for me (especially in a free version), so at least it shouldn’t get in the way of the story.

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        • Yes, while I admire Butcher’s translations, I do think he tends towards the opinionated. He seems to have a fairly low opinion of most other Verne translators and critics, so I’m beginning to take what he says with a pinch of salt!

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  2. My favourite Verne, hands down! Even so much as I wrote my own modern-day version with a similar but different resolution. But I wish critics wouldn’t read things into stories that have little or nothing to do with the story. Fogg is focused on winning his bet, Fix is fix-ated on arresting him, and Passepartout is too busy getting in and out of trouble and marvelling at the world – whatever their sexual preferences may be, this is a adventure story full stop. Yes, I can imagine a Fix/Passepartout moment but I think its highly unlikely and unnecessary. If we have to have a homosexual overture, let Fogg be greeted back to his club with some hot welcome home action in the last chapter.

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    • Hahaha, yes, indeed! Close and physical male friendships were a commonplace in writing of that era and it always amuses me when critics try to read homosexual relationships into it. It’s like whenever two women live together in older books, critics suggest they too must have been gay when it was actually quite commonplace for single women to share a house for economic reasons back in the day. I often feel it tells us more about the critics than the books! This is a fab adventure story, and I honestly couldn’t care less what Passepartout and Fix get up to in their private lives… 😉

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  3. I was sure I’d read this when I a child (not even a callow youth), but your review didn’t sound familiar so I went and looked it up – it seems like I might have read an abridged version released by a sort of Young Classics imprint. I remember liking it though, so I’ll have to give the full version a try!

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    • I read it as a child too, but I’m not sure now if it was an abridged edition or not – I didn’t remember much about the detail, only the overall story. The full version is still very short, and packed full of adventure! 😀

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  4. I’ve always loved this story, FictionFan! It’s such a great mixture of adventure, some intrigue, and even crime… And I do like the way the relationship between Fogg and Passepartout – I think it’s done well. And of course, Verne’s writing keeps the reader interested. He was really creative as well as insightful as a writer, I think. A great way to think about your ‘…80 Books’ reading, too!

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    • I hadn’t read it since I was a child, so only remembered the broad outline of the story and a couple of the most exciting incidents. It’s packed full of adventure, and Passepartout is so much fun! The perfect end to my challenge, and I really must read more Verne… 😀

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    • I hadn’t read it since I was a child and I can’t remember if that was an abridged version – I didn’t remember much except the broad outline of the story and a couple of the more exciting incidents. The full version is still very short, though, and packed full of fun and adventure, so I hope you do get a chance to read it some time. 😀

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  5. Sexual innuendo?? Hmm, I guess my adolescence wasn’t too scarred by that (another innocent, completely oblivious to stuff like that, ha!) Lovely review, FF. Great that it tied the loose strings from your previous imaginary trips while serving as a good read. Bring on the weekend!

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    • Haha, if these books are really all as full of sexual innuendo as the critics always seem to think, I’m kinda glad I’m too innocent to spot it and just enjoy the adventures instead! 😉 Yes, it was the perfect end to my trip around the world… 😀

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  6. I’ve never read this, but clearly I should! Most of my Verne has been in film form, despite having those first editions in my home when I was growing up. Sometimes my adult self looks back on my youthful self and thinks what an idiot I was to have not taken advantage of what I had at my fingertips.

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    • Sometimes with classics though I think there’s a danger of us reading them too young. I did enjoy this book as a kid but I don’t think I loved it the way I did this time round, when I could appreciate lots of the more adult themes more. But mostly it’s just a great adventure!

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    • I’ve really grown to love these old-style adventures over the past few years – they’re full of fun but with a lot of observations about people and society too. And it really was the perfect book to end my journey! 😀

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    • I enjoyed this as a kid but not as much as I did this time round. There’s loads of adventure but there’s also more adult bits about people and society that I appreciate now but would probably have skipped as a child. In fact, I’m now wondering if the one I read as a kid was actually abridged.

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  7. Congratulations on completing the challenge and on choosing the perfect book to do so! I think I read an abridged version of this as a child but can only remember a section of travel in a balloon (am I remembering this correctly?), but based on your review feel as if I’d like to read this again soon.

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  8. What a perfect choice to finish your challenge with! I enjoyed this book too, although I remember thinking it would be such a waste to travel the world so quickly and not spend time exploring any of the places you pass through. I must read more by Jules Verne soon!

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    • It really was the perfect end to my journey! Ha, yes, when they shot past Europe with barely a pause for thought and then in and out of Egypt without so much as looking at a pyramid, I felt they’d have been better to take a bit longer over their journey too! I enjoyed Twenty Thousand Leagues too, and also want to read more of him. I love these classic-style adventures!

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  9. I’ve attempted to comment on this post a couple of times, but the comments never sent for some reason. I’ve a funny feeling the messages may have landed in your trash, or perhaps WP was being a bit temprimental yesterday.
    You certainly couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate book to complete your Around the World Challenge, I look forward to your summing up. I read an extract of this book at school as part of a Close Reading Test, but that’s my only experience with it, and it didn’t make me wish to dash away and read the whole thing at the time. I’m glad you enjoyed it though, and I will probably end up reading it myself when I have been able to get my main reading list down a bit.

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    • Ah, sorry, yes they did end up in the spam folder, along with some comments from Karissa – WordPress is a strange beast sometimes!

      Yes, this was the perfect ending for my challenge! No, I fear it wasn’t every country in the world – just eighty of them, and even then I doubled up on one or two of the huger countries, like the US and Russia. I wonder if it was an abridged version I read and enjoyed as a child because there are parts of it which would undoubtedly have bored young FF. However, mature FF thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing and recommends a re-read!

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  10. I’ve never heard of this book but I LOVE the sound of it! I wonder how long it would take to travel around the world now…7 days? I’m talking pre-pandemic times here. With all the quarantining you’d have to do now it would most likely take way more than 80 🙂

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    • Haha, yes it could take years now with all the restrictions in place, and anyway who’d want to go at the moment??? In normal times you could probably do it in two or three days if you simply spent all the time in planes – it takes about 24 hours to go from here to Australia, which is roughly halfway round the world… I think! But how dull that would be…

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