When Frenchman Jean Passepartout starts a new job as valet to a wealthy English gentleman called Phileas Fogg, he is pleased to find that his master is a quiet, solitary man who lives his life to a strict routine. Having previously worked as a singer, a circus acrobat and a fireman, Passepartout is looking forward to leading a settled, domestic life for a change. To his dismay, no sooner has he taken up his new position than Phileas Fogg informs him that they will be leaving at once to go on a journey around the world. He has made a bet with some friends at London’s Reform Club based on a newspaper article which claims that, with the opening of a new railway in India, it is now possible to travel around the entire world in eighty days.
Travelling by train, boat, sledge and even by elephant, Fogg and Passepartout begin a race against time through Europe, Africa, Asia and North America, crossing both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Along the way they rescue an Indian widow, are attacked by Sioux warriors…and find themselves pursued by a detective who believes there is more to Fogg’s eccentric behaviour than meets the eye.
Around the World in Eighty Days is the first book I’ve read by Jules Verne. It has been on my Classics Club list from the beginning, while other titles have been added and deleted, but it has never seemed to be the right time to read it. Last week I wanted to take a break from the very long novel I’m in the middle of reading (Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset) and have a change of pace, so I decided to give this one a try – and it was the perfect choice. This is a short book with short chapters, and the rate at which Fogg and Passepartout move from one adventure to the next makes this a very quick and entertaining read.
Putting the novel in historical context – it was published in 1873 – it really must have seemed that the world was getting smaller and more accessible. It seems such a waste, though, to be determined to travel the world at such a speed! If I had the opportunity – and the money – to make a journey like that, I would want to spend some time exploring each of the countries I passed through on the way, but Phileas Fogg appears to have no curiosity at all:
Mr. Fogg, after bidding good-bye to his whist partners, left the steamer, gave his servant several errands to do, urged it upon him to be at the station promptly at eight, and, with his regular step, which beat to the second, like an astronomical clock, directed his steps to the passport office. As for the wonders of Bombay — its famous city hall, its splendid library, its forts and docks, its bazaars, mosques, synagogues, its Armenian churches, and the noble pagoda on Malabar Hill, with its two polygonal towers — he cared not a straw to see them.
We do still learn a little bit about the geography and history of the various places Fogg and Passepartout visit (and Passepartout, who shares my frustration at Fogg’s lack of interest, does occasionally manage to do some sightseeing on his own, with mixed results) but the main focus of the story is on the journey itself and whether they actually will succeed in going around the world in eighty days. There’s also a romance, which I found difficult to believe in as we rarely even see the characters involved speaking to each other, but I suppose the hints were there! I loved the relationship between Fogg and Passepartout, though; they are such different men yet have so much loyalty to each other.
I enjoyed Around the World in Eighty Days much more than I thought I would when I first decided to put it on my Classics Club list. I’ll have to keep Jules Verne in mind for my second list – which I’ve already started to compile despite still having twenty books to read from the first one!