Adventures and Literary Classics
“What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve,” goes the timeless adage. The uplifting roar of “you can do it, you can do it” reverberates through the halls of competitions. But the positive spirit ripples to other aspects of life as well. It is a mantra that we repeatedly encounter in our quotidian lives. In living up to the spirit of this axiom, Phileas Fogg, the quintessence of an English gentleman, took up the challenge issued by Reform Club of London. The task is no easy feat – circumnavigating the world in eighty days.
Phileas Fogg’s adventure was charted in French writer Jules Verne’s ever-popular work, Around the World in Eighty Days. Initially published in French in 1872, it is the eleventh book in Verne’s expansive and extensive Voyages extraordinaires (The Extraordinary Voyages) series. The story originates in London and begun when Fogg accepted the wager. In exchange for successfully circumnavigating the world in 80 days, Fogg will receive £20,000 as a reward.
Accompanying Fogg in his adventure is his newly employed French valet, Jean Passepartout. Passepartout’s predecessor was dismissed for bringing Fogg a shaving water at 84 degrees Fahrenheit, two degrees lower than Fogg’s requirement. Fogg leads a life dictated by mathematical precision so at exactly 8:45 PM on October 2, he and Passepartout departed from London. With careful calculation, the duo endeavors to complete the task on or before December 21.
“He lived alone, and, so to speak, outside of every social relation; and as he knew that in this world account must be taken of friction, and that friction retards, he never rubbed against anybody.” ~ Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days
Hot on the duo’s heels is Detective Fix, a Scotland Yard detective who was dispatched from London to capture a bank robber whose profile matched that of the reclusive Fogg’s. As Detective Fix was unable to obtain a warrant of arrest in time, he was forced to go along with the journey, keeping a tab on the duo. From London to Suez Canal, to India, to Japan, to the United States, the peripatetic narrative that takes the readers across the globe. Will Fogg and Passepartout succeed in their quest? Will Detective Fix stymie their progress?
Jules Verne is widely regarded as one of the pillars of travel writing. His expansive 54-book Voyages extraordinaires (The Extraordinary Voyages) series is a testament to his extensive research. In Around the World in Eighty Days, Verne threaded a very quotidian premise – an adventure novel that explores possibility of travelling around the world in eighty days. Despite this seemingly simple premise, Verne’s visionary writing and intricate research were spectacularly exemplified.
Around the World in Eighty Days is more than just an adventure novel propped with some details of mystery and suspense. Verne’s vision went beyond that. Packaged as a typical period adventure novel, the novel aims to underline how the world is slowly becoming much smaller. The advancement of technology and the advent of the industrial revolution made the seemingly impossible possible. Verne underlined the importance of the perpetual growth of technology and how it impacts the way we view the world. The advent of the internet and commercial flights made the world even smaller. Whilst it was inevitable, it is ironic that these advancements led to the decline in the number of places, tribes, and lands to be discovered.
The novel celebrated the technological advances of the industrial revolution. The primary modes of transport used by Fogg and his company – the train and the steamer – were all offshoots of these advancement. As a matter of fact, Fogg’s wager originated from the result of a fairly recent development (in reference to the story’s period) – the opening of a new railway station in India which, according to The Daily Telegraph, made it possible to travel around the world in 80 days.
“But what then? What had he really gained by all this trouble? What had he brought back from this long and weary journey? Nothing, say you? Perhaps so; nothing but a charming woman, who, strange as it may appear, made him the happiest of men! Truly, would you not for less than that make the tour around the world?” ~
The story was propelled by the thrill and the mystique of adventure and exploration, the yearning for the curious, strange, and unknown. Verne’s vast research enabled him to capture the essence of his time. He painted a vivid backdrop upon which he laid down Fogg’s adventures. There were some rich portrayals of the Indian subcontinent and the American west. Both written through a European perspective, these interesting portraits enhanced the story’s landscape and enriched its texture. The adventure was further complimented by surprising elements of romance.
Technology, adventure, mystery and romance were all charted in the narrative. However, Around the World in Eighty Days dug deeper as it was also about being alive and experiencing things beyond one’s comfort zones. This line from the 2013 movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which was also about adventure and life, summarily captured this seminal facet of the narrative:
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
A period piece, the novel was also rife with several prejudices of its period. With a strong colonial mentality prevailing during that period, the European’s negative world view can impair the appreciation of the narrative. Asians were referred to as exotic and Japanese as yellows. “The steamer passed along near the shores, but the savage Papuans, who are in the lowest scale of humanity, but are not, as has been asserted, cannibals, did not make their appearance,” went one line. These were, however, simple reflections of the prevailing attitude during Verne’s time.
The sound of adventure is thrilling but it was his vivid descriptions that made the places come alive. More importantly, as the plot thickens, the readers were coaxed into experiencing the entire journey with the characters. Each character was carefully, and colorfully developed. The contrasts in their characteristics gave the story a different dimension. Verne is skilled in engaging his spectators and readers.
Beyond the obvious flaw, Verne demonstrated a deep understanding of adventure, of exploration, and of the unknown. His extensive research, coupled with his visionary and imaginative writing, helped create a most engaging and pulsating literary classic. He used an almost puerile premise and turned it into a grand narrative that is rife with interesting observations and themes that were barely explored during his day.
“Is it uncommon for the best ocean steamers to be two or three days behind time? But a single delay would suffice to fatally break the chain of communication; should Phileas Fogg once miss, even by an hour; a steamer, he would have to wait for the next, and that would irrevocably render his attempt vain.” ~
Indeed, Jules Verne was above and beyond his time. Around the World in Eighty Days underlined his visions, his grand imagination, and also his astute observations. He managed to combine science, adventure and mystery in one cohesive and pulsating read. This literary classic inspired the spirit of adventure and will keep on inspiring more for years to come. It holds its place as one of the paradigms for the modern adventure novel.
Characters (30%) – 28%
Plot (30%) – 26%
Writing (25%) – 23%
Overall Impact (15%) – 14%
I mean, who isn’t familiar with Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Because of its ubiquity, it is easily one of the most recognized titles out there. It has been adapted into movies and has inspired actual adventures circumnavigating the world in the same time frame. As a literary work, it is highly imaginative, just like the author who is known to be very innovative. The narrative flowed naturally and smoothly. There really isn’t much to say.
Author: Jules Verne
Publisher: Templar Publishing
Publishing Date: 2011
Number of Pages: 223
Genre: Adventure, Mystery
Set out on a thrilling voyage with the quintessential English gentleman, Phileas Fogg. To fulfil a wager made at the Reform Club in London, Fogg and his newly appointed manservant, Passepartout, embark on the race of a lifetime to circumnavigate the globe in just eighty days! Travelling by steamboat, train, and even elephant, and with adventure around every bend, the intrepid duo find themselves rescuing a young Indian woman from sacrifice, escaping kidnap, and battling hurricane winds – and all the while, tenacious Detective Fix of Scotland Yard is in hot pursuit, believing Fogg to be the criminal mastermind behind a Bank of England robbery. Rich in humour and excitement, Around the World in Eighty Days deservedly remains one of Jules Verne’s most popular books.
About the Author
Jules Gabriel Verne was born on February 8, 1828 in Nantes, France.
Verne received his early education at a boarding school in Nantes. Two years later, in 1836, he went to École Saint‑Stanislas, a Catholic school. In 1842, he entered Petit Séminaire de Saint-Donatien as a lay student. For two years, from 1844 to 1846, Verne and his brother attended the Lycée Royal (now the Lycée Georges-Clemenceau) in Nantes. In 1847, he was sent by his father to Paris to start his studies in law school. Through his uncle, Verne was introduced to the Parisian literary salons. While frequenting these salons and fervently writing, he diligently pursued his law studies. In January 1851, he graduated with a licence en droit.
At a young age, Verne already started writing. The earliest of his surviving prose, Un prêtre en 1839 (A Priest in 1839), was written during his teens. His involvement in the Parisian literary salons opened several avenues upon which to shape his literary career. Some of his earlier works were published in the magazine Musée des familles (The Family Museum), whose editor-in-chief, Pierre-Michel-François Chevalier, was also a Nantes native. While conducting research at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, he met French geographer and explorer Jacques Arago. Inspired by Arago’s witty accounts of his travels, Verne was led to a newly developed literary genre: travel writing.
By this point, Verne’s literary career was rather stagnant. As luck would have it, he got introduced to famed publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel in 1862. The publisher of renowned authors like Victor Hugo and Honore de Balzac, he later on published Five Weeks in a Balloon (Cinq semaines en ballon) in 1836, marking the start to an incredible career that would include 54 novels comprising the Voyages Extraordinaires series. The series includes popular works such as Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days, 1873), Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1870), and Voyage au centre de la Terre (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864).
An inventor and innovator, Verne is often credited as one of the pioneers for science fiction. Since 1979, he has been ranked as the second most-translated author in the world; Agatha Christie ranked first. He passed away on March 24, 1905 due to the complications of diabetes.