If you're not familiar with the story, here it is in a nutshell: Set in 1872, elegant, unflappable Victorian gentleman Phileas Fogg is challenged by other members of his elite club to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. He bets his own fortune that he can do it and rushes off with his new servant, Passpartout, a Frenchman who had been hired only the same day. As Fogg and Passpartout race around the globe by ship, train, and some other unusual modes of transportation (which I won't spoil because they're nice surprises), they are pursued by a somewhat bumbling detective, Mr. Fix, who believes Fogg is a master criminal on the lam.
This book turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It's enjoyable adventure story and an easy read, so it was ideal for a vacation. It's one that children might also enjoy as well. However, this book, like so many others, is a product of its time, and includes some racism. Verne's depiction of Indians and Native Americans is pretty unflattering, and he even gets in some digs about Mormons. Also, the book tends to focus on lists of places he's visiting, and less about character development. Phileas Fogg is pretty flat.
But I can see why it was so popular, given the fascination at that time with all the newfangled modes of transportation and romanticized ideas of traveling. It's been remade and adapted so many times that I was surprised that the original story wasn't exactly what I expected -- and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that after all these years, I didn't realize that I've been saying Fogg's name wrong -- it's Phileas, with an L -- all this time I thought it was Phineas, with an N. Also, there is no hot air balloon! This was added to the 1956 film adaptation with David Niven, and so now most people associate it with the story. As you can see from the illustration above, it's even on the cover of many of the editions, even though there is no mention of balloon travel in the entire story.
Besides the films and TV shows, people have also been recreating Fogg's journey for more than 100 years. Michael Palin of Monty Python fame began his first travel series by recreating this journey -- if you haven't seen the BBC miniseries, I highly recommend it. I'm going to have to watch it all over again and compare it to the book. Around the World in Eighty Days also reminded me of a really old television cartoon I remember from my childhood; however, in that version, Phileas Fogg is racing around the world so that he can marry his sweetheart Belinda (her nasty uncle Lord Maze says they can't marry until Phileas proves himself worthy by completing the trip, though he's sent Mr. Fix to thwart his attempts). What I remember most about it is the theme song, which is now stuck in my head. If you're interested in this obscure bit of pop culture, you can see a clip from the intro here.
I don't know if Jules Verne can be technically considered a Victorian author, since he's French, but the protagonist Phileas Fogg is definitely a Victorian gentlemen. Therefore I am considering this as a Victorian book, and I'm including it as one of the books for Our Mutual Read challenge, (#10!) and I'll be cross-posting it on that blog. My good friend Amanda at The Zen Leaf also reviewed this book. To read her review, click here. If you've reviewed the book and would like me to add a link to your review, please let me know in the comments and I'll add it.