Friday, July 30, 2010

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

A couple of years ago, after I'd started getting Hooked on Classics, I realized I'd never read anything by the science fiction authors H. G. Wells or Jules Verne.  Though I'm not usually a fan of sci-fi, I'm particularly interested in both of these writers because their works are such a reflection of the Victorian fascination with science and industry.  And since I was traveling (to California, not around the world, sadly), I thought that Around the World in Eighty Days would be a perfect vacation read, as it's a classic adventure story.  Though Verne is well known as one of the first science fiction writers, this book, which isn't science fiction, was and still is his most popular.

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.

13 comments:

  1. You know, I never thought about the balloon thing, but now I realize you're right. Huh.

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  2. This sounds like it's definitely worth a read! (I love the Michael Pallin series.) I only read my first Verne in 2008 (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea)-I wish I'd read him as a child, I think it would have been fun. :D

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  3. What? There's no balloon? And his name is Phileas not Phineas? Odd that is, very odd. Was he called Phineas in any of the movie versions? That's what I thought his name was as well. Interesting. I definitely learned something new today! I haven't read any Verne, although 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is one of my husband's favorite books. He's on my supersized TBR list, so someday I'll get to him.

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  4. I've been wavering between this and Journey to the Center of the Earth for my next Vernian adventure. Great review!

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  5. Amanda -- I was so surprised, and a little disappointed. It's such an indelible image. Drat Hollywood!

    Eva -- I haven't read 20,000 Leagues either. I've heard it's good so it may be my next Verne read.

    Lindsey -- I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought it was Phineas! Where did I get that idea? And I like the idea of your supersize TBR list -- mine has more than 600 books, I fear it will never get any smaller.

    Kristen -- thanks! I also bought Journey to the Center of the Earth on vacation, it was one of the Puffin Classics on sale. Mostly I bought that edition because the introduction is by Diana Wynne Jones.

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  6. That's so weird. I really thought it was Phineas. I'm not even sure where I got that idea! You'd think after reading a whole book of it, I'd realize it was Phileas, but apparently not.

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  7. I know! I spent my whole life thinking it was Phineas, and I watched a cartoon version as a child, the TV series with Michael Palin, AND the Jackie Chan version (don't ask). I've probably seen the David Niven version as well. Can't imagine where I got that idea.

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  8. Wikipedia says that in some adaptations of the novel he's known as Phineas Fogg. Which is definitely what I always thought his name was. You are not alone!

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  9. Hm, that makes me wonder if mine said Phineas. Can't check, though, because I got rid of it!

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  10. Jenny, thank you! I feel less clueless now.

    Amanda -- I noticed you have the same cover posted on your review. If you read the same edition as me, it's definitely Phileas with an L.

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  11. heheh, no that wasn't my edition, I just grabbed the first picture available. :D Mine was really old. I'm not even sure it HAD a picture!

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  12. I usually try to use the photo from the edition I'm reading, unless it's really ugly, or the photo download is tiny. I do try to have some kind of image on each posting if I can come up with something appropriate.

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  13. I do too, but some of my classics were ones we got really old editions from thrift stores and stuff, and I can never find pictures of those. Nowadays I'm more likely to just take a picture of my copy and include that, but back when I reviewed this I hadn't even thought of doing something like that.

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