And Then I Read: AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS by Jules Verne

One of Verne’s most popular works, serialized in 1872 and published in 1873, I’m not sure why I haven’t read it before now. Growing up we went to see the 1956 movie version with David Niven in the lead role, and we had a short book adaptation of that, so I guess I thought I knew the story. I was right in some ways, quite wrong in others.

Phileas Fogg is a wealthy Englishman living alone in London, and one who thrives on exact routines that never vary. His home life is perfectly regulated with the help of a valet, and he goes every day to The Reform Club, one of those upper-class clubs the British were famous for, where he spends much of his time playing the card game Whist for money, and adding a bit to his fortune. One day there’s an argument about a newspaper article which cites the opening of a new railway line in India which would make it possible to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Many scoff at the idea, but Fogg defends it, and bets half his fortune that it not only can be done, but that he himself can do it. The bet is taken by his club mates, and Fogg hurries home to begin preparing. One difficulty is that he’s recently fired his valet and just hired a new French one, Passepartout. In fact the day of the bet is that fellow’s first day on the job. Passepartout is mystified and frightened by the news of the difficult adventure he and Fogg are about to undertake, but anxious to please his employer, and they set off almost immediately.

At first the journey goes smoothly, but in Suez, Egypt, they fall under the suspicion of a British policeman, Detective Fix, who has been sent there to watch for a bank robber. Fogg fits the description, and Fix wants to arrest him, but an arrest warrant can’t be sent from England in time, so Fix decides to follow the adventurous pair, hoping to arrest them somewhere on English soil, and with plans to slow them down wherever he can. Fix befriends Passepartout, who doesn’t know Fix’s real motive, and the three travelers form an interesting triangle. Fogg is totally focused on his mission, but seems unruffled by any of the problems and difficulties that arise on the way, and he’s happy to join a game of Whist rather than even looking at the scenery. Only when the three have the chance to rescue an Indian princess, Aouda, from being burned at the stake does Fogg show true bravery and resourcefulness, and they succeed, bringing the princess with them, though the most dangerous role is taken by Passepartout. Aouda hopes to find family in Hong Kong, but eventually joins the travelers on their entire journey. Fix tries several times to stop them, but when he fails in his arrest plans, decides to continue also on the entire journey, hoping to make his collar when they are back in England. Many exciting adventures ensue, and Verne tells his story well.

Some of the things I thought would be in the book were only in the film, like a balloon section of the trip, and many more adventures happen than were in the film. The endings of each are similar, and based on a mathematical miscalculation by Fogg that would be very unlikely in real life, but it works in the story, as does the resolution of the Aouda situation. I enjoyed reading this, and recommend it. Unlike many of the Verne stories I’ve read, it has no science fictional elements, but perhaps at the time the entire journey seemed like science fiction to readers.

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