abstract illustration of two people journeying around the world on trains, boats, and hot air balloons

Around the World in Eighty Days

by Jules Verne

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Literary Techniques

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Since speed is of the essence in this novel, Verne faced the problem of quickly, yet convincingly describing a vast array of settings, customs, scenarios, characters, and plot twists. He handles this problem cleverly; rather than describe them in detail, he offers the reader an itemized list of all the things Fogg did not see, thus adding to the feeling of urgent speed. About Bombay, for instance, he says:

Fogg didn't think of seeing the city hall, nor the magnificent library, nor the forts, nor the docks, not the cotton market, not the bazaars, the mosques, the synagogues, the Armenian churches, nor the splendid pagoda of Malebar Hill, with its two polygonal towers. He would not examine the masterpieces of Elephanta, . . . no, nothing!

At another time, the entire Ganges Valley flashes past the train windows "without Phileas Fogg ever thinking of seeing it:"

The panorama passed before their eves like a flash, save when the steam concealed it fitfully from view. The traveler could scarcely discern the fort of Chupenie, twenty miles south-westward from Benares, the ancient stronghold of the rajahs of Behar, or Ghazipur and its famous rose water factories . . .

Even though Fogg appears to look at nothing but his watch, his creator, Verne could not resist a good travelogue, and he describes Chicago, New York, and the 900-mile train ride across the North American continent with the same enthusiasm as he describes exotic India. By explaining what Fogg did not see, Verne achieves a narrative that mirrored the sense of speed and urgency that is the heart of this novel, yet gave the reader a sense of wonder and adventure.

Ideas for Group Discussions

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Verne's travel saga about two men circling the globe in order to prove that modern technology allowed them to do so in record time has never lost its appeal even for today's audiences who are familiar with the speed of jet travel. What exactly constitutes the fascination of this obviously old-fashioned novel? Why do we want to read about Fogg's achievements when we can do so much better? In a world where speed and technology have become commonplace, has traveling has lost its romance? What makes this journey so exciting? Are there modern travels that equal its fascination? Or is there any other form of modern literature that has taken the place of an old-fashioned adventure/travel story?

1. The opening chapter of the novel tells us all the things that Fogg is not. What is the purpose of this approach? Is Verne trying to describe or to ridicule the stereotypical Englishman? If so, what is Fogg?

2. Passepartout is the opposite of his master. What qualities does he possess that are lacking in Fogg, and vice versa?

Are the two just caricatures, or does Verne create them as full fledged characters? If so, how does he make them human and likeable?

3. Speed is the essence of this novel, yet Fogg is never in a hurry. How is this seeming contradiction possible?

4. Verne's female characters are usually rather flat and shadowy. Is this true of Mrs. Aouda? What is Verne's attitude towards women?

5.Verne always dazzled his readers by inventing futuristic machines. Around the World in Eighty Days has been called a novel without technology. Is this true?

6. This novel has three parallel plot lines. What are they? What is the function of Fix? In what manner does he promote the story and plot?

7. Fogg is only interested in completing his journey as quickly as possible and spends no thought on the sights and scenes he encounters. Yet Verne needs to give his readers a...

(This entire section contains 488 words.)

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sense of marvel and adventure. What technique does he use to achieve this? How does he prevent leisurely accounts of the scenery and people that the travelers encounter from slowing down the pace of the story?

8. On the last page, the author asks: What did Fogg gain? What is your answer to this question? Is Fogg the same man that he was when he had left? Why? Is Passepartout right in saying that traveling is a way to learn? Did Fogg learn anything?

9. Fogg is pedantic and cold-blooded. Yet he remains a sympathetic character. Why? Are there any villains in the story? How do we feel about Fix?

10. Verne's age was an optimistic age which believed in progress. What sights, sounds, and impressions did the author omit that might have marred the lighthearted tone of the novel? What would a twentieth-century traveler to India have observed that Verne did not?

11. Although Jules Verne presents many specific details, is his novel realistic? Why or why not?

Social Concerns

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To the late-twentieth-century reader, the idea of traveling around the world in eighty days is not astonishing. Nevertheless, Around the World in Eighty Days is Jules Verne's most popular work, and modern movie and television adaptations show that it still has contemporary appeal even in an age that is able to circle the globe in a matter of hours. To Verne's audience, the feat seemed improbable and exciting. Even outside of France the interest in the probability of Phileas Fogg winning his bet was tremendous and as the installments appeared in the Temps Journal, people actually made bets on the outcome of his journey.

As usual, Verne's characters do not simply engage in travel. There is a strong element of suspense as well as a wide array of the modern "machines" he likes to invent. The story starts at a London club where the members discuss the theft of a large sum of money from a London bank, and whether the thief will be able to get away with it. This prompts Fogg to say that modern travel is so fast that it is possible to round the globe in eighty days. When his colleagues challenge his hypothesis, he wagers that he can, himself, set out immediately and return to the club within eight days. Utilizing every form of transportation, steamship, train, and even on back of an elephant, Fogg thinks that he has lost his bet by twenty four hours, only to discover that he has really won because of the gain of an extra day due to the time difference traveling east.

Time is the key element of the story. Fogg travels by unpredictable means of transportation, which makes his feat as exciting to the modern reader as it was to the Victorian. Today's travel rarely becomes an adventure, but Fogg's journey consists of a whole series of narrow misses and escapes. Yet paradoxically, his trip is planned with mathematical precision: from London to Suez, using railroad and steamer (7 days), from Suez to Bombay by steamer (13 days), from Bombay to Calcutta by train (3 days), from Calcutta to Hong Kong by steamer (13 days), from Hong Kong to Yokohama by steamer (6 days), from Yokohama to San Francisco by steamer (22 days), from San Francisco to New York by train (7 days), from New York to London by steamer and train (9 days) adds up to precisely 80 days. But things start to go wrong from the beginning. There is the pursuit by the detective Fix who thinks Fogg is a bank robber. There are storms at sea; there is no railroad between Bombay and Calcutta; a railroad bridge in America almost collapses; they are attacked by Sioux Indians; and Fogg is arrested as a robbery suspect in Ireland. Yet in the end, it is time that is on the side of the Intrepid Englishman, because by traveling east, he has unwittingly gained an extra day and wins his wager.

Fogg undertakes his record-breaking journey at the height of the British Empire. "The British Crown exercises a real and despotic dominion over the larger portion of this vast country, and has a governor-general stationed at Calcutta, governors at Madras, Bombay, and in Bengal, and a lieutenant-governor in Agra. . . A considerable portion of India is still free from British authority, and there are certain ferocious rajahs in the interior who are absolutely independent." The voice that informs us about these facts is that of Verne, playing the impersonal travel guide. But what about Phileas Fogg, who is just embarking on a journey through this nation? How does he feel about the imperialism of his countrymen? Does he approve? Is he concerned about rebellions and uprisings? The answer is that he does not tell us. Regardless of the historic, political or cultural history of the region he passes through, Fogg "passed through the memorable scenes of the Red Sea with cold indifference. . . ." Passepartout, interviewed by the suspicious and curious detective Fox about his master, simply states: "he hasn't the least curiosity." The only interest Fogg has is the swift completion of his journey. When he discovers that the railroad through India is not yet finished, he merely remarks: "we will, if you please, look about for some means of conveyance to Allahabad." Any adventure or experience of the journey is merely considered as an obstacle to be overcome as quickly as possible.

The biggest adventure of Fogg's trip around the world is also the most likely one to evoke emotions and reaction from the unperturbable Englishman, namely the discovery of a suttee, a sacrifice of a young widow at the cremation of her husband. Yet again, it is the narrator Verne himself, who comments on the custom by calling those who practice it, "stupid fanatics, who, in the Great Indian ceremonies still throw themselves under the wheels of Juggernaut." Fogg, on the other hand, when the purpose of the procession is explained to him, remains unemotional. Without commenting on the immorality of such sacrifices he merely inquires. 'Is it possible', resumed Fogg, his voice betraying not the least emotion, "that this barbarous custom still exists in India, and that the English have been unable to put a stop to it?" Yet he is also the one who suggests "suppose we save the woman." "Save the woman, Mr. Fogg?" "I have yet twelve hours to spare; I can devote them to that".

What did Jules Verne, a man who had strong interests in social issues as evidenced in the Utopian dreams of The Begum's Fortune (1879; see separate entry), and the world-hatred of Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870; see separate entry), try to convey in this novel that refused to take any serious interest in social concerns? Like his taciturn hero Fogg, his interest seems solely focused on the journey on hand with little time for anything else. It may be argued that this novel is a parody of the unemotional Englishman as he appeared in French cliches. In The Begum's Fortune, such a caricature exists about the German owner of Stahlstadt, but it is much more savage, and becomes part of a bitter criticism of German imperialism. Fogg, on the other hand, serves no such purpose, and any laughter directed at him is part of the entertainment of the novel. Around the World in Eighty Days is probably Verne's most lighthearted book, written exclusively for the purpose of entertainment. Social issues would be reserved for other novels with more serious intentions and problems that aroused his feelings.

Literary Precedents

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Around the World in Eighty Days is the ultimate travelogue. Many writers have used the journey as a metaphor for life, but the actual literary journeys are not that common. They can be divided into two major groups—fantasy journeys can be found in books such as Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) as well as Andre Norton's space fantasies. Unlike these voyages to non-existent places, diaries of famous explorers such as Captain Cook and Marco Polo are strictly factual, with the purpose to inform and describe unfamiliar but real parts of the world. Jules Verne's novels bridge the difference. Fogg's journey around the world serves as pure entertainment, yet Verne, whose novels educate the reader to the possibilities of science, is always ready to instruct, and to interrupt his hero's journey at any time to list the tourst sights of India, the Red Sea or Egypt in concise detail. The journey is a familiar literary metaphor for life used in many novels, and travelogues have long attracted readers. For instance, equally fantastic and unbelievable to his contemporaries, although based stricdy on fact, were the travel accounts of Marco Polo about his voyage to Cathay (the modern China); here, fact was even more surprising than fiction. In fiction, there is the imaginative precedent of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver, who visits a number of countries, but they are all kingdoms and realms of fantasy.

Adaptations

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The earliest adaptation of Around the World in Eighty Days was provided by Verne himself. He wrote a lavish stage production of his novel, complete with elephants, snakes, and a real locomotive. It premiered in 1874, and ran for two years with enormous success. One of the most amusing modern motion picture adaptations was directed by Mike Todd for Warner Brothers. It had an impressive cast that starred David Niven as the imperturbable Englishman Fogg and the Mexican comedian Cantinflas as Passepartout. Famous stars like Marlene Dietrich, Shirley MacLaine, Charles Boyer, and Frank Sinatra provided cameo appearances, and Phileas Fogg even outdoes his literary counterpart by riding in a balloon. The film captures much of the color and excitement of the original. In 1989 the BBC aired a television series, Around the World in Eighty Days, where Michael Palin duplicates Fogg's adventurous feats.

Bibliography

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Allott, Kenneth. Jules Verne, 1940.

Born, Franz. Jules Verne: The Man Who Invented the Future, 1964.

Boucher, Anthony. Preface to Around the World in Eighty Days, 1956.

Costello, Peter. Jules Verne: Inventor of Science Fiction, 1978.

Evans, I.O. Jules Verne and His Work, 1965.

Haining, Peter. The Jules Verne Companion, 1978.

Waltz, George H. Jules Verne: The Biography of an Imagination, 1943.

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