'Around the World in Eighty Days' - a Novel by Jules Verne

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Around the World in Eighty Days is a novel by Jules Verne published in 1873 under the title Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-vingts Jours. Jules Gabriel Verne (1825-1905) was French, and was born in Nantes. His other best-known books are Voyage to the Centre of the Earth (1864) and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), as translated from the French.

Around the World in Eighty Days is essentially a travelogue and to avoid the inevitable monotony some sub-stories are introduced.

Firstly, the main characters in the novel are as follows:

  • Phileas Fogg - an enigmatic man, who lives alone in 7 Saville Row, London, where there is only one other occupant, a manservant. No-one appears to know whether he has or has not been married. He does not work and his daily routine does not vary. He has breakfast at home, and lunch and dinner at the Reform Club, of which he is a member. He is punctilious in his timings and by some means has amassed a £40,000 fortune. The only description of him is that he is about 40 years of age with handsome features and excellent teeth, tall with shaped figure and light hair and whiskers. There is a suggestion later in the book that he may have been a Marine Officer in the past because of his knowledge of navigation and seamanship.

  • Jean Passepartout - a man with an adopted surname meaning 'Go Everywhere' or 'Master Key' because of his natural aptness for going out of one profession and into another, such as: itinerant singer, circus rider, tightrope walker and fireman. He left France in 1867 to become a Valet in England. He is 30 years of age with youthful and athletic frame. He commenced employment with Monsieur Fogg at 11.29am on Wednesday 2 October, 1872.

  • Mr Fix - a Scotland Yard detective who has been sent abroad to Suez as part of a police search for a gentleman thief who has absconded with £55,000 from the Bank of England. He has a vague description of the thief, which could possibly match Phileas Fogg.

  • Aouda - the widow of an influential recently-deceased man. She has been invited to join her husband in a Suttee, a ceremony in which the widow shares her husband's funeral pyre, but is reluctant.

The main story begins at the Reform Club on 2 October, 1872 when a discussion takes place between Phileas Fogg's whist-playing companions - Andrew Stuart, an Engineer, John Sullivan and Samuel Fallentin, Bankers, Thomas Flanagan, a Brewer, and Gauthier Ralph, a Director of the Bank of England - about the theft of £55,000 from the Bank of England by an opportune gentleman thief.

The general opinion amongst the group is that the thief would have fled abroad anywhere in the world. Phileas Fogg points out an article in the Daily Telegraph, which purports that a person could circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. An argument as to the validity of this claim occurs amongst the six companions, with Fogg concluding that it could be done and the others disagreeing. A wager inevitably ensues, with Fogg betting £20,000 for and the other five putting up £4,000 against. A paper is rapidly drawn up and signed by all six to the effect that Phileas would start that very day, Wednesday 2 October, and would win the bet if he appeared at the Reform Club on or before 8.45pm on Saturday 21 December, 1872. As Fogg estimated it would cost him £20,000 to traverse the world, he stood to break even if he won the bet or face ruination if he lost.

Stopping off at home to pack a few articles of clothing in a bag plus £20,000 in cash, he and Passepartout set off on their journey by taking the train to Paris, then on to Turin and Brindisi. They arrive at Suez on 9 October. This is where Mr Fix the detective appears, convinced that Phileas Fogg is the runaway thief.

Travelling by steamer the pair go via Aden arriving at Bombay on 20 October. Next they go by railway to Allahabadd, where the line ends, and they resort to continuing to the next rail station by elephant. On their way they encounter a Suttee and agree to delay their journey by rescuing Aouda from death by fire. Passepartout achieves this by secreting himself on the funeral pyre. When it is ignited, he rises up, confusing the mourners into thinking the dead man has come to life. Passepartout seizes Aouda and flees to the safety of his companions. They all continue their journey by elephant. On reaching the next rail station, they travel to Calcutta, arriving on 25 October.

Their journey continues by steamer, taking them to Singapore on 31 October and then to Hong Kong on 6 November. In the meanwhile, Mr Fix is attempting to get an arrest warrant for Phileas Fogg. Being unsuccessful, he starts to travel on the same ships as him. He attempts to befriend Passepartout and surreptitiously questions him about his master. Indeed, at Hong Kong Mr Fix lures Passepartout into a drinking and opium den. Passepartout passes out and thus fails to advise Fogg that the ship for which they have tickets is setting sail 12 hours ahead of schedule. Fogg tries to locate the relative of Aouda in Hong Kong but decides to let her travel on with him to England.

So Fogg and Passepartout voyage in separate ways to Yokohama where they meet up again on 14 November. Passepartout has been working in a circus to earn enough money to cover his food and lodgings.

For their journey to San Francisco, a balloon trip across the Pacific is considered but quickly discounted as it would be foolhardy and so the normal steamer passage is effected, arriving there on 3 December. A rail journey is undertaken with the usual difficulties being encountered, such as a Sioux Warrior attack. They arrive in New York on 11 December.

An expensive and hazardous journey is taken by steamer - Fogg eventually buys the ship - and they land in Queenstown, Ireland. Embarking on another steamer the party, including Mr Fix, arrives in Liverpool at 11.40am on 21 December, leaving ample time for Fogg to travel to London to meet his deadline.

At this point Mr Fix arrests him for the suspected robbery and does not release him until 2.33pm. In an act of violence Phileas Fogg knocks Fix down with his fists. Ordering a special train to London he arrives at 8.40pm. With no time left to get to the Club he concludes he has lost the wager and is ruined.

Phileas spends the evening and following day (Sunday) in an uncommunicative way, busying himself with sorting out his affairs. He has spent £19,000 in expenses and plans to divide the remaining £1,000 between Passepartout and Mr Fix1.

He seeks an audience with Aouda at 7.30pm and during the conversation she proposes marriage to him. Passepartout is sent off with alacrity to see if the vicar of Marylebone Parish will marry them the next day. Passepartout returns claiming that the marriage cannot take place the next day, because today is Saturday.

Phileas, shaken out of his reverie, speeds to the Reform Club and presents himself to his friends three seconds before the deadline with the words, 'Here I am, gentlemen.'

Implausibilities

How do we consider the book as a whole? There are a number of implausibilities:

  • It is highly unlikely that Phileas would not know of the International Date Line because of his navigational knowledge and the amount of time he spends reading informed newspapers.

  • He was punctilious to a fault and would have been alerted to the time on his watch and the steamer and train starting times.

  • There is no possible reason given why Passepartout would not apprise his employer of the attentions of Mr Fix.

  • Could the wager have been deemed invalid because Fogg appeared before the time stated on the signed document but he actually took 81 days to circumnavigate the globe? If it were invalid could Phileas sue the police for wrongful arrest and claim back the £19,000 expenses? Perhaps those of you with legal knowledge could postulate.

In summary Around the World in Eighty Days is a readable2 book with mild excitement and an irritating contrived suspense at the conclusion. Surprisingly this Researcher found the book was not readily available in many public libraries except in large print. Not for young eyes then?!

This Entry could conveniently end here, except that a movie of the same name was made in 19563 produced by Mike Todd and directed by Michael Anderson of Dambusters fame.

Movie

The film starred David Niven as Phileas Fogg. Niven was 46 and little acting was required as he certainly looked the part.

Passepartout was played by Cantinflas, aged 45. A musician and comedian, Cantinflas unquestionably played the major acting role in the film, particularly as Passepartout was only 30 years old.

Robert Newton, aged 50, played Mr Fix4 with his well-known 'manic' eye expressions for which he was famous following roles such as Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1950).

Princess Aouda was played by Shirley MacLaine, aged 22. It was not a very exacting role and the audience at the time were unaware that she would become such a famous film star.

The movie is 175 minutes long, although when sitting in your cinema seat it seems twice as long as that. It follows the book quite closely5 so is essentially a travelogue film. To alleviate audience boredom, several 'showcase' scenes are introduced. The first is a balloon flight from London that ends up in Spain, where Cantinflas entertains us by becoming involved in Spanish Dancing and participating in a bullfight. This Researcher felt sorry for the bull.

Other such interludes include Native American dance routines (as well as the Sioux attack that was in the book) and entertainment in a Western Saloon. There is the added excitement of trying to identify the numerous famous film stars who appear in cameo roles throughout the movie. The most notable is probably the pianist in the Western Saloon - the pianist eventually turns round and we see it is Frank Sinatra, who gives the camera a huge, beaming smile.

Nevertheless, the movie collected five Academy Awards, namely: Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Music. It was also nominated for Best Art Director, Best Costume Design and Best Director, but was unsuccessful in these categories. It did not trouble the shortlist for any of the acting-related Oscars.

If this movie is ever shown on television, this Researcher will take the more exciting option of watching the moon creeping across the sky for 175 minutes plus advert time.

1Why Mr Fix???2One reading was sufficient for this Researcher, whereas books like The Count of Monte Cristo reward repeat readings.3Later adaptations include the three-episode television series from 1989 featuring Pierce Brosnan and Eric Idle, and a loosely-related film starring Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan.4Credited as Inspector Fix.5Although in the film Phileas Fogg does not punch Mr Fix on his release from custody in Liverpool.

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