AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS by Jules Verne

(First published 1873)

 

51xoe02htcl._sx331_bo1204203200_To navigate the circumference of the globe in 80 days, Phileas Fogg and companions travel by trains, steamships, an elephant and a snow sledge but, to my surprise, never once use a hot air balloon.

This turns out to be one of the great literary misconceptions which derives from the liberties taken with the plot of the novel for the 1956 movie adaptation. The makers decided to plunder this visually spectacular means of transport from Verne’s earlier yarn ‘Five Weeks In A Balloon’. Many editions of the novel have compounded this error by misleading book covers.

Balloon or no balloon, it is not properly explained why Fogg recklessly decided to make the bet to embark on this improbable adventure. Prior to this, the predictability of his daily routines are highlighted. His travel experience consists solely of walking with a steady step the short distance from his home at 7 Saville Row, Burlington Gardens to London’s Reform Club in Pall Mall.

Phlegmatic is the adjective most frequently used to define the character of Phileas Fogg; a word well-suited to a man of few words who is not given to displays of emotion. Even when plans go awry and all seems lost he remains calm and impassive. This sangfroid enables him to resolve difficulties in a pragmatic way (usually helped by his supply of ready cash) .

The suspicion that Fogg has discreetly robbed the Bank of England and conceived of the journey as an elaborate escape plan seems slightly more credible. Detective Fix is so convinced of his guilt in this regard that he trails the supposed gentleman thief every step of the way.

Fogg’s French man servant Passpartout is more spontaneous and he alone is curious and open to the novel experiences and unknown cultures. “I see that it is not useless to travel if we wish to see anything new” he observes.

In contrast, his employer has no obvious interest in broadening his mind and takes no interest in the countries he passes through. His two main concerns are to find people to play a hand of whist with and to get his travel visas stamped en route.

As you read, you come to realize that plausibility was not Jules Verne’s motivating force. His chief interest is in concocting a flight of fancy that enabled him to incorporate plenty of exotic locations and adventurous situations. This includes a bizarre scene in which the seductive Aouda is saved from being burnt alive on a funeral pyre in India. Her presence serves the purpose of being a theoretical love interest although this is only manifest when the tour is complete.

Despite being a French born writer, the tall tale was seemingly told with the implicit aim of demonstrating that no part of the world ran its affairs with such impeccable good sense or with as much dedication to moral purpose as the British Empire. Believe that and you’ll believe any hot air!

Advertisements