Hello! Finally I have finished Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days! I am a big fan of the quest or journey in literature. I’ve read Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, I’m generally a fan of fantasy quest type literature.
The closest I’ve probably read to Jules Verne is H.G. Wells, as Verne is an author I’m not familiar with. But I am quite familiar with the story of Around the World in 80 Days, thanks to the 1956 film featuring David Niven as Phileas Fogg. I have watched the 2004 film, featuring Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan, but I did not enjoy it. Perhaps because David Niven has long been established in my mind as the real and only Phileas Fogg.
As you can see my copy of the novel is a little, tea stained and a little dog eared, for a novel that I haven’t read it’s been knocking around my room a while. I think I may have tried to read it before, but honestly I’ve had this volume floating around for a very long time and as you can see it’s once been a mop for a tea accident.
So what did I think? Erm… difficult to say. It was a little bit of a labour of love to read. I feel as if I have indeed travelled around the world in 80 days while reading it. I found it a bit exhausting, my attention began to waver a while ago, which is bizarre as the chapters are quite short and quick and you’d think that would keep the pace running easily.
Each chapter is generally full of action and functions to move the story along. Which perhaps is my issue it feels too much like a machine of words, too much like a designed piece of literature. I’m aware that is the point of a chapter and that is the point of a well crafted narrative, each chapter moves the story forward. However this seems a little too functional. The story itself is relatively straightforward, there are little tangents when Passepartout gets separated from Fogg, but mostly the narrative is relatively simplistic. It isn’t to say that it isn’t a fun and adventurous story but you have to be willing to be patient. The story, in case you don’t know is Phileas Fogg engages in a wager that he can get around the world in 80 days for a sum of money.
Phileas Fogg is an upstanding, decent, gentleman who is supposedly fundamentally good, extremely punctual and particular with time and his routine. He rescues a woman in India and his servant from American Indians when he’s kidnapped from a train for two exampes. However there’s some conflict regarding exactly how I feel about him, he is suspected as a crook by the local authorities and tailed by Detective Fix. Passepartout deems Fogg a good man and often when Passepartout feels he has slowed Fogg down, he feels as if he should ‘blow out his brains’ if the wager is lost.
But I’m not convinced that Fogg’s challenges are real challenges. Fogg generally seems to solve any issues that he has by buying his way out. That is not to say that he does not face physical challenges such as rescuing others with courage. He just seems to come through dangerous situations without a scratch and finds well meaning people to aid him on his journey. Which is fun, but it’s just too easy!
For a few examples: a train across India is halted because the track is unfinished, Fogg procures an elephant for a hefty sum of money. He hijacks a ship later on, changes its course and imprisons the Captain in his cabin. But the Captain is ultimately bought off as coal is running short to keep the steamer on its course to Liverpool. Fogg pays for all of the wood trimmings on the steamer to stoke the engines to keep them running.
Sure, this route could be seen as a mark of determination in Fogg and surely that is a redeemable feature of his personality. But its determination on principal to win a wager. Fogg does very little exploration on his journey. He has very little wanderlust and no desire to view the cities he travels through, he would much rather play his usual card game whist. I find this frustrating. The only real adventure Fogg participates in is rescuing Passpartout, otherwise he is content to sit and read his newspaper.
I didn’t have much sense of satisfaction at the end of the novel I’m afraid, perhaps because I feel quite conflicted about Fogg as a character and things seem a little too easy for him. That and I can’t seem to find much about Fogg that alters and develops through his journey. He finds aids on his journey, but does not seem to learn anything about himself or the world. Somehow he still ends up marrying the woman he rescues purely by being an aloof, calm character in the face of obstacles that arise but are quickly resolved. Not to mention that Fogg is merely an accessory to her rescue, Passpartout is the muscle that pulls her from the fire. Fogg doesn’t seem to gain anything from his journey. I think that’s the thing that is really lacking for me, it is just a wager that is a little redundant.
I am glad however, that I’ve finally read some Jules Verne, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about his writing. But as there’s another Verne novel on my reading challenge list, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, I’m sure I will fully make up my mind then. How the novel stands up against the 1956 film that I know and love… well this is one of those rare, rare times that I prefer the film and I think it’s unlikely I’ll revisit this novel.