Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Review 2015 No. 6 | Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

The central premise of Around the World in 80 Days is known throughout most of the literary world - as it states on the tin, the tale is about an adventure around the world in eighty days. French author Jules Verne's 1873 classic is number 11 in the Extraordinary Voyages series and was cinematised in 1956. The book succeeded his 1870 20,000 Leagues Under The SeaThe story was inspired by just such an journey taken by Bostonian George Francis Train - circumnavigating the globe in the same manner as BBC/TV personality and comedian Michael Palin attempted to in 1989. Archetypal Victorian Londoner Phileas Fogg is following his life of leisure as a man of private means, visiting the Reform Club daily for meals and to read the papers with mathematical precision. This calm, unnerving man's world is interrupted when he strikes up a £20,000 wager (equivalent to £1.6 million today) that he can travel across the world in eighty days - in Victorian fashion, without airplane (as they hadn't been invented).

With the precision and tenacity of Hercule Poirot, and with his trusty French manservant Passepartout (meaning master key/skeleton key, a play on the English 'passport') in tow, he attempts the feat. The story is fascinating and enticing - the premise itself is one most people wish they could have written first - and is telling in its Victorian optimism ('anything one man can imagine, other men can make real'). There are unabashedly racist sentiments in many passages throughout - colonial Britain at its height and eugenics and the Nazi's yet to take hold of social ideas of biological determinism. As an anthropologist I find this uncomfortable at best, but, hey, cultural relativism hadn't been invented and it doesn't change how marvellous this book is. Despite this - as in many classics, particularly those assigned to the higher up shelves - Around the World in Eighty Days is well written and still a brilliant travel adventure to this day. 

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