Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

54479From Goodreads: One ill-fated evening at the Reform Club, Phileas Fogg rashly bets his companions £20,000 that he can travel around the entire globe in just eighty days—and he is determined not to lose. Breaking the well-established routine of his daily life, the reserved Englishman immediately sets off for Dover, accompanied by his hot-blooded French manservant Passepartout. Travelling by train, steamship, sailing boat, sledge and even elephant, they must overcome storms, kidnappings, natural disasters, Sioux attacks, and the dogged Inspector Fix of Scotland Yard, who believes that Fogg has robbed the Bank of England, to win the extraordinary wager. Around the World in Eighty Days gripped audiences on its publication and remains hugely popular, combining exploration, adventure, and a thrilling race against time.

Let me start by saying that I am a very strong believer in reading a book in its historical context. This book was written during the Victorian era, when a grand British empire controlled a great part of the world and people were fascinated with technological breakthroughs. The world suddenly seemed more accessible with the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad and the Suez Canal.

This story was first published as a newspaper serial, and some readers apparently believed that the journey was actually taking place as they were reading about it. I can see how this story would have fascinated people back then. It was the nineteenth-century version of a reality show. Considering the historical context of this book, I am not offended by the stereotypes and xenophobic undertones of this book. To a certain extent, I can even appreciate how Phileas Fogg would embody the perfect Victorian gentleman: cool, collected, and unfazed by obstacles.

With that said, I am absolutely certain that Fogg and I would not have gotten along. When I travel to new places, I want to explore and meet people. Fogg on the other hand has no apparent interest in his surroundings. Granted, a lot of money is riding on his getting from one place to the next as quickly as possible, but still, I found his aloofness rather annoying. When he saves Aouda, the Indian princess, I felt it was more out of a feeling of obligation than compassion. His valet Passepartout was a much more accessible character, yet he was often portrayed as slightly ridiculous. But at least he showed some emotion, and on at least one occasion, he proved to be as resourceful as his employer.

The most disappointing part of the book was the end. <SPOILER ALERT!> How can a man who always knows what time it is, where he needs to be next, and how long he has until the next train or boat leaves forget about the international dateline? It was so out of character that I couldn’t overlook this flaw, even though in the grand scheme of the book it made for a fun little surprise. Also, all of the sudden he realized that he’s in love. What? I don’t think he smiled at his bride once during the trip. I didn’t buy his sudden discovery of love.<end SPOILER ALERT>

So this book was not for me. I can appreciate it as the adventure story it was when first published, but I did not get anything else out of reading it. As far as I can remember, this is only the third time in my life that I enjoyed the movie more than the book. (And yes, I am talking about the 2004 movie with Jackie Chan…)

This was the first book I read for The Classics Club. It would have been a disappointing start, except I only read this book because I REALLY want to read Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman. It sounds very interesting, and I figured I might appreciate it more if I read Verne’s book first. So hopefully, that one will be better…

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