This entertaining novel was first published in 1873 by French writer, Jules Verne. It is the story of a rich English gentleman who accepts a bet to travel around the entire world (no easy feat in 1873; one that had only recently become possible) in 80 days. The gentlemen of the Reform club, of which our hero, Phileas Fogg, is also a member, do not think it can be done. Disregarding the whole notion of adventure, Fogg simply sets out to prove them wrong in his calculating, mathematical, unemotional way.
Fogg isn’t cold through and through, however. During his travels we catch glimpses of his chivalry and strong sense of duty. Such as when he rescues an Indian princess from a horrible death, or when he recaptures his servant, Passepartout, from the Sioux Indians. And Fogg often displays extreme generosity, particularly ironic in his dealings with Detective Fix who, unbeknownst to Fogg, believes the adventurer is a London bank robber and strives continually to obstruct his plans. Also, Fogg holds no lasting grudges and even finds true love before the final cover closes.
The story does a great job chauffeuring readers across the British Empire. Through the Suez Canal, over India via its railroad system, through Hong Kong, across America, and finally over the Atlantic to England. We’re treated to wonderful sights and a series of fantastic events (even a ride on an elephant!), but Mr. Fogg, of course, scarcely notices. He derives his primary enjoyment from continual games of whist.
I got a huge kick out of the whole stereotypical concept of Americans in this book as greedy, rough-and-tumble Yanks. After the culture of India and the Orient, Fogg steps out of his steamer in San Francisco to a political riot. The streets are filled with tussling men fighting to elect, of all things, a justice of the peace. Later, the narrator observes, “An American can scarcely remain unmoved at the sight of sixty thousand dollars.” And when a train bridge’s stability is in serious question, rather than consider a safer, more time-consuming option, one of the Americans suggests backing up, giving the train all full steam and leaping that sucker across! Which they do quite successfully. Though I laughed, I admit there’s a grain of truth to some of these observations. At least, there was before Uncle Sam opted to take our safety upon himself.
Fogg’s huge wager of 20,000 pounds (half his fortune) builds a desire in readers to see him succeed, but the suspense often feels contrived. Again and again Mr. Fogg and his entourage encounter obstacles that delay their trip. His servant chaffs. The reader chaffs. Fogg takes it all in stride. Then voila! Somehow miraculously, just in time, every time, things seem to work out. It would be rather predictable if Mr. Verne’s imagination didn’t come up the most unusual conveyances.
Overall, I enjoyed Around the World in Eighty Days. It’s a fairly simple, straight-forward read, and, like so many of the classics, it successfully draws a reader back in time, revealing much about the world it was created in. It certainly is original. I’d recommend it. Kids, I think, even as young as 8 could grasp and enjoy this one if it was read aloud. Ages 12+ could handle it independently.
Available as a free Kindle download.