Saturday, 22 December 2012
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Although I've never read Around the World in Eighty Days in it's entirety before, I remember reading some extracts from it during English lessons in secondary school and finding it rather dull. So I decided to add it to my Classics Club list to find out whether I was just too young for it, or whether it's simply not a book for me. And the good news is that I found it anything but dull on this read. As a teenager, I completely missed the wit that Verne sprinkles throughout the novel, but this time I fully appreciated the sarcasm and the gentle way Verne pokes fun at Fogg and English gentlemen of the nineteenth century. Verne doesn't take his novel too seriously, and as a result it's enjoyable to read. Yes, the attitudes expressed by the characters and author are in line with what you would expect from the times (there's a lot of casual colonial prejudice), but Verne also mocks these views too. In fact, I couldn't quite work out whether Verne agreed with Fogg or not. There's a light-heartedness about the whole novel that was refreshing.
I like to think that Verne saw himself as a bit of a Passepartout. Whilst Fogg is cloistered in his train carriage, uninterested in seeing the sights anywhere he goes, Passepartout is the one that seizes the opportunity of travel. Compared to Fogg's almost ludicrous English stiff-upper-lip attitude, Passepartout comes across as impulsive, brave and in many ways, the real hero of the novel. There's a lot of mocking of the English but it comes across as gentle and you get the sense that Verne was an Anglophile after all.
What I love about classics is the way they make me think, and Around the World in Eighty Days was no exception. Although the story was light and action-packed, it made me think about the nature of travel. I couldn't believe that Fogg was visiting all those wonderful places but yet showing no desire to get to know them, remaining focused simply on getting around the world just so he could say that he had. I love to travel, especially by train, and many of the journeys in the book made me think back over my own experiences. Travel should be savoured, not rushed. Passepartout reminded me that we should make the most of every opportunity that comes our way, not remain locked up inside of ourselves, like Fogg.
However, there were elements I didn't enjoy about Around the World in Eighty Days. As Fogg shows no interest in the countries he visits, it's left up to Verne to fill us in on them and it comes across as lecturing at times. The whole mistaken identity thing with Inspector Fix drags on for too long and becomes too much like a comedy of errors; I was tired of it by the end of the novel. The romance was implausible and felt like an add-on rather than central to the story. But none of these things take away from the fact that Around the World in Eighty Days is a good old-fashioned adventure story full of drama and excitement. I'm glad that I read it.
Source: Personal Copy
First Published: 1873
My Edition: Penguin UK, 2008
Score: 3.5 out of 5
Classics Club: Book 4/72.
You can see a list of the classics I intend to read here.