Jules Verne is a writer I’ve been hearing about for quite some time. I am enchanted with science-fiction and fantasy, and Verne does this in a fun, familiar sort of way. The characters are lovable, the story is full of adventure, and the book moves fast and steady.
The story starts with a quiet hermit-like man, Phileas Fogg living in his home in Saville Row. His mysterious fortune supplies him with his daily needs, which are very few, and his lifestyle is simple. During a discussion with a few of his card-playing buddies about the newest ideas of transportation, he places a bet on his ability to traverse the globe in 80 days. This takes all of London by surprise, as he seemed like a more mundane person, but he takes off with his new servant, Passepartout, that very evening, heading East.Along the way, he encounters hundreds of obstacles– an Indian woman, Aouda, whom he rescued from certain death, an English detective trying to arrest him for a bank robbery he did not do, unforeseeable storms, delayed ships, missing railways, and on and on. They encountered circus performers, American Indian train raids, cowboy brawls, they rode elephants, boarded large steamers and tiny speedboats, lost one another several times, and at the end, they made it back one day late. But, because they traveled around the entire world heading east, they gained a day, making them precisely on-time for Fogg to win his bet.
I love the contrast between all of the characters in this book. Fogg is an extremely level-headed sort of man, a very typical, uptight Englishman. Passepartout, however, is outgoing and lively, and most of the time he acts as the comedic relief. His role is necessary, because the tension in the book, with the precise timing, all of the obstacles, the difficult choices, and extravagant distractions, are unbearable without the little Frenchman’s funny screw-ups along the way. Fix, the detective, provides an antagonist, but he’s one of those characters that you still root for, even when he is passionately against Fogg’s mission.
Aouda, the last character, slowly falls in love with Fogg throughout the story, and proposes to Fogg in the end. In my opinion, her entire subplot is not strong enough. If I were involved in the writing and editing of this book, I would have pushed to take Aouda out, or give her quite a bit more screen-time. She is one-dimensional– a worried woman that falls in love with the man who rescued her from being burned alive, and she cannot resist the emotional adrenaline they are under from the moment of her rescue, to her proposal. It shows how the world’s opinion on women used to be– all very weak, needing protection, and predisposed to emotional attachment to anything with legs. Throughout the story, she is weeping and worried, staying back and not going on any of the adventures, and she is constantly needing protection. I would have liked her much better if she had been a stronger woman. It would not have been very stero-typical or fitting for the time period, but a woman who took charge and assisted Fogg through his journey, someone who helped them accomplish their goal and not a tag-along would have been much more fulfilling. If the romantic relationship between Fogg and Aouda was more explained, or perhaps if she assisted in overcoming the obstacles more often, I would be more understanding of her proposal to Fogg. The way the story ended, however, made it seem like Aouda was only reacting to the energy of the moment, and not to their love.
Aside from Aouda’s subplot, Around the World in 80 Days was enjoyable. It was well-written and descriptive, and it moved at a great pace. The writing was obviously purposed for a younger audience, but it was still a good read for someone older like me. The 80-day journey was long, but Jules Verne did well to keep up the excitement and interest throughout every misadventure, and kept the reader entertained. I’m excited to read his other works soon!