Phileas Fogg, the main character in Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, is an English gentleman in the 1870s who runs his life by strict precision. He has the same habits and schedule every day and is extremely conscious of time. He’s so exacting that he fired his former valet for bringing his shaving water a few degrees off from the temperature he liked it. In one of the first chapters, he interviews Jean Passepartout, a Frenchman of about 30, who has lived in a variety of places with a variety of occupations and is looking to settle down working for a quiet English gentleman. Passepartout is hired, and Phileas leaves for the Reform Club, where he spends several hours a day, usually playing whist.
All the talk at the club concerns a seemingly polished robber of the Bank of England, who made away with 55,000 pounds. In speculating where he would likely go, someone remarks how small the world has gotten in that it could be traversed so much more easily, and someone like this robber with loads of money could easily get anywhere. Fogg answers that one could travel around the world in 80 days. The others challenge that theory, bringing up uncertainties in travel arrangements, delays, possible troubles encountered while traveling, etc. Fogg persists that even accounting for all those possibilities, the journey could still be accomplished in 80 days. The discussion eventually turns into a wager. They fix a date 80 days hence, and if Fogg can travel around the world, having his passport stamped in the various countries to prove he has been there, and be back at the Reform Club by 9 p.m. Dec. 21, they will pay him 20,000 pounds. If he is unsuccessful, he will pay them the same amount.
He sets off that very night, thus dismantling Passepartout’s plans for a tranquil life, at least for the next 80 days. They encounter a number of fortuitous legs of the trip that put them ahead of time, and several unfortuitous ones that put them behind. They pick up a couple of traveling companions along the way and engage various methods of travel (an elephant in India being the most exotic. Oddly, though the book is often associated with hot air balloons, the group never travels that way though they consider it once).
One of their first problems is that Fogg is mistaken for the recent gentleman bank robber: he matches the physical description and his sudden travel plans look suspicious to a Detective Fix. So Fix follows him, Javier-like, around the globe trying to get the arrest warrant to catch up to their location.
I won’t share any more of the adventure than that – I don’t want to give any of it away.
I’m thankful to the Back to the Classics challenge for expanding my horizons. This is not a book I would normally have been drawn to, but in looking for classics for the various categories for the challenge, I decided to try this one. I had never read Jules Verne before, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the book (I even enjoyed the chapter titles). I had originally chosen it for a classic that had been translated from its original language, but I might use it for the adventure classic instead. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Patrick Tull, who did a superb job with all the different accents and inflections. The text is available online at Project Gutenberg and there is a free Kindle edition.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)