On January 30, 1873, Jules Verne‘s famous novel ‘Around the World in 80 Days‘ (Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours) was published by Pierre-Jules Hetzel in Paris, France. It is one of Jules Verne‘s most acclaimed stories, where Phileas Fogg of London and his newly employed French valet Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days only on a £20,000 wager set by his friends at the London Reform Club.
Of course a Bet
“It was all very well for an Englishman like Mr. Fogg to make the tour of the world with a carpet-bag; a lady could not be expected to travel comfortably under such conditions.”
— Jules Verne, In Eighty Days Around the World (1873), Ch. XX: In Which Fix Comes Face to Face with Phileas Fogg
The English gentlemen Phileas Fogg lives at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens. He’s a rich bachelor, around 40 years of age, but nobody knows the sources of his fortune. Overall, Phileas Fogg always lives a life in clockwork precision and is a passionate whist player. Having dismissed his former valet, for bringing him shaving water at 29°C instead of 30°C, Fogg hires a Frenchman by the name of Jean Passepartout as a replacement. One day at the London Reform Club, Phileas Fogg, Flanagan, Fallentin, and Sullivan are talking about a recent bank robbery. This conversation leads to a wager on £20,000 (£2,075,400 in 2017), where Fogg is quite sure he can travel around the world in eighty days only, while Sullivan doesn’t believe it can be done. Sullivan, Flanagan, and Fallentin think Fogg does not take into account the unexpected.
At the very same evening, Phileas Fogg is about to get on the train and start his expedition at 8:45 p.m. on Saturday 21 December 1872 together with his newly hired resourceful valet Jean Passepartout, who is caught unaware of the bet polishing shoes. Fogg tells Passepartout to pack only a few things, while everything else will be bought on the trip. The only luggage they will carry about is a carpet bag filled with £20,000.
The originally planned schedule for the trip reads as follows:
|London to Suez, Egypt||Rail to Brindisi, Italy, and steamer (the Mongolia) across the Mediterranean Sea.||7 days|
|Suez to Bombay, India||Steamer (the Mongolia) across the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.||13 days|
|Bombay to Calcutta, India||Rail.||3 days|
|Calcutta to Victoria, Hong Kong with a stopover in Singapore||Steamer (the Rangoon) across the South China Sea||13 days|
|Hong Kong to Yokohama, Japan||Steamer (the Carnatic) across the South China Sea, East China Sea, and the Pacific Ocean.||6 days|
|Yokohama to San Francisco, United States||Steamer (the General Grant) across the Pacific Ocean.||22 days|
|San Francisco to New York City, United States||Rail.||7 days|
|New York to London||Steamer (the China) across the Atlantic Ocean to Liverpool and rail.||9 days|
A Fabulous Plot
This is the beginning of the fabulous plot and from now on we see how Phileas Fogg travels around the world and witness the amazing adventures that he lives through together with his companions. While disembarking in Egypt, he is spotted by a dilligent Scotland Yard detective named Fix, who has been despatched from London in search of a bank robber. Because Fogg matches the description of the bank robber, Fix mistakenly believes Fogg to be the criminal. But since it is impossible to secure a warrant in time, Fix goes on board the steamer crossing the Suez Canal directed to Bombay, India. During the voyage, Fix gets acquainted with Passepartout, but does not reveal his purpose for following them on the journey. Passepartout and Fogg have no idea about Fix’s true intentions, who wants to get Fogg back to England so that he can arrest him.
Fogg’s Nemesis, Inspector Fix
On his way in India Phileas Fogg learns about the barbaric practice of ‘Suttee‘, i.e. burning of a woman after the death of her husband. The designated victim Aouda is an educated lady, who was married against her will to the old Rajah of Bundelkund. But, Phileas Fogg decides to save the woman and succeeds to abduct her by tricking the guards. Aouda and Fogg eventually fall in love and marry at the end of the book (sorry for the spoiler…). The threesome visit Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, and the Wild West. Only hours short of winning his wager, Fogg is arrested by Inspector Fix. Though exonerated of the bank robbery charges, he seems to have lost everything, but the story continues…and I won’t tell you the end.
Around the World for Real
The technological innovations of the 19th century had opened the possibility of rapid circumnavigation and the prospect fascinated Verne and his readership. In particular, three technological breakthroughs occurred in 1869–70 that made a tourist-like around-the-world journey possible for the first time: the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in America (1869), the linking of the Indian railways across the sub-continent (1870), and the opening of the Suez Canal (1869). It was another notable mark in the end of an age of exploration and the start of an age of fully global tourism that could be enjoyed in relative comfort and safety. The novel is inspired by actual events. The American merchant George Francis Train made a trip around the world following the very same passages in 1870 and two further world trips in 1890 and 1892, in 1892 even in only 60 days. He was furious about the change of his name to Phileas Fogg. His defiant last words were therefore allegedly: “I am Phileas Fogg!“
And even Faster!
In 1872 Thomas Cook , inventor of the travel agency business, organized the first around the world tourist trip, leaving on 20 September 1872 and returning seven months later, which probably served as a spark for the idea of the book. Several years later, in 1889, journalist Nellie Bly undertook to travel around the world in 80 days for her newspaper, the New York World. She managed to do the journey within 72 days, meeting Jules Verne himself in Amiens. Her own book about the trip, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, also became a best seller.
For Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days was a huge success. Finally, he was now able to live from his writings. Interestingly, most of his wealth came from the stage adaption of the novel. As the novels and stage productions continued to sell, many contemporary critics felt that Verne’s status as a commercially popular author meant he could only be seen as a mere genre-based storyteller, rather than a serious author worthy of academic study. However, the decades after Verne’s death also saw the rise in France of the “Jules Verne cult”, a steadily growing group of scholars and young writers who took Verne’s works seriously as literature and willingly noted his influence on their own pioneering works
References and Further Reading:
-  Around the World in Eighty Days at Project Gutenberg. Translation by George Makepeace Towle, 1874.
-  Around the World in 80 Days – Audibook from LibriVox
-  Thomas Cook Invents Organized Tourism, SciHi Blog, July 5, 2013.
-  Ferdinand de Lesseps and the Suez Canal, SciHi Blog, November 19, 2014.
-  The Great George Méliès and his Voyage to the Moon, SciHi Blog, September 1, 2012.
-  Jules Verne at Wikidata
-  A Trip to the Moon – the 1902 Science Fiction Film by Georges Méliès, OpenCulture @ youtube
-  Works by or about Jules Verne at Internet Archive
-  Timeline for Jules Verne, via Wikidata