THOUGHTS ON: Around the World in Eighty Days

by Jules Verne

Mr. Fogg seemed a perfect type of that English composure which Angelica Kauffmann has so skilfully represented on canvas.”

ATWI80D CoverBetween 1863 and 1905, the French writer, Jules Verne, wrote a sequence of fifty-four novels known collectively as the ‘Voyages extraordinaires’ (‘Extraordinary Voyages’), the purpose of which, according to Verne’s editor Pierre-Jules Hetzel, was “to outline all the geographical, geological, physical and astronomical knowledge amassed by modern science and to recount, in an entertaining and picturesque format…the history of the universe.”

Number 11 in the series, which also included the popular fictional titles Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, was the highly acclaimed 1873 classic, Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days).

This slim novel tells the tale of an enigmatic English gentleman, Phileas Fogg, who resides at No. 7 Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, and is a familiar face at London’s famous Reform Club. Having made a somewhat rash £20,000 wager with fellow members of this elitist institution, he sets off with Jean Passepartout, his newly hired valet, to prove it is possible to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. He departs from London by train at 8:45 p.m. on 2nd October and, in order to win his bet, must return to the club by the same time on 21st December, 80 days later.

Before opening this volume for the first time my only notion of the storyline came from watching the wonderfully debonair David Niven play Phileas Fogg in the 1956 Academy Award-winning epic adventure-comedy, Around the World in 80 Days (there have been other screen adaptions, too). Enchanting though I found this film, it deviated rather from the novel, especially when it came to the now widely-remembered scene of the men taking off from Paris in a hot air balloon, as this simply didn’t happen in the book. Indeed, there was no ballooning of any sort in Verne’s original story. There was, however, an elephant.

Written during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), at a time when Verne was struggling financially, he claimed the idea for Around the World in Eighty Days came to him one afternoon in a Paris café while reading a newspaper. It was one of the most widely read novels of the 19th century, often accredited with playing a major role in shaping European attitudes of the colonized lands, and was to become one of his most highly acclaimed works.

My Nan, whose father was French, always maintained that his side of the family lived next door to Jules Verne. Like the writer, they came from Nantes, a seaport city in Western France. I was a child when I received this information and regrettably failed to elicit further details, but she was a lady known for living by the maxim: ‘While you live, tell truth and shame the Devil’, so I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of her story.

The book I found entertaining, inventive and light-hearted. It is, of course, very much of its time, especially with regard to its depiction of the British Empire, but I can imagine how gripping and modern it must have seemed to those who read it first. It was, nevertheless, ideally suited to my mood for something short and undemanding to read in a single sitting.

Categories: Translated Literature

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31 replies

  1. Lovely post – I haven’t read this in years! I also have fond memories of the David Niven film 🙂

  2. I loved “Around the World in Eighty Days” as a child, and I still enjoy Verne’s classics very much – they paved way and were a perfect introduction to science fiction 🙂

    • I never before realised he wrote quite so many books in the series (or indeed, that it was ever part of a series). I’m sorry now that I didn’t read it as a child.

      • Those were fantastic journeys for a child’s imagination 🙂 Though I haven’t read that many of them either – six or seven maybe, from “20 000 Leagues Under the Sea” to “Two Years’ Vacation” and the Robur series..

  3. I read this a while back on the blog – great fun, as you say, and ideal when you want something not too taxing. And much as I loved the Niven film the book is always better…. 🙂

  4. An excellent and insightful review. I read the book when I was 12; you make me think about going back to it again.

  5. Wonderful post. Your Nan’s story is also quite intriguing. I hope to reread this classic one day soon.

    • Thank you, Nina. Yes, the French side of my Nan’s family was quite intriguing. My grandad always teased her by saying they were probably all guillotined during the French Revolution (he was typically British and could never pronounce her family name properly) – but I think from some of the things she said, that may well have been the case with several of her wealthier ancestors. The only thing I know for sure is that her father and his sister moved to Manchester some time before WW1. I wish I had asked more questions when she was alive.

      • he was typically British and could never pronounce her family name properly… that is hilarious but so true. 😉
        I know what you mean about wishing to have had more conversations. I’m trying to get some family stories straight from my grandmother all now 🙂

  6. I loved your review, Paula! I read this when I was too young to appreciate it, I’m sure. My grandparents had a copy, and I can still see the cover in my mind! I need to read it again as an adult.

  7. Great review- it’s been a while since I’ve read this one, but it is a fun one. I also liked Journey to the Centre of the Earth- and want to read more of these.

  8. I used to read his stories as a child. I can’t remember them that well, thanks for triggering my memories. 😊

    We went to Gorges du Tarn last year and one of its caves is themed around Jules Verne – I thought it was pretty cool to be acknowledging his amazing imagination as we were travelling deeper into the Earth 🌏

  9. I had no idea about any of what you’ve explained, Paula – from which you can probably deduce that I’ve never read any Jules Verne! You now have me eager to remedy that, especially knowing that the book is quite short. I don’t think I’ve seen the Niven film either. I know I’ve seen other versions but they’ve never grabbed me. I suspect Niven might put that right 🙂

  10. I have yet to read any of Jules Verne’s work, but I have seen a few film adaptations of Around the World in Eighty Days. When possible, I like to read old groundbreaking works as you have – by trying to “imagine how gripping and modern it must have seemed to those who read it first.” It gives me a chance to think about how attitudes and ideas evolve (or don’t).

  11. We read 20000 Leagues under the Sea in 6th grade and it was one of the first more ‘serious’ books I read and really enjoyed (up till then I had mostly read Famous Five and similar stuff) and it made me start a Jules Verne-binge. Of course including 80 Days 😀 I think Verne (and Dumas because my mother than handed me her copy of Three Musketeers) really awoke my reading-bug and showed me that there are great stories that aren’t about 4 kids and a dog hunting smugglers. So he has a very special place in my heart (but I also keep telling myself that I really should re-read some of his stuff but never get round to doing so…)

    • Many thanks for your post, Aoife. I agree, books you love as a child tend to remain special throughout life. I don’t know about you but I have so many TBRs waiting for my attention that it’s almost impossible to find time to reread anything. There just aren’t enough hours in the day! 🤯

  12. This is still on my list to read someday 🙂


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