Monday, April 8, 2013

Around the World in Eighty Days

On my most recent vacation I continue to indulge in reading old classics.  This is made quite easy via the free (expired copyright) books which are available on the Kindle.

Around the World in Eighty Days is unusual for a Jules Verne work, in that it is more in his now than predicting the future.  It does in some respects predict how the future will look with recent completions of travel venues the major travel venues: US transatlantic rail, India subcontinental rail, & Suez Canal.  Messier Verne does aptly see the coming new world of tourism on a whim.  

The hero of the story is Phileas Fogg.  He is a well to do proper English gentleman who lives an organized, highly structured, predicable daily life.  This repetitive existence includes his daily trip to the gentlemen's club.   To prove a point with his fellow club members Fogg undertakes a quest to circumnavigate the world in no more than 80 days using commercially available travel.  A rather wager is made to prove the seriousness of the adventure, and off he goes, taking with him his newly hired man's servant, Jean Passepartout.  To tell any more of the story is to spoil it, so I will leave it at that.

I find it interesting that Verne paints the two travelers as extreme caricatures of the English and French.  Both have exaggerated traits supposedly held by their countrymen, and both have redeeming qualities designed to make them endearing to the reader.  I might have expected the French Verne to favor the Frenchman in the story, but that is not the case.

As with most writing, this a book of its time.  The modern reader will find the exciting adventure bits a little weak.  There is even a section where Fogg goes off to save Passepartout and I suppose to raise tension, the exciting bits are done off screen.  Much of the book reads like a dry travelogue.  I imagine at the time since this kind of travel had been previously unimaginable the readers would have been fascinated with the little details which I found boring and tedious.  The surprise ending would not have been all that surprising to the modern traveler, but to the reader in the 1870s this would have been all new and amazing.

The adventurous portions are fun to read, and overall the book is a quaint reminder of a bygone era.  It was an easy read, not too long, and the language is readily understood by the modern reader.  It is a classic and if you are curious about classics, I give it a moderate recommendation.  I am glad I read it and did enjoy most of it.  If you want an edge of your seat thriller, then you should pass this by.

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