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IN WHICH PHILEAS FOGG AND PASSEPARTOUT ACCEPT EACH OTHER, THE ONE AS MASTER, THE OTHER AS MAN
Mr. Phileas Fogg lived, in 1872, at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, the house in which Sheridan died in 1814. He was one of the most noticeable members of the Reform Club, though he seemed always to avoid attracting attention; an enigmatical personage, about whom little was known, except that he was a polished man of the world. People said that he resembled Byron -- at least that his head was Byronic; but he was a bearded, tranquil Byron, who might live on a thousand years without growing old.
Certainly an Englishman, it was more doubtful whether Phileas Fogg was a Londoner. He was never seen on 'Change, nor at the Bank, nor in the counting-rooms of the "City"; no ships ever came into London docks of which he was the owner; he had no public employment; he had never been entered at any of the Inns of Court, either at the Temple, or Lincoln's Inn, or Gray's Inn; nor had his voice ever resounded in the Court of Chancery, or in the Exchequer, or the Queen's Bench, or the Ecclesiastical Courts. He certainly was not a manufacturer; nor was he a merchant or a gentleman farmer. His name was strange to the scientific and learned societies, and he never was known to take part in the sage deliberations of the Royal Institution or the London Institution, the Artisan's Association or the Institution of Arts and Sciences. He belonged, in fact, to none of the numerous societies which swarm in the English capital, from the Harmonic to that of the Entomologists, founded mainly for the purpose of abolishing pernicious insects.
Phileas Fogg was a member of the Reform, and that was all.
The way in which he got admission to this exclusive club was simple enough.
He was recommended by the Barings, with whom he had an open credit. His cheques were regularly paid at sight from his account current, which was always flush.
Was Phileas Fogg rich? Undoubtedly. But those who knew him best could not imagine how he had made his fortune, and Mr. Fogg was the last person to whom to apply for the information. He was not lavish, nor, on the contrary, avaricious; for whenever he knew that money was needed for a noble, useful, or benevolent purpose, he supplied it quietly and sometimes anonymously. He was, in short, the least communicative of men. He talked very little and seemed all the more mysterious for his taciturn manner. His daily habits were quite open to observation; but whatever he did was so exactly the same thing that he had always done before, that the wits of the curious were fairly puzzled.
Had he travelled? It was more likely, for no one seemed to know the world more familiarly; there was no spot so secluded that he did not appear to have an intimate acquaintance with it. He often corrected, with a few clear words, the thousand conjectures advanced by members of the club as to lost and unheard-of travellers, pointing out the true probabilities, and seeming as if gifted with a sort of second sight, so often did events justify his predictions. He must have traveled everywhere, at least in spirit.
It was at least certain that Phileas Fogg had not absented himself from London for many years. Those who were honoured by a better acquaintance with him than the rest, declared that nobody could pretend to have ever seen him anywhere else. His sole pastimes were reading the papers and playing whist. He often won at this game, which, as a silent one, harmonized with his nature; but his winnings never went into his purse, being reserved as a fund for his charities. Mr. Fogg played, not to win, but for the sake of playing. The game was in his eyes a contest, a struggle with a difficulty, yet a motionless, unwearying struggle, congenial to his tastes.
Phileas Fogg was not known to have either wife or children, which may happen to the most honest people; either relatives or near friends, which is certainly more unusual. He lived alone in his house in Saville Row, whither none penetrated. A single domestic sufficed to serve him. He breakfasted and dined at the club, at hours mathematically fixed, in the same room, at the same table, never taking his meals with other members, much less bringing a guest with him; and went home at exactly midnight, only to retire at once to bed. He never used the cosy chambers which the Reform provides for its favoured members. He passed ten hours out of the twenty-four in Saville Row, either in sleeping or making his toilet. When he chose to take a walk it was with a regular step in the entrance hall with its mosaic flooring, or in the circular gallery with its dome supported by twenty red porphyry Ionic columns, and illumined by blue painted windows. When he breakfasted or dined all the resources of the club -- its kitchens and pantries, its buttery and dairy -- aided to crowd his table with their most succulent stores; he was served by the gravest waiters, in dress coats, and shoes with swan-skin soles, who proffered the viands in special porcelain, and on the finest linen; club decanters, of a lost mould, contained his sherry, his port, and his cinnamon-spiced claret; while his beverages were refreshingly cooled with ice, brought at great cost from the American lakes.
If to live in this style is to be eccentric, it must be confessed that there is something good in eccentricity.
The mansion in Saville Row, though not sumptuous, was exceedingly comfortable. The habits of its occupant were such as to demand but little from the sole domestic, but Phileas Fogg required him to be almost superhumanly prompt and regular. On this very 2nd of October he had dismissed James Forster, because that luckless youth had brought him shaving-water at eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit instead of eighty-six; and he was awaiting his successor, who was due at the house between eleven and half-past.
Phileas Fogg was seated squarely in his armchair, his feet close together like those of a grenadier on parade, his hands resting on his knees, his body straight, his head erect; he was steadily watching a complicated clock which indicated the hours, the minutes, the seconds, the days, the months, and the years. At exactly half-past eleven Mr. Fogg would, according to his daily habit, quit Saville Row, and repair to the Reform.
A rap at this moment sounded on the door of the cosy apartment where Phileas Fogg was seated, and James Forster, the dismissed servant, appeared.
"The new servant," said he.
A young man of thirty advanced and bowed.
"You are a Frenchman, I believe," asked Phileas Fogg, "and your name is John?"
"Jean, if monsieur pleases," replied the newcomer, "Jean Passepartout, a surname which has clung to me because I have a natural aptness for going out of one business into another. I believe I'm honest, monsieur, but, to be outspoken, I've had several trades. I've been an itinerant singer, a circus-rider, when I used to vault like Leotard, and dance on a rope like Blondin. Then I got to be a professor of gymnastics, so as to make better use of my talents; and then I was a sergeant fireman at Paris, and assisted at many a big fire. But I quitted France five years ago, and, wishing to taste the sweets of domestic life, took service as a valet here in England. Finding myself out of place, and hearing that Monsieur Phileas Fogg was the most exact and settled gentleman in the United Kingdom, I have come to monsieur in the hope of living with him a tranquil life, and forgetting even the name of Passepartout."
"Passepartout suits me," responded Mr. Fogg. "You are well recommended to me; I hear a good report of you. You know my conditions?"
"Good. What time is it?"
"Twenty-two minutes after eleven," returned Passepartout, drawing an enormous silver watch from the depths of his pocket.
"You are too slow," said Mr. Fogg.
"Pardon me, monsieur, it is impossible -- "
"You are four minutes too slow. No matter; it's enough to mention the error. Now from this moment, twenty-six minutes after eleven, a.m., this Wednesday, October 2nd, you are in my service."
Phileas Fogg got up, took his hat in his left hand, put it on his head with an automatic motion, and went off without a word.
Passepartout heard the street door shut once; it was his new master going out. He heard it shut again; it was his predecessor, James Forster, departing in his turn. Passepartout remained alone in the house in Saville Row.
Warning: Put down this book if you like your soup watered-down, your bicycles with training wheels, and your stories easy-going and uneventful. Jules Verne propels you through strange lands with the speed and energy of a modern bullet train, and yet you will see those landscapes in such intricate detail that you will never forget them, and meet people whose faces and words will remain with you forever. It's a neat trick that only a master storyteller can pull off, and Around the World in Eighty Days was the highpoint of his magic.
Around the World in Eighty Days was the most successful of all Verne's novels as soon as it was first serialized in Le Temps in 1872, and then published in 1873 in book form. A year later, the dramatized version opened and ran in theaters for over fifty years.
Around the World in Eighty Days is still so appealing today because Jules Verne makes readers feel the same excitement and curiosity he felt as a boy growing up in the port of Nantes. Ships from around the globe sailed up the Loire River, so it was easy for him to hear about daring exploits in faraway lands. At the age of eleven he ran away from home and snuck onto a ship, the Coralie, which was bound for the Indies -- only to be taken off at the next port by his father, a man as obsessed with punctuality and regular schedules as Jules Verne's fictional creation, Phileas Fogg.
Since he had to give up on real sea adventures, Verne went voyaging in his imagination instead. In school he was constantly sketching flying machines and ships in his notebooks. At the same time, Brutus de Villeroi, the inventor of an early submarine, was on the school's staff. During the Civil War, the U.S. Navy licensed de Villeroi's designs and built the U.S.S. Alligator. Though it's not clear if Jules Verne was in any of his classes, perhaps there were stories that circulated through the school that made Verne daydream even more.
By the early 1870s, Jules Verne had already published several books, but none of them had done well. He might have given up writing except for the encouragement of his publisher, so Verne persevered. But then his father passed away, and Verne's son, Michel, was beginning to exhibit the psychological troubles that would later result in his being placed temporarily in a mental institution.
In 1870 Germany had invaded France, and to Jules Verne, the entire world itself must have appeared to have gone mad as well. Verne had sent his wife and children to safety when the government assigned him to defend the Bay of Somme with a small boat, twelve aging veterans, three even more ancient flintlocks, and an odd cannon that he called the Poodle. There were confusing revolts and counter-revolts in Paris, so that the city was besieged first by the Germans, during which the starving Parisians ate the animals in the zoo. Then, when a peace treaty was signed, a group of French rebels seized Paris, and the new government had to beg the Germans to release the French soldiers captured during the war. The government then used this new army to lay siege to its own capital. In all the fighting, Verne lost both family and friends.
Considering all of Verne's problems, it is amazing that he ever wrote Around the World in Eighty Days, but perhaps it was the surrounding chaos that made him yearn for somewhere secure and sane. And so he created Phileas Fogg, who insists on a fixed routine that effectively shrinks his world to a very small patch of London. It is as if Phileas Fogg has sealed himself inside a self-contained universe, cut off from the hint of anything irregular. The one sole bit of randomness in his orderly life is his card games, but even then chance events are safely hedged in by strict rules.
Yet, as we see later, Phileas Fogg is neither a delicate hothouse flower nor a coward. Away from London he is a man of courage and determination with many talents that he has kept hidden behind his dull routine. Jules Verne never explains how his hero learned such skills as navigation, nor what drove him to regulate his life so strictly. When we first meet Phileas Fogg, he seems no more than a cold fish.
The only thing that Phileas Fogg values more than order is his honor, and so, when his friends doubt his word, he abandons his organized life and travels around the world without batting an eyelash. Later, with just as much determination, he risks his life to save, Mrs. Aouda, and later his servant, Jean Passepartout.
On the other hand, Passepartout acts first and thinks later, providing the counterpoint to the coldly logical Fogg. Emotional, resourceful, and fearless, Passepartout hungers for new experiences, sights, and sounds. He provides the brawn to Phileas Fogg's brains, and during the journey they both come to realize they complement one another. Though earlier he would have left his servant a prisoner in an Indian jail, later, Fogg is willing to lose everything to save Passepartout in America. For his part, Passepartout begins to admire the nobility that lies hidden beneath Fogg's cold exterior.
Together, master and servant represent the different halves of a human spirit that can overcome both natural difficulties and technological breakdowns, for Jules Verne was smart enough to know that, despite the most careful planning, things can always go wrong. Ships can be delayed or depart early, information on railroads can be false, and there will always be misunderstandings, quarrels, and fights when people are involved.
Whatever the problem, master and servant can come up with a solution -- whether it is an ancient one like the elephant or, with the help of the detective, Fix, a modern one like the ingenious sled with a sail.
When Around the World in Eighty Days was published, travel was on everyone's mind because in the space of a few years technology had suddenly shrunk the distances between countries. In 1869 the French opened the Suez Canal so that ships from Europe no longer had to sail around continental Africa to reach Asia. In that same year the United States completed the transcontinental railroad, linking the east and west coasts so that what had once been a long, difficult trip had now become short and relatively comfortable. In the following year, the two great Indian railway systems were supposed to have been joined so that, in theory, it was going to be possible to go by rail from one coast of India to the other.
Everywhere newspapers, magazines, and books speculated on how such technological achievements would shorten a trip around the world, and Verne cites several of them as sources for his inspiration. All these publications whetted the public's appetite to learn about distant countries. International exhibitions, such as the Paris Exposition in 1889, made a point of displaying inhabitants from faraway places in the everyday settings of their homelands. And many respectable families owned a set of travel slides and some form of a stereoscope, which was a special viewer that created the illusion of three dimensions. That way, families could see the sights in other lands without leaving their parlor.
Countries began forging the ties that, two centuries later, have become our tightly woven global economy. It's symbolically fitting that the thoroughly British gentleman, Phileas Fogg, should marry the already anglicized Mrs. Aouda.
All the statistics in Around the World in Eighty Days also reflect the interests of Verne and his contemporaries. It was an age that expected books to educate as well as entertain -- and that education should also include the price tags of things. Readers not only wanted to know how far a ship sailed but also how much it cost to build and operate. People's curiosity about other places often had a commercial side: Was there a profit to be made somehow? Compared to the attitude of the times, Fogg's gallantry stands out because he makes no money from the trip. At best he will only break even by winning his wager.
Instead, his true reward is in keeping with the sentimentalism of the age which outweighed its commercialism: Fogg finds true love, and for Verne's readers, love trumped cold, hard cash every time. In the end, the heart was worth more than any treasure vault.
Though this novel doesn't have rocket ships and submarines, it shares the same sense of wonder that pervades Jules Verne's science fiction, and perhaps that's why readers still enjoy Around the World in Eighty Days today. Jules Verne never strayed far from the boy who took such pleasure in exploring his world, and it is a tribute to his skill as a writer that he makes readers tingle with a similar delight.
-- Laurence Yep
Foreword copyright © 2007 by Laurence Yep
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