Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rant or Rave: Around the World in 80 Days

Though I have seen movie adaptations of Jules Verne's classic story, and read some variations on the theme, I had never actually read Around the World in Eighty Days. This hole in my reading was recently addressed, and I must say in a most enjoyable fashion. As is usually the case with these things, this post will be a rave.

In and of itself, the story is a good one and Verne tells it very well. His characterizations of the unflappable, proper British gentleman, Phileas Fogg, and his overly emotional, volatile French valet, Passepartout, is both amusing and reflective of 19th century norms and mores. Their trip around the world is fascinating and fun and there is enough tension to keep the reader engrossed from beginning to end, even when knowing the ultimate resolution of the journey (as I did).

Beyond the story itself, however, was the great fun of being taken back in time by Verne. Though his contemporary, H.G. Wells, wrote The Time Machine, Verne's work most definitely serves as a trip backwards in time, to a different world. The flavor of a world deeply imprinted by British imperialism is clear throughout the book, and so to are Verne's depictions of 19th century India, China, and the American west.

Today's world truly is smaller than ever before, but a sense of the vastness of the earth for 19th century travelers can readily be found in Around the World in Eighty Days. Ship journeys took weeks, not days and transcontinental railways could be interupted by buffalo herds-- or require disembarkment because the rail lines haven't been completed (despite advertisements to the contrary).

So, a big rave for Verne's classic-- it holds up well more than a hundred years later. It is fun and it is fascinating as a travelogue of the past.

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