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Discovering More than Just the World

By Whitney L. Lawhon

It is a quarter before nine on Wednesday the 2nd of October 1872. A train’s whistle screams into the chilly evening air as civilians hustle about in confusion. Many people in the Charing Cross train station are excited about leaving on holiday or going to visit loved ones. It is here that a most thrilling and daring adventure is about to begin, Phileas Fogg’s expedition around the world in eighty days.

The story is possibly the most successful and popular of Jules Veme’s “extraordinary voyages,” beginning when the hero, Phileas Fogg, makes a wager with fellow Reform Club associates that he can make a journey around the world in just eighty days. Reassuring his friends he is not joking, as “a true Englishman doesn’t joke when he is talking about so serious a thing as a wager,” Fogg departs with Passepartout, his servant, that very evening, taking with them only two shirts, three pairs of stockings, and two pairs of underclothing.

Many of Verne’s adventurous stories were about traveling into the unknown. He was very creative and imaginative growing up and loved to sail with his younger brother whenever possible. Verne is said to be the first “consistent and conscious” science fiction writer. Writing and predicting the future, “opening our eyes to the romance of science” (Biography “Jules Verne” [Greystone Communications, Inc. for A & E Network, 1995]).

After struggling as a writer for fifteen years, Verne became a success with Five Weeks in a Balloon. But it would be Around the World in 80 Days that would make him wealthy. Written during a time when people knew very little about other cultures or races, Around the World in 80 Days brought a new idea to the world. People became interested in travel, and wanted to explore what else there was beyond what they already knew. Jules Verne loved exploring and wrote about it in all of his books, yet it wasn’t until the popular novel Around the World in 80 Days was published that exploring the world became a fascination. It was a hit all over, there were games created based on the novel, and fans tried duplicating Phileas Fogg’s journey. The story was printed in American newspapers one chapter at a time, keeping fans across the sea waiting to find out what their hero would do next.

In 1875 Verne was making plans for a stage version of Around the World in 80 Days. He was working with the famous Adolphe Philippe Dennery, who was known for his previous stage adaptations of novels, and for working with the original authors of the books (Herbert R. Lottman, Jules Verne: An Exploratory Biography [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996], 177-178). It would be this stage adaptation that would bring Verne his greatest prosperity (Brian Taves and Stephen Michaluk, Jr., The Jules Verne Encyclopedia: “Jules Verne: An Interpretation" [London: The Scarecrow Press Inc, 1996], 7). Throughout the story Fogg encounters many foreign cultures and people; this causes him to look at life differently, viewing other cultures with more respect and interest. His relationship with Passepartout grows from “servant/master,” into a friendship of trust and camaraderie. Fogg even meets a lovely Indian woman who falls in love with him and joins the two men on their journey. The presence of a woman in a Verne story is odd enough, but a romantic relationship between one of Verne’s heroes and a woman is almost unheard of. Verne once said, “My heroes need all their wits about them, and the presence of a young lady might, sadly, interfere with what they have to do” (A&E Biography: “Jules Verne”). So when Phileas Fogg falls in love it comes as quite a shock to Jules Verne fans, but it adds an unexpected twist and a welcome outcome.

Shortly after Fogg’s departure, all of London knows of his quest. He makes headline news, although most say the odds are against him. Fogg finds comic adventure at every stop, from trouble getting his passport visaed, to realizing that his only means of transportation from India to Allahabad is to buy an elephant. But Fogg is determined to reach his goal, letting nothing stand in his way, and risking any amount of money to get where and what he needs. Yet unknown to Fogg, Detective Fix of Scotland Yard is following close behind, mistaking him for a bank robber. The detective is set on the idea of catching Fogg, even if it means following him around the world.

As the plot unfolds, Phileas Fogg finds a different means of transportation for almost every scene. Buying a ship and burning it for fuel while it’s sailing, just to meet his deadline. Fogg discovers more than just the world during his voyage, he finds friendship, romance, and himself while he races against the odds to travel around the world in eighty days!

(From Insights, the Study Guide of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, 2001)

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