Around the World in 80 Days

Background and analysis

Around the World in Eighty Days was written during difficult times, both for France and for Verne. It was during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) in which Verne was conscripted as a coastguard; he was having financial difficulties (his previous works were not paid royalties); his father had died recently; and he had witnessed a public execution, which had disturbed him.[5] Despite all this, Verne was excited about his work on the new book, the idea of which came to him one afternoon in a Paris café while reading a newspaper.

The technological innovations of the 19th century had opened the possibility of rapid circumnavigation and the prospect fascinated Verne and his readership.[5] In particular, three technological breakthroughs occurred in 1869–70 that made a tourist-like around-the-world journey possible for the first time: the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in America (1869), the linking of the Indian railways across the sub-continent (1870), and the opening of the Suez Canal (1869).[5] It was another notable mark in the end of an age of exploration and the start of an age of fully global tourism that could be enjoyed in relative comfort and safety. It sparked the imagination that anyone could sit down, draw up a schedule, buy tickets and travel around the world, a feat previously reserved for only the most heroic and hardy of adventurers.[5]

Verne is often characterized as a futurist or science-fiction author, but there is not a glimmer of science fiction in this, which is his most popular work (at least in English).[5] Rather than any futurism, it remains a memorable portrait of the British Empire "on which the sun never sets" shortly before its peak, drawn by an outsider.[5] Until 2006, no critical editions were written due to both the poor translations available and the stereotypical connection between science fiction and "worthless" boys' literature. However, Verne's works began receiving more serious reviews in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with new translations appearing. The book is a source of common notable English and extended British attitudes in quotes such as "Phileas Fogg and Sir Francis Cromarty ... endured the discomfort with true British phlegm, talking little, and scarcely able to catch a glimpse of each other," as well as in Chapter 12 when the group is being jostled around on the elephant ride across the jungle. In Chapter 25, when Fogg is insulted in San Francisco, Fix acknowledges that clearly "Mr. Fogg was one of those Englishmen who, while they do not tolerate dueling at home, fight abroad when their honor is attacked."

Post-Colonial readings of the novel elucidate Verne's role as propagandist for European global dominance, as a Victors' historian. "Perhaps the leading excuse for the European colonization of India was found in the Hindu practice of the suttee".[6] Verne's novel, one of the most widely read of the 19th century, played a major role in shaping European attitudes of the colonized lands.

The closing date of the novel, 21 December 1872, was the same date as the serial publication.[5] As it was being published serially for the first time, some readers believed that the journey was actually taking place – bets were placed, and some railway companies and ship liner companies lobbied Verne to appear in the book.[5] It is unknown if Verne submitted to their requests, but the descriptions of some rail and shipping lines leave some suspicion he was influenced.[5]

Although a journey by balloon has become one of the images most strongly associated with the story, this iconic symbol was never deployed by Verne – the idea is, briefly, brought up in Chapter 32, but dismissed, as it "would have been highly risky and, in any case, impossible." However, the popular 1956 movie adaptation Around the World in Eighty Days used the balloon idea, and it has now become a part of the mythology of the story, even appearing on book covers. This plot element is reminiscent of Verne's earlier Five Weeks in a Balloon, which first made him a well-known author.

Concerning the final coup de théâtre, Fogg had thought it was one day later than it actually was, because he had forgotten this simple fact: during his journey, he had added a full day to his clock, at the rhythm of an hour per fifteen degrees, or four minutes per degree, as Verne writes. In fact, at the time and until 1884, the concept of a de jure International Date Line did not exist. If it did, he would have been made aware of the change in date once he reached this line. Thus, the day he added to his clock throughout his journey would be removed upon crossing this imaginary line. However, in the real world, Fogg's mistake would not have occurred because a de facto date line did exist. The UK, India and the US had the same calendar with different local times. He would have noticed, when he arrived in San Francisco, that the local date was actually one day earlier than shown in his travel diary. As a consequence he could not fail to notice that the departure dates of the transcontinental train in San Francisco and of the China steamer in New York were actually one day earlier than his personal travel diary.


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