Today I would like to recommend a classic that I was given as a kid. It actually belonged to my father and both our names are written in their as proud owners. I wasn’t actually planning on re-reading it, I sort of got stuck in it, when I took it from the shelve, reading the first few lines.
Around the World in Eighty Days is the original Steampunk! It was first published by Jules Verne in 1873, and was published in monthly installments.
Each chapter is therefore has its own cliffhanger. The character of Phileas Fogg has become the stoic archetype for the cool gentleman traveller who is facing every adventure with black humour and a stiff upper lipp. The story is of course a little silly and childlike but also fast moving and fun, still a good read over a hundred years later. A interesting aspect of the story is the portrait of the American west in the 1870s from a European perspective.
The idea for the story came from the actual journey of an eccentric guy from Boston. George Francis Train. (He called himself „Citizen Train“). You can check him out on Wikipedia.
Not completely unexpected probably but Verne’s novel is a strong reminder how deeply the book is steeped in colonialist superiority:
„The steamer passed along near the shores, but the savage Papuans, who are in the lowest scale of humanity, but are not, as has been asserted, cannibals, did not make their appearance.“
In a similar way he describes Punjabis, Chinese, and Native Americans 😦 The book is a shameless celebration of the British Empire at its peak and Mr. Verne was quite the Anglophile. He constantly praises Phileas Fogg’s Englishness (his honor and stoicism) and bashes out at Passepartout’s Frenchness (chatty, emotional). There is of course also a love interest, Aouda, a rescued indian lady who keeps being the damsel in distress who the brave Phileas Fogg can rescue over and over again.
When Jules Vernes was a young boy he ran away from home, trying to smuggle himself on board a ship to sail the world and follow the adventures of Robinson Crusoe, a book he had read and admired. He was caught and promised his worried mother that from now on he would only travel in his dreams and that promise he pretty much kept. Not unlike Karl May, he rarely traveled he prefered to surround himself with books and research the maps and countries of his books without ever actually visiting them.
So – reading Jules Verne today can still be fun but the books need to be read within its historical context and with a critical mind.
Accompany „Around the World in 80 days“ with Nelly Bly’s account of her travel around the world, who actually met Jules Verne during her trip.