Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days (1873)
Illus. Jame’s Prunier Trans. Barbara Brister
“The Whole Story” Viking, 1996

I discovered “The Whole Story” editions one Saturday afternoon browsing in the Children’s Library. They’re lavishly illustrated: think, annotations in photographs. (Unfortunately I couldn’t find the corresponding cover image that I could use here, but online booksellers do have a “Search Inside” option for this series which gives a taste of their style.)

They’re not plentiful in our library system, so I chose to read the one classic I hadn’t yet read in the series, which also served as my introduction to Jules Verne’s fiction. Nope, no leagues beneath seas. No journeys to middles of earths. No mysterious islands. Only Around the World in 80 Days. And only because it had such pretty pictures.

But pretty and useful pictures. Otherwise, I would never have known that kids used to collect scenes from the book slipped into Poulin chocolate bars. (Perhaps as avidly as I collected the comics from Bazooka bubble gum.) I would never have known that board games of the day taught geography using events from the novel. When I sketched nursery scenes from the later Victorian years in my imagination, I would have overlooked the sets of wooden blocks that were commonly illustarted with scenes from this beloved novel. I would have overlooked the immense popularity of this story.

And it might not have come across the same way in a plain, unadorned edition. Passepartout’s adventure might not have had the same impact. Sure, the story of a good dare (he’s declared that he can make the journey in the requisite amount of time and everybody he knows thinks he’s crazy) is timeless. And the intrigue of a third-party, a detective, determined to foil his efforts adds suspense…

“You believe in this journey around the world, then?”
“Absolutely. Don’t you, Mr. Fix?”
“I? I don’t believe a word of it.””You’re a sly dog!” said Passepartout, winking at him.
This expression rather disturbed Fix, without his knowing why. Had the Frenchman guessed his real purpose? He knew not what to think. But how could Passepartout have discovered that he was a detective? Yet, in speaking as he did, the man evidently meant more than he expressed.”

…but despite these plot elements, the novel is a journey of 80 days, a journey around the world. Readers know that Passpartout will make the journey; the only question is whether he will meet his timetable, make the journey successfully and lucratively (for there is a great deal of cash riding on this venture). That’s a lot of ground to cover. Literally.

“While each of the party was absorbed in reflections so different, the sledge flew fast over the vast carpet of snow. The creeks it passed over were not perceived. Fields and streams disappeared under the uniform whiteness. The plain was absolutely deserted. Between the Union Pacific road and the branch which unites Kearney with Saint Joseph it formed a great uninhabited island. Neither village, station, nor fort appeared. From time to time they sped by some phantom-like tree, whose white skeleton twisted and rattled in the wind.”

Some legs of the journey pass more quickly than others. The North American bit experienced by our band of travellers is summarized relatively quickly (as above), whereas other portions stretch further across the narrative. If the edition hadn’t been so inviting, I might have taken an extended layover between continents but, as it was, I reached my destination just in time.

Verne’s style is matter-of-fact and trim and I enjoyed it well enough to consider future travels (be they beneath the sea or into the centre of the earth or to a mysterious island), but Around the World in 80 Days didn’t make me want to pack my bags for another Verne-adventure straight-away either.

PS I read this as part of Dewey’s Read-a-Thon, but it also counts towards the 1% Well-Read Challenge.