Recent Reads – Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne


Having really enjoyed my read of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth“, I’ve been keen to read another Verne – so stumbling across this Everyman edition of “Around the World in Eighty Days” in the local Oxfam book shop for 99p was rather timely! Fortunately, it’s in one of the recommended translations (by P. Desages) accompanied by a foreword by Peter Costello and scholarly notes (plus some lovely original illustrations).

80 days
I don’t suppose there are many readers who don’t know the basic plot – wealthy recluse Phileas Fogg, who lives by a mechanical routine, going to his club like clockwork every day, accepts the challenge to travel around the globe in 80 days. A great believer in progress, accompanied by an excitable French manservant, Passepartout, and his faithful Bradshaw, he is unshakable in his believe that modern modes of transport will allow him to win his bet (half of his fortune is staked on it).

However, a complication arises when a bank is robbed just as Fogg prepares to leave. Mistakenly identified as the thief, Fogg is trailed on his journey by a stupid British detective, Fix, who contrives to cause problems all through the trip. On the journey, the travellers encounter all manner of cultures and events – Indian Suttee, North American Sioux attacks, herds of buffalo, opium dens in China – truly, this is a kind of combination adventure-travel book! Fogg rescues an Indian widow, Aouda, who becomes devoted to him and joins the journey. Will technology let Fogg down? Will he win his bet, and will Aouda manage to break through his cold exterior…?

“80 Days” is another great read from Verne, packed with adventure, action, danger, colourful foreign settings and plenty of twists and turns. The characters are all very appealing, from the precise, mechanical Fogg, to the excitable, loyal Passepartout and the dogged Fix. And Verne isn’t afraid to have a refreshingly feisty heroine – Aouda is quite happy to keep up with all the adventures, whether freezing on the back of a land sledge, or sailing through story waters; and she defends herself fiercely against marauding Sioux attackers. It even falls to her to resolve the personal affairs in the book…


If I had any criticism, it would be that sometimes the recitation of the various landscapes and countries on the journey becomes slightly mechanical – possibly because Verne presumably had not seen all the places on the journey, and was therefore relying on reference material for his source. However, when he transcends this, his writing is really excellent, and I did get really bound up in the story, wanting Fogg to beat the deadline and all to be resolved happily (even though I knew how the book ends!)

“While the travellers were pursuing such different thoughts, the sledge was flying over the boundless carpet of snow. It passed over creeks, the tributaries direct or indirect of Little Blue River, but no one noticed it. Fields and streams disappeared under one white shroud. The plain was perfectly desolate. Stretching between the Union Pacific railroad and the branch line which connects Kearney with Saint Joseph, it formed a vast uninhabited island. There was not a village, not a station, not even a fort. From time to time they saw fleeting by like a flash some distorted tree, whose white skeleton writhed in the blast. Now and again flocks of wild birds took wing all together, or packs of gaunt, ferocious prairie wolves, lashed by hunger, tore after the sledge, and Passepartout, revolver in hand, held himself in readiness to fire at the nearest. If the sledge had been stopped by some accident, the travellers would have been at once attacked by these fierce flesh eaters, and their position would have been more critical. But the sledge held on bravely, and soon left the howling brutes behind.”

I feel I should say that the copious notes are sometimes just a little too much – yes, they’re informative, but actually *over-informative* in a way that almost distracts from the book. I guess they’re aimed at a more general reader, but I know what a Bradshaw is, and I don’t need to know the history of a person a railroad is named after – so I ended up skipping a lot of the books. There is a spirited defence of Verne at the end of the book, though, and I would agree with much of what’s said – Jules Verne is a writer whose work is not just for children, but is great adventurous reading for adults!

Restraint? Pah! What’s that?


And from that title you might guess that a few more volumes have edged their way into the house from the local charity shops…..

Well, from one in particular actually – the Oxfam of course. I didn’t actually go into most of the stores this week, but I did intend to pop in to the Oxfam because I’d spotted a Virago Traveller the previous week – but as I didn’t have my trusty purple notebook, in which I list all my Viragos, with me, I was stuck. Turns out I didn’t have it, so “Travels in West Africa” by Mary Kingsley came home with me.

And here are its friends!

First up is a 99p bargain:

I enjoyed “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” so much that I want to read another Verne, and this is a title I also remember from a film!

I’ve also had Marias on the to-be-explored list for a while, so a nice copy of “The Infatuations” (a hardback, no less!) was impossible to resist.

The final book is a bit of an oddity:

I’ve never heard of Bruno Schulz before – but this is a Picador (and I like their books) and seems to be the only work of his which survived (as he’s another tragic war victim). A bit of a risk, but it may be good and I love discovering new authors.

Pretty good for just over the cost of one new paperback. Now I just to clear a bit of shelf space….. :s

Recent Reads: Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne


It’s always hard to know what to read after an all-encompassing, absorbing book like “Life”, or something by a favourite author like Beverley Nichols – I did try Amelia B. Edwards short stories, but although they were good, they weren’t *great* (or I wasn’t in the right mood). Anyway, I abandoned them half-way through and turned to what I hoped would be a light, enjoyable distraction – “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” by Jules Verne.


All I knew about the plot was from the James Mason film adaptation, and having had a bit of a root about online, it soon became obvious that the book would be quite different as a lot of changes were made for the movie. And the eternal problem of translation reared its head again, which I really wasn’t expecting! I thought, maybe a little naively, that translating from French to English would be more straightforward than say the Russians – but I was wrong. It seems that the early English versions of Verne suffered from sloppy translating and heavy, lazy editing which removed a lot of the scientific parts and contracted dialogue down to a paragraph of description etc. This made a little nervous but fortunately, my 1965 Penguin edition proclaims that it is a “New translation specially commissioned from Robert Baldrick for Penguin Science Fiction”.* Additionally, a useful online site which rates the various versions of Verne seems to think that this one is ok, so I breathed a sigh of relief and embarked!

Most people will know the basic plot of this book – an eccentric professor, Lidenbrock, discovers an old manuscript by the explorer Arne Saknussemm, which gives hints of how to travel to the centre of the earth. With his reluctant nephew Axel and their taciturn but essential guide Hans, they set off to follow in Saknussemm’s footsteps, travelling down into an extinct volcano in Iceland and attempting to boldly go where only one man has gone before! The journey is full of excitement and drama, strange interior landscapes, underground seas and forests, and some very alarming creatures…

I had certain expectations of the book based on the film, but in many ways they were wrong. The film had additional elements added which made it a completely different prospect to the novel (love interest, evil rival) and if I remember correctly lost many of the more adventurous aspects. Because this book is nothing if not full of adventure! The characters are very well drawn – the irascible professor, the slightly cowardly but sometimes brave (and so therefore very human!) Axel, and the quiet but reliable Hans. We see how they learn to rely on each other in times of crisis, developing a deep friendship, and we watch their progress into the bowels of the earth with wonder.


What is remarkable to realise is that Verne never travelled very widely – he made trips around Europe, and one to the USA, I believe, but not much further. So all of this wonderful imagery and description is summoned pretty much out of his very fertile imagination. And of course, the underground regions were completely invented because no-one ever had (or has!) travelled to the centre of the Earth! There is plenty of scientific discussions, as befits a couple of mineralogists, but this is very much in character, and doesn’t become tedious. And Verne’s prose and descriptions are excellent – for example, this wonderful piece of description of vertigo when Axel is becoming acclimatised to heights in Copenhagen:

“I saw the houses looking as if they had been squashed flat by a fall, in the midst of the smoke fog created by their chimneys. Over my head wisps of cloud were passing, and by an optical illusion they seemed to me to be motionless, while the spire, the ball and I were being carried along at a tremendous speed. Far away on one side there was the green country, and on the other the sea was sparkling under a sheaf of sunbeams. The Sound stretched away to the Point of Elsinore, dotted with a few white sails like seagulls’ wings, and in the mist to the east the faintly blurred coast of Sweden was visible. The whole of this vast spectacle spun around beneath my eyes.”

“Journey” is also a very gripping and exciting read. Verne never lets the pace flag, and our heroes pass from one adventure to another. There is a certain contracting of time, when we will learn in a couple of sentences how they travel through a particular place for hours (or even days!), so Verne doesn’t waste words! And his vision of what it’s like below the earth, although now scientifically disproved, is still stunning and unusual – he conjures up some wonderful images with his descriptions of strange plant and animal life, a huge and strange sea, clouds and caverns – it’s certainly an intoxicating, exciting journey to go along on!


This was a really satisfying, enjoyable read – one of those books you just sink into straight away, and look forward to picking up and reading the next chapter. Is it science fiction? That’s a good question, and I would prefer to label it “imaginative fiction”. There is science in it, and exploration – but nothing from outer space, no flying saucers or aliens and it certainly isn’t anything like modern sci-fi. This was just simply a brilliantly written, exciting adventure; thought-provoking in places and great fun. I shall look forward to exploring more of Jules Verne!

As an aside, it does seem such a shame that Verne’s reputation has suffered so much from the language issue. Bad and shortened translations really have led to him being dismissed a children’s’ author and denied much of a place in the great pantheon of literature. Why you should dismiss children’s authors is a question I’d like to raise anyway, but certainly he deserves to be recognised as a great writer of fiction. In searching for information on the various versions, I stumbled across this site, which was quite a useful guide. I then went off at a tangent trying to find out which versions were published by Wordsworth Editions, as they don’t always state the translators, and I must thank them for their very helpful and informative responses when I made contact – luckily the versions they put out are rated as ok on the Jules Verne site! So it’s off to track down some Wordsworths!

* If anyone is interested in vintage Penguin Science Fiction books, there is a wonderful resource here

Synchronicity, Serendipity – and *why* can’t I stop buying books!!


Despite all my wonderful resolutions to read from my stacks and not buy any more books for a while, things are not going to plan – well, they never do with me and books and reading, do they? I have had a couple of volumes arrive via ReadItSwapIt this week, but things complicated a little today when I popped into the Big Town. I hadn’t been round the charity shops much recently owing to Christmas, family illnesses and visiting offspring. However, I was resolved not to do a big sweep, and even popped into the library to return some volumes – and happened to catch sight of a copy of Stella Gibbons’ “Nightingale Wood” for sale – a Virago volume I don’t have and for 40p found impossible to resist….

Nestling next to it in this unpleasantly fuzzy picture (I really must get my camera sorted out!) is a very nice old Penguin of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” – I’ve seen the film many times but never read the book and since I love classic sci-fi so much, I thought it was a must.

The Verne came from the Oxfam book shop, which has unfortunately had a bit of a re-stock in its Modern Classics and Classics section – so I had to exert quite a lot of will-power not to come out with a bag full of books. However, I *did* make an exception for “A Pound of Paper” – written by John Baxter, whose “The Most Beautiful Walk in the World” I just read and reviewed, and subtitled “Confessions of a Book Addict”. Maybe it will have some advice to help me deal with *my* addiction?

Today’s last acquisition “All Saints Eve” is a collection of stories billed as the precursor to Agatha Christie – and I confess to never having heard of or read Amelia B. Edwards, but for £1.75 I’m prepared to take a punt. This last book came from the lovely Samaritans book cave, where I dropped in for a browse and chat with the friendly staff.

Unfortunately, all this has messed with the plans for reading and the little shelf of books I notionally had put aside for current reading. I’ve already gone off at a bit of a tangent, as there are a couple of books I just read awaiting review which weren’t planned for, and I’m now 100 pages into this:

I picked up “Life: A User’s Manual” last year at the Oxfam and decided I needed something unusual and substantial recently – so far it fits the bill admirably!

So, now the current pile of possibles looks like this:

Top is the Perec I’m currently reading. Then we have today’s acquisitions, followed by MacLaren-Ross’s “Of Love and Hunger”, “The Leopard”, Compton Mackenzie’s “Sinister Street”, Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” (I’m thinking of a readalong with jackiemania), “Manon Lescaut” (RISI) and Chekhov’s “The Russian Master” (RISI). Phew!

I really must try to concentrate on one book at a time… :s

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