Around the World in Eighty Days and the Depiction of Imperialism

French author Jules Verne, the third most translated author of all time, published his highly praised novel Around the World in 80 Days in the year 1873. Following his renowned novels which were published in previous years, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), this piece of work joined them as one of his best-known works. This creation and publication of this novel occurred entirely in the period of imperialism and the setting of the novel is also based in the 1870s. Throughout his travels, Phileas Fogg witnesses first hand the technological and scientific advances that the world was going through, particularly in relation to transport. While visiting other countries, he was also immersed in the reality of imperial power and what was happening in the world. “I see that it is by no means useless to travel if a man wants to see something new” (Verne, Jules, Chapter 9, Around the World in 80 days, 1873).

Imperialism is a movement that without a doubt, changed the world over a vast period of time. Around the sixteenth century, a time when what was called old imperialism occurred, people of the nations of Europe settled in North and South America and also Southeast Asia. However, the movement that is known as the age of New Imperialism began around 1870 and was occurring both in reality and in this fiction novel. Throughout his travels, almost all of the countries that he visits, are or were subject the imperialism (Lecture notes). Most importantly, he visits Hong Kong and India, which are currently British colonies, at the time when Mr. Fogg and his travelling companions are there. “But British India, properly so called, only embraces seven hundred thousand square miles, and a population of from one hundred to one hundred and ten millions of inhabitants. A considerable portion of India is still free from British authority; and there are certain ferocious rajahs in the interior who are absolutely independent.” (Verne, Jules, Around the World in 80 Days, 1873). As Verne was French, and France was a known rival of Britain; he seems to write with interest about the British empire and their imperial power. However this interest does not seem to be negative, as the protagonist of his novel, Phileas Fogg is, in fact, British and one of the main subjects of the novel is the impact of the British and their colonial expansion throughout the world.

The English first began settling in a city that is known to us as Madras and only continued to expand. The significance of the expansion of British power is highlighted when he commented on the fact that the Indian Princess Aouda spoke English, which may have been a sign that the British nation was taking over, “She speaks English with great purity” (Verne, Jules, Around the World in 80 days, Chapter 14). He may just have been commenting on the way in which she speaks, but I think that the fact that she is speaking English is a key fact. Not only is Mr. Fogg noticing the people around him but he is also very in tune with the places around him, “A more than European town, for it is as English as Manchester or Birmingham, with its iron foundries, edgetool factories, and high chimneys puffing clouds of black smoke heavenward” (Verne, Jules, Around the World in 80 days, Chapter 14). It seems as though Mr. Fogg is shocked at the similarities between the Indian city of Monghyr and The English cities of Manchester and Birmingham. It seems that this particular city has been quite industrialised as a result of the imperialism. As Fogg travels through Hong Kong, he is faced with similar observations and his thoughts revert back to the overwhelming imperial power of the British Empire. When travelling, machinery and transport are extremely important. Therefore, while on his travels, it is without question that Phileas Fogg observes the technology and its advances, particularly concerning transport.

In a different way than most of Verne’s fantastically creative works of science fiction, this adventurous novel focuses on his own time and what technology can achieve. Without the technology of the world at that time, Phileas Fogg and his french manservant, Jean Passepartout would not have been able to complete their spontaneous journey in the time that they did. Their accomplishment deserves a celebration as does the fact that technology has been and is still unifying the world as it is exterminating the difficulties of travel. Personally, reading the novel today in 2017, I can see the contrasting change in transport and technology. The most common transport methods that they used were steamers, trading vessels and trains, and unimaginably they also used an elephant when all else failed. (http://www.mssresearch.org/?q=Around_the_World_in_80_Days) “The elephant was fetched and fitted out without delay. The Parsee was experienced in the profession of ‘Mahout’ or elephant-keeper. He covered the elephant’s back with a sort of saddle-cloth and arranged on each side of its body a rather uncomfortable litter.” (Verne, Jules, Around the World in 80 Days, 1873, Chapter 11). It is possible that Verne included an elephant as a form of transport to show the contrast in using an animal as a mean of transport, compared to a machine such as a train. Today, it is hard to imagine a world without speeding cars and fast aeroplanes, which is the world that this story is based on.

In a way, this novel is a celebration of the progress that technology has made in the last two hundred years or so. Without being aware of it, Verne is highlighting to modern day readers now and in years to come of the advanced technology and transport methods that we take for granted each and every day. It took Canadian man Jean Béliveau 11 years and 2 months to travel around the world by foot, while a commercial flight would take approximately fifty one hours to circle the world. Fogg and also his friend Ralph both agree with a certain theory, “The world has grown smaller, since a man can now go round it ten times more quickly than a hundred years ago. And that is why the search for this thief will be more likely to succeed.” (Verne, Jules, Around the World in 80 days, 1873). This statement is quite bittersweet, as if portrays both the good and bad aspects of the technological advances that were occurring daily.After reading and studying this 19th century novel, it is clear that technology, british colonialism and the impact of imperial power on countries around the world were very significant at the time. (Lecture notes). In chapter 9, Fogg’s travelling partner Passepartout states exactly how important British colonialism is in his eyes “where the English engineers were still at work, two thousand years after the engineers of Solomon” (Verne, Jules, Around the World in 80 days, Chapter 9, 1873). This statement compares the British Empire to Solomon’s Empire in the bible. This shows exactly how influential the British were. The novel also shows how the world relies on technology, without showcasing it as a negative impact on humanity. This entire story would not be possible without the technology of transport and the advances that it had made before the time of the novel and the ones that it is continuing to make in this day in time.

Around the World in Eighty Days is a work of celebration in many ways, depending on which way you look at it. It celebrates adventure and perseverance but also technology and power in a light hearted and adventurous way, that will continue to be admired and studied for countless years. It is clear that Verne had a strong interest in travel and international cultures and developments. As a result, he wrote this celebratory novel. “Travel enables us to enrich our lives with new experiences, to enjoy and to be educated, to learn respect for foreign cultures, to establish friendships, and above all to contribute to international cooperation and peace throughout the world.” (Jules Verne)