Review No. 50-2-31
Jules Verne: Around the World in Eighty Days. A new translation with introduction and notes by William Butcher. (The World's Classics). Oxford University Press, 1995. xlv + 247 pp. Pb. £4.99, $8.95, C$12.95.
It is something of a Vernian irony that the first critical edition to date of Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours should be an English translation. Such indeed are the trompe-l'œil effects of this volume (especially in the many first-ever examples of manuscript fragments) that we might be excused for forgetting momentarily that the original was actually written in French. Apart from the charismatic figure of Passepartout, there is of course very little that is 'French' in a novel which brilliantly caricatures the eccentricities of a Victorian Englishman and conspicuously omits reference to the post-war and post-commune France of 1872. In a wide-ranging introduction, Butcher provides an energetic defence of Verne the novelist. Exploring some of the sources of Verne's portrayal of the English, he points convincingly to the use of Francis Wey's 1854 work, Les Anglais chez eux: Esquisses de mœurs et de voyage. He is, however, on shakier ground when he argues that the novel's hero is a psychologically nuanced character, and turns to the trivial in looking for so-called 'Freudian' explanations of Fogg's behaviour. Elsewhere, remarks on time and space owe a lot to previous work on this aspect of the novel, but fail to make any acknowledgement. These objections aside, the edition provides a comprehensive work of reference and, most importantly, offers the first reliable English translation of one of the great nineteenth-century classics.
The University of Liverpool Timothy Unwin