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Round the World in 80 Days, #11 of Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Journeys

Posted on February 9th, 2014

#6 of 54 in the Jules Verne Reading Challenge

Round the World in 80 Days, #11 of Jules Verne’s Extraordinary JourneysAround the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
Series: The Extraordinary Journeys #11
Published by Hetzel in 1873
Pages: 240
Location: International
Mode of travel: Elephant, Ship, Sledge, Train
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One ill-fated evening at the Reform Club, Phileas Fogg rashly bets his companions £20,000 that he can travel around the entire globe in just eighty days - and he is determined not to lose. Breaking the well-establised routine of his daily life, the reserved Englishman immediately sets off for Dover, accompanied by his hot-blooded French manservant Passepartout. Travelling by train, steamship, sailing boat, sledge and even elephant, they must overcome storms, kidnappings, natural disasters, Sioux attacks and the dogged Inspector Fix of Scotland Yard - who believes that Fogg has robbed the Bank of England - to win the extraordinary wager.

Verdict: more twists and turns in the plot than expected.

Around the World in 80 Days must be one of Verne’s most famous stories but since I never read it before, it actually managed to surprise me. That was quite exciting. Unlike several of the other Verne books I’ve read so far, this one has character arcs. Although Verne relies on stereotypes as usual, both Passepartout and Fogg evolve a lot during the book, especially Passepartout. He didn’t start off a very keen traveler but by the time he got back, it was possible to wonder if he’d really settle back into his old peaceful habits again.

Verne provides a lot of information about the possibilities for international travel in the 1870s. As the chronology just below shows, it was the development of trans-continental railways (and the Suez Canal) which made Fogg’s journey possible. It was dependent of four very recently opened routes. Nevertheless, it was the steamship which seemed most likely to prove the weak link, even though it had been around for some time. This was still the era of steam-sail hybrid shipping in which crossings were a lot faster with a favorable wind, and slower in rough seas.

1825 – First public transport railway opened in Britain
1838 – Regular Transatlantic crossings by steamship begin (previously passengers crossed the Atlantic in sailships).
1869 – The American Transcontinental Railroad connecting San Francisco with the eastern networks was completed
1869 – Opening of the Suez Canal
1870 – The Indian Peninsular Railway connecting Mumbai to Calcutta was inaugurated (earlier than announced in the story)
c.1870 – a Transalpine rail connection had been opened within the last couple of years.
1872 – Fogg’s journey

One of the things which fascinated me most about Around the World in 80 Days is the globalization Verne refers to already at this stage. His protagonist, Passepartout frequently notes the buildings and streets in Asia might easily be in Europe and that the populations in each of the cities he visits is strikingly multiracial and multicultural. The reason is that a large part of the tour travels through the outposts of the British Empire, or its cultural descendant, the United States. Only in Yokohama or, arguably, in the depths of the Indian and American continents, does Fogg stray off this westernised territory. I remember from my history studies that there was a lot about this situation which wasn’t ideal and if it could fairly be said that 19th century Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.. resembled Victorian London in terms of living conditions, it wouldn’t be a compliment.

Fogg himself wants nothing to do with sight-seeing anyway,and only participates in the adventures the author arranges for him out of sense of duty. Although the author makes fun of him for it, the main point of the book is to explore the possibilities of the new means of transport themselves.

I put together an itinerary of Fogg’s tour round the world below in several sections. It contains dates, times, mode of transport, starting point and end point, but if you feel some of it may constitute minor spoilers, don’t click on the arrows!

London to Bombay (Mumbai) in India – days 1-18, Ch3-Ch9

RTW-Steamer point

Verne doesn’t dwell on the crossing of the European and Mediterranean, possibly considering it too well-known to his readers.
Wednesday 2nd October 1872
20:45 – Departure of train from London to Paris
Thursday 3rd October 1872
07:20 – Arrival in Paris by train. Fogg certainly took the London-Dover train and boarded a cross-channel steamer around 23:00. He would then have taken a train Paris by around 05:00, probably from Calais.
8:40 – Departure from Paris on train bound for Turin.
Friday 4th October 1872
06:35 – Arrival in Turin
07:20 – Departure from Turin on train bound for Brindisi
Saturday 6th October 1872
16:00 – Arrival by train in Brindisi
17:00 – Departure of the Mongolia steamship bound for Bombay via the Suez Canal. Fogg and Passepartout spent a total of 14 days on the Mongolia.
Wednesday 9th October 1872
10:30 – The steamship Mongolia arrives in Suez.
Sunday 13th October 1872
The passengers can see Mecca from the ship.
Monday 14th October 1872
14:00 – The Mongolia stops at Aden to take on fuel
18:00 – The Mongolia leaves Aden
Sunday 20th October 1872
16:30 – arrival of the Mongolia in Bombay (Mumbai)

Crossing of India by the Great Indian Peninsular Railway – days 18-23, Ch9-Ch15

RTW-India

Sunday 20th October 1872
16:30 – arrival of the Mongolia in Bombay (Mumbai)
20:00 – departure of the train from Bombay to Calcutta
Monday 21st October 1872
12:30 – brief stop at Burhampour for lunch
Tuesday 22nd October 1872
8:00 – the line is unfinished, 15 miles before Rothal. Despite the announcement of the line’s completion in the newspapers, passengers are obliged to make their own way over the 50 miles between Kholby and Allahabad.
c.9:30 – departure towards Allahabad by elephant.
Wednesday 24th October 1872
10:00 – arrival at Allahabad after numerous adventures
10:30 – departure of train from Allahabad to Calcutta
12:30 – brief stop at Benares (Varanasi)
Thursday 25th October 1872
5:00 – arrival of the train in Calcutta
12:00 – departure of the ship Rangoon from Calcutta to Hong Kong

Crossing  of the Bay of Bengal and South China Sea – days 23-35, Ch15-Ch20

RTW-Singapore

Thursday 25th October 1872
12:00 – departure of the ship Rangoon from Calcutta to Hong Kong
The Rangoon passes within sight of Great Andaman
Wednesday 30th October 1872
The Rangoon enters the straits between Malacca and Sumatra
Thursday 31st October 1872
04:00 The Rangoon arrives in Singapore
11:00 The Rangoon leaves Singapore, having loaded fuel
Sun 3-Mon 4 November 1872
Storm at sea, making the Rangoon late.
Wednesday 6 November 1872
c.6:30 – Arrival of the Rangoon in Hong Kong, having missed the expected connection to Yokohama
20:00 – Departure of the Carnatic for Yokohama, ten hours early, inadvertently carrying Passepartout.
Thursday 7 November 1872
15:00 – Fogg and the rest of his party embark on the small schooner Tankadere, bound for Nagasaki.

From Hong Kong to San Francisco – days 35-62, Ch20-Ch25

RTW-Japan

Wednesday 6 November 1872
20:00 – Departure of the Carnatic for Yokohama, ten hours early, inadvertently carrying Passepartout.
Thursday 7 November 1872
15:00 – Fogg and the rest of his party embark on the small schooner Tankadere, bound for Nagasaki.
Monday 11 November 1872
19:00 – Fogg’s party board the steamship for Yokohama, directly from the Tankadere.
Wednesday 13 November 1872
Passepartout arrives in Yokohama, Japan on the Carnatic
Thursday 14 November 1872
Fogg arrives in Yokohama, Japan on the
18:30 – Departure of the General Grant steamship for the United States, carrying the reunited group.
Monday 2 December 1872
07:00 – The General Grant arrives in San Francisco

From San Francisco to  London – days 62-80, Ch25-Ch34

RTW-rockies

Monday 2 December 1872
07:00 – The General Grant arrives in San Francisco
18:00 – Departure of the train from San Francisco (Oakland) towards New York
Thursday 5 December 1872
14:00 – The train calls at Ogden for Salt Lake City
16:00 – The train leaves Salt Lake City
c.11.30 – The train is stopped at Kearney and the passengers are delayed
Sunday 8 December 1872
08:00 – Sail sledge from Kearney to Omaha
c13:00 – Departure of the train from Omaha to Chicago
Monday 9 December 1872
16:00 – Arrival of the train in Chicago
c.1630 – Departure of the train from Chicago to New York
Tuesday 10 December 1872
22:30 – Departure of the steamship China for Liverpool
23:15 – Arrival of the train in New York
Wednesday 11 December 1872
09:00 – Fogg ships on the Henrietta, across the Atlantic
Friday 20 December 1872
01:00 – The Henrietta enters the port of Queenstown in Ireland
01:30 – Departure of the train from Queenstown to Dublin
The times of the connections in Dublin are unspecified
11:40 – Arrival by steamship in Liverpool
15:00 – Departure of the train from Liverpool to London
20:50 – Arrival in London
Saturday 21 December 1872
20:45 – Deadline of the bet

 

Raising Steam

Posted on January 10th, 2014
Raising SteamRaising Steam by Terry Pratchet
Series: Discworld #40
Published by Doubleday in 2013
Pages: 381
Location: Discworld
Mode of travel: Train
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three-stars

*** This book will be available in the US in March ***

To the consternation of the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, a new invention has arrived in Ankh-Morpork - a great clanging monster of a machine that harnesses the power of all the elements: earth, air, fire and water. This being Ankh-Morpork, it's soon drawing astonished crowds, some of whom caught the zeitgeist early and arrive armed with notepads and very sensible rainwear.

Moist von Lipwig is not a man who enjoys hard work. As master of the Post Office, the Mint and the Royal Bank his input is, of course, vital... but largely dependent on words, which are fortunately not very heavy and don't always need greasing. However, he does enjoy being alive, which makes a new job offer from Vetinari hard to refuse.

Steam is rising over the Discworld, driven by Mr Simnel, the man wi' t' flat cap and sliding rule who has an interesting arrangement with the sine and cosine. Moist will have t grapple with gallons of grease, goblins, a fat controller with a history of throwing employees down the stairs and some very angry dwarfs if he's going to stop it all going off the rails...

Verdict: Flawed but ambitious

I can’t say this was my favorite Discworld novel but I’m impressed by what Pratchett tried to do. Essentially, he wanted to show a process of historical change, brought about by technology, and its consequences. He takes us from the invention of the steam locomotive to the creation of railway companies, cultural change resulting from the railways and the political consequences of being able to move the Low King of the Dwarfs around at great speed (what happened to broomsticks?). The thing is, it’s just too much, and he didn’t quite pull it off. Plot, character development, and that special set of very human values Pratchett usually infuses into his books all suffered.

Railway culture – I bet Raising Steam might be quite a nostalgia trip for some British people. One of my grandfathers and great-grandfathers worked the railway. The other side of the family talked a lot like Dick Simnel. By sheer coincidence, I now live in a railway cottage just like the ones described in the book: ‘they were quite small, which put some strain on the accommodation when there were children and grandparents as well’. That’s the ones. I often put my feet up in the tiny living room, sip a glass of wine and think of my great grandmothers raising all the children they could keep alive in tiny places like the one I live in now.

Real life models for Dick Simnel?

RS Trevithick_Richard_Linnell RSGeorgeStephenson RS-Robert_Stephenson_by_Maull_&_Polybank,_1856

Locomotive pioneers Richard Trevithick, George Stephenson and his son, Robert Stephenson. In our world the development of rail travel was driven not by the desire to convey people and perishable items, but by the needs of the mining industry.

As for the travel side of railway culture, the situation is conflicted. On the one hand, passengers barely experience the world they pass through: ‘To travel by the railway was to see the world changing, as trees, houses, farms, meadows, streams, townships that Moist had never heard of before and barely recalled now – like that one there, Much Come Lately according to the sign – whizzed past a railway speed. But who lived there and what did they do, Moist wondered?’

In a way, Raising Steam is just like that. It tries to do a lot, more than it can. I’ve always admired the way Terry Pratchett gets you right inside the humanity of even his secondary characters, but in this book, they are overwhelmed. One who appears on the scene then vanishes into the crowd is Mrs Bradshaw, the Discworld’s first guidebook author who dispenses advice like this on scented paper: ‘High Mouldering, on the Sto Plains, boasts wonderful salt water baths from a pleasantly warm spring, and the owner and his wife give hygienic massages to those who would like to enjoy the benefit… A welcome break for the tired at weekends, with excellent meals. Highly recommended.’ I wouldn’t have minded getting to know her better, but that’s the thing about speeded up travel. You don’t.

RSG_BradshawThe real Bradshaw mostly produced timetables but in 1866, he turned out a Handbook for Tourists in Great Britain and Ireland. It says some very funny stuff. Turning to a page at random, I discovered Crick, population: 999, distance from the station: 3 miles, telegraph station at Rugby 6.5 miles, money order office at Weedon: 5.5 miles. The entry begins ‘The village of Crick lies to the north of the station and is a place of no importance…’ Judging by Crick’s Wikipedia entry, not much has changed. Sorry, Crick.

Even the main characters are swamped by the sheer scale of Pratchett’s attempt to depict the process of historical change across a whole world with accuracy. They cease to function as people and become mere personalities. And so it seems that as much as the railway brings people together, it forces so much complexity it also drives them apart. I didn’t enjoy this feature of the book, though I admit that it also says something about real life. I’ve usually looked to Pratchett for a cure to all that.

What I read on Christmas Eve: The Night Circus

Posted on December 27th, 2013
What I read on Christmas Eve: The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Published by Vintage in 2012
Pages: 512
Location: International
Mode of travel: Magic, Train
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four-stars
In 1886, a mysterious traveling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white, Le Cirque des Reves delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire. Although there are acrobats, fortune-tellers and contortionists, the Circus of Dreams is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. The circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the reveurs - the dreamers. At the heart of the story is the tangled relationship between two young magicians, Celia, the enchanter's daughter, and Marco, the sorcerer's apprentice. At the behest of their shadowy masters, they find themselves locked in a deadly contest, forced to test the very limits of the imagination, and of their love...

Verdict: brilliant for those who like visuals and don’t crave too much excitement.

You’d think a traveling circus story would float my carpet any day of the year, but this one turned out to be a bit like an airport or a railway station. It stayed exactly the same wherever it went. The only places that get fleshed out at all are Victorian London and a farm in Massachusetts, but even they are picturesque stage sets, populated by 21st century personalities. I think the author was mainly in it for this:

Steam locomotive  and this  Vicorian evening gowns

Anyway, that’s not exactly  criticism of the book., so on to the review! The Night Circus is extremely visual, a real feast for the senses. It’s like being in a film, maybe a paper silhouette animation like this:

Princesetprincesses  or this  Lotte Reiniger fairy tales or this.

I enjoy reading books like this, especially on Christmas Eve. I became a bit addicted to this fantastical circus, just like the reveurs, the circus fans in the story, and couldn’t put the book down until it was finished, despite having many important things to do the next morning. After that, how can I not give it four stars?

ink spotink spotink spotink spot

It’s delightful, skillful, tightly structured and aesthetically pleasing and errr… a bit flat. Some readers have a justified interest in intricate plotting, character development, emotional rollercoasters, historical accuracy and other deeper concerns. They won’t find them here. The author rather goes out of her way to distance us from the contents of her characters’ heads. She gives us a story that nominally includes murder, insanity, passion and other causes of turmoil but what really matters is whether the colour and shape of the pool of blood harmonises with its backdrop.