Tuesday, March 19, 2013

'Eighty Days' and '80 Days'

Cover image from Random House.com





Eighty Days: Nellie Bly 

and Elizabeth Bisland's 

History-Making Race 

Around the World

by Matthew Goodman
(Ballantine Books)



 Around the World 

in 80 Days

by Jules Verne
(Oxford University Press 
and others)


     March 18 on The Diane Rehm Show radio program, author Matthew Goodman was discussing his new nonfiction book Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, which also led to some discussion of Jules Vernes 1873 novel Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-Vingts Jours (or Around the World in Eighty Days), which inspired the events upon which Goodmans book reports. It sounds interesting, and Id like to read it, but I also want to re-read the Verne original.
     Once upon a time, Verne was thought only fit for the childrens section of the library and bookstore in the English-speaking world, while hes more highly though of in his native France. One of the reasons is the translations, which in America in particular are so poor that they get the science wrong that Verne tried so hard to get right, even when he was speculating on future science. The translators frequently cut passages or even chapters also. Today there are many modern translations of Verne, but there are so many more poor translations that finding the good ones is difficult. Its also costlier, because the poor ones are out of copyright, and so come in inexpensive editions, frequently with illustrations, while the new translations require payment for the new translators.
     There is a modern translation by William Butcher of 80 Days from the Oxford University Press for about $10 (paperback). Ive been looking for modern Verne translations at bookstores for the past several years, and have never seen this one.

Cover image from Barnes and Noble.com
     Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble has the hardcover collection Jules Verne: Seven Novels, which includes an older translation of 80 Days, plus six other novels, for $20. For the Nook e-book reader, you can get those seven plus 22 other titles for $2.99 total. (You can also read many for free at Project Gutenberg.) The best deal you can get for modern translations is Frederick Paul Walters Amazing Journeys: Five Visionary Classics for $25. 

The cover of my first “Around the World in 80 Days.” (Amazon.com)

     That America has been so unkind to Verne is just bad manners, since Verne was so kind to the U.S. No chauvinist (in its original sense of being a partisan for the French), Verne frequently had American heroes in his books.

      Though the protagonist of 80 Days is an Englishman, and his resourceful manservant is a French, there are Americans in the second half of the book.
     The first version of the book I read was not a modern translation, but it had two virtues besides the entertaining plot much appreciated by the preteen me: It was both annotated and illustrated.

     The story, unlike many of Verne’s best-known and most popular works, does not involve science fiction of any kind, and features an unexpected romance.
      Phileas Fogg, an independently wealthy Englishman who is punctilious to an extreme degree, has just taken on a new manservant, Jean Passepartout, when he -- impulsively but impassively -- bets that he can travel around the world in no more than the 80 days that a recent newspaper article shows is hypothetically possible. This occurs at roughly the same time as a bank robbery by a man who is similar in appearance to Fogg, leading the policeman Fix to pursue him, believing the tour of the world is merely a ruse to elude capture. Along the way, Fogg spends almost half his fortune (the other half is tied up in the wager) to overcome obstacles and problems that delay his timetable. He also rescues Aouda, a young Indian widow who was going to be burned alive with her late husband’s body (a practice called suttee). Back on British soil, Fix arrests Fogg just as he seems sure to win his bet, putting into doubt whether the misidentification can be cleared up in time. Verne’s denouement is clever and satisfying.
      Goodman’s Eighty Days is the true story of two women reporters, including the famous Nellie Bly,  who separately attempt to beat Fogg’s record in 1889. Bly even meets Verne along the way, who blesses the enterprise and hopes she will succeed.

      There have been many TV and film adaptations of the novel, including the 1956 film version starring David Niven and Cantinflas, a 1989 TV miniseries starring Pierce Brosnan and Eric Idle, and a 2004 steampunk film version with Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan. None, in my opinion, are very good. (There was a 1981 TV movie The Adventures of Nellie Bly, starring Linda Purl as the reporter, but it apparently covered her early career, not the trip around the world.)
     Much better, strangely, were The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze (1963), a film sequel in which Fogg’s great-grandson attempts to replicate the tour without using Fogg’s half-a-fortune to aid him (but with Moe, Larry and Curly Joe), and a 1972 children’s animated TV series version in which Fogg makes the bet with a Lord Maze to prove hes worthy of his daughter, Belinda. Mr. Fix is a henchman sent to prevent Fogg from winning the wager (it deviates from the novels plot, but does so in a mostly entertaining way for its youthful audience). There was also an unresolved 1969-71 cartoon sequel, Around the World in 79 Days, a segment of the Cattanooga Cats TV show, in which another descendant of Fogg -- a teenage great-great grandson -- and his friends attempt to beat the original time in order to receive an inheritance. They make the tour entirely by balloon, in the producers’ mistaken belief that this was how Fogg made the voyage originally. It was not, although Fogg and Passepartout do start off their trip in a balloon (possibly as a tip-of-the-hat to Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon) in the 1956 Mike Todd production.


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