I’ve been re-reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days lately, largely because the last time I read it I was about fourteen and it was a rubbish translation, and I picked up a rather better version in a second-hand bookshop.
Like many children of the 1980s, I was introduced to the story via the Spanish cartoon Around the World with Willy Fog, which can basically be summed up as “Around the World in Eighty Days, only they’re all animals”.
It was made by the same people who produced Dogtanian and is notable for, among other things, having the catchiest theme tune in the history of the world. It’s also notable for the fact that, for a kids’ cartoon, it was surprisingly loyal to the book and pretty well-researched. Last year they did a stage musical based on it, which is wicked awesome. But enough wallowing in nostalgia for the 1980s. I’ve forgotten what the point of this entry actually was. Something about Fitzrovia?
Oh yes. Phileas Fogg. Around the world. 80 days. Jules Verne. Now, I have to say, Jules Verne is an author who’s not without his faults. His characters tend to be a bit flat – I’m getting a little bit sick of reading about how Phileas Fogg appears unmoved by circumstances while Passepartout fumes, and if Aouda has any personality at all I’ve yet to see it.
Actually, it comes across in places like a travelogue – Verne likes to discuss the history and geography of the places his characters pass through. This sort of lecturing is a fairly common trait in his work – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea features rather a lot of discussion about marine life and Around the Moon features an entire chapter dedicated to solving an algebra equation.
On the other hand, Verne’s work depicts a worldview that we, sadly, have lost today. For all he’s famous for science fiction (or “Scientific Romances,” his preferred term), many of his more fantastic inventions were grounded in the science of the day. He criticised H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon for the fact that the characters travel to the moon using a fantastical antigravity metal rather than the strict scientific principles he adopted in From the Earth to the Moon. It’s unfortunate that the march of science has since proven that Verne’s idea (firing the astronauts from a cannon) would be equally unlikely to succeed, with the added bonus that the characters would be squashed. Nonetheless, his fiction expresses a very 19th Century belief that Technology Would Be Awesome, and with a little spirit, humanity could achieve anything.
Around the World in Eighty Days doesn’t contain any amazing new technology – there are no submarines, no airships, no lunar rockets. There’s not even a hot air balloon, contrary to popular belief and several adaptations. What it is, though, is a celebration of what was possible in the present day of 1872. The First Transcontinental Railroad in North America had been completed three years previously, as had the Suez Canal, followed in 1870 by the final link in the railway across India. With ever-faster steamships and steam trains, one could traverse the world at a speed that a few years ago would have seemed like, yes, something out of a Scientific Romance novel. One of the motives for Fogg’s voyage around the world is the observation by a minor character that the world has “shrunk”.
Phileas Fogg is the perfect hero for this new world. In many ways, he’s a stereotypical Englishman – phlegmatic and precise to the point of anal retentiveness. He has seemingly planned for every eventuality, and we’re constantly reminded how many hours he’s gained or lost on his journey. As I observed above, he comes across as a rather shallow and occasionally unlikeable character, with Verne relying on his eccentricities to drive him rather than any deeper emotions. Nonetheless, he is probably Verne’s best-known character (with the possible exception of Captain Nemo).
Which brings me on to the real point of this entry. See, Verne even provides us with an address for Fogg in the text. He lives at number 7, Savile Row, Burlington Gardens. This illustrious street is, of course, most famous these days for its tailors (so much so that a Japanese word for a suit is “sebiro”). While strolling through the West End following my jaunt to the theatre previously recounted, I decided to track Mr Fogg down. I was a little disappointed by the actual No. 7 Savile Row.
Clearly this isn’t “the house where Sheridan died” as described by Verne. Dammit, redevelopers don’t got no respect. In an effort to get some idea of what Fogg’s Savile Row might have looked like, I snapped a Victorian-looking building a bit further down.By happy coincidence, it turns out that the red brick building on the left also has some historical significance. It was the HQ of the Beatles’ label, Apple Corps. Up on that roof there was where the Beatles performed their farewell concert. I didn’t even know. Damn.