Jules Verne writes in an era when natural time is separated from artificial, engineered time – Carroll.


Jane Carroll argues that Jules Verne’s famous book Around the World in 80 Days is set in an era when the natural calendar was being superseded by an artificial time, the latter being conditioned by engineering and other technological developments.

Like all of Jules Verne’s most popular works, the so-called ‘Voyages Extraordinaires’, Around the World in 80 Days (1872) is about a journey. The journey-based narrative is the ‘master story of Western civilization’, and the ‘home-away-home’ pattern structures stories and folktales wherever there is a culture of travel…

Around the World in 80 Days is a novel of its time – and one which could only have possibly been written at that time, scarcely four years after the opening of the Suez Canal in November 1869 and three years after the completion of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. On one level, Around the World in 80 Days reads as a madcap survey of the mechanical and technological developments of the day and of the industrial progress of various states and nations around the world. It is a celebration of Victorian engineering and of the mechanical and industrial powers of the age…In writing a journey from England to England, a journey undertaken by a ‘quintessentially English man’ and ‘fuelled by British coal’, Verne borrows something of the zeitgeist of the late Victorian period in Britain and presents a hero and a narrative that offer a perfect embodiment of ‘all the self-assuredness and extravagance of the British Empire’. The bizarre bet made by Fogg and the gentlemen of the Reform Club perfectly encapsulates the Victorian obsession with time. Also, as William Butcher notes, Verne pulled off an amazing feat of timing in managing to bring the serial publication of the novel to a close on the evening of 22 December 1873, the very same day that Fogg arrives back in London. The novel is a work of great and precise engineering. Like Verne’s other novels, Around the World in 80 Days problematizes the relationship between space, time and the human subject…

Published in a period when ‘human activities became regulated, accelerated and quantified…even the notion of time metamorphosed into a linear and wholly abstract continuum: itself an objectively measured commodity of exchange, the text necessarily picks up on the growing awareness of, and concerns about time. Verne gives voice to these concerns by allowing his characters to express many of the same anxieties and views that were popularly held by his contemporaries. For instance, Latimer Clark’s statement that ‘distance and time have been so changed to our imaginations, that the globe has been practically reduced in magnitude, and there can be no doubt that our conception of its dimensions is entirely different to that held by our forefathers’ is closely paralleled by a claim made by one of Fogg’s whist partners, Gauthier Ralph that ‘the earth has got smaller because you can now travel around it ten times as quickly as a hundred years ago’. The novel is set at a time when the natural calendar was being superseded by artificial time. Whilst midday had once been calculated according to the sun’s position, by the end of the 1850s the midday signal was sent by telegraph from Greenwich. Passepartout is certain that ‘one day or the other the sun would make up its mid to set itself by my watch.’ The fact that he does not care which day it is suggests that all days are identical to him. Furthermore, Fogg makes landfall on 21 December, the shortest day of the year in solar times, but as all days are reckoned as being of equal length by the artificial clock, the day is of little significance. For Timothy Unwin, Verne’s novel ‘epitomises the magic of modern engineering…the triumph of civilisation over nature, the future over the past. It symbolises the taming of wild expanses through the willpower of the engineer.’

Carroll, Jane. 2013. “‘You are too slow’: Time in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days” in Trish Ferguson (ed.) Victorian time: Technologies, standardizations, catastrophes, 77-94. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

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