Around the World in 80 Days: A Unit Study

Five minutes too late! Phileas Fogg was due back in London on December 21 and was to make his appearance at his usual club no later than 8:45 PM. But when he steps off of the train, it is already 8:50. The mistake of the detective Fix has cost Fogg his fortune and proven that the unforeseen can indeed interfere with the best-laid plans to travel around the world in 80 days.

Fogg spends December 22 quietly at home, until hapless Passepartout breaks into the room and stammers out the mistake—the date is December 21 and Fogg has yet ten minutes to spare!

An Extraordinary Voyage

Around the World in Eighty Days was the eleventh installment in a series aptly called Voyages Extraordinaires (Extraordinary Voyages) by Pierre-Jules Hetzel, the fortunate publisher of most of Jules Verne’s fascinating works. The series began in January 1863 with Five Weeks in a Balloon, and by the time of Verne’s death the titles numbered 54. (Verne’s son Michel added to the series after his father’s passing.)

As Around the World in Eighty Days plainly shows, Jules Verne was not simply a science fiction author, although science interested him and was sometimes featured in his works. From a young age, writing and geography were his twin interests. As Verne himself said of his first Extraordinary Voyage:

I wrote Five Weeks in a Balloon, not as a story about ballooning, but as a story about Africa. I always was greatly interested in geography and travel, and I wanted to give a romantic description of Africa. Now, there was no means of taking my travellers through Africa otherwise than in a balloon, and that is why a balloon is introduced….

Hence the creation of the Extraordinary Voyages, with its purpose of concluding “in story form [a] survey of the world’s surface and the heavens….” Before the series was finished, Verne had probed the earth from the North Pole to the South, had descended into the crust through a volcano, and had even orbited the moon and traveled on a comet.

The Author At Work

Verne’s knack for meticulous research served him well in this pursuit. He read extensively, enjoying both literary classics and every newspaper and scientific periodical that he could get his hands on. As he read, he made extensive notes. These he filed away for later use, organizing them carefully by subject. Often as he read, ideas for new stories would strike him. Verne would make a note of his inspiration and work the idea in his head until he was ready to start writing. Then, with the help of his notes, he set to work to craft a story that, while truly extraordinary, would nevertheless seem realistic. That he succeeded in achieving realism is demonstrated by the interest displayed by his readers, some writing to sign up for the next voyage to the moon, others seriously debating the potential outcome of Fogg’s journey, often believed at the time to be a real event that Verne was merely reporting on!

The Mystique of the International Date Line

As usual, the idea for Around the World in Eighty Days came from Verne’s habit of reading. Travel was always a favorite subject with him, and by 1872 several events had occurred to make global travel easier than ever before:

  • The Golden Spike was driven home in May 1869, marking the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
  • The Suez Canal opened for traffic just over six months later, November 1869.
  • The railroads of India were finally linked together in 1870.

Tourists began to circle the globe regularly, and Verne, as an avid reader, frequently enjoyed accounts of their adventures. One traveler, George Francis Train, even made a trip taking only 80 days in 1870. It was this journey that may have inspired the creation of Phileas Fogg.

According to Verne:

I have a great number of scientific odds and ends in my head. It was thus that, when, one day in a Paris café, I read in the Siècle that a man could travel around the world in 80 days, it immediately struck me that I could profit by a difference of meridian and make my traveller gain or lose a day in his journey. There was a dénouement ready found.

Note that the International Date Line was not established until the International Meridian Conference of 1884. This conference, however, did not create a new reality; it merely acknowledged facts that explorers had previously discovered and set up a method of conveniently dealing with them.

Magellan’s crew performed a feat opposite to that of Phileas Fogg when they sailed westward around the world from 1519 to 1522. Arriving in the Cape Verde Islands, they discovered that their log had mysteriously fallen behind a day, despite taking Leap Year into consideration. The same accident befell Sir Francis Drake while traveling westward around the world from 1579 to 1580.

Other less famous navigators noted the phenomenon, as well. Theoretically, Fogg should have noticed that he was ahead one day in the United States, but given his haste and the chaos that dogged his steps most of the way, we shall excuse his oversight.

The Legacy of Around the World in Eighty Days

Around the World in Eighty Days first appeared as a serial in Pierre-Jules Hetzel’s biweekly Magazine of Education and Recreation in 1872. It appeared in book form in France in 1873 and was translated into English that same year.

Other than Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, no Jules Verne work was launched so quickly to such lasting fame. Around the World in Eighty Days has been translated into a staggering array of languages, including Japanese and Arabic. It has been adapted to both radio and television, and the play version contributed greatly to Verne’s personal fortune.

The concept of traveling all around the world in 80 days instantly appealed to many. Many adventure-seekers have since repeated the attempt, although modern transportation options have since made 80 days seem far less significant. Nevertheless, the concept lives on, with a Jules Verne Trophy having been offered since 1993 to yachts that can break the time record for sailing around the world without stopping and without assistance.

The Translations

As for Jules Verne himself, his books have earned far more respect than they once enjoyed. Previously dismissed as an author of imaginative, if impractical, children’s literature, Verne’s reputation enjoyed a rebound during the Verne sesquicentennial in 1978. Europeans reexamined his literary skill, and English-speaking scholars were inspired to take a second look, as well.

During this process of rediscovery, it was found that Verne was regarded as a children’s author in English-speaking countries because that was how British and American publishers marketed his writing. These publishers frequently took the liberty of remolding the stories into watered-down renditions that they believed would be highly attractive to a young audience, particularly to young boys. They pared back lengthy scientific dissertations, added entertaining embellishments, and removed anything even remotely offensive to one of English or American nationality.

Scholars continue to delight in debating on the merits of various translations, frequently contributing their own fanciful speculations on the author’s intentions in the process. Translating the works afresh increases costs, however, and some publishers are innocently unaware of any faults in the originals anyway. Therefore, poor renditions continue to resurface again and again, both in print and in online public domain repositories.

Readers can rest assured, however, that Around the World in Eighty Days has probably suffered less at the hands of translators and publishers than most of Verne’s books. Verne’s wit, scientific knowledge, and fascination with geography and travel have been preserved for generations to come.


You’ll find helpful resources for completing these suggestions below.

  • Create an Around the World in 80 Days notebook.
  • Include a map where you have plotted the route traveled.
  • Add country pages to your notebook to profile each country visited.
  • Create a character page for Phileas Fogg and Passepartout.
  • Make an author page for Jules Verne.
Further Investigation

A Jules Verne Centennial: 1905-2005
Brief biography at the Smithsonian.

Jules Verne at Home
Interview that appeared in Strand Magazine in 1895.


14 Forms of Writing for the Older Student: Character Sketch
Instructions and resources for creating a character sketch page for Phileas Fogg and Passepartout as suggested above.

Foreign Pupils Questionnaire
From the Jules Verne Museum, this download makes a great wrap-up.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Unit Study

Extraordinary Journeys: Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
Oxford Classics version with translation by William Butcher (preferred).

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
Translated by William Butcher with notes and introduction.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Round the World in 80 Days
Great download from Pearson Education that includes chapter summaries, discussion questions, and activities including map work, writing, and research.

Around the World in 80 Days
25-page guide that goes along with the book containing background information and diagram.

Around the World in 80 Days
Download from Macmillan with before-reading, during-reading, and after-reading questions and activities. Can be used to create an Around the World in 80 Days notebook.

Free 1-Year Unit Study Curriculum
This free download covers many of the countries encountered on the trip. You’ll find lots of ideas.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Around the World in 80 Days Map
For notebook or to create your own.

Country Research Report
Document one or more of the countries visited.

Lots of wonderful maps in this free download.

Author Notebooking Pages {Free Download}
To record what you learn about Jules Verne.

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