There seems to be an occasional bias, in some cases perhaps well-founded, that a work of literature is suspect if it happens to actually be entertaining. To some, unless a book is as perplexing as Ulysses or The Sound and the Fury, literary merit is disparaged. What else can explain that Jules Verne (1828–1905), at least in the English speaking world, has often been considered second tier, not quite a serious author of serious works? I suppose the unfortunate juvenilization of Verne’s works into children’s literature and film has not helped. The situation is especially perplexing in that Verne’s influence on science fiction is tremendous (he is generally considered one of the ‘Fathers’ of the genre); as has been his influence on surrealism and avant-garde writers. In addition, he remains one of the most translated authors in the world. In short, as recognized in France, Verne is unquestionably a major literary author who just happens to have written some of the most enjoyable, entertaining fiction in Western Literature.
Verne’s most famous works include Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, The Mysterious Island and, the focus of this article, Around the World in Eighty Days. Works such as these succeed so well because of how Verne intertwines factual information into the adventures, plots and settings of his stories. This masterful blending of fact and fantasy obliviates the readers wall of reality, allowing the skeptical to accept the premise and enjoy the ride.
Around the World in Eighty Days, published in 1873, is, at least in the Anglosphere, his most popular work. Despite Verne’s reputation in the realm of science fiction, this work has not even a hint of that genre. Instead, the story builds on the tremendous technical innovations in the realm of travel that had taken place in recent years. Suddenly, circumnavigation of the globe became something that could be done by about anyone with the financial means whereas previously only a small handful of explorers could even contemplate such a thing. A global revolution in tourism was just beginning and Verne’s adventure quenched the appetite of a world that had long dreamed of travel and adventure. The work is quite interesting also due to the miniature snapshot it paints of a slice of the British Empire near its peak; its confidence and mores.
The Limited Editions Club (LEC) Monthly Letter (ML) tells of a conversation that Elizabeth Cochrane (who wrote under nom de plume of Nellie Bly) had with Jules Verne while in Amiens.
In 1889, Ms. Bly undertook to travel around the world in 80 days for her newspaper, the New York World. She managed to do the journey within 72 days, meeting Verne in Amiens. Her book Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, became a best seller.
She asked Verne where he got the idea behind the story of Around the World in Eighty Days. He replied:
I got the idea from a newspaper. I took a copy of Le Siecle one morning, and found in it a discussion and some calculations showing that the journey around the world might be done in eighty days. The idea pleased me, and while thinking it over it struck me that in their calculations they had not called into account the differences in the meridians and I thought what a dénouement such a thing would make in a novel, so I went to work to write one. Had it not been for the dénouement I don’t think that I should have ever written the book.
In popular imagination, a journey by balloon has become indelibly imprinted on the minds of most when they think of Around the World in Eighty Days, despite the fact that it simply does not happen in the book! We can blame the 1956 movie adaptation which added this mode of transport, though we can also forgive it, as it is one of the best adaptions of literature ever put to film (winning Best Picture in 1956)! Besides, it is not unlike Verne to have thought of the use of a balloon, as evidenced by his first published novel being Five Weeks in a Balloon!
Around the World in Eighty Days was the third work of Verne’s to be published by the Limited Editions Club (LEC), releasing their edition in 1962. The work was designed by Saul and Lillian Marks at The Plantin Press, one of the great American fine presses of the twentieth century. The Marks’ opened the press in 1931. They believed producing a book demanded personal attention, and so took pride in never expanding beyond a point in which they could lavish that attention on whatever they were publishing. They jointly ran the press until Saul Marks died in 1974, after which Lillian Marks continued to run it until 1985. The press was named after Christophe Plantin, the great Dutch 16th century book printer. The original building where Plantin’s firm was based is now the Plantin-Moretus Museum, the most famous printing/typographical museum in the world.
For this edition, the Marks’ choose to use Eric Gill‘s Joanna, in 14 point size. It is very pleasing in this work, being an excellent match for the tone and the illustrations. The Monthly Letter (ML) of the LEC says of Joanna:
The type is remarkable for the smallness of its capitals–they do not reach the top of the ascenders, which themselves are not tall. Joanna has small horizontal serifs (and on her they look good) and very little contrast between her thick and thin strokes.
The paper is a natural white wove made specially for this edition by the Curtis Paper Company. Nothing overly special, but provides a nice base for the text and illustrations. The edition is illustrated with 16 pen-and-wash drawings by one of America’s great 20th century book illustrators, Edward A. Wilson. His drawings are reproduced in gravure by the Photogravure and Color Company of New York and then colored by hand in the studio of Walter Fischer. The illustrations are narrative-based, brilliantly colorful, old-school in nature and very charming. Wilson also provided 36 chapter-opening drawings in two colors adding a nice and entertaining touch to each chapter start. Wilson is no stranger to LEC fans as he illustrated 18 LEC’s between 1930 and 1962 (including 4 of the LEC’s 5 editions of works from Jules Verne), more than any other illustrator except Fritz Kredel, who illustrated 19 LEC’s.
The text and the 36 chapter-opening drawings were printed by the Marks’ at The Plantin Press. They also are responsible for the design of the attractive binding. The shelfback is bound in imported white English vellum, and the sides in French hand-marbled paper in a deep blue swirling marine pattern flecked with gold foam; a hand-lettered title is stamped in gold on the spine label. It should be pointed out, as another positive of this edition, it includes an introduction by the science-fiction great Ray Bradbury, who pays homage to the importance of Verne.
While there is nothing overly fantastic about this edition, which falls more into the category of ‘typical LEC’, it is remarkable in just how nice such ‘typical’ LEC’s are. Hand-colored illustrations, vellum and hand-marbled binding, appropriate selection of type, designed and printed by one of America’s great private presses. What’s not to like? Especially considering it can be found in near fine or better condition, typically for around $100 or so.
About the Edition
- Designed by Saul and Lillian Marks at The Plantin Press in Los Angeles
- Introduction by Ray Bradbury
- Illustrated with 16 pen-and-wash drawings by Edward A. Wilson, reproduced in gravure by the Photogravure and Color Company of New York and the colored by hand in the studio of Walter Fischer; there are also 36 chapter-opening drawings in two colors.
- Type set in 14 point Joanna (designed by Eric Gill) at The Plantin Press
- Paper is a natural white wove made specially for this edition by the Curtis Paper Company
- Text and the 36 chapter-opening drawings printed by Saul and Lillian Marks at The Plantin Press
- The shelfback is bound in imported white English vellum, and the sides in French hand-marbled paper in a deep blue swirling marine pattern flecked with gold foam; a hand-lettered title is stamped in gold on the spine label
- 6 7/8″ x 10 3/8″, 288 pages
- Limited to 1500 copies, signed by Edward A. Wilson
Pictures of the Edition
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