Imagine getting paid to play with children’s books and sometimes even with children’s games. As a cataloger, I get to “play with” them, in a sense — but it’s not quite the same as “playing” games, I assure you — and I usually learn something and almost always enjoy doing it too: “instruction with delight,” as John Newbery famously phrased it.
This all ran though my mind while cataloging a new Cotsen acquisition: a French board-game adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, titled: Le Voyage Autour du Monde en 80 Jours: d’apres le Roman de Jules Verne: Jeu de Société.
Cotsen’s version of the game-board isn’t itself titled, but the caption title I used to catalog the item comes from the accompanying four-page printed instruction and rule booklet. Roches Frères has added the imprint of their Paris printing house on the bottom left of the board, in the white margin, but it’s a little hard to see in the above photo (a better view is in a photo below). I’m still looking for information about the Paris firm Roches Frères, but the they seem to have been active in Paris from the 1880s through 1900, based on the dates of other of their publications cataloged by other libraries. After 1900, another Roches Frères published in Avignon until 1911 or so — maybe the firm moved? (Research also turned up a third, earlier firm named “Roches Frères,” this one publishing in New Orleans from about 1813 into the early 1820s, presumably a different entity altogether, but so far I can’t say so definitely).
Cotsen’s game-board seems to be one of at least 8 different versions of the game issued by various publishers between 1874 and 1928, an apparent testament to successful sales and ongoing popularity with children and/or grown-ups. (Verne’s novel first appeared in print in 1872.) With children’s books and games, it’s always hard to know how much items’ sales connote their actual appeal to children themselves, since adults were generally the ones making the purchases. But I think a 50+ year run of publication and re-publication certainly suggests a popular item! Cotsen’s game board seems to be a relatively early version, based on the form of the title, the printer’s dates, and particularly a chronology of versions posted online.1
Unfortunately, the Cotsen copy of the the game arrived without the illustrated box it originally came in, six little hand-painted lead playing pieces (modeled on characters in the novel: Phileas Fogg, his servant Passepartout, etc.), currency tokens, dice, and dice cup. (Dice thus make a somewhat unusual appearance in a children’s game of this era, in lieu of a teetotum spinner — dice generally being shunned in children’s activities games for being associated with gambling and the unsavory world of vice. Perhaps this is because the mainspring of book’s plot is a bet?) But Princeton’s Graphic Arts Collection has a later (ca. 1915) version of the game that’s essentially complete, accompanied by an advertising flyer, which curator Julie Melby has blogged about. Both versions of the game board are the same size: fully opening out to 49 x 58 cm.
But let’s get back to the game itself! True to Jules Verne’s original story, the players begin in London, appropriately enough with space number 1 depicting Phileas Fogg (here called “Phogg”) and space 3 the scene where Fogg bets £20,000 (a colossal sum then!) with fellow-members of the Reform Club that he can completely travel around the world within 80 days. With that, he’s off on his trip leaving the familiar world of London and fashionable Saville Row (space 4) behind…
In the game, players of the game race to be first to complete Fogg’s journey, the places and people encountered shown here in illustrations, within the numbered spaces and accompanying graphics, all brightly chromolithographed. First, it’s through France and Italy and onto a steamer across the Mediterranean, depicted by the nineteenth-century steam locomotive racing through a tunnel under the Alps (both new technological marvels then), a contemporary steam-ship, and a depiction of the Bay of Naples, with a smoking Mt. Vesuvius in the background. Vesuvius, whose spectacular volcanic eruption in 79 AD buried Pompeii and Herculaneum, also erupted some 14 times during the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries, and it often figures prominently in children’s literature of this period. This is due to a combination of factors, I think: the pure visual appeal of depicting an erupting volcano in hand-colored or color-processed illustrations, then relatively cutting-edge book technologies, the fascination that such volatile forces of nature hold for a child (or adult!) reader, the frequent attention paid to natural history in educational children’s materials during this period (and we’ll see another instance of this in another recently-cataloged work to be discussed in the following blog posting), as well as the way that volcanoes and natural disasters displayed the power of fate, human frailty, and the power of God or supernatural forces to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century readers.
Next, it’s through the Suez Canal — then, having recently opened in 1869 — via a canal steamer and on to the ports of Port Said, Egypt, and Aden, in what’s now Yemen, via what look like smaller and smaller sail-powered craft. Things are getting a little more adventurous… Along with scenery, the people Fogg encountered on the journey are also presented on game spaces in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the terrifically-popular illustrated European travel literature of this period, such as David Roberts’ Travels in Egypt & the Holy Land. The emphasis on visual artistic depictions of “exotic” places and people in the game — and in children’s literature generally — reminds us just how new and exciting such depictions were to Europeans at this time, something it’s easy to forget in our era of visual-media-on-demand in a world that seems to have “shrunk” in many ways.
As the players move along the board, they see more of the sights that Verne had Fogg encounter: India, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Indian rajahs, magicians… Modes of transportation also reflect the vicissitudes of journey described by Verne, for instance, the travelers must leave an Indian railroad (not fully completed, despite what Fogg had read in a London newspaper, which had prompted his bet!) and buy an elephant to proceed along the 50-mile gap in the railroad; the “iron horse” — wonderfully evoked by the French term “chemin de fer” (literally “road of iron”) — literally yields to traditional animal-powered locomotion.
To win the bet, Fogg had to make it all the way around the world and back to London! So he and Passpartout begin the return leg of their trip across the Pacific Ocean. This provides the illustrator with an opportunity to show their dotted-line route on a slightly unusual view of the globe — at least for Europeans — one centered on the Pacific, not Atlantic, Ocean. Think of all the Mercator Projection cutaway views of the globe that you’ve seen with Europe and the Atlantic Ocean at the “center of the world” with the map “split” so the Pacific is an the “edges” of the earth. There’s no strictly logical, map-making reason for this presentation, other than cultural orientation — cultures just typically present themselves at the center of the world! (A British Library exhibition, “Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art,” presented examples of this orientation in a variety of maps, produced by a wide variety of cultures and eras.) And don’t miss the purely illustrative “exotic” animals positioned around the globe — a visual rendition of “nature red in tooth and claw”
Having crossed the Pacific from East to West, the travelers’ next leg in the journey takes them across the entire United States, also something of a mystifying wilderness expanse of land to Englishmen and Europeans at the time. Accordingly, the board spaces in the “inner loop” of the game-board depict San Francisco (and one of its legendary cable cars), the recently-completed Transcontinental railroad across the Great Plains (where distinctive American bison then ran free), a side-wheel paddle steamer, Chicago (whose Loop looks suspiciously like San Francisco!), and finally New York with its distinctive Statue of Liberty (dedicated only in place on Liberty Island in 1886, so this view may be an artistic imagining of the actual scene), before setting sail across the Atlantic.
Eventually, back in England after drama involving a missed ship, a mutinous crew, and a Scotland Yard detective detective who mistakenly arrests him for being a robber — all depicted on the ten or so last spaces on the game-board — Fogg is able to collect his bet, marry the girl (an Indian princess no less, Aouda, whom he had rescued during the journey), and enjoy the quintessential London vista of the River Thames, Tower Bridge, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
To find out more about such plot escapades, you’ll have to read the book for yourself — I have to say that I’m curious myself now to reread the story! — but I hope this blog posting has shown you something about how the world and some of its peoples were depicted on this nineteenth-century game-board. It really is remarkable how what’s essentially a backdrop for a game portrays so many facets of world geography and ethnography using a purely visual “vocabulary” with no language, (other than brief text labels): instruction with delight, indeed!
1. Marie-Helene Huet, “Re: Le Tour du Monde, game from 1915,” Jules Verne Forum (Thu, 10 Mar 2011), accessed 4/16/2015.