Summary of Chapter Twelve: “In which Phileas Fogg and his companions venture across the Indian forests, and what ensued”
The guide says they will gain twenty miles by striking through the countryside, and so the jostling elephant ride begins. Passepartout gets the worst of it, bounced on the elephant’s rump. The country they are passing through is dangerous with natives who are ferocious and beyond British control. They make for the city of Allahabad where the general will leave them, but they do not know what they will do with the elephant. They make twenty-five miles in a day, but still have that amount to go till Allahabad. They spend the night in an old bungalow with a fire and then start again the next day. The guide keeps to the open country and avoids inhabited regions. Finally, the elephant becomes restless at noise ahead. The party stops and the guide investigates, returning with the news that a religious procession is coming, and they need to stay hidden. The priests pass with a car bearing a statue of the goddess Kali, the goddess of love and death. They lead a drugged woman with them who is young and beautiful and guarded. Before her is the body of her dead husband carried to his last rites.
The guide says it is a “suttee” where the wife will burn on the funeral pyre of her husband. The guide knows the woman, wife of a rajah. Suttee is outlawed in most of India, but here in the wild it is still practiced. Fogg turns to the brigadier general and says they must save the woman because he still has 12 hours to spare.
Commentary on Chapter Twelve
The elephant Kiouni is a slower steamship of the jungle. He is spoken of as made out of “forged iron” (p. 60). He is huge and powerful, and when Fogg cannot get a machine to carry him, he must revert to animal power.
The interior of India, like the interior of Africa, is, in the western imagination, dark and primitive. Here dwell devotees of the goddess Kali who demands human sacrifice. For Verne’s audience, American Indians and Indian Indians were equivalent in their threatening ways and lack of civilization. Verne uses one of the most terrible customs, suttee, to titillate the audience, and to rouse Fogg to heroism.
Fogg now begins to change his character when he proposes to intervene to save the woman from being sacrificed. Even the brigadier general is surprised and says after all, Fogg has a heart. He replies, “when I have the time” (p. 64). He is still a day ahead and decides to spend it on saving the widow. His kindness to the beggar woman in London is a foreshadowing of this sudden involvement in the world around him. The rescue makes for good drama and is the rationale for Fogg’s gradual transformation into a warmer human being.