43 votes
Accepted

Could you actually go around the world in 80 days?

Circumnavigation was nothing new. Speedy circumnavigation was new, but not unheard of, and Around the World wasn't positing anything outlandish or even vaguely sci-fi. It's a story celebrating what ...
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  • 4,844
39 votes
Accepted

Was there a reason Victor Hugo chose 24601 as the number for Jean Valjean?

Yes: it corresponds to the date of Hugo's conception. This is part of a pattern of similarities between the character of Jean Valjean and the author himself: both are of similar age, have similar ...
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  • 64.3k
33 votes

Could you actually go around the world in 80 days?

It was possible, but not easy. The difficulty of the task accounts for the substantial amount of the bet: £20,000 in 1873 is worth about £2,000,000 or more than US $2.5 million today. William ...
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  • 15.3k
32 votes

Is Babar an African or Asian elephant?

In the original story L'histoire de Babar: le petit éléphant (translated and published as The Story of Babar), his companion's absence is communicated by a 'vieux marabout' (an old marabous [bird]). ...
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  • 4,350
31 votes
Accepted

Can the Count of Monte Cristo's calculation of poison dosage be explained?

It's a mistranslation. I checked the original French text (emphasis mine): —Eh bien, reprit Monte-Cristo, supposez que ce poison soit de la brucine, par exemple, et que vous en preniez un ...
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  • 64.3k
30 votes
Accepted

Is Babar an African or Asian elephant?

Inasmuch as Babar is from a specific continent, he's either from Europe or from Africa-as-perceived-by-Europeans-in-the-1920s. Which is not exactly Africa, but definitely not Asia. Babar's adventures ...
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21 votes

Why does Valentine refer to her father's second wife as her "mother-in-law"?

This is a translation error! The original French is as follows: — Oh! monsieur, dit-elle, pourquoi donc êtes vous venu si tard aujourd’hui? Savez-vous que l’on va dîner bientôt, et qu’il m’a fallu ...
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  • 40.9k
17 votes
Accepted

How long was the Little Prince on Earth?

One Year. Near the end, the Little Prince journeys to the wall and has an encounter with a snake - the same snake, I believe, that he met when he first arrived on Earth. He wants to meet death by its ...
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  • 5,684
16 votes
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Why don't these lines rhyme in Les Miserables?

That wouldn't follow the rhyme scheme of the other verses, which follow the scheme ABCC. The next verse is: There is a lady all in white, Holds me and sings a lullaby, She's nice to see and she'...
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  • 4,898
15 votes
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Why all those tangents in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables?

Norman Denny has this to say in the introduction to his translation of Les Misérables: Hugo [...] had little or no regard for the discipline of novel-writing. He was wholly unrestrained and ...
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  • 6,654
15 votes

Why did the alexandrine become the "natural" metre for French verse drama, whereas English renaissance drama adopted the iambic pentameter?

There are two parts to this question: why does English use iambic meter while French doesn't, and why does English have 10 syllables in each line of iambic pentameter, while French has 12 syllables ...
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  • 8,033
15 votes
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What does Victor Hugo mean by "the red ant heaps of Toulon"?

By “the red ant heaps of Toulon”, Hugo means the Bagne de Toulon, a notorious prison where the convicts wore red jackets and red caps. This is the prison where Jean Valjean serves nineteen years for ...
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  • 40.9k
15 votes

Is Babar an African or Asian elephant?

I submit that Babar is an Asian elephant on the basis of the artwork. Asian elephants differ from African elephants in a few ways, most prominently in the sizes of their ears: Asian elephants have ...
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13 votes
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Why is the tense wrong in the beginning of The Stranger?

I'm not sure if whole books have been written on the topic, but at least whole book chapters have been. I haven't read this book, but I'll share my first impression. One thing to note is that the ...
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13 votes
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Identification of a short story about a short irrefutable self-evident proof that God exists that is kept secret

This would seem to fit the bill: A Corner of the Veil by Laurence Cossé Paris. May 24 1999, 8.32pm: Father Bertrand Beaulieu of the venerable Society of Casuists, holds in his trembling hands six ...
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  • 15.8k
12 votes

Why does Meursault kill "the Arab" in The Stranger?

Initially, there isn't much. The final words of Part I read this: I wanted to hear the murmur of its water again, to escape from the sum and the effort and the women's tears, and to relax in the ...
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  • 476
11 votes

Is Jules Verne making fun of the English in Around the World?

The interaction between Fogg and Passepartout is based on their contrasting personalities: one is rigid, the other carefree and careless. This contrasts exists regardless of any national stereotype. ...
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11 votes
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Why was Hugues de Groot also called "Grotius"?

Because he was a Renaissance scholar and Latinising names was a thing they did.... The Latinisation of names in the vernacular was a procedure deemed necessary for the sake of conformity by scribes ...
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  • 15.8k
10 votes
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Is this François de La Rochefoucauld's quote authentic?

The version you found on the internet was translated from English back to French. The real quote, which is due either to La Rochefoucault or to the Abbé de Saint-Réal, is: Nous nous tourmentons moins ...
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  • 8,033
10 votes
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Standard text for "Tristan and Isolde"

The versions of the story of Tristan and Isolde that we know today date from the Middle Ages, a period in history when copyright did not yet exist, when originality was not the highest goal in ...
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  • 39.2k
9 votes

Why did the alexandrine become the "natural" metre for French verse drama, whereas English renaissance drama adopted the iambic pentameter?

I'm adding my own answer to complement Peter Shor's. In an interview, the Shakespeare scholar Kenneth Muir talks, among other things, about his translations of Racine and Corneille. When asked how he ...
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  • 39.2k
9 votes

What is "the sin which ruined our first parents" in The Count of Monte Cristo?

The sin of Adam and Eve could be stated as a desire for knowledge that did not belong to them - the tree that they ate from was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the snake tempted Eve ...
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  • 320
9 votes
Accepted

Can the apparent age discrepancies in The Count of Monte Cristo be reconciled?

TL;DR: The discrepancies can be reconciled if we allow the painter to flatter Mercédès, and Monte Cristo to lie about his age. Chronology 24 February 1815 — Edmond arrives at Marseilles: On the ...
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  • 40.9k
9 votes

Are the Asterix comics about a drug culture?

No. Asterix is very far from any drug culture, and from methamphetamine usage during war. Magic potions are older than print. They appear in Greek mythology, for example (Jason puts the dragon to ...
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9 votes
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Which short stories are falsely attributed to Guy de Maupassant, and why?

The ‘which’ and ‘where’ parts of the question were answered by Maupassant’s biographer Francis Steegmuller: A smart American publisher and bookseller named M. Walter Dunne, whose specialty was large ...
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  • 40.9k
9 votes
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Is the grail in Chrétien de Troyes "Perceval" called "holy"?

In the French text on Wikisource, I found the corresponding passage (emphasis mine): Et ne cuidiez pas que il ait luz ne lanproies ne saumons : d’une seule oiste, ce savons, que l’an an ce graal ...
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  • 39.2k
8 votes

What exactly are masques and bergamasques?

The line is a bit of a pun. A "masque" is a masked ball, and in this case refers to the kind of music played at masques. The name actually has a somewhat convoluted history, originally referring to a ...
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  • 4,898
8 votes

Why was "Notre Dame de Paris" changed from "Notre Dame of Paris" to "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" when it was re-published in English?

In Recomposing the Past: Representations of Early Music on Stage and Screen, it's claimed that: The original title of Hugo's work was Notre Dame de Paris, making no mention of the disfigurement of ...
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