Around the World in Eighty Days: Summary

Jules Verne, Around the World in 80 Days. The Reader’s Digest complete text of Le Tour du Monde en Quartre-vingts Jours, 1873. The Reader’s Digest Assn, Inc. Montreal and Pleasantville, New York, 1988.

Summary of Chapter One: In which Phileas Fogg and Passepartout accept each other: the one as master, the other as man

On October 2, 1872, Mr. Phileas Fogg of No. 7, Savile Row, Burlington Gardens, London, is hiring a new servant, after firing James Forster for bringing his shaving water at 84 degrees instead of 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Fogg is a gentleman and man of the world, a prominent but mysterious member of the Reform Club. He is never seen anywhere in London except at his club, at which he arrives the same time every day for luncheon and departs every night at midnight. No one knows what he does; he is not a landowner, a businessman, merchant, or scientist. He appears to be rich but not showy. He gives his money to charitable purposes, but he communicates little to anyone. He does nothing but read the papers, dine, and play whist with the same men. Though he often wins at cards, he gives the money to charity. He plays for love of the game. 

Fogg seems to be a world traveler because he knows about every spot around the globe, yet no one sees him travel. He has no wife or children but lives alone in a rather plain but comfortable house with one manservant. Fogg is watching the clock this day, and when there is a knock on the door, he lets in a man of thirty, whom he interviews for the position of manservant. The man introduces himself as Jean Passepartout, an honest Frenchman, jack-of-all trades. He has been a singer, gymnast, circus performer, a tightrope walker, a fireman, and a valet.  He had heard of Fogg’s strict requirements and wanted to work for him, to lead a quiet and orderly life.

Fogg tests him by asking what time it is. Passepartout brings out his large watch and says “ twenty-two minutes after eleven” (p. 15). Fogg corrects him, saying he is four minutes slow. They synchronize their watches as a gesture of formal contract, and Fogg has effectively hired his new man. Without any other word, Fogg leaves Passepartout in his house and goes to his club.

Commentary on Chapter One

Phileas Fogg is the main character of this adventure story with Passepartout, his faithful sidekick. Fogg is known as an eccentric, but he is benevolent, and so, the narrator tells us, “there is something good in eccentricity” (p.14). His main quirk seems to be his obsession with time.

Passepartout is an unlikely servant for Fogg, a Parisian who is basically a performer and artist turned servant, someone who has not settled in life. In French his name means “all purpose” or “a skeleton key.” Fogg is the opposite, a precise man who never varies his routine.

The narrator is omniscient and brings out interesting details about the characters and places. For instance, he tells us that Fogg’s house once belonged to the English playwright Richard Sheridan, who wrote “The School for Scandal” and lived a dissolute life. Fogg is also said to resemble Byron, but “a bearded, tranquil Byron” (13). Sheridan and Byron are ironic images for Fogg the scientific and cold Victorian gentleman. Lord Byron was also a drunken and dissolute English author.

Fogg is a lot like the clocks he is addicted to, a bit machine-like in his behavior, whereas Byron and Sheridan evoke wild and erotic behavior. Fogg, furthermore, seems to be a bachelor with no interest in women or nightlife. He has money but doesn’t spend it, except on charity. He plays cards but is only interested in the game.

In the first chapters, the narrator keeps piling up details of Fogg’s mystery and oddity. He is almost the caricature of an Englishman. There are, however, some intriguing points about Fogg already. For being so precise, he is quick to hire the unpredictable and French Passepartout. Passepartout points out that his name means he has “a natural aptness for going out of one business into another” (p. 15). The French and the English, it is well known, are very unlike in their behavior and thinking. This fact is used to comic effect throughout the book. Passepartout is warm and impulsive, and Fogg is cold and predictable.

Yet it is also speculated that Fogg has the gift of “second sight,” for his predictions about lost travelers and far away places come true. The narrator says he must have “traveled everywhere, at least in the spirit” (p. 12). This of course was said of Verne himself whose fantastic books are full of futuristic visions and inventions.

The tone of the book is whimsical and humorous and often satirical, though Verne himself was passionate about travel to far places and scientific inventions, as Fogg is.

The theme of time is significantly brought up even in the first chapter, and it is fitting that master and servant seal their fateful meeting by setting their watches to the same minute. Time (the limit of 80 days) is a major idea, image, and force in this story.