Just like the feelings we get when packing our bags to take an epic trip to grandma's house, the excitement is non-stop in Around the World in Eighty Days. As soon as Phileas Fogg and Passepartout board their first train to London, not a second goes by without the scenery, obstacles, and conflicts changing. Fogg is being investigated and tracked around the world for robbery, and there's a constant "What if he doesn't make it" question lurking in the back of our minds the whole time he's adventuring. Once you cut through the vocab, this one's a nail-biter. Just check out this description of the sea:
But the Red Sea is full of caprice, and often boisterous, like most long and narrow gulfs. When the wind came from the African or Asian coast, the Mongolia, with her long hull, rolled fearfully. (9.2)
The book is filled with high stakes moments like this. Seriously—just let the book fall open to any random page and we think you'll see what we mean. This isn't a journey undertaken out of fear or necessity, though; it's taken for the fun and adventure of it, and this underlying excitement and whimsy roots the entire narrative. So as the Mongolia "roll[s] fearfully," Fogg doesn't so much as bat an eyelash.
As adventures go, Jules Verne should fall directly between The Goonies and Jumanji. While not exactly a Hollywood box-office thriller, Jules Verne delivers his own exciting story about a man, a goal, and the entire world.
Being chased by someone who wants to put him in jail, up against ridiculously tough obstacles, and having to choose between his head and his heart, we'd say Phileas Fogg is every bit as good as Bilbo Baggins, and ever so much more dapper. And, as the title suggests, it's no secret that Phileas Fogg visits many far and exotic places on a quest to conquer global travel in just eighty days.
Being one of the first of his genre, Jules Verne earns him some major adventure street cred, as so many other adventure writers, novelists, and filmmakers have idolized and copied his style. Heck, even Steven Spielberg in Back to the Future gave him kudos by naming Doc Brown's kids Jules and Verne.
As for the historical fiction bit, at risk of blowing your minds, this book isn't true—and that means it's fiction. Since much of what we see as our characters' journey is based on historical reality, though, it isn't just plain fiction; it's historical fiction.
Yep, Around the World in Eighty Days sort of means what it says: Phileas Fogg is going around the world in eighty days. Not seventy-seven, not eighty-four, just plain eighty. If he can do this, he'll win a bet worth 20,000 pounds. The title is sort of a duh, but we'd argue that maybe Verne did this on purpose: The action and adventure of going around the world was sure to bring readers in; what probably shocked them was the great character development and lessons learned throughout the novel that almost overshadow the in-your-face travel plot.
"Truly, would you not for less than that make the tour around the world?" (37.14). Well, when you put it like that, Jules Verne—heck yeah, we would.
The ending of the novel goes from warp speed to ludicrous speed in just three chapters:
Okay, so maybe that's the ridiculous, ludicrous speed version of the ending, but you get the drift. Fate saves Phileas Fogg at the end of the novel, and this is the point Jules Verne has been waiting to drive home the whole time.
For a man who calculates every single second of his existence and purports to foresee all that is to occur, Phileas Fogg totally misses the mark on everything that happens in the ending. For once, other people in his life take charge: Aouda proposes marriage to him and is the first to confess her love; Passepartout realizes they've reached their destination on time and shoves Fogg in a carriage in order to get him to the club to collect the bet.
In the end, then, fate plays a role in a world constantly bombarded with technology, change, science, and mathematics. Verne uses the ending of Around the World in Eighty Days to show that life holds a bit more than we think; not everything can be calculated precisely. Sometimes it's the human relationships that define us and help us win.
Phileas Fogg makes his home in the Richie Rich part of London. All bets are off for the setting when he accepts the wager, though, as the whole world becomes Jules Verne's literary playground.
Most of Fogg's stopping points are related in great detail, showing Verne's massive knowledge of foreign places, as well as ships and railways. He describes, mostly through Passepartout's eyes, places such as Paris¸ Suez, Bombay, Calcutta, Singapore, Hong-Kong, Yokohama, San Francisco, New York, Liverpool, and London. Whoa.
The narrative takes place in 1872 during the months of September to December. It's definitely a novel of its time because of the extreme emphasis on new, industrialized modes of travel and Phileas Fogg and Passepartout's relationship as man and servant. The two spend lots of time on trains and ships, but also take on strange new means of travel such as riding an elephant and hopping in a vehicle called a sail-sled.
We can see the forest for the trees, though it doesn't take a jungle expert to notice Jules Verne is pretty darn hard to read. But that's our point: He's hard to read. The high vocabulary and 1800s type language fly at you like an army of mosquitoes, but if you're an intrepid explorer bound on a mission, this shouldn't stop you from enjoying some of the best literature ever written.
Cut through the vocabulary vines and there's a virtual treasure trove of great ideas and a storyline that delivers action, drama, and adventure worth your weight in gold. What we're getting at is that it's not hard to understand Jules Verne if you can hack away at the vocabulary. Let a good dictionary be your guide, and with Shmoop by your side, there's a golden idol waiting at the end of this for sure.
When we say "high," we mean high vocabulary. Another word that comes to mind is snooty. Jules Verne isn't one to use two words when fifty will do, and he does it with all the flair of a Victorian gentleman.
Verne uses difficult and outdated words so much that we're forced to tie a dictionary to the hand we aren't holding the book with. But the point isn't just that he's an author writing during a specific time period (when a large vocabulary proved how smart you were). It's the language of a gentleman—an intelligent one at that. So we think the style works well for Phileas Fogg's story. It's about a gentleman gambler, after all.
Still, Verne isn't against throwing in a comedic joke or a good old-fashioned rumble in for fun. When these scenes come up, such as Passepartout vaulting a somersault and breaking the planks of the dock in the process, or the English and American insults thrown by Phileas and Colonel Stamp, the gentleman vocabulary becomes sort of comedic.
During times of great stress for the characters, the wording becomes sparser and sentences get shorter. The Sioux raid, Aouda's daring rescue, and the Henrietta's survival of the hurricane all contain more intense, curt language. The flowery gentleman voice becomes one that invokes more suspense than a leisurely promenade through the city of Singapore.
In all, the writing style gives us the space to get to know our characters—stiff, starchy, or comedic as they may be—but also gives us some suspenseful scenes to keep us reading. Jules Verne would've been insulted if his novels had been a snooze-fest.
In a book that's so focused on time, Passepartout's watch is a definite talking point. Verne takes time out to discuss and illustrate Passepartout's watch and how important it is to him.
From the very first chapter, Passepartout is always getting the "What time is it?" question. Fogg asks his servant about the time a few minutes after hiring him, and Passepartout pulls a giant silver pocket watch out in order to answer him. Fogg tells him in his usual condescending fashion that the watch is "late." From then on, the watch becomes a central symbol for us, though we quite don't get why until we near the very end.
Detective Fix is also keen to point out that Passepartout's watch is slow. Passepartout is almost insulted: "My watch? A family watch monsieur, which has come down from my great-grandfather! It doesn't vary five minutes in the year, if it's a perfect chronometer" (8.6). How dare Fix speak ill of Passepartout's family heirloom.
Later on, we find out that Passepartout isn't just proud of his pocket watch, he's kind of weird about time altogether. He doesn't change the watch when he crosses into different time zones, as he remarks in a convo with Fix: "'I see how it is, said Fix. 'You have kept London time, which is two hours behind that of Suez. You ought to regulate your watch at noon in each country'" (8.6). Passepartout may circle the globe, but through his watch, he maintains a constant allegiance to his home.
Sir Frances Cromarty also takes the trouble to point out to Passepartout that anyone with sense would change his watch to keep local time:
Sir Francis Cromarty asked Passepartout what time it was; to which, on consulting his watch, he replied that it was three in the morning. This famous timepiece, always regulated on the Greenwich meridian, which was now some seventy-seven degrees westward, was at least four hours slow. Sir Francis corrected Passepartout's time, whereupon the latter made the same remark that he had done to Fix; and upon the general insisting that the watch should be regulated in each new meridian, since he was constantly going eastward […] Passepartout obstinately refused to alter his watch, which he kept at London time. It was an innocent delusion which could harm no one. (9.12)
Okay, so everyone's bugging Passepartout to update the time on his watch, and Passepartout's just not having it. One effect this has on the book is that it keeps time in the mix—and for a book that's racing against time, it's a helpful reminder that the clock is always ticking. But there's something more going on with this watch, too: For all the value placed on time and precision in this book, Passepartout's watch comes to show imprecision. Check out what happens at the end of the story:
Phileas Fogg had, without suspecting it, gained one day on his journey, and this merely because he had travelled constantly eastward; he would on the contrary, have lost a day, had he gone in the opposite direction, that is, westward.
And Passepartout's famous family watch, which had always kept London time, would have betrayed this fact, if it had marked the days as well as the hours and minutes. (37.6-8)
Passepartout is always talking about his watch, checking the time and defending his decision to keep his timepiece oriented toward home. And yet as soon as they journey outside their starting time zone, Passepartout's watch grows increasingly inaccurate without anyone in the traveling party fully realizing this fact. For all their effort to operate on schedule, then, Fogg's victory ultimately relies on luck. Ha.
An American, an Englishman, and a Frenchman walk into a bar… Yep, it's the start of a bad joke, to be sure. But Jules Verne doesn't use his characters' fatherlands to get us to the punch line—each character in the book is a symbol of his country's take on stereotypes and "manly" behavior.
Phileas Fogg is about as British as you can get. Verne lays it on thick, too, making Fogg ridiculously all things English: stodgy, stiff, unemotional, meticulous, intellectual, and methodical. It's almost as if he wrapped all the British aristocracy up into one character. We're almost expecting to see Fogg pull a teapot and crumpets out of his back pocket at any point in the novel. Verne continues to poke a bit of fun at the Brits through Fogg and his annoyingly "British" habits.
As a contrast, Passepartout is totally French. He's silly, cultured, down-to-earth, and appreciative of the arts. While Fogg is described as a "Byron," Passepartout is described as a "Moliere." Passepartout is highly emotional. He's a worrier, quick to anger, and also extremely passionate. He's really in touch with the emotional side of things and can see the romance blossoming between Aouda and Fogg when no one else can.
Colonel Stamp Proctor is almost a complete American stereotype. He's rowdy, rough around the edges, and completely illogical. With a red beard and a gigantic stature, he's like a legendary lumberjack come to life. But Stamp isn't the only American stereotype being made fun of here. Passepartout worries about the train being able to cross a rickety bridge, but upon being called a coward, he manages to suck it up—American-style:
"I afraid? Very well; I will show these people that a Frenchman can be as American as they!" (28.39)
Later in the book, Fogg takes control of a steamer by paying the crew to mutiny. Afterward, the captain of the ship tells him, "Captain Fogg, you've got something of the Yankee about you" (33.27). Americans: Crossing bridges and stealing ships like it ain't no thang.
It's no secret that Jules Verne was a total geek for science. He had an uncanny ability to look into the future and imagine inventions that would, in time, actually come to be. So it makes a lot of sense that Around the World in Eighty Days would become Jules Verne's literary shrine to invention and innovation.
Phileas Fogg has a healthy respect for man's new ways of spinning around the globe, so much so that he wagers his entire fortune on the newer, faster, more convenient ways of traveling. There are many naysayers who tell him it isn't possible, just like there must have been when steam engines, paddleboats, steamships, and cross-continental railroads were first invented, tried, and opposed—there's always going to be someone raining on the parade of science. Even characters like Passepartout are at times doubtful that Fogg can really do it.
In the end, though, science prevails, and man's global-domination determination wins out. We're wondering what Jules Verne would think of Space-X.
Aouda's definitely the jewel of India, but there's a whole lot of speculation that could be made about Aouda's role in Around the World in Eighty Days. Showing up first as a damsel in distress, we're sort of proud of Jules Verne for bringing the horrific misogynistic practice of suttee to public light. On the other hand, he might have simply done it for adventure-horror points, much like the crazy guy who rips out people's hearts in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. A terrifying tribal practice is always a great plot point in adventure stories, we're finding out.
Aouda also engages in other anti-Victorian-lady practices such as shooting a gun, traveling alone with men, and putting herself in danger. She's definitely not the ultimate symbol of femininity in the 1870s, and again, we're really digging Jules Verne on this point.
But while we're totally stoked Fogg and Aouda find ultimate happiness in each other's arms, we can't help but think that Aouda, much like the country of India to the British crown, is also a "prize." Fogg wins her by going around the world. He "wins" her over with his manly gentlemanliness, and he also "wins" her hand in marriage. She could be the real prize Phileas wins in the end. Our feminist Shmoop selves are having heart attacks.
In the 1800s, most British people thought that native cultures were in need of "rescue"—their practices, religious ceremonies, and rites were something that needed culture, education, and Western influence. Aouda is already cultured (i.e., she knows about Western ways), and "speaks perfect English." She's also described as extremely fair (i.e., light-skinned), while also being exotic and dainty. In this way, we can see Aouda symbolizing the country of India as Great Britain wants it to be someday (at the time of Verne's writing). And in this way, we can see Aouda as shouldering a whole lot of racist baggage.
Around the World in Eighty Days is definitely a story about Phileas Fogg, but Jules Verne's involvement as narrator almost makes him one of the characters. We see many things from Phileas Fogg's point of view, and even more from Passepartout's, but Verne likes to weave in and out of other characters' heads, too, such as Aouda's and Detective Fix's.
At times, Verne even talks directly to the reader, giving us insight, tidbits of information and descriptions, as well as jokes:
The reader will remember that at five minutes past eight in the evening—about five and twenty hours after the arrival of the travellers in London—Passepartout had been sent by his master to engage the services of the Reverend Samuel Wilson in a certain marriage ceremony, which was to take place the next day. (37.1)
By switching from one character's mind to another, we're able to both grasp the why and how of the bad guy, the inner determination and character of the good guys, and still have room for a plot twist or two thanks to our narrator speaking directly to us. At times, Verne does all three within the same paragraph:
Phileas Fogg was in prison. He had been shut up in the Custom House, and he was to be transferred to London the next day. Passepartout, when he saw his master arrested, would have fallen upon Fix, had he not been held back by some policeman. Aouda was thunderstruck at the suddenness of an event which she could not understand…the young woman's heart revolted against so heinous a charge, and when she saw that she could attempt or do nothing to save her protector, wept bitterly. As for Fix, he had arrested Mr. Fogg because it was his duty, whether Mr. Fogg were guilty or not. (34.1)
Can we get a group discount on point of view here? We've got direct reader connection by telling us Phileas is in jail, Passepartout's majorly ticked off, Aouda's super sad, and Fix is dwelling on duty. We think that just about covers it, and we didn't even have a Groupon.
One day in London 1872, Phileas Fogg, confirmed bachelor with OCD, is playing whist in his club with several dudes. Phileas bets that he could totally go around the world in eighty days because, you know, technology and stuff. The dudes with nothing better to do accept, and Phileas leaves with his newly hired French servant, Passepartout, right away. We've got character personas for our two main men, and a formation of the main conflict right before our eyes. We're betting you can't resist finding out more. Are we right?
Phileas's travel plans go smoothly except for some minor glitches like Passepartout getting mugged in a Hindu temple by some priests, a major railway turning out to be incomplete, a dead rajah trying to burn an Indian princess, his servant getting drugged, missing a steam ship, Sioux Indians attacking his train, a hurricane almost destroying his boat—yeah, there's no end of conflict for Phileas Fogg. Good thing he has a positive attitude.
Oh yeah, and Phileas sort of looks like a "gentleman" who robbed the Bank of England just a few days ago. Detective Fix of Scotland Yard is on the case—and as he follows Phileas around the world, Fix and his suspicions constantly get in the way of Fogg's journey.
Poor Phileas Fogg… When he reaches English soil again, Fix is finally able to arrest him. Getting arrested while in the home stretch is like being able to smell the finish line but not being able to cross it. Smells like defeat, doesn't it? It sure does to Phileas.
Hold up… As it turns out, Fogg is totally innocent. "Yeah, sorry about that," says Detective Fix. And our characters try to hop a train to London while there's still time.
Alas, the train to London has left the station. Man—so close. Time to go home and be depressed. Not so fast, though: Phileas's girlfriend proposes marriage to him. So while it seems he's lost a ton of money, at least he's come into love. Time to get the preacher, Passepartout.
Say what? It's Sunday, not Monday? Passepartout saves the day by realizing they actually had a day to spare and Phileas shows up in time to collect on his gambling winnings. It's been a pretty profitable experience, and it only took going around the world to find the answers.
Act I goes from Chapter 1 to Chapter 4, and it goes something like this: One day in London Phileas Fogg, confirmed bachelor with OCD, is playing whist in his club with several dudes. He explains that he's read in a newspaper that it's now possible to go around the world in eighty days. No one believes this, and Phileas puts it out there that he could do it. Much scoffing ensues and Phileas lets all his chaps know that he plans to do it. He bets 20,000 pounds just to wipe the smiles off their faces. The dudes with nothing better to do accept, and Phileas leaves that night with his newly hired French servant, Passepartout.
Act II runs from Chapter 5 to Chapter 34. The plot thickens as Phileas is stated to look remarkably like the "gentleman" who robbed the Bank of England just a few days ago. This "gentleman" took a few thousand pounds and made off with it. Detective Fix is on the case—following Phileas as he journeys around the world, spending what the Detective anxiously thinks is the stolen money, a percentage of which will be his as a reward for bringing in the thief.
Fix and his suspicions get in the way of Fogg's journey as he first befriends Passepartout and then ultimately uses him to thwart Fogg's efforts. In the middle of India, a daring rescue of a princess about to be burned to death occurs, and Phileas's gentlemanly ways become attractive to an ever-so-grateful woman. Fix helps Fogg while in America, but later when they reach English soil again, he's finally able to arrest him.
Act III goes from Chapter 35 to Chapter 37. It's a sad, sad world now that Phileas Fogg is in jail and won't be able to show up at the club to gloat that he actually did what he set out to do. Passepartout nearly rips all his French hair out at the sheer frustration of it all. But Fix comes on back and tells them all that he was wrong, Fogg isn't the bank robber—um sorry about that. Fogg punches him right in the nose and heads home to mope.
Aouda makes things all better by proposing marriage to Fogg, and they decide to get hitched even though everyone is stupid broke. Passepartout realizes that Fogg miscalculated the days (oh snap) and that they actually made it back to London in time to win the bet. The bet's collected, the marriage is made, and the money is passed out—even to Detective Fix, 'cause you know, Fogg's such a good guy and all and everyone's happy to be rich, or just happy to be happy.