Phileas Fogg is an unlikely hero—a stoic British gentleman with no family or friends and an OCD-level obsession with timeliness and routine. We are introduced to him as he has fired his former manservant for a grievously minor offense and hired a Frenchman to replace him by the name of Passepartout. As it happens, Passepartout has led life of adventurous variety—a former gymnast, singer, fireman, and circus performer—and is excited at the prospect of settling down and serving as valet to a man as predictable and low-key as Mr. Fogg. Unfortunately for him, the day he is hired is also the day that Mr. Fogg makes a gentleman’s bet with his Reform Club and stakes his fortune on the conviction that he can travel around the entire world in 80 days.
To complicate matters (throwing in some additional tension and antagonism), a policeman named Fix is hot on Fogg’s trail—convinced that his trip is nothing more than the clever rouse of a shameless bank robber. He has a warrant, and he’s out to sabotage the travel plans of Fogg and his servant.
It’s a rare experience for me to start out comfortably sure I would end up giving a book 3 stars, but by the end wanting to hand it 5. But much to my delight, Verne earned that distinction.
I’ll admit I started out pretty detached. The characters were a bit flat—with no flashbacks or familial background offered on any of our main characters to help one connect with how they’d come to be the way they are. Phileas Fogg’s unflappable lack of emotion in all things doesn’t promote any real affection for him, and Passepartout’s more excitable nature felt more inept than vibrant. But once you get through the first ¼-1/3 of the story (specifically through India), a surprising amount of depth is gradually layered into this honor-bound man and his increasingly loyal valet.
Written originally in 1873 for serial publication, Verne’s focus is more so on the available modes of travel themselves than on the countries his characters are passing through. But despite his obvious biases and the single-mindedness of the pace, there's still plenty of educational effort put into explanations. His vision alternates between sweeping and technical—an efficient voice with intricate purpose behind it.
Due to the time period, I had low expectations when a woman is eventually added to the cast. But by the end I was satisfied with the dignity and necessity of the role she played in Fogg’s character development. Without her, Verne’s twist would have held far less impact, and the finish wouldn’t have felt as satisfying. Also… (view spoiler)
After this, I’m pleased to say I’m looking forward to more from Jules Verne!
-“It may be taken for granted that, rash as the Americans are, when they are prudent there is good reason for it.”
-“But Phileas Fogg, who was not traveling, but only describing a circumference...”
-“His countenance possessed in the highest degree what physiognomists call "repose in action," a quality of those who act rather than talk.”
-“He lived alone, and, so to speak, outside of every social relation; and as he knew that in this world account must be taken of friction, and that friction retards, he never rubbed against anybody.”