Phileas Fogg has few interests in life except whist and dining at his Club in London. Even traveling around the world, he does not look at the scenes he is passing through. His wager becomes an obsession, but he does not do it for the money. Going around the world in the least amount of time possible is the same to Fogg as a game of whist. Fogg likes intellectual challenge.
The bet with the members of his Reform Club is made during a game of whist in which the topic is how modern travel has made the world smaller. This conversation about the wager interlaced with the card game identifies the two projects as the same in Fogg’s mind. Just as he calculates how many tricks he can take, he calculates how many days it will take him, including what others have not foreseen. He wins at cards, and he wins the wager. Both the game and the trip are a gamble, but are based on calculated risk. Fogg seems to possess a mind that can calculate minutiae that others miss. Just when it looks impossible, he finds a way to solve the problem, with the slimmest of hints. His friends tell him he will have to “jump mathematically” from train to steamer (Chapter 3, p. 23). Fogg agrees with this wording and is often spoken of as moving “mathematically” (Chapter 18, p. 93).
Furthermore, whist and his quest are identified because he plays whist all around the world as he travels, making the trip one big card game on steamers, trains, in India or America, and with all sorts of companions. Whist, like bridge, is an intellectual game of how to bid and win tricks, based on the knowledge of what is known (what cards have been played) and what is unknown (the cards not yet played). Fogg is good at whist and good at calculation, but his friends tell him that 80 days does not take into account bad weather or accidents. Fogg says “All included” (Chapter 3, p. 22). Again, an objection is made that there could be an Indian attack or something unforeseen. “’All included,’ calmly retorted Fogg; adding, as he threw down the cards, ‘two trumps’” (Chapter 3, p. 22). Fogg explains “The unforeseen does not exist” (Chapter 3, p. 23).
Clocks and watches are metaphors used throughout the story for Fogg’s conquest of time. The wager is based on a fixed amount of time—80 days—so Fogg and Passepartout begin by calibrating their watches to the same minute. Fogg himself is described in terms of a machine or a clock, “unvarying as the ship’s chronometers” (Chapter 9, p. 43). He even walks like “an astronomical clock” “with his regular step, which beat to the second” (Chapter 9, p. 47). Newspapers, inspiring Fogg’s trip by reporting that the railroad had been laid across India, are “like some watches which have a way of getting too fast” (Chapter 11, p. 55) in their premature announcement. Fogg finds the Indian railway is incomplete. Some clocks are inaccurate and cannot keep up with the real time.
For instance, Passepartout’s watch in particular becomes a symbol of the secret of time that is at the heart of this scientific adventure. He is attached to his timepiece “a perfect chronometer” (Chapter 8, p. 39) because it never varies and because it came from his great-grandfather. Fix tells him in Suez that his watch is two hours behind, and he must regulate it in each country. Passepartout replies “then, it will not agree with the sun” (Chapter 8, p. 39). In his mind, time is a constant, and London time the only true time. When Sir Francis tells him in India that his watch is four hours slow and that he must keep changing it as they cross the time zones going eastward “in the face of the sun” (Chapter 11, p. 54), Passepartout remains loyal to Greenwich time. Verne has a bit of fun with the British setting the world’s clock and thinking no other time is valid, but besides the humor of Passepartout’s naiveté, his clock is not telling the truth. Time is not a fixed quantity but flowing and moving and changing. Even Fogg misses this point in not understanding that they have gained a whole day by the end of the trip.
Passepartout is characterized as a dreamer, always in a reverie. A vagabond with many talents, he was a wanderer in youth and now seeks an employer as rigid as Fogg is, so he can settle down to a normal, regulated life. Instead, he is whisked off on a world tour. Emotional as Fogg is rational, Passepartout feels the speed of the trip makes it appear as a dream. When they reach Suez, he remarks, “we travel so fast that I seem to be journeying in a dream” (Chapter 8, p. 38). He thinks it a waste not to get out, to look around and enjoy the trip, but Fogg has a different purpose and doesn’t care about the scenery.
In India, the exotic scenes whiz by the train window and plunge Passepartout “into absorbing reverie” (Chapter 11, p. 53). They can see “vast tracts extending to the horizon, with jungles inhabited by snakes and tigers, which fled at the noise of the train” (Chapter 11, p. 53). Verne gives the impression of speed by making the journey unreal to Passepartout. They traverse dangerous and ancient land in a man-made machine while Fogg seems to still be at his London club playing whist. At some point Detective Fix asks Passepartout if he “believe[s] in this journey around the world” (Chapter 17, p. 89). He means, is Fogg pretending in order to escape from police? The question makes it sound, however, as if he questions the reality of such fast travel. Passepartout believes in Fogg’s purpose, though he continues in “perpetual reveries” (Chapter 17, p. 91) at the wonder of it all. He is the one on whom the miracle of modern travel registers. The world has indeed shrunk in size.
Orbiting the Earth
Fogg is frequently compared to an object orbiting the earth, rather than traveling on the earth or around the world. While Passepartout is involved with Detective Fix and his plot to stop Fogg and arrest him as a criminal, Fogg is oblivious to that whole drama. He never learns who Fix is until they get to England. He also appears to be unaware of the emotions and feelings of Aouda or what the trip means to her. In fact, he ignores typhoons, being stopped by the Calcutta police, being attacked by Indians, or riding on an elephant when the train tracks run out. Fogg is shown to be always calculating, writing notes in his journal, making the next move but never aware of what is happening around him on the ground. “Fogg moved about above them in the most majestic and unconscious indifference. He was passing methodically in his orbit around the world, regardless of the lesser stars which gravitated around him” (Chapter 17, p. 90). Aouda is compared to a “disturbing star” (Chapter 17, p. 90), but this disturbance is so tiny as to be unobservable. The narrator says, “Phileas Fogg, who was not traveling, but only describing a circumference . . . was a solid body, traversing an orbit around the terrestrial globe, according to the laws of rational mechanics” (Chapter 11, p. 51).
Fogg is thus shown to be above others in his moral and intellectual status. Passepartout later thinks “all the world had been mistaken in Phileas Fogg” (191). The average person, represented by Fix and his mentality, underestimates him and his motives. Fogg never acts as others expect him to. He moves like a fixed planet, and yet he deviates to save Aouda and Passepartout when they are in danger. He likes to win, but he gives away his whist winnings to a woman on the street. Others are attracted to him and become satellites to his magnetic attraction. Fix, for instance, is forced not only into a tour around the earth with Fogg, but actually helps him. Though he is a body that attracts others, his orbit is clear of other orbits: “as he knew that in this world account must be taken of friction, and that friction retards, he never rubbed against anybody” (Chapter 2, p. 17).