Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 920
Around the World in Eighty Days is, as the title suggests, the story of a journey around the world. The focus throughout is on the remarkable journey by Phileas Fogg and his companions. The places visited, the people encountered, the customs and cultures noted, the scenery observed—these make up the fabric of this work.
The situation at the beginning is twofold: For Fogg’s newly hired valet, it is an opportunity to work for a man who leads a steady, stable life. Passepartout believes that his new master never goes anywhere except to the Reform Club. Fogg does seem to have an extremely routine existence (even the number of steps from his dwelling to the club is known). He frequents the club, reading The Times and playing whisk with his acquaintances: “His daily habits were quite open to observation; but whatever he did was so exactly the same thing that he had always done before, that the wits of the curious were fairly puzzled.”
This routine is altered drastically when a news item about a bank robber leads Fogg to propose a wager that he can circle the earth in eighty days. He establishes with his whist partners a wager of twenty thousand pounds, and he announces that he will depart that very evening. Passepartout’s expectations of tranquillity are shattered as he is set to work making preparations. The only luggage is a large carpetbag, into which are placed a few articles of clothing and toiletries, as well as a large sum of money in the form of negotiable bank notes. The journey begins with the two boarding the Dover-to-Calais train on Wednesday, October 2, 1872, at 8:45 p.m., exactly one and three-quarters hours after making the bet.
In addition to Fogg and Passepartout, the protagonists, there are two antagonists. Fix, an English private detective, jumps to the false conclusion that Fogg is the bank robber. In Suez, his expectations are twofold: the arrival of Fogg on board the steamer Mongolia, en route from Brindisi to Bombay, and receipt of a warrant for Fogg’s arrest. When the latter does not come, he joins Fogg and Passepartout as a traveling companion. At Bombay, he takes note of Passepartout’s offense against a temple.
The true antagonist, however, is time—or, more specifically, delay. The train ride across India ends abruptly when the track runs out; the long section through the interior, contrary to an earlier statement in The Times, has not yet been built. The ever-resourceful Fogg buys an elephant and hires its former owner as a guide. Together with Passepartout and a British military man met on the train, they begin the long, treacherous ride. En route they rescue a woman named Aouda from her husband’s funeral pyre, and she joins them for the remainder of the trip. They arrive in Calcutta by train on time, only to be arrested (an arrangement made by Fix). Paying the bail, they sail to Hong Kong on the Rangoon, which Fix has secretly boarded. Delayed by weather, they nevertheless arrive in time to catch the Carnatic, which has also been delayed.
In Hong Kong, Fix contrives to delay Fogg by getting Passepartout intoxicated on drink and opium. Only the servant reaches the Carnatic before it sails for Yokohama. Fogg, in turn, charters the pilot boat Tankadere for Shanghai, which must ride out a typhoon before it reaches its destination. Meanwhile, Passepartout has arrived alone and penniless in Yokohama. Resourceful in his own way, he joins a troupe of actors as a clown and is reunited finally with the others after they have caught the Rangoon to Yokohama. Fix now has a warrant which he cannot use until he is again on British soil. All sail from Yokohama aboard the American steamer General Grant.
During the journey across America, the group is accosted by Colonel Stamp Proctor and diverted by a political rally in San Francisco; the train from Oakland is delayed for hours by a herd of buffalo; a Mormon diverts Passepartout; Fogg and Proctor begin a duel which is interrupted by an Indian raid; Passepartout again exercises his acrobatic skills by conveying himself from the rear car to the engine underneath the train, unhooking the engine and stopping the raid; and Fogg leads a body of cavalry to rescue Passepartout. In this novel of miraculous feats, even the train performs heroically, leaping over a weakened bridge at remarkable speed. All obstacles are overcome, but Fogg misses the China. Even the remarkable trip across the vast wasteland by sail-sledge has been in vain.
Not to be outdone, Fogg charters the Henrietta, commands her himself, buys her from the captain, and burns the wooden portions of the ship when there is no more fuel. Back in London, however, Fogg is in jail until Fix discovers that the real thief has already been caught. Ironically, Fogg has completed his journey around the world in eighty days but cannot collect on the bet. Back home, he and Aouda send Passepartout to find a minister for their wedding. The servant discovers that it is not Sunday but Saturday—the group has passed eastward over the international dateline without noting the loss of one day. Fogg arrives at the club with one second to spare to collect his twenty thousand pounds. Having spent nineteen thousand on the journey, he gives away one thousand and is left with exactly the forty thousand he had at the beginning. Except for finding Aouda, he has neither gained nor lost.