Mr. Phileas Fogg is a wealthy man living in London. He has a very uninteresting social life aside from being a member of the Reform Club, a private London society for gentlemen. He does not have a wife or children. He speaks very often about the world, seeming to know so much of it, so people assume he has traveled—however, most are fairly certain that he has not left London for many years.
Mr. Fogg spends nearly all day, every day at the Reform Club's clubhouse, and has a single servant who attends to him at home. He has recently dismissed one of these servants, and now instead is served by a Frenchman from Paris named Jean Passepartout. Passepartout is looking forward to his new job, but is somewhat wary about his master, surprised by how serious, exact, and deliberate he is in all aspects of his life. Passepartout himself is lively and proud, so it would be interesting to see how his personality meshes with Mr. Fogg's. Nevertheless, he thinks he and his master shall get along and is excited to begin his work.
On Passepartout's very first day on the job, Mr. Fogg goes to the Reform Club at half past eleven in the morning, as he always does. He eats breakfast there, and begins to talk to the other club members, notably a man named Ralph. They discuss a robbery that has occurred at the Bank of England, who stole fifty-five thousand pounds. The Daily Telegraph newspaper says that the thief was a gentleman, and likely did not belong to a professional band of robbers.
They wonder how far the thief could have gotten, and someone remarks that the world is such a big place that he could have gone anywhere. Mr. Fogg says that the world has become smaller, and Ralph agrees, saying you can get around the entire world much more quickly than you ever could before. Mr. Fogg says you can get around it in eighty days now, and one of the other club members confirms, referring to an estimate made by the Daily Telegraph now that the final section of railway across the Indian continent has been finished.
The men remark that the eighty days estimate does not account for weather, shipwrecks, railway accidents, or any other incidents that could delay a person. Mr. Fogg disagrees, and says that these are all included. Stuart, one of the club members, says he would like to see Mr. Fogg do it in eighty days. It becomes a wager; Mr. Fogg bets twenty thousand pounds that he can make it around the world in eighty days or less. The club members cannot believe that he would make such a serious bet, but, sure he will fail and they will win twenty thousand pounds, they agree to it. Mr. Fogg plans to leave that night.
Mr. Fogg returns home to tell Passepartout that the two of them will be going around the world. Passepartout is astounded, and also does not think they can make it in eighty days, but is enticed by the prospect of the adventure all the same. They pack only carpetbags, planning to buy clothing as they go. As they leave, though, Passepartout realizes he left the gas heater burning in his room—he cannot delay his master by going back to turn it off, so when they return from their voyage, the money spent from burning it for so long would be deducted from Passepartout's salary.
The news of Mr. Fogg's departure spreads rapidly throughout London, and all of the newspapers cover it. People make their own bets on whether or not he will succeed. Suddenly, though, the police commissioner in London receives a telegram accusing Phileas Fogg of being the man who robbed the Bank of England. It seems to make sense, due to Phileas Fogg's solitary nature and his hurry to leave England and go across the world. The commissioner believes it must have been to elude detectives.
When reading this book in a modern setting, it is important to remember when it was written. Around the World in Eighty Days was published in 1873, and takes place in London around that time. This was during the reign of the British monarch Queen Victoria, and the Victorian era in England was known for its elegance and refinement, with much concern placed on social class.
After learning a little about this historical context, it is easy to take notes of elements of Victorian society in this novel. Mr. Fogg is part of a high-end gentlemen's club and others are constantly attempting to pry into his social life to understand him better. Outward displays of wealth are also prominent, with Mr. Fogg, the Reform Club members, and the rest of London society comfortable with the idea of betting a lot of money on something like a journey around the world. And it is a lot of money; twenty thousand British pounds in 1873 would actually be 1.6 million pounds today, or approximately 2.5 million American dollars.
Right away, it is easy to notice the author's peculiar way of titling chapters. The titles are long and very specific, detailing the major event that will unfold in this chapter: for example, chapter one is titled "In Which Phileas Fogg and Passepartout Accept Each Other, The One as Master, the Other as Man." These chapter titles set the lighthearted, whimsical tone of the book, and heighten the sense of adventure readers feel as they move through the book, waiting to understand exactly what the chapter title means.
The first chapter immediately sets up Phileas Fogg as a mysterious, solitary figure. The book is narrated in third person, so readers feel like one of the people looking in on Mr. Fogg, curious to know what this enigmatic man is really like. He seems to take pride in belonging to a social club, and yet still spends most of his time alone. Even though the story primarily focuses on Fogg, author Verne still makes it very difficult for readers to get inside Fogg's mind—the same goes for the other characters in the story, who cannot seem to truly understand Mr. Fogg, either.
The servant Passepartout, on the other hand, in many ways serves as Mr. Fogg's foil. A foil is as character who shows opposite characteristics compared to another character, which accentuates certain qualities about the main character. Passepartout is warm and enthusiastic, while Mr. Fogg is serious and solitary. This makes Passepartout a perfect candidate to be Mr. Fogg's traveling companion, accentuating the latter's personality as they travel around the world together. In a strange way, they mirror the conventional superhero-sidekick team, which is fitting in an adventure story like this one.
The book's title clues readers in: this is a story about a journey. Stories about journeys, quests, and voyages serve a very specific purpose in literature. What usually happens to characters that embark on long journeys? They change or transform in some way, learning a lot of lessons and becoming someone very different from the person they were when they left. With that in mind, keep an eye out for further evolution of Phileas Fogg's character, as more about this man begins to unfold.
Chapter V ends on a cliffhanger, and foreshadows major trouble ahead for Mr. Fogg on his journey. It leaves readers wondering whether or not Phileas Fogg really is the bank robber, since the police commissioner's analysis of the accusation seems so logical. This is just the first of many extenuating circumstances that will make an eighty-day trip even harder to accomplish.