This book takes the reader on an exciting journey around the globe during the year 1872, and it is remarkable how much the world’s inhabitants have changed yet remain the same. It opens with an introduction of Phileas Fogg, the main character and fastidious Englishman with wealth obtained from a curious and unknown source. He is a contrast to Jean Passepartout, his new servant and self-exiled Frenchman with the purposely inaccurate watch. The catalyst for the journey is a wager from Mr. Fogg’s regular Wist card game at the Reform Club. Missing bank funds, a mistaken suspect, and a determined detective follow these characters as they set out on the trip. Transportation challenges and culture clashes in the Far East and Wild American West meet them next, one of which leads to an unexpected and happy ending.
The emphasis on precise time is an element repeated throughout the story, and the reader should keep this in mind. As Mr. Fogg meets his regular Wist partners for their normal game time, as regular as precise as clockwork, the conversation turns to a recent robbery at the Bank of England. 50,000 pounds have vanished, and there is a reward of 2,000 pounds plus 5% of the recovery. Detectives and bounty hunters have headed to all of the world’s major ports of entry, in hopes of catching the thief and collecting. Mr. Fogg and his contemporaries discuss that it is now much easier for both the thief to get away and for him to be caught, because “the world has grown smaller.”
Mr. Fogg makes the statement that seems grandiose to all: that the world can be transversed in only eighty days. He agrees to wager half of his fortune (20,000 pounds) that it can be done. He returns home and announces the journey’s start to a stupefied and disbelieving Passepartout. The trip is to be made by rail and ship, a contrast and more accurate depiction than the image of the main character in a hot air balloon from a film version of this story. Some readers may be expecting this, but the rest of the narrative makes up for it missing. The idea of taking only eighty days for this journey reflects the nineteenth-century times; steam-powered ships were still relatively new, and frequent railway delays were an everyday occurrence. Betting half his net worth that these could be avoided was rightfully seen as an insane idea. Ironically, many people at home in London made bets on Mr. Fogg’s success or failure.
A key phrase often quoted from this book is “The unforeseen does not exist.” This stems from Mr. Fogg’s world view that careful, detailed, timely, and precise planning can eliminate any and all unforeseen challenges and roadblocks. One unforeseen happening does occur in India, however. Mr. Fogg’s single goal in this world tour is to win a bet, not to become enlightened about different cultures. He and Passepartout encounter a cultural practice that figuratively blindsides them: the practice of ritual human sacrifice in a region of India not under British control. They encounter a native tribe of Brahmins in the jungle that is leading a young woman to be sacrificed to Kali, the goddess of death and love, by being burned alive. Mr. Fogg coolly suggests saving the woman, Aordea, since he is twelve hours ahead of schedule, keeping always to his English cool-headedness and timetable precision. Nonetheless, this daring plan makes the reader cheer for him and want this rescue mission to succeed. Mr. Fogg calmly acknowledges that even capture and torture are foreseen, but this does not deter his calm and logical planning. It also dispels the reader’s doubts that he will succeed.
Tight spots abound for Mr. Fogg, Aordea, and Passepartout as they cross the Pacific and head across America by rail. A battle from the train windows with Native Americans reminds the reader that the West was still very wild at this point in history, and the United States was going through growing pains that contrast with the relative stagnancy of the country in the twenty-first century. Mr. Fix, the detective convinced of his guilt in the bank robbery, has followed Mr. Fogg from the beginning. He finally obtains the arrest warrant he needs in America, and the traveling trio miss their deadline to arrive back in London. Or so it appears.
Convinced of the loss of his fortune, half to the wager and the other half to travel expenses, Mr. Fogg realizes his and Aordea’s love for each other; she agrees to be his wife even though he lost his fortune. Mr. Fogg ended up venturing around the world and far out of his comfort zone, which is often the set of circumstances where unexpected and unsought love happens. It so happens that science is on their side; they had lost one day traveling the globe, leaving enough time for our hero to recover the lost money from the wager in the ending.