Chapter Three: “In which a conversation takes place which seems likely to cost Phileas Fogg dear
Phileas Fogg goes to the dining room of the Reform Club for breakfast on a beautiful fall day. Afterwards, he reads the Times as usual until four o’clock when he reads the Standard until dinner. After dinner, he reads the Pall Mall until the whist game with his usual partners: bankers, an engineer, a brewer, and the Director of the Bank of England. They discuss the robbery of the Bank of England in which fifty-five thousand pounds was stolen. Detectives have been sent all over the world to find the man, who is reported in the papers to be a gentleman. A reward of two thousand pounds has been offered with 5 percent on the sum recovered. A gentleman was seen in the bank on the day of the robbery. The whist players argue over whether the robber will be caught.
Fogg replies that the world is no longer so big since advances in transportation make one able to get about quickly. He claims he could go around the world in 80 days. The Daily Telegraph has announced the opening of the railway across India, and therefore, by rail and steamboat, a world tour could be completed in this time frame. Someone objects that it doesn’t take into account bad weather and accidents. Fogg’s only reply is “The unforeseen does not exist” (p. 23). He includes accidents in the time frame.
The club members wager 20,000 pounds with Fogg that he cannot get around the world in 80 days. He says he will leave immediately and be back by December 21 at a quarter to 9:00 p.m. The six club members witness and sign a paper, and Fogg goes home to leave for the Dover train that very night. Though he bets half his fortune on the project, and would perhaps have to spend the other half in doing it, he is not motivated by money, but the thrill of the scientific adventure.
Commentary on Chapter Three
This chapter sets up the premise for the story: Fogg must be able to go around the world in the least time such a journey can be completed. When the members object that he leaves no margin for accidents or weather, he insists that he has included that in the calculation.
Is Fogg quite rational? We have been told that he is very steady and impeccable in his habits and even, in his charity. He is not a foolhardy gambler for money. He is only interested in the game, as he is in whist. This point is underscored by the whist game that Fogg will not even interrupt to go home and pack. The bet is just a larger more thrilling whist game to him.
But Fogg’s seriousness cannot be doubted. He is willing to gamble his whole fortune and life to prove a point. An overview of the journey is provided by the article in the paper detailing how many days each leg of the journey would require. One begins to understand that Fogg has a rational and mathematical mind and is furthermore interested in using human invention to beat time. Rail and steamship have united the world and made it smaller. He, like an astronaut or discoverer, wants to set out to prove that this feat can be done. Fogg is the sort of person who would climb a mountain or attempt some other task on the edge of possibility, though he appears to be the least adventuresome type. Fogg’s contradictions and mystery appeal to readers, who now want to find out if he can do it and how. Will his boast that “the unforeseen does not exist” prove true or is he setting himself up?
His whist partners are likewise “the princes of English trade and finance” (p. 20). They are conservative and feel some concern for letting Fogg bet so much on such a risky venture. How is it that all these solid Englishmen are so daring? For the clubmen, it is an armchair adventure, but they too will lose a sizable amount if Fogg wins. Underneath the stolid English personality lurks a gambling nature, Verne suggests. It is perhaps what made the small island of Britain undertake discovery and colonization around the globe in the preceding centuries.