My research leading up to this years Nanowrimo has led me to re-read Jules Verne’s “Around The World In Eighty Days”. It’s been a salutary lesson for more than one reason. Firstly, I haven’t read it since I was 11, and I’d forgotten just how tightly written and fast-moving it was. Its the perfect example of the kind of book I like to read, and the sort of book I want to write.
Secondly, and more importantly, I’d never realised that Phileus Fogg is a complete knob. Worse, he’s probably seriously mentally ill.
Let’s examine the evidence, ignoring the urbane charm of David Niven in the delightful 1956 Hollywood version, or indeed Willy Fog, the cartoon lion of the 90s kids show. No, the Fogg I am talking about is taken straight from the pages of Verne’s novel. This is a man with few friends, no family to speak of, and habits that are not merely regular, but obsessive compulsive.
During his brief interview with Mr. Fogg, Passepartout had been carefully observing him. He appeared to be a man about forty years of age, with fine, handsome features, and a tall, well-shaped figure; his hair and whiskers were light, his forehead compact and unwrinkled, his face rather pale, his teeth magnificent. His countenance possessed in the highest degree what physiognomists call “repose in action,” a quality of those who act rather than talk. Calm and phlegmatic, with a clear eye, Mr. Fogg seemed a perfect type of that English composure which Angelica Kauffmann has so skilfully represented on canvas. Seen in the various phases of his daily life, he gave the idea of being perfectly well-balanced, as exactly regulated as a Leroy chronometer. Phileas Fogg was, indeed, exactitude personified, and this was betrayed even in the expression of his very hands and feet; for in men, as well as in animals, the limbs themselves are expressive of the passions.
He was so exact that he was never in a hurry, was always ready, and was economical alike of his steps and his motions. He never took one step too many, and always went to his destination by the shortest cut; he made no superfluous gestures, and was never seen to be moved or agitated. He was the most deliberate person in the world, yet always reached his destination at the exact moment. He lived alone, and, so to speak, outside of every social relation; and as he knew that in this world account must be taken of friction, and that friction retards, he never rubbed against anybody.
This is a man that will fire his manservant for bringing his shaving water two degrees too cold, and yet will happily drop everything and gamble his fortune on a club-room wager. Bi-polar? Quite possibly. This is a man that, on that journey, will show no interest in the wonders unfolding before him, preferring instead to stay in his cabin and brood over railway timetables and steam train schedules. This is a man, who when presented with the opportunity to rescue a maiden from an untimely death at the hands of Brahmin fanatics, chooses to do so only because his timetable has opened up enough that he has some free time to do so!
This is no hero, Readership. This is a sociopath. Phileus Fogg is desperately unstable, unable to relate to the outside world in a normal fashion, and frankly seems one rash, ill-thought decision away from killing himself and taking his travelling companions with him.
More of an anti-hero then, I guess. I swear, if it wasn’t for the more honest lunacy of Passpartout, the thing would be almost unbearable. I have to admit that I can’t stop reading, though. Not just to find out what happen at the end. To find out also if the so-called hero becomes any less of a dick.