I just began reading Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days and Phileas Fogg had just fired his servant for giving him warm water that was by 2 Fahrenheit degrees off (roughly 1 Celsius degree).

Fogg is strict and acts and lives like a robot with a shorted circuit, always repeating behaviour. I would fire a servant (if I had one) if for example he was constantly late or gave me cold water to use for shaving. But not for something as ludicrously meaningless as heating it two degrees too much. I wouldn't even notice.

We can see some stereotypical Victorian Englishness here albeit strongly exaggerated. Is Verne admiring this level of discipline or is he mocking it? Or is it open to interpretation?

I had read the book before, a long time ago and remember little but I am somewhat familiar with its contents.

  • Making fun would be an improvement. Jules Verne openly portraits the English as a less sympathetic nation in general in multiple books, to a smaller amount in César Cascabel where at least it's in character with César hating the British, to a larger amount in Deux ans de vacances where he spends more time on essays on why the education system made Doniphant and the other English kids bad than showing their behavior.
    – b_jonas
    Apr 20 '21 at 11:33

The interaction between Fogg and Passepartout is based on their contrasting personalities: one is rigid, the other carefree and careless. This contrasts exists regardless of any national stereotype.

Fogg's personality has some positive aspects. He's the hero, Passepartout is (in modern terms) the sidekick, the foil. Fogg's accomplishment is the point of the book, and Fogg could have done it without Passepartout (Passepartout helped, but not really more than any of the other people that Fogg paid to help). But no matter how effective Fogg is, he is not portrayed as likable. Passepartout is relatable, Fogg isn't. Obviously that's a matter of subjective perception by the reader, but I don't see how Fogg can be seen to be portrayed in an admiring way.

A semi-textual hint that shows that Fogg's stereotype is not fully positive is that he is English. Verne's national stereotypes are pretty consistent, and fairly mainstream for the France of his time. French people are good, smart and adventurous (The Begum's Fortune, ) if sometimes distracted (Passepartout, Paganel, Zéphyrin Xirdal). Americans are also generally good and industrious if often eccentric (Around the Earth in 80 Days, From the Earth to the Moon, The Mysterious Island…) (except for Confederates: The Mysterious Island, North against South). Russians are good (Michel Strogoff). Scottish people are good or at least normal (In Search of the Castaways (Ayrton is evil but eventually redeems himself), The Green Ray). On the other hand, English characters are generally not wholly positive, although there are exceptions (at least Samuel Fergusson and Joe in Five Weeks in a Balloon). England is France's enemy, after all — I think that in Verne's eyes, it's England, more than the English, that is the enemy (and England itself, not any particular English character, is the enemy in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas). English characters are generally not unambiguously bad, however: the English are rivals of the French rather than evil. In contrast, Germans and Austrians are bad (The Begum's Fortune, Mathias Sandorf) (but Swiss German are good: The Castaways of the Flag). Non-Europeans can be diverse: subservient, quaint, cruel but they are almost systematically inferior (Nemo being the only exception I can think of).

So Fogg's portrayal is definitely intended as mildly unsympathetic, but only mildly. Whether that's how it comes out is up to the reader.

  • what a very knowledgeable answer ! May 17 '21 at 5:55
  • Those who 'do' are not infrequently less socially adept than those who 'talk'. British Engineering, Maritime, and Military successes depended on discipline and precision Verne's portrayal would be easily recognizable to the English reader, and perhaps regarded fondly, even in his eccentricity. May 17 '21 at 8:36

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