In the first chapter of Around the World in 80 Days, Phileas Fogg meets Jean Passepartout, his new servant, and they introduce themselves. As part of this, Fogg asks Jean what time it is:

“Passepartout suits me,” responded Mr. Fogg. “You are well recommended to me; I hear a good report of you. You know my conditions?”
“Yes, monsieur.”
“Good! What time is it?”
“Twenty-two minutes after eleven,” returned Passepartout, drawing an enormous silver watch from the depths of his pocket.
“You are too slow,” said Mr. Fogg.
“Pardon me, monsieur, it is impossible—”
“You are four minutes too slow. No matter; it’s enough to mention the error. Now from this moment, twenty-nine minutes after eleven, a.m., this Wednesday, 2nd October, you are in my service.”
Phileas Fogg got up, took his hat in his left hand, put it on his head with an automatic motion, and went off without a word.
Around the World in 80 Days (1873) by Jules Verne, Project Gutenburg version

Passepartout says it is 11:22; Fogg says that's four minutes too slow, and then declares that it is 11:29.
No matter how many times I do the math, I still come up with 11:26.

I've confirmed that the numbers are the same in my print copy of the book (the Penguin Popular Classics version, translated by Jacqueline Rogers).

What's going on with this number discrepancy? Why does Fogg say it's 11:29 but that 11:22 is four minutes slow? Am I missing something here?

  • 5
    I read this as Fogg having expected Passepartout at 11:25. Since it's 11:29, Fogg sees Passepartout as being 4 minutes late, rather than his watch. Commented Jul 7 at 12:44
  • 5
    @AmosJoshua - "...who was due at the house between eleven and half-past."
    – Mithical
    Commented Jul 7 at 12:47
  • Aha, well there goes that theory :) Commented Jul 7 at 19:12
  • There is the "No matter", which could mean that the exact number isn't important, the fact that it is different is already an error. But it doesn't look like Phileas Fogg, who insists on exactitude.
    – Florian F
    Commented Jul 7 at 21:43
  • 2
    @AmosJoshua The preceding lines state that the new servant "was due at the house between eleven and half-past" - Passepartout isn't late, his 11:29 arrival is exactly within the expected window. Fogg immediately proceeds by leaving the house for his 11:30 routine; if Passepartout was late, Fogg would already have been gone. Commented Jul 8 at 16:25

6 Answers 6


It is not a translator's error, since the French text contains the same times. Wikisource's French version is as follows:

— Bien. Quelle heure avez-vous ?
— Onze heures vingt-deux, répondit Passepartout, en tirant des profondeurs de son gousset une énorme montre d’argent.
— Vous retardez, dit Mr. Fogg.
— Que monsieur me pardonne, mais c’est impossible.
— Vous retardez de quatre minutes. N’importe. Il suffit de constater l’écart. Donc, à partir de ce moment, onze heures vingt-neuf du matin, ce mercredi 2 octobre 1872, vous êtes à mon service.

(The same times can also be found in the scanned version at Gallica, so it doesn't seem to be a transcription error on Wikisource. On Project Gutenberg, the times are also the same in the version released in 2014 and in the version released in 2002.)

I think this is a foreshadowing of the end of the novel, where Phileas Fogg thinks he needed 81 days to travel around the globe, whereas in reality it was 80 days. Both at the start and at the end of the novel, he gets the time wrong, even though the scale of the error is bigger at the end.

  • I am not expert on French but I am almost sure "Vous retardez." means "You are late." not "You are too slow." as it was translated in the question. Commented Jul 8 at 22:07
  • 1
    @pabouk-Ukrainestaystrong You should post that as a comment on the question. My answer doesn't use the word "slow". Note also that Fogg expected Passepartout between 11:00 and 11:30, so Passepartout's arrival is well within that time slot. Moreover, it is clear from the dialog that "Vous retardez" refers to the watch being slow (in spite of the pronoun "vous"). We don't say that a watch is "late" but that it is "x minutes slow".
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jul 8 at 22:13
  • It's not the only error Verne makes. At the end of the novel Fogg arrives in London "just as the clocks are striking ten to nine", to which the translator of my edition wrote a sarcastic footnote "By some strange peculiarity of the London clocks". Commented Jul 12 at 0:41

In Works of Jules Verne (1911), volume 7, page 158:

Instead of "Twenty-two minutes after eleven" it is: "Twenty-four minutes after eleven"

This suggests that at least the editor Charles F. Horne considered the number 22 or the 7 minute gap to be an error.

  • 1
    Why does every French edition that I can find say "Onze heures vingt-deux" and none "Onze heures vingt-quatre". The novel was first published in 1872, which should have provided plenty of time to correct the "error".
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jul 9 at 19:00
  • @Tsundoku maybe only Horne considered it an error.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Jul 9 at 19:13

There are several words of exchange after Passepartout utters the time. That can easily account for one minute (depending on how slow the pace of talking is). I have always assumed that there were pauses, maybe Phileas takes his watch out (and struggles with it). Also recall that they don't have digital watches, there can be an error of 30 seconds in both parties reading of the time.

  • 8
    But it's actually 3 minutes different. I don't see how these little errors can add up to that much.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 7 at 19:01

So Passpartout says the time by his watch is 11:22 and then Fogg says it is 4 minutes slow, making the time approximately 11:26.

If the time was actually 11:22 by Passpartout's watch, there woould be a 50 percent change the watch said the time was less than 30 seconds after 11:22 and a 50 percent chance the watch said the time was more than 30 seconds after 11:22. So maybe Fogg assumed that Passpartout's watch said 11:22:30, And that Fogg's watch, or his clock on the wall behind Passpartout, said a time between 11:26:30 and 11:27:30 and Fogg said the difference was 4 minutes because it was more and 4 and less than 5 minutes.

That would make the time when Fogg made his statement between 11:26:30 and 11:27:30. And when Fogg later said the time was 29 minutes after 11 the time might have been between 11:29:0 and 11:29:59. So there would have to be between 1 minute & 30 seconds and 3 minutes &29 seconds.

Could there be that much time between those two statements of Fogg's?

If not, here is another suggestion.

Maybe Passpartout looked at his watch and it said 11:22:58 and Passpartout said 11:22. And then Passpartout turned his watch so Fogg could see and by then it was 11:23:02 and Fogg considered the watch to say 11:23:00 to 11:23:59 . If Fogg's own watch said 11:27:00 to 11:28:58, he might consider the difference to be 4 to 5 minutes and say four minutes. and if his watch or clock said the time was almost 11:29, Fogg might think that by his acceptance of Passpartout's services the time was now after 9:29 - or maybe Fogg looked at his watch or clock again and it said the time was now after 11:29:00.

And if that seems improbable, here is a third suggestion.

Maybe when Passpartout showed Fogg his watch giivng the time as 11:22, Fogg looked at his own watch (in need of winding) and it said 11:26, so he told Passpartout that Passpartout's watch was four minutes slow. But when Fogg accepted Passpartout he naturally looked at his super accurate marine chronometer hanging on the wall and saw the time wass 11:28:50 and told passpartout "No matter. Both our watches are slow according to my Marine Chronomoter." And then Fogg decided to hire Passpartout and looked at the chronometer again and it showed 11:29:10 and Fogg said: "It is enough to have mentioend the difference. Now from this moment, twenty-nine minutes after eleven, a.m., this Wednesday, 2nd October, you are in my service.”

But then revising his MSS, Verne crossed out the line "both our watches are slow according to my Marine Chronomoter." Or maybe the typsetter omitted it by error when setting the time, and nobody noticed it was missing.

Or maybe Verne used Arabic numbers for the times in this scene, and maybe the typesetter had trouble distinguishing between "2" and "5", or between 4","7", and 9" and selected the wrong numbers or letters when setting the type.

So here a few possbile ways to think that Verne might not have made a simple error in arithmatic.

Here is a link to a question I asked about a story where a literary critic was obsessed about an uncertain detail in in a story, and eventually used time travel to asked the author.


And if your research doesn't give a definative answer, and time travel is invented, maybe you can go back and ask Jules Verne. And maybe he will explain why that scene is correct. Or maybe he will say howstupidhe was to make such a simple arthrmatic error and not catch it will revising. People must have thought he was an idiot for centures. Andmaybe you will say you were the firstperson who ever noticed it in a 150 years - which might be true for all I know.

And just in case you are the first person to be bothered by this detail, congratulations!


Or he actually adds in a error margin in his answer, 11:26 +- 4minutes, should mean he too are allowed to use that error margin.


I think the explanation is this. (Note that I haven't checked the book for details.)

If Phileas asked Passepartout to meet him at 11:25, and it is now 11:29, then he is indeed 4 minutes late. Fogg is trying to determine why, so asks for the time. When the watch shows that it is 11:22, Fogg declares that he is 4 minutes late, although Passpartout thinks he is 3 minutes early. Fogg is not claiming that the watch is 4 minutes late, he is declaring that Passepartout is 4 minutes late, which appears to be because the watch is 7 minutes slow.

  • 3
    "If Phileas asked Passepartout to meet him at 11:25". Phileas Fogg expected Passepartout between 11:00 and 11:30, so Passsepartout is still on time.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jul 8 at 22:13
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