Mr. Phileas Fogg lived at No. 7, Savile Row, Burlington Gardens. He was one of the most noticeable members of the Reform Club, about who little was known, except that he was a polished man of the world. Little was known of his history and his source of wealth. Many conjectured as to the nature of his past. It was likely that he had traveled a great deal though it was certain that he had not absented himself from London for many years. The first part of the first chapter is primarily devoted to the description of Mr. Fogg and his activities. His activities are described as being those of a meticulous man, highly organized, punctual and habitual.
When he breakfasted or dined all the resources of the club--its kitchens and pantries, its buttery and dairy--aided to crowd his table with their most succulent stores; he was served by the gravest waiters, in the best possible way. The mansion in Savile Row was exceedingly comfortable. The habits of its occupant demanded but little from the sole domestic, but Phileas Fogg required him to be superhumanly prompt and regular. He had dismissed James Forster, because that luckless youth had brought him shaving-water at a slightly different temperature than required. Passepartout had come for a job to Phileas Fogg and hoped to become the next valet. Mr. Fogg and Mr. Passepartout meet and finalize the nature of the services that Passepartout shall perform for Mr. Fogg. Mr. Passepartout is hired as a valet. Phileas Fogg then went off without a word. Passepartout heard the street door shut twice after his master and the previous servant left. Passepartout then remained alone in the house in Savile Row.
Jules Verne places the story on a particular date of 1872. There are no words wasted on unnecessary descriptions and Savile Row and its resident are immediately described in great detail. In the very first chapter, we are made to completely understand the nature of the hero of the story - Phileas Fogg. Though he seemed always to avoid attracting attention; he attracted a lot of it and he came across as an enigmatical personage. In Jules Verne’s own language: " People said that he resembled Byron--at least that his head was Byronic; but he was a bearded, tranquil Byron, who might live on a thousand years without growing old".
Certainly an Englishman, it was more doubtful whether Phileas Fogg was a Londoner. He was never seen on ‘Change, nor at the Bank, nor in the counting-rooms of the "City"; no ships ever came into London docks of which he was the owner; he had no public employment; he had never been entered at any of the Inns of Court, either at the Temple, or Lincoln’s Inn, or Gray’s Inn; nor had his voice ever resounded in the Court of Chancery, or in the Exchequer, or the Queen’s Bench, or the Ecclesiastical Courts'. He certainly was not a manufacturer; nor was he a merchant or a gentleman farmer. His name was strange to the scientific and learned societies, and he never was known to take part in the sage deliberations of the Royal Institution or the London Institution, the Artisan’s Association, or the Institution of Arts and Sciences. All that was known about him was that he was a member of the Reform Club. The way in which he got admission to this exclusive club was simple enough. The Barings, with whom he had an open credit, recommended him.
The narrator also comments on the state of things using the third person dialogue. He writes - " Was Phileas Fogg rich? Undoubtedly. But those who knew him best could not imagine how he had made his fortune, and Mr. Fogg was the last person to whom to apply for the information." Thus, while he presents dialogue between the characters as it might have really happened, he also controls the characters with his third person omniscience. The author most definitely likes his hero who is made to fit the heroic mode quite well. Phileas Fogg, in Mr. Verne’s words - " was not lavish, nor, on the contrary, avaricious; for, whenever he knew that money was needed for a noble, useful, or benevolent purpose, he supplied it quietly and sometimes anonymously."
Mr. Verne also describes the effect that Phileas Fogg had on others. Thus, the hero is placed against the larger canvas of the society and that is important for any complete and panoramic novel. This is how Phileas must have seemed to others - " He was, in short, the least communicative of men. He talked very little, and seemed all the more mysterious for his taciturn manner. His daily habits were quite open to observation; but whatever he did was so exactly the same thing that he had always done before, that the wits of the curious were fairly puzzled." The author seems to be satirizing the usual society of London who found it difficult to understand exceptional characters such as Phileas and were enamoured by them.
The main theme of the novel - the journey of the hero around the world also finds a place within the first chapter itself. Reference is made to the hero’s knowledge of the world around him - "No one seemed to know the world more familiarly; there was no spot so secluded that he did not appear to have an intimate acquaintance with it. He often corrected, with a few clear words, the thousand conjectures advanced by members of the club as to lost and unheard-of travelers, pointing out the true probabilities, and seeming as if gifted with a sort of second sight, so often did events justify his predictions. He must have traveled everywhere, at least in the spirit."
Those who were honored by a better acquaintance with Mr. Fogg than the rest declared that nobody could pretend to have ever seen him anywhere else. His sole pastimes were reading the papers and playing cards. He often won at this game, which, as a silent one, harmonized with his nature; but his winnings never went into his purse, being reserved as a fund for his charities. Mr. Fogg played, not to win, but for the sake of playing. The game was in his eyes a contest, a struggle with a difficulty, yet a motionless, unwavering struggle, congenial to his tastes. Indeed, the reader does start looking forward to reading more about a heroic and noble person such as he. In the main part of the book, we shall see how the game of whist is replaced by the game of going around the world in eighty days. Both endeavors require a determined will, which Mr. Fogg has in plenty.
The description of Mr. Fogg’s daily activities incites curiosity. He breakfasted and dined at the club, at hours mathematically fixed, in the same room, at the same table, never taking his meals with other members, much less bringing a guest with him; and went home at exactly midnight, only to retire at once to bed. He never used the cozy chambers, which the Reform provides for its favored members. He passed ten hours out of the twenty-four in Saville Row, either in sleeping or making his toilet. When he chose to take a walk it was with a regular step in the entrance hall with its mosaic flooring, or in the circular gallery with its dome supported by twenty red porphyry Ionic columns, and illumined by blue painted windows. Our hero seems to lead a meticulous existence but we shall see how all the meticulousness shall be replaced instead by a mad dashing around the world.
In the first chapter, we are also introduced to Mr. Passepartout, who is the second most important character in the novel. While he too is an honest and orderly man, there is a sense of clumsiness around him and he has apparently had a more adventurous, colorful life than his master. As he himself says, - " I believe I’m honest, monsieur, but, to be outspoken, I’ve had several trades. I’ve been an itinerant singer, a circus-rider, when I used to vault like Leotard, and dance on a rope like Blondin. Then I got to be a professor of gymnastics, so as to make better use of my talents; and then I was a sergeant fireman at Paris, and assisted at many a big fire. But I quitted France five years ago, and, wishing to taste the sweets of domestic life, took service as a valet here in England." He has good references and it seems that Mr. Fogg appreciates honesty, as Mr. Passepartout is given the job immediately. We shall soon see how Mr. Fogg and Mr. Passepartout make an excellent, entertaining pair.