Time. We all have it and, for better and for worse, we all use it, too. As it’s put by Gandalf the Grey in The Fellowship of the Ring, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Time is our chief commodity, and it’s up to us how we spend it.
It’s likely from a meditation akin to this that Jules Verne wrote his famous 1872 novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Verne is a notable French author who wrote in the second half of the 19th century, renowned for his pioneering science fiction novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1863).
In Around the World, Phileas Fogg, an eccentric, wealthy Londoner and the protagonist of the story, personifies timeliness. Each one of his days is nearly identical to every other: waking, eating, reading, playing Whist, talking with friends, and sleeping. Each activity has a start and end time, which he always meets exactly. And Fogg’s mystery is equivalent to his exactness; his source of wealth is unknown, and the thoughts of his mind are far more.
Fogg’s precise schedule is interrupted by a burst of spontaneity, however—spontaneity that is motivated somewhat paradoxically by his obsession with timeliness. He is determined, even with all of the unknown variables, that he can travel around the world in only eighty days. In the typical fashion of a determined English gentleman, he stakes his fortune on it.
On the surface, it seems as if Fogg’s journey does nothing to change him. He remains unperturbed by delays, difficulties, and the worries of the future. But his usage of time gradually shifts. At the start of the book, the way he spends his time revolves around himself; by the end of the book, he makes increasingly large sacrifices of time on his journey, risking his fortune and reputation for the sake of helping others. He saves an Indian princess, Aouda, who was about to be murdered, and he saves his anxious French servant, Passepartout, from a Sioux raiding party.
In the end, what does change in Fogg? The eccentric, unbendingly exact, mysterious man does not simply begin to make time for others but realizes that his time is for others, not himself. When at the end he is convinced that he lost his bet, his concern is not for his own reputation and loss of wealth—or the inexactitude of his time. He even shuts down his servant Passepartout from somewhat rightfully blaming himself for causing many delays. Instead, Fogg is only concerned for how his failure and loss of wealth would affect Aouda, the princess he took into his care, and his servant, Passepartout.
To repeat Gandalf—who, by the way, is also very particular about his time—”All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Shall we then use it for ourselves or, like Fogg, learn to center it around others? One option is of much more lasting value than the other.
Interested in reading other recommendations—and considerations—of classic literature? Check out some of my other articles!