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Phineas Gage and Phileas Fogg

In History, Literature, Psychology on November 11, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Jules-Verne-TextLately, I’ve been on a bit of a Jules Verne kick.  In particular, I have become fixated on the protagonist from Around the World in Eighty Days:  Phileas Fogg.

Phileas Fogg can be described as being an arcane, stolid, reserved, wanderlustuous, expeditious, untoady, indomitable, burnished, hyperopic, magnanimous, well-mannered, benignant, abstinent, daedal gentleman.  The story itself is quite fun, but what I found to be truly fascinating was the closely linked Philip Farmer meta-fiction: The Other Log of Phileas Fogg:

In an introduction, Farmer posits that Verne’s story was not simply an article of fiction, but the chronology of actual events, which Verne later decided to adapt into a fictional setting. In the book’s epilogue, Farmer playfully alludes to the notion that Phileas Fogg is still alive, and may in fact be the actual author of the story (Farmer notes that they both share the same initials, suggesting that Phillip Farmer is actually an alias for Phileas Fogg).

From Farmer’s perspective, Jules Verne revealed only a small and significantly subdued portion of the actual background and exploits of Phileas Fogg. He establishes that the events surrounding Around the World in Eighty Days is actually a singular aspect of a greater conflict taking place between two immortal alien races, the Eridani and the Capellas. Farmer’s story does not challenge any of the elements of the original text, but rather it adds an ambitious secondary tale taking place behind (and often in between) the scenes of Verne’s material.

Instead of a wealthy dilettante with a taste for odd wagers, Phileas Fogg is an agent of an alien race who have been conducting a secret war on earth for years. His race around the world is part of this arcane war generally designed to help ferret out Fogg’s nemesis: Captain Nemo.  The whole thing is reminiscent of a David Icke speech and has clearly been the inspiration behind League of Extraordinary Gentleman and similar fan fiction.

For those unaware of Farmer’s fiction, it may be interesting to note that he was behind the infamous “Kilgore Trout” pulp:  Venus on the Half-Shell. Evidently the Venutian language is a great source of anagrams for naughty bits (Tunc and Angavi come to mind). The story is of the life and travels of our hero, Simon Wagstaff, the Space Wanderer. He goes around in a giant flying dildo picking up androids and becoming immortal.  Good stuff.

Invariably, typos in my quest led me to the likes of Phineas P. Gage.

On September 13, 1848, 25-year-old Gage was foreman of a work gang blasting rock while preparing the roadbed for the Rutland & Burlington Railroad outside the town of Cavendish, Vermont. After a hole was “drilled” into a body of rock (via a laborious process which today might best be thought of as “chiseling”) one of Gage’s duties was to add blasting powder, a fuse, and sand, then compact (“tamp down”) the charge using a large iron rod. Possibly because the sand was omitted, around 4:30 PM:  the powder exploded, carrying an instrument through his head an inch and a fourth in [diameter], and three feet and [seven] inches in length, which he was using at the time. The iron entered on the side of his face, shattering the upper jaw, and passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head.

Amazingly, Gage spoke within a few minutes, walked with little or no assistance, and sat upright in a cart for the 3/4-mile ride to his lodgings in town. The first physician to arrive was Dr. Edward H. Williams:

I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct. Mr. Gage, during the time I was examining this wound, was relating the manner in which he was injured to the bystanders. I did not believe Mr. Gage’s statement at that time, but thought he was deceived. Mr. Gage persisted in saying that the bar went through his head….Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor.

This has become a case study for Psychology students as the damage to only the frontal lobe allowed Gage to function normally for the rest of his life.  Apparently, his behavior and personality was strikingly different after the accident.  Causing him to swear in public and become irritable in private.  Most close friends reported he was “no longer the Gage I knew.”  Eventually, he moved down to South America and became a carriage-driver in Chile.

  1. I love Phileas Fogg! I love how he handles situations. 😉

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