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Three Men in a Boat
One might have imagined … that the British Empire was in danger. … The Standard spoke of me as a menace to English letters; and The Morning Post as an example of the sad results to be expected from the over-education of the lower orders. … I think I may claim to have been, for the first twenty years of my career, the best abused author in England.
Jerome K Jerome, "My Life and Times" (1926)
Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), published in 1889, is a humorous account by Jerome K. Jerome of a boating holiday on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford.
The book was initially intended to be a serious travel guide, with accounts of local history along the route, but the humorous elements took over to the point where the serious and somewhat sentimental passages seem a distraction to the comic novel. One of the most praised things about Three Men in a Boat is how undated it appears to modern readers, the jokes seem fresh and witty even today.
The three men are based on Jerome himself (the narrator J.) and two real-life friends, George Wingrave (who went on to become a senior manager in Barclays Bank) and Carl Hentschel (the founder of a London printing business, called Harris in the book), with whom he often took boating trips. The dog, Montmorency, is entirely fictional, but "as Jerome admits, developed out of that area of inner consciousness which, in all Englishmen, contains an element of the dog." The trip is a typical boating holiday of the time in a Thames camping skiff. This is just after commercial boat traffic on the Upper Thames had died out, replaced by the 1880s craze for boating as a leisure activity.
Because of the overwhelming success of Three Men in a Boat, Jerome later published a sequel, about a cycling tour in Germany, entitled Three Men on the Bummel.
A similar book was published seven years before Jerome's work, entitled Three in Norway (by two of them) by J. A. Lees and W. J. Clutterbuck. It tells of three men on an expedition into the wild Jotunheimen in Norway.
The story begins by introducing George, Harris, 'J.' (Jerome's narrator) and Montmorency, the dog. The men are spending an evening in J.'s room, smoking and discussing illnesses they fancy they are suffering. They conclude they are all suffering from 'overwork' and need a holiday. J thinks he has every illness. A stay in the country and a sea-trip are both considered, then rejected (J. describes the bad experiences had by his brother-in-law and a friend on sea-trips). The three decide upon a boating holiday, up the River Thames, from Kingston upon Thames to Oxford, during which they'll camp, notwithstanding more anecdotes from J. regarding previous mishaps with tents and camping stoves.
The next Saturday, they embark. George must go to work that morning ("George goes to sleep at a bank from ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when they wake him up and put him outside at two") so J. and Harris make their way to Kingston by train. They are unable to find the correct train at Waterloo Station (the station's confusing layout was a well-known theme of Victorian comedy) so they bribe a train-driver to take his train to Kingston, where they collect their hired boat and start their journey. They meet George later, up-river at Weybridge.
The remainder of the story relates their journey and the incidents that occur. The original purpose as a guidebook is apparent as the narrator describes the passing landmarks and villages such as Hampton Court Palace, Monkey Island, Magna Carta Island and Marlow, and muses upon historical associations of these places. However, he frequently digresses into funny anecdotes that range from the unreliability of barometers for weather forecasting to the difficulties that may be encountered when learning to play the Scottish bagpipe. The most frequent topics are river pastimes such as fishing and boating and the difficulties they present to the inexperienced and unwary.comments powered by Disqus