Just as I decide to begin reading more of my Penguin books from my collection, our book club decides to discuss Jerome K. Jerome’s book Three Men in a Boat. I began reading this book (ignoring the tiny print in the old Penguin book) when I saw our local library had the E-Audio version of it so I downloaded it. I have been listening to it the past couple of days off and on.
According to what I have read online, Jerome was born Jerome Clapp in 1859. He wanted to become a man of letters or a politician but his father died when Jerome was 13 and then his mother when he was 15. He had to begin work after that.
He did a variety of jobs and eventually ended up as a writer of essays, freelance pieces, etc. He wrote his most well known book, Three Men in a Boat (and a dog) at age 30 in 1889.
It is the story (quite autobiographical after the people in his life) of friends George and Harris and himself sitting around talking about all of their illnesses one evening. Nothing like three hypochondriacs spending an evening together. It is a very funny page or two.
They decide in the end they are all just tired from overwork and decide they need a holiday. The story begins when they decide to rent a small boat and explore the Thames. The three of them and Jerome’s dog, Montmorency undertake the journey together.
The book was originally meant to become a bit of a travel guide with historic points along the Thames discussed. However the comic quality soon took over and this weighted heavier than the history.
Harris, George and Jerome (called only J. in the book) begin planning, packing and eventually the trip.
I enjoyed getting stuck into this story. It has some very funny passages. The story is quite visual and one is able to picture the pure incompetence and hilarity between the three friends. The characters are written to caricature I thought, that deal with some very common events (oversleeping, packing a full suitcase only to unpack to find a toothbrush needed later, deciding on what food to take and the interactions once underway).
I can see why it would have become quite popular in its time. Much of it has not dated much but I have to say (against some of the research online I read about this book) that some of it has dated. I found the description of women in this book to be quite tedious. They were all very dense, tiresome, insipid and goofy. I must admit I did become weary of their descriptions and the roles they played. I appreciated the tongue in cheek of some descriptions but overall it did not always ring true.
I thought the humour was very good. There are many parts where I laughed out loud, perhaps as I would laugh at British sitcoms. (Remember when Hyacinth Bucket dressed as a sailor for her boating day on the river and ended up in the drink?) Humour such as this wears thin after awhile. I like comic novels but often I find an author just plain over does it. The joke goes on and on and on. The first joke makes for a good belly laugh but once that is over I am ready to move on and not read another 3 or 4 pages as the author tries to get you to have a raucous laugh yet again and again at the same story. Sophie Kinsella’s books come to mind where every single line becomes a joke and one loses patience with the story which is quite interesting.
There may be people who disagree with that description but this is my post and my read so I am sticking to what I have said.
Overall I enjoyed this book very much. It made me feel like I was in England in the 1880s to 1890s. I can see a great many people sitting in their parlours laughing out loud, hanky in hand, wiping eyes behind their glasses. I did so myself which is good considering this book was written 127 yrs ago. This book is incredibly, still in print so there are many things that are truly just right.
I think it will be interesting when our book club discusses this (I think in January?)
I am getting caught up on my book reads for club so I can read what I want over the silly season. Jerome K. Jerome wrote a sequel to this book about the same friends undertaking a bicycle trip but evidently this was not as popular with society as the first one. I think it must go back to the jokes. After all how many times can one watch Hyacinth Bucket and keep up the same laughs. The humour does begin to wear off.
In summary though the Penguin and I did enjoy this little trip down the Thames but we did find the small boat with three men, a dog and all of their baggage (you won’t believe all that they packed) a bit tight.
8 thoughts on “Three Men in a Boat-Jerome K Jerome”
at first i thought the book delightful, but you hit the nail on the head when you referenced it’s unfortunate depiction of ladies; it did grow a bit tiresome after a while. i thought your post was very perceptive and pointed out things i hadn’t noticed before… tx…
I finally read this, and I know what you mean about the humor getting a bit old after a while. Still, there was enough variety to keep me engaged. For another wonderful and very funny book about the Victorians, you might try Period Piece by Gwen Raverat. (Don’t know if it’s ever been published by Penguin, but it should have been.)
This is a book my brothers gave me to read when I was a chick and they were teenagers. They thought it was a classic for all of us. I read it in French and found it hilarious – Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, Harris singing a comique song, how to make a kettle boil, etc. As we were a nomadic family, following Father around the world according to where he was posted and going back ad forth to France, we thought that the packing was quite true.
However, I don’t know if I would like the book as much nowadays.
One thing is certain: the following (“Three Men on a Bummell”) that describes their holidays in Germany is not as funny as this one. Other books by Jerome K Jerome were reissued not long ago like “Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow”. This is all very Edwardian with good and “less good” things.
Nigel Williams re-wrote “Three Men in a Boat” as a book for our times in the 1990s, I think. The title is “Two and a Half Men in a Boat” and I remember that I enjoyed it as well, keeping his forefather in mind.
This book is on my classics club list, but I hadn’t considered listening. It might be a perfect light audio for December! Do you know which version/narrator your library had? I just checked audible and there are quite a few…
[J] I think your edition is the same as that which I recall being on the bookshelves at home, when I was a boy. We lived by Thames, and in fact had a canal boat (moored on Kennet, a tributary) which we would take on journeys including Thames several times a year. It was my mother who was the great reader, but my father the do-er, and it was his interest in boating that put us on the water in the first place. Between them, all the places and events featured in Three Men (and a dog) in a Boat were pointed out and recounted. Over the past 40-50yrs or so, however, books such as these – once considered classics – are fading in the public consciousness. We need books of this type written of and for today, and we have them a-plenty. I’ve just finished reading Narrow Dog to Carcassone by Terry Darlington (in which …. ah, but you’ll have to find out for yourself!) – and absolutely loved it.
I very much appreciate yhe authors and books of the past. Thank you for dropping by. You know now I am going to look up Narrow Dog to Carcassone
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I read this years ago, when I was a teenager, and I thought it was hilarious. Maybe I wouldn’t love it now, but I’ve still got it on my shelves. (Yes, a very battered Penguin).
It is still very funny I think. It is amazing this journey even gets started!
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