I’ve wondered about reading Three Men in a Boat: (to say nothing of the dog) by Jerome K Jerome for many years – I first heard about it when I was at school when one of my friends read it and said she thought it was very good. And since I’ve been blogging I’ve seen that people love this book and think it’s very funny. So, I decided that it was about time that I read it.
When Jerome began writing this book he intended it to be a serious travel book about the Thames, its scenery and history, but, as he wrote it turned into a funny book. The Thames remains at the centre of the book but it is also full of anecdotes about the events that happened to him and his friends whilst out on the river, interspersed with passages about the scenery and history. The main characters were real people, Jerome’s friends – ‘George‘ is George Wingrave who was the best man at his wedding, and ‘Harris‘ is Carl Hentschel, a photographer. Only the dog ‘Montmorency‘ is fictional.
This book was first published in 1889, which means that the descriptions of the places they passed through or stayed the night, are like a snapshot in time of what life was like in the Thames Valley, showing the how use of the river had changed with the coming of the railways for transporting goods. Cheap excursion tickets to stations along the river also meant that people could reach places like Henley, Hampton Court and Windsor as the river became the place for picnics, and regattas and hiring skiffs and punts. As time went on the river became more and more popular for fishing, boating and photography as well as a fashionable venue for young ladies to parade their elegant dresses.
It’s a story of a journey, comparing their trip to Stanley’s expedition to Africa searching for Dr Livingstone. It’s satirical, ironic and farcical.The book is composed of amusing mishaps and situations as the three friends decide what to take with them and what not to take, come across the problems of packing and unpacking the boat, where to stop the night, what food to take, and showing how they entertained themselves, for example singing comic songs, accompanied by George’s banjo, and ending in sentiment as they break down in tears singing ‘Two Lovely Black Eyes’. George’s tale of getting lost in the Hampton Court Maze made me chuckle as time after time whichever route he took he couldn’t find the way out.
I liked the way Jerome breaks up his account of their journey with recording historical events, such as his imaginative description of the signing of Magna Carta when they reach Runnymede and his account of Henry VIII’s wooing of Anne Boleyn at the priory in the grounds of Ankerwyke House, describing him as ‘that foolish boy‘ and imagining that people would have come upon them ‘when they were mooning round Windsor and Wraysbury, and have exclaimed, “Oh! you here!” and Henry would have blushed’, and Anne would have said ‘isn’t it funny? I’ve just met Mr Henry VIII in the lane, and he’s going the same way I am.’
It’s a gentle witty book that kept me entertained all the way through – and I can’t say that for every book I read. It’s been on my Classics Club list from the first time I complied my list in 2013 and it’s also a book I’ve owned for over 11 years.