“Three Men in a Boat & Three Men on a Bummel” by Jerome K. Jerome – Messing about on the river

This is my review of Three Men in a Boat & Three Men on a Bummel (Wordsworth Classics) by Jerome K. Jerome.

When I read this as quite a young child, it seemed hilarious. I’m referring, for instance, to George and Harris rushing round in search of the butter, until realising that one of them had sat in it. Struggling dutifully through it more recently for a book group, it seemed rather silly and very dated, although I could still laugh at the succession of locals claiming to have caught the ever weightier trout encased on a pub wall, only for it to turn out to be made of plaster, when one of the clumsy three accidentally knocked it down.

I found a bit of research on the story much more interesting. Publication in 1889 was earlier than I had imagined i.e. not Edwardian. After the passing of the 1870 Education Act, and the extension of cheap rail fares giving people ready access the Thames, there was a sharp increase in the demand for amusing, easily read books and in the appreciation of boating as a pastime. This was perhaps a comic novel ahead of its time, much Victorian reading matter still being a bit sententious and worthy. So, there was a sharp contrast between the popularity of the book (which has never been out of print), and the snooty response of critics, even in Punch.

The author himself came from a once prosperous middle-class family which had fallen on hard times. So, despite his grammar school education, he had to start work as a young teenager, which obviously gave him a wide experience of life and the ability to relate to ordinary people. His unusual name was partly due to his father Jerome Clapp adding another Jerome to make it sound more distinguished. The “Klapka” came from a Hungarian who lodged with the family for a while.

I can see that what is really a series of amusing anecdotes, observations on daily life and snippets of local history on the areas bordering the Thames is appealing to us now in its innocence and nostalgic portrayal of a lost age. This probably remains a classic which you should read, the younger the better, although I doubt if a tale of three gormless middle-aged men rowing up the Thames more than a century ago would appeal much to this audience.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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