Victorian humour? Is it possible? I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but Jerome K. Jerome proved in Three Men in a Boat that it was indeed possible. Despite my normal aversion to ‘funny books’ (in particular modern funny books) there were moments I actually laughed out loud whilst reading this book. It was ‘Murphy’s Law’ in prose, with delightful observations on the world which haven’t lost their relevance despite more than a century passing since the book was first published.
Jerome set out to write a river guide which soon turned into a charming story about the boating antics of the working and lower middle classes in London. The three men are himself and two of his friends as well as a fox terrier, Montmorency, to whom Jerome gives a wry humour and a personality which perfectly suits the group. After spending an evening contemplating their respective illnesses (none of which they had of course), the three friends decided to take two weeks in a boat along the Thames, with idyllic ideas of pleasure, freedom and nature. Thus decided, the journey begins…
This book isn’t fantastic because of its plot – in fact the plot is thin at the best of times. It is fantastic because of the observations made by J and his friends whilst they travel. Whether it was the fun of the three trying (and failing) to open a tin of pineapple chunks, or the observations that because Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn courted in several places, it must have been intenseley frustrating for everyone at the time because every single place they went they would have run into the two wayward lovers, or the delicious description of how they loved to hold up the steam launches by pretending they couldn’t hear them, until they were being towed by a steam launch and then they felt justified in cursing all of the selfish boaters who held up the steam launches by pretending they couldn’t bhear them, this book was constant amusement. Of course, the trip wasn’t as idyllic as they wanted, but that never seemed to dampen the spirits of the main characters. In that respect, they were truly delightful.
Three Men in a Boat paints a lovely picture of the way leisure time was spent during the 1880s. Despite the fact that leisure time was earnt through long hours and hard work, it was used as a way to transcend class and, just for a few short hours, pretend that they were men of leisure with all the time on their hands and the beauty and history of the river in their grasp. In contrast to classics such as Dickens, which paint a miserable picture of the poorer classes of London, Jerome chooses to show them up as happy, carefree and full of humour. It was a lovely contrast.
Publisher: Penguin (Classics)
Date Finished: 16 April 2008