Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) by Jerome K. Jerome.


Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) is Jerome Klapka Jerome's first novel, a comic masterpiece, and was published in 1889 (following his essay collection The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, 1886). Yet, despite being written and published in late Victorian times, it has a distinctly Edwardian feel to it, almost like The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908): all is somehow right with the world and problems faced may easily be overcome. There are no blocks, merely challenges.


It is a novel, as I say, but it was intended to be a travel guide. The three men, J., George, and Harris, and the dog of course Montmorency, decide upon a boating trip along the River Thames starting at Kingston upon Thames in London (centre of the map above Croydon) and ending in Oxford (top right), which, I think, is about 97 miles. The novel begins,
There were four of us - George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were - bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.  
We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it. Harris said he felt such extraordinary fits of giddiness come over him at times, that he hardly knew what he was doing; and then George said that he had fits of giddiness too, and hardly knew what he was doing. With me, it was my liver that was out of order. I knew it was my liver that was out of order, because I had just been reading a patent liver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms by which a man could tell when his liver was out of order. I had them all.
Later, J. heads for the British Library to check symptoms for hay fever and is alarmed to discover that he not only has that but almost every other disease, illness, disorder, and ailment going (apart from Housemaid's Knee). On going to the doctor, he is given this prescription:


Rest, they decide, is needed. "Rest and a complete change," says George. Rowing up the Thames, they believe, is the answer. So off they head to Kingston and promptly get lost in Waterloo Station:
We got to Waterloo at eleven, and asked where the eleven-five started from. Of course nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to, or anything about it. The porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one. The station-master, on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local.
Having resorted to bribery, they eventually arrive and meet George in Weybridge (Surrey, and actually on the River Wey, but it joins the River Thames), and their holiday begins.

From here, the various local landmarks are described, of which there are many - I've selected a few here:

Hampton Court Palace, Richmond Upon Thames.

The maze.
"They picked up various other people who wanted to get it over, as they went along, until they had absorbed all the persons in the maze. People who had given up all hopes of ever getting either in or out, or of ever seeing their home and friends again, plucked up courage at the sight of Harris and his party, and joined the procession, blessing him. Harris said he should judge there must have been twenty people, following him, in all; and one woman with a baby, who had been there all the morning, insisted on taking his arm, for fear of losing him."

Walton-on-Thames, Surrey.

The Thames near Walton Bridges by JMW Turner, 1807.
"At “Corway Stakes”—the first bend above Walton Bridge—was fought a battle between Cæsar and Cassivelaunus. Cassivelaunus had prepared the river for Cæsar, by planting it full of stakes (and had, no doubt, put up a notice-board). But Cæsar crossed in spite of this. You couldn’t choke Cæsar off that river. He is the sort of man we want round the backwaters now."
Weybridge (Surrey)

"At Weybridge, the Wey (a pretty little stream, navigable for small boats up to Guildford, and one which I have always been making up my mind to explore, and never have), the Bourne, and the Basingstoke Canal all enter the Thames together. The lock is just opposite the town, and the first thing that we saw, when we came in view of it, was George’s blazer on one of the lock gates, closer inspection showing that George was inside it."
Sheppterton (Surrey)


Shepperton.
"There is a tomb in Shepperton churchyard, however, with a poem on it, and I was nervous lest Harris should want to get out and fool round it. I saw him fix a longing eye on the landing-stage as we drew near it, so I managed, by an adroit movement, to jerk his cap into the water, and in the excitement of recovering that, and his indignation at my clumsiness, he forgot all about his beloved graves."
Staines-upon-Thames (Surrey)

"And all the river down to Staines is dotted with small craft and boats and tiny coracles—which last are growing out of favour now, and are used only by the poorer folk. Over the rapids, where in after years trim Bell Weir lock will stand, they have been forced or dragged by their sturdy rowers, and now are crowding up as near as they dare come to the great covered barges, which lie in readiness to bear King John to where the fateful Charter waits his signing."

Runnymede (Surrey)

King John signing the Magna Carta.
"We went over to Magna Charta Island, and had a look at the stone which stands in the cottage there and on which the great Charter is said to have been signed; though, as to whether it really was signed there, or, as some say, on the other bank at “Runningmede,” I decline to commit myself. As far as my own personal opinion goes, however, I am inclined to give weight to the popular island theory. Certainly, had I been one of the Barons, at the time, I should have strongly urged upon my comrades the advisability of our getting such a slippery customer as King John on to the island, where there was less chance of surprises and tricks."
Old Windsor (Berkshire)

Old Windsor.
From Picnic Point to Old Windsor Lock is a delightful bit of the river. A shady road, dotted here and there with dainty little cottages, runs by the bank up to the “Bells of Ouseley,” a picturesque inn, as most up-river inns are, and a place where a very good glass of ale may be drunk—so Harris says; and on a matter of this kind you can take Harris’s word. Old Windsor is a famous spot in its way. Edward the Confessor had a palace here, and here the great Earl Godwin was proved guilty by the justice of that age of having encompassed the death of the King’s brother. Earl Godwin broke a piece of bread and held it in his hand.
“If I am guilty,” said the Earl, “may this bread choke me when I eat it!”
Then he put the bread into his mouth and swallowed it, and it choked him, and he died.

Monkey Island, Windsor (Berkshire).

Monkey Island, Windsor.
"... we tugged steadily on to a little below Monkey Island, where we drew up and lunched. We tackled the cold beef for lunch, and then we found that we had forgotten to bring any mustard. I don’t think I ever in my life, before or since, felt I wanted mustard as badly as I felt I wanted it then. I don’t care for mustard as a rule, and it is very seldom that I take it at all, but I would have given worlds for it then."
Maidenhead (Berkshire) 

Maidenhead.
"Maidenhead itself is too snobby to be pleasant. It is the haunt of the river swell and his overdressed female companion. It is the town of showy hotels, patronised chiefly by dudes and ballet girls. It is the witch’s kitchen from which go forth those demons of the river—steam-launches. The London Journal duke always has his “little place” at Maidenhead; and the heroine of the three-volume novel always dines there when she goes out on the spree with somebody else’s husband."

Bisham (Berkshire)


Bisham Abbey.
"Bisham Abbey is rich in melodramatic properties. It contains a tapestry bed-chamber, and a secret room hid high up in the thick walls. The ghost of the Lady Holy, who beat her little boy to death, still walks there at night, trying to wash its ghostly hands clean in a ghostly basin."
Hurley (Berkshire)

Hurley Weir.
"By Hurley Weir, a little higher up, I have often thought that I could stay a month without having sufficient time to drink in all the beauty of the scene."
Henley on Thames (Oxfordshire)

Henley on Thames Regatta Course.
"Henley was getting ready for the regatta, and was full of bustle."
Shiplake (Oxfordshire)

Shiplake Church.
 "Shiplake is a pretty village, but it cannot be seen from the river, being upon the hill. Tennyson was married in Shiplake Church."
Sonning (Berkshire)


Thames Street, Sonning.
"We got out at Sonning, and went for a walk round the village. It is the most fairy-like little nook on the whole river. It is more like a stage village than one built of bricks and mortar. Every house is smothered in roses, and now, in early June, they were bursting forth in clouds of dainty splendour. If you stop at Sonning, put up at the “Bull,” behind the church. It is a veritable picture of an old country inn, with green, square courtyard in front, where, on seats beneath the trees, the old men group of an evening to drink their ale and gossip over village politics; with low, quaint rooms and latticed windows, and awkward stairs and winding passages."
Reading (Berkshire)


Thames flowing through Berkshire.
"We came in sight of Reading about eleven. The river is dirty and dismal here. One does not linger in the neighbourhood of Reading. The town itself is a famous old place, dating from the dim days of King Ethelred, when the Danes anchored their warships in the Kennet, and started from Reading to ravage all the land of Wessex; and here Ethelred and his brother Alfred fought and defeated them, Ethelred doing the praying and Alfred the fighting."
Streatley (Berkshire)

Streatley, Oxfordshire (as it was then) in the 1890s.
"It is an ancient place, Streatley, dating back, like most river-side towns and villages, to British and Saxon times. Goring is not nearly so pretty a little spot to stop at as Streatley, if you have your choice; but it is passing fair enough in its way, and is nearer the railway in case you want to slip off without paying your hotel bill."
Wallingford (Oxfordshire)

Wallingford.
"Wallingford, six miles above Streatley, is a very ancient town, and has been an active centre for the making of English history. It was a rude, mud-built town in the time of the Britons, who squatted there, until the Roman legions evicted them; and replaced their clay-baked walls by mighty fortifications, the trace of which Time has not yet succeeded in sweeping away, so well those old-world masons knew how to build."
Clifton Hampden (Oxfordshire)

The Barley Mow.
"Round Clifton Hampden, itself a wonderfully pretty village, old-fashioned, peaceful, and dainty with flowers, the river scenery is rich and beautiful. If you stay the night on land at Clifton, you cannot do better than put up at the “Barley Mow.” It is, without exception, I should say, the quaintest, most old-world inn up the river. It stands on the right of the bridge, quite away from the village. Its low-pitched gables and thatched roof and latticed windows give it quite a story-book appearance, while inside it is even still more once-upon-a-timeyfied."
Abingdon (Oxfordshire)


St. Nicholas' Church, Abingdon.
"In St. Nicholas Church, at Abingdon, there is a monument to John Blackwall and his wife Jane, who both, after leading a happy married life, died on the very same day, August 21, 1625; and in St. Helen’s Church, it is recorded that W. Lee, who died in 1637, “had in his lifetime issue from his loins two hundred lacking but three.” If you work this out you will find that Mr. W. Lee’s family numbered one hundred and ninety-seven. Mr. W. Lee—five times Mayor of Abingdon—was, no doubt, a benefactor to his generation, but I hope there are not many of his kind about in this overcrowded nineteenth century."
Iffley (Oxfordshire)


Iffley Lock.
"Between Iffley and Oxford is the most difficult bit of the river I know. You want to be born on that bit of water, to understand it. I have been over it a fairish number of times, but I have never been able to get the hang of it. The man who could row a straight course from Oxford to Iffley ought to be able to live comfortably, under one roof, with his wife, his mother-in-law, his elder sister, and the old servant who was in the family when he was a baby."
Oxford (Oxfordshire)

Magdalen Tower from the river Oxford England.
"To those who do contemplate making Oxford their starting-place, I would say, take your own boat—unless, of course, you can take someone else’s without any possible danger of being found out."
And so ends the journey.

Montmorency, by A. Frederics.
Three Men in a Boat is one of my favourite novels, and one of it's most powerful messages is to be happy or at least content with what one has. Although it was intended to be a travel guide (and one does learn a great deal about the towns and villages on the Thames from Kingston to Oxford from Jerome's wonderful descriptions), it is regarded primarily as a comic novel. It's full of gentle humour, but there are one or two moral lessons to be learned along the way. At the time the critics savaged Jerome K. Jerome for what they called a "vulgar novel", and Jerome wrote in his memoirs,
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.
But it has stood the test of time; for one, it has never been out of print, and more importantly, it's one of the most loved novels in English literature.

1956 film adaptation starring Jimmy Edwards and David Tomlinson.

Further Reading
Summer voyages: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome | The Guardian

For more illustrations by Arthur Frederics see the online book,
or selections on my Pinterest.

Comments

  1. Thank you for reminding of this masterpiece (which I had forgotten since reading it back in school), and kudos for such a magnificent posting. I really like the photo component in your postings.

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    1. Again, I apologize for my incoherent syntax and grammar. Damn this keyboard!

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    2. Thank you :)

      Curious about your keyboard - is it one of those touch screens (of which I can't even handle)? :) My laptop keyboard is horrendous at present - have to really hit the 'h' and the space hard to get it to work (I ought to try vacuuming it).

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  2. Oh my goodness!! I love, love, love the pictures! Thanks so much for adding them; I now have a visual for the next time I read it. Actually, you'd think someone would have published the book with photos at some point. The travelogue component of it is really quite beautiful.

    I think I might make a Three Men and a Boat trip part of my bucket list. I would love to see all the places they visited.

    P.S. Okay, I want to see you up to two blog posts per day, because one per day is obviously too easy for you. Once you get to two, we can move it up to three. ;-) As for me, I was on a roll for a little while but now I start at my drafts and go, "huh?"

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    1. There must be a Three Men in a Boat companion - there's been a few TV programmes, so there *must* be a companion.

      One post per week day is MORE than enough! And once I've finished John Ford I can't see me keeping that up :)

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    2. Here we go - The Three Men in a Boat Companion by Stephen Lambe (2012) reviewed by Amazon and World Rowing. :)

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    3. I knew that you'd do this to me. I just bought it! :-Z ...... :-)

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    4. Hurrah!

      I was thinking of you earlier - I was in a bookshop and I looked for Emerson - didn't find it though :(

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  3. I LOVE this book. I've listened to the wonderful Naxos Audio version many times, narrated by the brilliant Martin Jarvis. I think my favorite bit is when they're trying to open the tin of pineapple without a can opener. And Montmorency getting into fights. I think I need to listen to it again.

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    1. And your photos are just wonderful -- it's so nice to see the places mentioned throughout the book. I think I need to take a river journey down the Thames someday myself!

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    2. Me too, it would be fun. The Montmorency fights are some of the best bits, I reckon! Though you cannot beat that opening chapter....

      I'll look out for an audio book. I've never listened to one of those, but I do mean to try one one day and I think this would be lovely to listen to :)

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  4. Wonderful book and fabulous post. You did better than I did finding pics but the travel aspect really does lend itself to a visual post. Makes me want to reread - so funny!

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    1. It is very funny - I'll always be wanting to re-read it! :)

      Actually, I came across your post because it was one of the first hits for one of the towns I was looking for, so you did pretty well yourself!

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