Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Diary of a Pilgrimage by Jerome K. Jerome.

Diary of a Pilgrimage (or The Diary of a Pilgrimage depending on your edition) is the third novel by the inimitable Jerome K. Jerome (author of Three Men in a Boat, 1889) published in 1891. As with Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on a Bummel (also known as Three Men on Wheels, 1900) it is somewhat of a travelogue too - Jerome and his friend "B" travel from London to Germany to see the Oberammergau Passion Play, a play that has been staged in Oberammergau (Bavaria, Germany) since 1634 telling the story of the last days of Christ, and performed every ten years (the next play will be staged in 2020).

The novel begins with this preface:
Said a friend of mine to me some months ago: "Well now, why don’t you write a sensible book? I should like to see you make people think." 
"Do you believe it can be done, then?" I asked. 
"Well, try," he replied. 
Accordingly, I have tried. This is a sensible book. I want you to understand that. This is a book to improve your mind. In this book I tell you all about Germany—at all events, all I know about Germany—and the Ober-Ammergau Passion Play. I also tell you about other things. I do not tell you all I know about all these other things, because I do not want to swamp you with knowledge. I wish to lead you gradually. When you have learnt this book, you can come again, and I will tell you some more. I should only be defeating my own object did I, by making you think too much at first, give you a perhaps, lasting dislike to the exercise. I have purposely put the matter in a light and attractive form, so that I may secure the attention of the young and the frivolous. I do not want them to notice, as they go on, that they are being instructed; and I have, therefore, endeavoured to disguise from them, so far as is practicable, that this is either an exceptionally clever or an exceptionally useful work. I want to do them good without their knowing it. I want to do you all good—to improve your minds and to make you think, if I can. 
What you will think after you have read the book, I do not want to know; indeed, I would rather not know. It will be sufficient reward for me to feel that I have done my duty, and to receive a percentage on the gross sales.
Lᴏɴᴅᴏɴ, March, 1891.
What follows is their trip from London Victoria to Oberammergau via Dover, Ostend, Cologne, and Munich.

It is, as with Three Men in a Boat, very funny - full of dry humour, wit and one liners; it has that sort of 'knowing' self-awareness of the Englishman abroad that makes it so clever and so much fun. I loved the description of the boring chap on the train: 
There was a very talkative man in our carriage. I never came across a man with such a fund of utterly uninteresting anecdotes. He had a friend with him—at all events, the man was his friend when they started—and he talked to this friend incessantly, from the moment the train left Victoria until it arrived at Dover. First of all he told him a long story about a dog. There was no point in the story whatever. It was simply a bald narrative of the dog’s daily doings. The dog got up in the morning and barked at the door, and when they came down and opened the door there he was, and he stopped all day in the garden; and when his wife (not the dog’s wife, the wife of the man who was telling the story) went out in the afternoon, he was asleep on the grass, and they brought him into the house, and he played with the children, and in the evening he slept in the coal-shed, and next morning there he was again. And so on, for about forty minutes. 
A very dear chum or near relative of the dog's might doubtless have found the account enthralling; but what possible interest a stranger—a man who evidently didn't even know the dog—could be expected to take in the report, it was difficult to conceive. 
The friend at first tried to feel excited, and murmured: "Wonderful!" "Very strange, indeed!" "How curious!" and helped the tale along by such ejaculations as, "No, did he though?" "And what did you do then?" or, "Was that on the Monday or the Tuesday, then?" But as the story progressed, he appeared to take a positive dislike to the dog, and only yawned each time that it was mentioned. 
Indeed, towards the end, I think, though I trust I am mistaken, I heard him mutter, "Oh, damn the dog!" 
After the dog story, we thought we were going to have a little quiet. But we were mistaken; for, with the same breath with which he finished the dog rigmarole, our talkative companion added: 
"But I can tell you a funnier thing than that—" 
We all felt we could believe that assertion.
And, my favourite one-liner - 
I wish Providence would mind its own business, and not interfere in my affairs: it does not understand them.
There are the problems of what to pack, travelling by sea, the aforementioned dull fellow-travellers, and, also fun, the reaction of others when he tells them of his plans - "He said that a friend of his had gone up there some years ago, and had not taken enough warm things with him, and had caught a chill there, and had come home and died.", then later, "He said that a young friend of his had gone for a tour through Germany once, and had slept in a damp bed, and had caught rheumatic fever, and had come home and died". Ah, the mistrust of foreign lands!

I did feel it hadn't quite got the warmth of Three Men in a Boat, but I dare say that's because, for an English reader, there is comfort in the familiarity of the Thames. That said, I think this is as much a great English classic as Three Men, and it's possibly a little undeserving that this is regarded as a "minor" classic.

And there really isn't much more to say, other than it is a thoroughly good book!


  1. Ho, I LOVE Jerome!! He is a jewel. The last book I own of his is Three Men on the Bummel, which I haven't read yet, but when I finish it, I'll have to start collecting more. I don't think I've read anything consistently funnier than his books. The Diary of a Nobody was close, but I think Jerome wins the day. Unless of course, you can think of some other humorous British authors which I've overlooked .......???

    1. He is indeed a jewel. Going to re-read Idle Thoughts next, and I think I've got something else by him but I can't remember what it is exactly. It's more a collection of highlights of various writings rather than a stand-alone. Must get some more :)

      Jerome, Diary of a Nobody... I can't think of anyone else of that era who was writing comic novels... There must be a few names... I'll have to look it up, can't actually think of anyone other than those two...


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