Three Men in a Boat --To Say Nothing Of The Dog
By Jerome K. Jerome

A very good book, and very funny. It has some very boring bits, like the preface, the introduction, the author's advertisement, and the author's preface to the first edition. These will vary depending on the edition you read, but I advise skipping all except for the author's advertisement.

Once you get to the actual story, feel free to skip past the intermittent boring parts, primarily consisting of lengthy descriptions of the River. Unless you personally know the river Thames, or are interested in blurry bits of England's history, you may have to skim, or risk fatal doses of boredom. Mr. Jerome originally intended this book to be a travel guide of sorts, but thankfully Mr. Jerome had so much fun writing it that it ended as something closer to a comedy.

The majority of the book is great. It follows the adventures of three Victorian Englishmen, to say nothing of their dog, as they boat down the Thames. The adventurers get attacked by swans, capsize, discover the downsides to camping out, and the upside to dreamy days on the river. It is one of the more readable, and funny, books of the era. It was written in 1889, and gets bonus points just for being a realistic, but readable, description of life at that time.

Apparently there was a sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, about a the same three men on a bicycling trip, but I have not yet hunted it down. (In case you were wondering, a bummel is a destinationless trip, not a bicycle).

I would suggest reading the first chapter. If you don't find the tale of the author's hypochondria hilarious, just give up. On the other hand, if you do enjoy such bits of silliness, this is a great book.


To Say Nothing Of The Dog or How we Found The Bishop's Bird Stump At Last is an even better book by Connie Willis. But the basic story doesn't have a lot to do with Jerome K. Jerome's book. She just liked the sound of it. I can hardly wait until someone writes How we Found The Bishop's Bird Stump At Last -- (insert subtitle here). It'll be a doozy.

The three men are George, Harris, and I -- that is the narrator, whom the others call J. --, and the dog is a fox terrier called Montmorency.

It was a great success for Jerome K. Jerome in 1889, and made his name. And yes, a fair bit of it, not half but a fair bit, is boring because he tries to tell you sad, serious tales of moonlight nights upon the Thames, and the gay pageantry of historic events that have happened upon its banks. He should have stuck purely to the jokes, because he's hilarious when he does it right. Three Men in a Boat has been a staple of comic fiction for more than a hundred years now, and it's still immensely enjoyable.

I have chanted passages in unison and swapped quotes with people I've spoken to in pubs: we build up the whole glorious tale of their feelings about the proprietors of land about the backwaters, who accuse innocent river-travellers of trespass.

Where it is really the owners that are to blame, they ought to be shown up. The selfishness of the riparian proprietor grows with every year. If these men had their way they would close the river Thames altogether. They actually do this along the minor tributary streams and in the backwaters. They drive posts into the bed of the stream, and draw chains across from bank to bank, and nail huge notice-boards on every tree. The sight of these notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I feel I want to tear each one down, and hammer it over the head of the man who put it up, until I have killed him, and then I would bury him, and put the board up over the grave as a tombstone.

I mentioned these feelings of mine to Harris, and he said he had them worse than that. He said he not only wanted to kill the man who caused the board to be put up, but that he should like to slaughter the whole of his family and all his friends and relations, and then burn down his house. This seemed to me to be going too far, and I said so to Harris; but he answered:

"Not a bit of it. Serve 'em all jolly well right, and I'd go and sing comic songs on the ruins."

This then moves onto Harris's total inability to remember the words or carry the tune or anything else when a hostess does invite him to sing, and that leads to an anecdote about a practical joke about a very serious German singer that two students said sang wonderfully deadpan comic songs in German... and then it's back to Caesar and Queen Elizabeth and the locks along the river, and rowing and sculling. You skip about five pages on the second reading. (The first time you read them all through because you assume they're leading into a joke. They're not.)

There are accounts of past disasters in boating they've all had, or saw happen, embarrassments and attempts by boats to kill them, and so on. Ups and downs of being towed by lovers: they tow you but forget you, and wander along the towpath oblivious to all but each other: and by steam-launches.

All of them are preternaturally lazy, and from time to time have the infernal cheek to accuse each other of not pulling their weight. (Quite literal when rowing upstream.) One good quote is: "It is not that I object to the work, mind you; I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart."

There are many scenes that live in the memory. The procession of shopkeepers' boys, small dogs, and aimless old men that march down to the boat with them, with the provisions; the extremely ripe cheese that was taken up to London once and drove people out of their houses; and Harris's attempt to make scrambled eggs in a frying-pan, which resulted in him constantly burning his fingers, dancing around, and uttering wild curses.

We did not know what scrambled eggs were, and we fancied that it must be some Red Indian or Sandwich Islands sort of dish that required dances and incantations for its proper cooking. Montmorency went and put his nose over it once, and the fat spluttered up and scalded him, and then he began dancing and cursing. Altogether it was one of the most interesting and exciting operations I have ever witnessed. George and I were both quite sorry when it was over.

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