The Pleasure of the Journey: Three Men in a Boat

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (1889)

Unpublished cover design by Emma Block, reproduced courtesy of the artist
Unpublished cover design by Emma Block, reproduced by permission of the artist

This summer, I finally read the comic classic Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. As I had found references to its characters and incidents in several other books (notably To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis), there was much that was familiar to me, and I almost had a feeling of deja vu as I recognized them. The Hampton Court maze! The pineapple tin! The tow-ropes! Montmorency! They seemed like old friends, even as I was encountering them for the first time.

Yet there were still some surprises, chief among which was the fact that Jerome doesn’t always write in the same humorous vein. There are some lyrical and sentimental passages, which I was not sure whether to take as parody or as serious relief, so to speak, from the hilarity of other sections.

Indeed, the book as a whole was more digressive and varied than I had expected. The main narrative thread — the author and his two friends (to say nothing of the dog) are taking a restorative trip down the Thames — often serves merely as an excuse for Jerome to muse about matters large and small: earlier trips on the river, the peculiarities of one’s friends, canine habits, etc. I suspect that if the passages that relate to the actual “present-day” journey of the three-men-in-a-boat were extracted, they would occupy a very slim volume on their own.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s precisely Jerome’s free-associating, wide-ranging comic/lyric/philosophic ramblings that provide the pleasure of this reading experience. If you’re impatient to get to the goal, you’ve missed the point of the journey.

I’m counting this for the Adventure category of the Back to the Classics Challenge. And if you think boating on the Thames is not adventurous enough, just read the part about the pineapple tin.

Back to the Classics Challenge: Adventure Classic
Classics Club List #42


26 thoughts on “The Pleasure of the Journey: Three Men in a Boat

  1. It brings me good memories. I’ve read this book twice, once for a book club, and it was fun both times. I loved that the book had more than just the comical parts.


  2. Such a fun book! I too was unsure how to take those sentimental passages, which turned out to be real and which I’m convinced only a Victorian could write. Nobody modern could produce such earnest sentiment, and I’m not sure we’re better off for our chronic (possibly terminal?) ironic detachment.

    And now that I’ve actually BEEN in Hampton Court Maze, that bit makes perfect sense to me!


  3. I read this a few years ago and loved it – I still re-read my favourite parts when I need to cheer myself up! The sequel, Three Men on the Bummel is good too, though not quite as funny.


    1. It is so important to have books that can be counted on to cheer one up. I have a feeling that Jerome’s book inspired many others, which is certainly a good thing.


  4. I’ve been planning to reread this for a while along with Three Men on the Bummel, written eleven years later about a bicycle trip in Germany, which I have in one nice Oxford volume. I think I’ll set it aside for this winter!


    1. I had seen that title as well but had no idea what it was about! I would like to read that one as well, too bad it was not included with my e-book so I’ll have to seek it out separately.


  5. I need to try reading this book again; I didn’t get far the first time around, but I think I was too young. Or too tired. Or something. But it’s a book I’ve always wanted to be able to say that I’ve read. 🙂


  6. >It’s precisely Jerome’s free-associating, wide-ranging comic/lyric/philosophic ramblings that provide the pleasure of this reading experience.

    Yep, I last read this decades ago but still remember this about it! I recommend it all the time, and really should reread it 🙂


  7. So glad you enjoyed this one! It’s been one of my favourites for years – a book I turn to when the wrold seems blue and I need a quick boost of joyousness!Lots of people don’t like the serious stuff, but I even enjoy all of that. And the humour is just wonderful! Thanks for the reminder – I feel yet another re-read coming on…


  8. It has been a long time since I read this. As you mention, the story of this journey really concerns itself with examining many topics relating to life. I think that is one of the reasons that it is so popular.

    I have not read To Say Nothing of the Dog but I would like to.


  9. Jerome K. Jerome has been spoiled for me because he was rotten to Oscar Wilde, and I hold grudges against people who were rotten to Oscar Wilde VERY VERY close to my heart and also FOREVER. I enjoyed Three Men in a Boat more than I wanted to but I hardened my heart against it to avoid cognitive dissonance. :p


  10. I read this one somewhat recently and found it a lot of fun – it wasn’t really what I was expecting for such a classic though – the “free-associating” was unexpected! I do love all those big moments in the story like the Hampton Court Maze that seemed to seep into pop culture. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s