May 06, 2022

#08-208: Three Men in a Boat

A silhouette of three men--and a dog--in a boat

Note: Few books are as popular as travelogues filled with humor and local color. Such books helped Mark Twain's career tremendously, as this little book did for its author.

Get Ready: Do you have any good "travel stories" to tell--your own, or others you've heard?

While it's not terribly well known today, Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) was a phenomenon in the late 19th and into the 20th century. A humorous look at the River Thames as it's explored by the titular "three men," it was so popular that boat registrations for the area went up 50% the year after it was published.

It has been adapted to no fewer than six films: the first, a silent one in 1920, and the most recent for TV in 1975; as well as one in Russian in 1979. It has inspired two stage versions as well as artworks, and many books reference it, imitate it, and even parody it.

The whole thing started when Jerome, at that time only a mildly successful writer, got married and took his new bride to honeymoon on the Thames "in a little boat." As soon as he got home, he sat down to write the book, substituting characters based on two of his friends (and a fictional dog) for his wife.

The critics were lukewarm--or hostile--decrying his use of slang and his "low-class" perspective. But the public loved it, and sales were brisk. His publisher was at a loss as to what people were doing with all the copies they had bought: " I often think the public must eat them," he suggested wryly. The book was translated into many languages (including Russian, where it became a standard school textbook). Since it was published in 1889, it has never been out of print.

The story begins when George, Harris, and "J" (Jerome himself), along with J's dog, decide that their health requires a holiday from overworking. They settle on a boating holiday up the Thames, from Kingston upon Thames, just outside of London, to Oxford, a distance of some 47 miles (75 kilometers) "as the crow flies." They will camp on the riverbank along the way.

After a comically confusing start, they collect their rented boat and start the journey. The narrative is part guidebook, with information on landmarks and so on, and part humorous travel account. There's also quite a bit about fishing and boating.

Despite its age, Three Men in a Boat remains a delightful and even informative read today.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. as the crow flies
  2. brisk
  3. decrying
  4. hostile
  5. landmarks
  6. lukewarm
  7. riverbanks
  8. substituting
  9. titular
  10. wryly

  1. found in the title
  2. putting in place of
  3. in a straight line
  4. points of interest; features
  5. the sides of the river
  6. complaining about; disapproving of
  7. cleverly humorous
  8. not enthusiastic
  9. quick; energetic
  10. unfriendly; angry

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 6, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. i; 3. f; 4. j; 5. d; 6. h; 7. e; 8. b; 9. a; 10. g