'Other works may excel this in depth of thought and knowledge of human nature: other books may rival it in originality and size; but, for hopeless and incurable vivacity, nothing yet discovered can surpass it.' (Jerome, Preface to Three Men in a Boat). Three Men in a Boat describes a comic expedition by middle-class Victorians up the Thames to Oxford. It provides brilliant snap-shots of London's playground in the late 1880s, where the fashionable steam-launches of river swells encounter the hired skiffs of city clerks. The medley of social vignettes, farcical incidents, descriptions of river fashions, and reflections on the Thames's history, is interspersed with humorous anecdotes told by a natural raconteur. Three Men on the Bummel records a similar escapade, a break from the claustrophobia of suburban life some ten years later; their cycling tour in the Black Forest, at the height of the new bicycling craze, affords Jerome the opportunity for a light-hearted scrutiny of German social customs at a time of increasing general interest in a country that he loved. This account of middle-aged Englishmen abroad is spiced with typical Jeromian humour.
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Geoffrey Harvey is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Reading.
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