callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

Messing About in Boats

Picture from BBC website

The writer of this blog keeps giving me good ideas for Kindle downloads by reminding me of old favourites. I’ve just finished Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. Curious how selective one’s memory is. Take this well known passage:

It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do. 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.

It’s just one of the many digressions the author makes from the business in hand: a description of a two week boating trip on the Thames with his friends George, Harris and Montmorency (the dog). One tends to remember the book as a sequence of amusing incidents (putting up the canvas, trying to open a tin of pineapple) when in fact it’s a series of anecdotes which various happenings put the author in mind of. It is genuinely topographical in that you could actually follow their route along the river and through the locks and JKJ has fun writing guide book-type purple prose about ‘sweetly pretty’ villages and views. He’s a positive mine of information about history; look no further should you wish to know where Tennyson was married or Charles I played bowls or Henry VIII sported with Anne Boleyn. But of course one reads the book not to be instructed but to laugh. It’s written in a style of faux-naif silly chappy chat, in which the saintly nature of the writer is constantly put upon by the fiendish selfishness and ineptitude of his companions, with the occasional perfectly serious social comment put in (the drowned woman).

Towards the end of the book he channels Longfellow in this passage,

The river—with the sunlight flashing from its dancing wavelets, gilding gold the grey-green beech-trunks, glinting through the dark, cool wood paths, chasing shadows o’er the shallows, flinging diamonds from the mill-wheels, throwing kisses to the lilies, wantoning with the weirs’ white waters, silvering moss-grown walls and bridges, brightening every tiny townlet, making sweet each lane and meadow, lying tangled in the rushes, peeping, laughing, from each inlet, gleaming gay on many a far sail, making soft the air with glory—is a golden fairy stream.

only to follow it with an equally poetic passage about the river in the rain, before the merry trio decide to cut their losses and catch a train back to town. I was toying with the idea that the book was a kind of antidote to the arcadian The Wind in the Willows, where apart from Mole’s little accident everything on the river is perfect, but Kenneth Grahame’s book was written some time later. Three Men in a Boat manages somehow to convey the pleasures of boating and to conjure up for later readers the image of golden afternoons where young men disport themselves in blazers, caps and pipe clayed shoes, while at the same time being very funny. It won’t be everyone’s type of humour but I like it.

Tags: jerome k jerome, kenneth grahame, kindle

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