Three Men in a Boat

Three Men in a Boat Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jerome K. Jerome

Jerome K. Jerome was the fourth child in the family of Marguerite Jones and Jerome Clapp. Jerome’s father squandered the family’s money (inherited by Marguerite) on a series of failed business ventures, which included investment in the mining industry. Down on their luck, the family moved to the impoverished East End of London, where they tried to maintain their well-to-do appearance. Following the deaths of his parents as a teenager, Jerome had to quit his studies. He found employment with the London and North Western Railway for four years before deciding to try his hand at acting. Frustrated by the theatre world, Jerome worked various jobs while developing his writing, most of which was rejected. In 1885 he finally found a publisher, and in 1886 put out Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, which remains one his best-known texts. In June 1888, Jerome married Georgina Marris, and the couple honeymooned in a boat on the Thames. Upon his return Jerome wrote Three Men in a Boat, which was and remains his biggest success. This new-found financial security allowed Jerome to concentrate fully on his writing, producing plays, essays, and novels before becoming editor of the popular The Idler magazine. At the outbreak of the WW1, Jerome was considered too old to join the British Army. Instead he volunteered as an ambulance driver for the French army, before retiring to the British countryside. In 1927, Jerome suffered a stroke and brain hemorrhage and died shortly after.
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Historical Context of Three Men in a Boat

Leisure, pleasure, and holiday-making were relatively new pursuits to the Victorians—or at least, such pursuits were more public and openly discussed than previous eras. Employers began to offer holiday time to employees, while advances in transportation technology allowed people to plan trips further afield. Seaside towns bloomed, and cruising along the country’s waterways—particular the Thames—became a popular pursuit. As the cities became more polluted from increased industrial activity, people also sought out the sea, countryside, and rivers for the perceived benefit to their health. There was a more marked division between work-time and leisure-time, and an uptake in people pursuing hobbies—such as learning an instrument, sports and languages. Paradoxically, it was also a time to be seen at leisure. Fashion, manners and etiquette reached peak complexity—and arguably, peak pretension. Generally speaking, the Victorian era, presided over by the much loved and respected Queen Victoria, was a time of relative stability in the history of England and the United Kingdom. The country was one of the foremost global powers, extending the British Empire far and wide around the globe.

Other Books Related to Three Men in a Boat

Three Men in a Boat is considered an important work of the Victorian comic texts, affording the reader a genuine insight into the morals and social mores of the period. It shares this status with George Grossmith’s The Diary of a Nobody, though Three Men in a Boat is less targeted in its satire of class differences and social pretensions. Jerome’s book was considerably influenced by Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, which is a similarly light and humorous account of male friends traveling through England. Three Men in a Boat also has much in common with the popular magazines of the time, including the Jerome-edited The Idler, which espoused a philosophy of sartorial leisure similar to that of the three men in Jerome’s story. The book was written at a time when boating on the Thames was becoming increasingly popular, and this popularity meant an increase in travel-guide books for prospective holiday-goers. Jerome was initially commissioned to write a rather more factual account of the Thames, with more of an emphasis on its geography and sites of historical importance, but his editor was keen on the more humorous passages and insisted that the balance be shifted in their favor. Jerome years later published the sequel Three Men on the Bummel, though this was not as commercially successful as the earlier book.
Key Facts about Three Men in a Boat
  • Full Title: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!)
  • When Written: 1888
  • Where Written: London
  • When Published: 1889
  • Literary Period: Late Victorian
  • Genre: Travelogue / Comedy novel
  • Setting: The Thames river, U.K.
  • Climax: Upon reaching Oxford rain begins to fall, prompting the men to abandon their journey in favor of returning to London.
  • Antagonist: The river
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Three Men in a Boat

Money in the Bank. Three Men in a Boat has remained in print since its publication, making it one of the most successful texts of its time. Jerome’s publisher said, “I pay Jerome so much in royalties. I cannot imagine what becomes of all the copies of the book I issue. I often think the public must eat them.”

Adaptations Galore. The book has been dramatized and parodied on many occasions. In 1975, Tom Stoppard adopted the text for the BBC in an adaptation starring Michael Palin and Tim Curry.