Three Men in a Boat

by

Jerome K. Jerome

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Three Men in a Boat: Chapter 10  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The group spends a long time looking for the next lock but do manage to find it eventually. They pull up at “picnic point” to have supper, deciding to first put up the canvas for them to sleep under.
One of many meals that the group stop for. In fact, it seems like their boating is only ever a way of getting them to their next food stop. Picnics are a particularly leisurely way of eating, and so are of course essential for three men seeking to be in a state of leisure.
Themes
Work and Leisure Theme Icon
They find it immensely difficult to put up the canvas because it keeps coming undone. George and Harris get stuck in it, and J. has to help them out. After a long struggle during which they get angry and swear at each other, they finally get it up. They put the kettle on to make some tea and set about preparing their food. J. discusses the importance of ignoring the kettle while it is boiling—he believes that a watched kettle never boils. Their tactic works, and once everything else is ready, so is their tea.
The three men aren’t good at the practical side of things. A simple task like putting up a canvas eludes them. Frustration is never far from the surface of politeness and manners, and it’s not long before the three men start getting angry with each other. The rigmarole involved in putting up this tent prevents them from feeling relaxed—it’s interrupting their leisure.
Themes
The Romanticization of Nature Theme Icon
Work and Leisure Theme Icon
Manners, Etiquette, and Appearances Theme Icon
The men devour their food in silence, sighing with satisfaction once they are finished. J. says there is no happiness like having a full stomach. He then discusses the effect that food has on people. He says good food makes the spirit soar, and bad turns you into a “brainless animal with a listless eye.” Alcohol, of course, turns you into a “witless ninny.”
Food is a route to happiness, according to J. He doesn’t think so highly of alcohol, though appears to drink plenty of it throughout the book (though not as much as Harris).
Themes
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As a case in point, J. cites the effect this meal has had on the group: now they are all smiling at each other, happy to be in one another’s company, whereas before the meal they were snappy and ill tempered.
The group feel at rest, a rare glimpse of the kind of restorative happiness they’d been hoping for.
Themes
Work and Leisure Theme Icon
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The three men relax, smoking their pipes blissfully. They wonder why can’t life always be this peaceful, and dream of living on a “well-fitted desert island”—as long as it has good drains so they don’t have to live with the stink of their own waste. This reminds George of a story about his father.
This rare instance of genuine leisure makes the men dream big. They imagine a desert island, but of course, would want one with amenities. They want to escape the Victorian era, but they don’t to get rid of it’s advances in draining systems. It’s a romantic vision tainted by the men’s real desires—they want it to feel wild, but not actually be wild.
Themes
The Romanticization of Nature Theme Icon
Work and Leisure Theme Icon
Related Quotes
In this story George’s father is travelling with a friend in Wales. They stay at an inn, and after a night’s drinking accidentally get into bed together, both thinking there is a stranger in their bed. They fight briefly before each complaining to each other that they have been chucked out of their bed. Harris says that his father used to tell the same story.
George and Harris don’t realize that their fathers probably tell the same story because they are both talking about the same occasion (each father is “the other man”). This is small story that once again demonstrates the fragility of leisure.
Themes
Work and Leisure Theme Icon
The group turns in for sleep at 10:00 p.m., but J., usually a good sleeper, finds it difficult to get comfortable. He wakes up with a headache and decides to step out of the boat into the cool air.
J. finds it difficult to relax, perhaps because of the stresses in the journey so far.
Themes
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It is a beautiful night, and J. talks poetically to the reader of night’s “comfort and strength.” The night takes peoples pain, he says, and puts them in touch with a “mightier presence” than their own.
J. personifies night like he does the river. He seems to believe that nature has a benevolent attitude towards people, contrary to the evidence that the trip presents. It’s easier to think like this at night, when there’s nothing else around to disrupt his imagination.
Themes
The Romanticization of Nature Theme Icon
The chapter ends with a short and mysterious story told by J. to the reader. Once upon a time, some “goodly knights” ride through dense, thorny woodlands. One of the party gets lost, only to show up later once the others are drinking a toast to him around the fireplace in the castle. Upon arriving, the knight talks of a vision that came to him that showed him the way to safety. All J. says about the vision is that it is called “Sorrow”; of that vision, says J., “we may not speak or tell.”
J.’s imagination really runs wild here, moving into the realm of fantasy. The story is rather cryptic, and it’s not obvious to the reader what it means. It’s a kind of pre-industrial picture combining J’s tendency towards romanticizing nature and history. It’s dream-like, perhaps due to J’s lack of sleep.
Themes
The Romanticization of Nature Theme Icon
History and Heritage Theme Icon