Three Men in a Boat


Jerome K. Jerome

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Three Men in a Boat: Chapter 2  Summary & Analysis

The men take out their maps and start putting a plan together, intending to start their trip in Kingston. One thing they need to decide is whether to camp or to sleep at inns along the way. George and J. are for camping, thinking it would be so “wild and free, so patriarchal like.”
The men feign a rejection of the comfort of inns and hotels, wanting a more authentic, more “natural” experience. They feel like they are on top of the planning, and that camping won’t present them with any problems.
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J. imagines what it would be like if they camped, entering into a long description of night drawing in over their tents: “slowly the golden memory of the dead sun fades from the hearts of the cold, sad clouds…the grey shadows creep with noiseless tread to chase away the lingering rearguard of the light…And we sit there, by the river’s margin, while the moon, who loves it too, stoops down to kiss it with a sister’s kiss.” Harris interrupts, asking, “How about if it rained?” J. says, “There is no poetry about Harris.” Harris would rather find a good strong drink than waste his time with poetry.
J. has a tendency to fantasize about nature, turning his thoughts into rich and slightly overblown poetic prose. He sets up an impossible vision for their trip that can only be met with failure and disappointment, frequently personifying nature and ascribing to it a kind of benevolent intention. He almost seems to think that nature is going to actively take care of them. Harris interrupts with a sensible question, bursting J.’s poetic bubble, much to the latter’s annoyance. 
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In this instance though, according to J., Harris has a point: putting up a tent in the rain would be difficult. People would fall out with each other, suggests J., all the supper would be soaked through with rain, and one’s “baccy” would be damp. And then they’d all have terrible dreams, once they actually managed to get to sleep.
This is an unfortunately prescient glimpse of the trip to come, though the men fail to heed J’s own warning. They forget that it’s not just when it rains that their food and tobacco might get ruined—they’re going to be on water the entire time, so there’s always going to be this risk. And being able to smoke (“baccy” is short to tobacco) is important—it’s a clear way of signaling that they are at leisure.
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The three men decide it is best, then, to sleep outside when the weather is good and otherwise book themselves into inns and pubs along the way. The dog, according to J., is much happier with this idea. J. talks about how the dog is always getting him into trouble despite its innocent appearance—it has a penchant for fighting and hunting. That’s why it’ll be so happy in the inns and pubs, which are full of other animal life. After all this deliberation, George suggests they go out for a drink, and the others promptly agree.
This would have been quite a sensible approach, but it’s not the one that the men take. They don’t plan in advance properly, and just assume that the weather will be good. J. implies that Montmorency, the dog, has a wildness to him that doesn’t really bear out as the story continues. He projects his own desires to be “wild and free” onto his pet.
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