Three Men in a Boat

by

Jerome K. Jerome

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Largely based on the author himself, J. is the narrator of the book. He is a Londoner and a relatively young man. The reader doesn’t learn much about his background in terms of his working life, but, like Harris and George, he seems to be part of the emergent middle class of white-collar workers in Victorian England. A clear hypochondriac, J. claims to be suffering all manner of diseases and puts his “poor health” down to being overworked, something his two friends sympathize with. J. sees himself as intelligent and practical, though this doesn’t always ring true. He is, at least, able to make fun of himself (and his friends). J. intersperses the action of the story with humorous anecdotes and memories, often depicting the characters within them as struggling to cope with the social pretensions of the time or the practicalities of boating on the river. J. also frequently slips into long, florid passages of prose that idealize either the natural world or the history of England. Both offer him a kind of imaginative escape, if only fleeting, as he pictures himself in the historical scene or returning to a purer life as facilitated by the men’s return to nature. Ironically, it’s often when he’s deep into the telling of an anecdote or one of his more poetic passages that he loses sight of his practical responsibilities and ends up running the boat into the shore. Indeed, his views of both the past and the natural world are heavily romanticized, and J. is often frustrated by the river trip because it doesn’t live up to expectations. It comes as no surprise, then, that J. and his friends return to London early to seek out the familiar comfort of their favorite theatre and restaurant.

J. Quotes in Three Men in a Boat

The Three Men in a Boat quotes below are all either spoken by J. or refer to J.. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Romanticization of Nature Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Three Men in a Boat published in 1999.
Chapter 1 Quotes

There were four of us—George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were—bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.

Related Characters: J. (speaker), George, Harris, Montmorency
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

In the present instance, going back to the liver-pill circular, I had the symptoms, beyond all mistake, the chief among them being ‘a general disinclination to work of any kind.’

What I suffer in that way no tongue can tell. From my earliest infancy I have been a martyr to it. As a boy, the disease hardly ever left me for a day.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

The unanimous opinion was that it—whatever it was— had been brought on by overwork.

‘What we want is rest,’ said Harris.

‘Rest and a complete change,’ said George. ‘The overstrain on our brains has produced a general depression throughout the system. Change of scene, and absence of the necessity for thought, will restore the mental equilibrium.’

I agreed with George, and suggested that we should seek out some retired and old-world spot … some quaint-perched eyrie on the cliffs of Time, from whence the surging waves of the nineteenth century would sound far-off and faint.

Related Characters: J. (speaker), George (speaker), Harris (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2  Quotes

The river, playing around the boat, prattles old tales and secrets, sings low the child’s song that it has sung for so many years … and we fall asleep beneath the great, still stars, and dream the world is young again … sweet as she was in bygone days, ere the wiles of painted civilization had lured us away from her fond arms, and the poisoned sneers of artificiality had made us ashamed of the simple life we led with her, and the simple, stately home where mankind was born so many thousands of years ago.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: 10-11
Explanation and Analysis:

Harris said:

‘How about when it rained?’

You can never rouse Harris. There is no poetry about Harris.

Related Characters: J. (speaker), Harris (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3  Quotes

I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life generally. How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think are essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber … expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with – oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! – the dread of what will m neighbor think … It is lumber man – all lumber! Throw it overboard.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4  Quotes

I rather pride myself on my packing. Packing is one of those many things that I feel I know more about than any other person living … I impressed the fact upon George and Harris and told them that they had better leave the whole matter entirely to me. They fell into the suggestion with a readiness that had something uncanny about it. George put on a pipe and spread himself over the easy-chair, and Harris cocked his legs on the table and lit a cigar. This was hardly what I intended.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Page Number: Book Page 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5  Quotes

I don’t know why it should be, I am sure, but the sight of another man asleep in bed when I am up maddens me. It seems to me so shocking to see the precious hours of a man’s life—the priceless moments that will never come back to him again – being wasted in mere brutish sleep.

There was George, throwing away in hideous sloth the inestimable gift of time; his valuable life, every second of which he would have to account for hereafter, passing away from him, unused.

Related Characters: J. (speaker), George
Page Number: Book Page 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6  Quotes

The quaint back-streets of Kingston, where they came down to the water’s edge, looked quite picturesque in the flashing sunlight, the glinting river with its drifting barges, the wooded towpath … the distant glimpses of the grey old palace of the Tudors, all made a sunny picture, so bright but calm, so full of life, and yet so peaceful, that, early in the day though it was, I felt myself being dreamily lulled off into a musing fit.

I mused on Kingston, or ‘Kyningestun’, as it was once called in the days when Saxon ‘kinges’ were crowned there.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: Book Page 40-41
Explanation and Analysis:

Why, all our art treasures of today are only the dug-up commonplaces of three of four hundred years ago. I wonder if there is any real intrinsic beauty in the old soup-plates, beer-mugs, and candle-snuffers that we prize so now, or if it is only the halo of age flowing around them that gives them their charms in our eyes … Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized treasures of today always be the cheap trifles of the day before?

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7  Quotes

The river affords a good opportunity for dress. For once in a way, we men are able to show our taste in colours, and I think we come out very natty, if you ask me.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: Book Page 51
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8  Quotes

The selfishness of the riparian proprietor grows with every year. If these men had their way they would close the River Thames altogether … The sight of those notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I feel I want to tear each down, and hammer it over the head of the man who put it up, until I have killed him, and then I would bury him, and put the board up over the grave as a tombstone.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: Book Page 59
Explanation and Analysis:

I noticed, as the song progressed, that a good many other people seemed to have their eye fixed on the two young men, as well as myself. These other people also tittered when the young me tittered, and roared when the young men roared; and, as the two young men tittered and roared and exploded with laughter pretty continuously throughout the song, it went exceedingly well. And yet that German professor did not seem happy.

Related Characters: J. (speaker), Herr Slossen Boschen
Page Number: Book Page 64
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10  Quotes

George said why could not we be always like this—away from the world, with its sins and temptation, leading sober, peaceful lives, and doing good … and we discussed the possibility of our going away, we four, to some handy, well-fitted desert island, and living there in the woods. Harris said that the danger about desert islands, as far as he had heard, was that they were so damp; but George said no, not if properly drained.

Related Characters: J. (speaker), George (speaker), Harris (speaker)
Page Number: Book Page 83
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11  Quotes

Slowly the heavy, bright-decked barges leave the shore of Runnymede. Slowly against the swift current they work their ponderous way, till, with a low grumble, they grate against the bank of the little island that from this day will bear the name of Magna Carta Island. And King John has stepped upon the shore, and we wait in breathless silence till a great shout cleaves the air and the great cornerstone in England’s temple of liberty has, now we know, been firmly laid.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Page Number: Book Page 96
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12  Quotes

We beat it out flat; we beat it out square; we battered it into every form known to geometry—but we could not make a hole in it … There was one great dent across the top that had the appearance of a mocking grin, and it drove us furious, so that Harris rushed at the thing, and caught it up, and flung it far into the middle of the river, and as it sank we hurled our curses at it.

Related Characters: J. (speaker), George, Harris
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: Book Page 103
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13  Quotes

We went to a good many shops … by the time we had finished, we had as fine a collection of boys with baskets following us around as heart could desire; and our final march down the middle of the High Street, to the river, must have been as imposing a spectacle as Marlow had seen for a day.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: Book Page 114
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15  Quotes

You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a passion with me; my study is so full of it now that there is hardly an inch of room any more … Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn’t a finger-mark on it. I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now and then and dust it.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Page Number: Book Page 131
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16  Quotes

It was the dead body of a woman. It lay very lightly on the water, and the face was sweet and calm. It was not a beautiful face; it was too prematurely aged-looking, too thin and drawn, to be that; but it was a gentle, lovable face, in spite of its stamp of pinch and poverty, and upon it was that look of restful peace that comes to the faces of the sick sometimes when at last the pain has left him.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: Book Page 145
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18  Quotes

Dorchester, like Wallingford, was a city in ancient British times; it was then called Caer Doren, ‘the city on the water’. In more recent times the Romans formed a great camp here … It is very old, and it was very strong and great once. Now it sits aside from the stirring world, and nods and dreams.

Related Characters: J. (speaker)
Page Number: Book Page 158
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19  Quotes

‘Well,’ said Harris, reaching his hand out for his glass, ‘we have had a pleasant trip, and my hearty thanks for it to old Father Thames—but I think we did well to chuck it when we did. Here’s to Three Men well out of a boat!’ And Montmorency, standing on his hind legs, before the window, peering out into the night, gave a short bark of decided concurrence with the toast.

Related Characters: J. (speaker), Harris (speaker), George, Montmorency
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: Book Page 169
Explanation and Analysis:
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J. Character Timeline in Three Men in a Boat

The timeline below shows where the character J. appears in Three Men in a Boat. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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J., George, and Harris are smoking together, comparing their relative ailments. Harris and George say they... (full context)
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Continuing on with his medical complaints, J. relates an experience at the British Museum. In this anecdote, he visits to read up... (full context)
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J. goes to see a doctor he knows to tell him he has every disease under... (full context)
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Upon arriving at the chemist’s, J. learns that the prescription is not for any medicine but instead for beefsteak, beer, regular... (full context)
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J. talks about how people have mistaken him for being lazy all his life, when in... (full context)
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The first suggestion is that they go to the sea—but J. is quick to bring up the issue of seasickness. He tells a story about someone... (full context)
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...this would suit him to a “T”, though he’s not sure what that “T” means. J. agrees too. The three men are all keen, but, according to J., Montmorency the dog... (full context)
Chapter 2 
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...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.” (full context)
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J. imagines what it would be like if they camped, entering into a long description of... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 3 
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...to take, and Harris suggests they make a list. The way he says it reminds J. of a story about his Uncle Podger. (full context)
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Uncle Podger, according to J., has a special talent for making a simple task complicated. In this, case it’s hanging... (full context)
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J. says Harris will be just like Uncle Podger when he’s older and insists he (J.)... (full context)
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J. follows through on George’s philosophizing, imploring the reader to reject superficiality on their journey down... (full context)
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The three friends aspire to go swimming every morning on their river trip, though J. knows this is quite unlikely. George suggests they don’t need many clothes as they can... (full context)
Chapter 4 
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...“make too much of itself” and give everything—even the apple pie—a cheesy flavor. This prompts J. to tell an anecdote about one of his friends. (full context)
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...horse power scent…that could knock a man over at two hundred yards.” This friend asks J. if he would transport the cheeses back from Liverpool to London for him, and J.... (full context)
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Arriving in London, J. takes the cheeses to his friend’s wife. She can’t stand the odor either. She wonders... (full context)
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...array of kitchen utensils, the three friends meet the next day to pack their bags. J. prides himself on his packing and tells the others to let him be in charge.... (full context)
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J.’s packing quickly starts to frustrate him as George and Harris keep reminding him of things... (full context)
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George and Harris have to pack the kitchenware—and they’re just as bad as J. The other two break a cup, tread on butter, and squash the pies, much to... (full context)
Chapter 5 
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Mrs. Poppet, the housekeeper, wakes J. and Harris around nine o’clock, thinking they wanted to sleep in. At first, the men... (full context)
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...weather forecast from the newspaper and it doesn’t bode well for their trip, predicting rain. J. thinks forecasts are an inaccurate waste of time and is remind of an occasion when... (full context)
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In this anecdote, J. is on a holiday ruined by inaccurate weather reports. When they predict rain and holidaymakers... (full context)
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J. goes on to talk about the inefficacy of barometers. In an Oxford hotel, the barometer... (full context)
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Harris and J. wait for a taxi to Waterloo station, but none of the taxi cabs seem to... (full context)
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Harris and J. arrive at Waterloo station, where no staff member seems to know where any of the... (full context)
Chapter 6 
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J. muses on the history of Kingston, a town just to the southwest of London where... (full context)
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J. imagines Kingston in its royal heyday, a place full of “nobles and courtiers,” with well-built... (full context)
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J. says that, though oak is undoubtedly beautiful, he can understand the owner’s decision—to him, too... (full context)
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This makes J. think of a kid at his school when he was a child. His name was... (full context)
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J. returns to the “carved oak question,” wondering if people only treasure art from the past... (full context)
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...a commotion in the boat as Harris and Montmorency fall over. Harris is furious with J., who realizes that all this daydreaming has led him to steer into the towpath. He’d... (full context)
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At Harris’ suggestion, J. gets out and takes the tow line to pull the boat along. Going past the... (full context)
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Harris asks J. if he’s ever been in the maze at Hampton Court. Harris tells the story of... (full context)
Chapter 7 
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J., Harris, and the dog pass through Molesey lock. This is one of the most popular... (full context)
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J. says that boating on the river is a “good opportunity for dress.” He talks about... (full context)
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J. thinks that a “boating costume” presents a good chance for girls to dress up too,... (full context)
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Back in the present, Harris tells J. that he wants to get out at Hampton Church to see the grave of a... (full context)
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In this story, J. is leaning against the church wall, thinking “beautiful and noble thoughts,” when suddenly he is... (full context)
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The keeper asks if J. wants to see the graves, to which he replies, “No, go away.” The man insists... (full context)
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...Harris is still insisting that they go to see Mrs. Thomas’ grave at Hampton Church. J. says there’s no time, as they have to pick up George at 5:00 p.m. Harris,... (full context)
Chapter 8 
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J. says that the owners of the land along the Thames infuriate him, as they are... (full context)
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...he would go and sing comedy songs on the ruins of the aforementioned property owners. J. tells the reader that only Harris himself thinks he can sing—everyone else thinks he’s terrible.... (full context)
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The talk of comedy songs prompts J. to tell another story. In it, the three men attend a “fashionable and high-cultured party,”... (full context)
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Herr Slossen Boschen comes upstairs and begins his song, accompanying himself on the piano. J. doesn’t understand German, but to save face laughs whenever the two German students do. Everybody... (full context)
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...insulted by the audience’s reaction. The two German students have snuck off after their prank. J. says he hasn’t much cared for German songs since. (full context)
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The boat continues up the river, passing picturesque and historic sights along the way. J. and Harris arrive at Weybridge, where they spot George and his loud blazer on the... (full context)
Chapter 9 
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J. and Harris make George pull the tow-line, and J. complains to the reader about the... (full context)
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The three men continue talking about towing. J. and George remember seeing someone pull the wrong tow rope once, sending everyone in the... (full context)
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...decide to sleep in the boat that evening once they have gone a little further. J. remembers a time when, boating with his cousin, they got lost while searching for Wallingford... (full context)
Chapter 10 
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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,... (full context)
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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.... (full context)
Chapter 11 
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George and J. wake up at 6:00 a.m., unusually early for them. George tells a story about a... (full context)
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George and J. wake up Harris. The men had previously agreed to jump in the river for an... (full context)
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The three men are at the location where, in June 1215, King John signed the Magna Carta, a document important for present day ideas about... (full context)
Chapter 12 
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...ruins of an old abbey where Henry VIII would wait for his lover, Anne Boleyn. J. complains about living with couples—how they are always “canoodling” in the places that the other... (full context)
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Stopping for lunch, the three men realize that they’ve forgotten to bring any mustard. Both J. and Harris say they would do anything just for a little mustard to go with... (full context)
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...the boat passes by Maidenhead, which the men say is “too snobby to be pleasant.”  J. says it’s a town of “showy hotels, patronized chiefly by dudes and ballet girls. It... (full context)
Chapter 13 
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J. heaps praise on the town of Marlow, not because it is especially picturesque, but because... (full context)
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...walks the Abbey at night, trying to wash her hands clean in the basins. Bisham, J. tells the reader, is where the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley composed The Revolt of... (full context)
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...and the shopping, assumes the men use a steam-launch rather than their little row boat. J. explains to reader that he hates steam-launches, seeing them as a sign of upper class... (full context)
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...proceeds to carve up the beefsteak pie that they are looking forward to eating. Suddenly J. and George are confused—Harris and the pie have disappeared. He’s fallen, pie in hand, into... (full context)
Chapter 14 
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...dead rat, seemingly suggesting that should go in too. The stew tastes like nothing that J. has tried before, but not necessarily in a good way. (full context)
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...playing. George had tried to practice at home, but his landlady and neighbors had complained. J. knows of someone who tried to learn the bagpipes; at one point one of their... (full context)
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George and J. decide to head into Henley for some drinks, but Harris stays behind with an upset... (full context)
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George and J. find the boat, and Harris is in a strange state, more than just merely tired.... (full context)
Chapter 15 
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...them has been doing the most work, each accusing the other of shirking his duties. J. says this always seems to be the case when it comes to boating—everyone thinks that... (full context)
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J. jokes with the reader that he cannot “have too much work.” He says he takes... (full context)
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J. says that whenever he sees “old riverhands”—seasoned boaters—on the water they seem to be boasting... (full context)
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J. talks about the difficulties of all the different types of rowing. Most difficult of all,... (full context)
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J. also recalls a time when J.’s friends saw someone else struggling with punting. They thought... (full context)
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The chapter’s final anecdote is about an occasion when J. went sailing with his friend Hector. In trying to put the sail up, they got... (full context)
Chapter 16 
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The three men get to Reading, a fairly dismal town. J. tells the reader that it was the place that the English Parliament used to convene... (full context)
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J. talks about the woman’s face, saying it is “gentle” and “lovable” but with signs of... (full context)
Chapter 17 
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J. tells the reader that Streatley is renowned as being a good place to fish. That... (full context)
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J. and George go for a walk in Wallingford, stopping for a drink at an inn... (full context)
Chapter 18 
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...up the river, going a stretch without encountering any locks. This is a shame, says J., as he likes the flower gardens that are kept at the locks. Talking of locks... (full context)
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In this story, George and J. are at the lock by Hampton Court on a glorious summer day. J. notices George... (full context)
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J. tries quickly to smarten himself up too, but someone keeps shouting at J. and his... (full context)
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The three men pass by Wallingford, a town with Roman ruins. J, imagines the passage of time from the Roman Empire to the 11th Century Norman invasion:... (full context)
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Nearing Oxford, J. remarks that being on the river has a bad effect on people’s temper, making them... (full context)
Chapter 19 
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The group spends two days in Oxford. J. explains that many people who go boating on the Thames start at Oxford and head... (full context)
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J. says that anyone planning on starting in Oxford should take their own boat, because the... (full context)
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...Oxford, the weather takes a turn for the worse—there’s a steady drizzle of rain falling. J. compares the river on a sunny day to a rainy one: he thinks the sound... (full context)
Manners, Etiquette, and Appearances Theme Icon
...the sunny weather they’ve been having, and that nature is beautiful even when it’s raining. J. and Harris try especially hard to put on a brave face, singing songs about “gipsy... (full context)
Manners, Etiquette, and Appearances Theme Icon
The men are so desperate to lighten the mood that J. even suggests that George gets his banjo out and plays them a comic song. He... (full context)
The Romanticization of Nature Theme Icon
Manners, Etiquette, and Appearances Theme Icon
In the morning, one of the men—J. forgets which—tries to drum up enthusiasm by once again talking of gypsies and nature. It’s... (full context)
Work and Leisure Theme Icon
...imagines what it would be like back in London, at their favorite theatre, the Alhambra. J. adds that, if they were there, they could follow it up with dinner and wine... (full context)
The Romanticization of Nature Theme Icon
Manners, Etiquette, and Appearances Theme Icon
J. confesses to enjoying that supper immensely. The French sauces, the smell of the wine, the... (full context)