“Three Men in a Boat,” written over a hundred years ago, is one of the funniest books in the English language. The narrator, J., and his friends George and Harris are well-to-do, work-averse, unattached Victorian gentlemen who enjoy a two week boating trip from London up the River Thames. Or at least they plan to – enjoy it, that is. There are some travelogue portions (it seems that’s what Jerome intended to produce when he began writing), but the anecdotes J. tells or retells are the humorous gems of this book. He once read through a book of medical conditions and concluded he had symptoms confirming every disease barring “housemaid’s knee.” His Uncle Podger is an inept handyman but refuses to hire out for something, like hanging a painting, which will take him “only a few minutes.” The perils of traveling with stinky cheese.
Awesomely, “Three Men in a Boat” is available for free on Project Gutenberg. It’s short; go read a bit!
One short incident near the end of the book came across as a little jarring – the trio (plus dog) come across a woman’s body floating in the river, which they later discover is a poor woman who had committed suicide, her poverty and depression primarily a result of being ostracized by family and society due to having a child out of wedlock some years before. Only a few (non-humorous) paragraphs discuss this incident. The casualness of it all makes me really wonder about the time period and the relationship between rich and poor and Victorian morality. The fact that Jerome even put the incident in the book at all makes me conclude that he must be trying to tell us something about that inequity…? But I’m no literary scholar.