Conceived as a fairly serious guide to amateur boating on the Thames in 1889, Jerome K. Jerome's best-known novel ended up as a hilarious account of the misadventures of three friends and a dog as they attempt to relax and enjoy themselves amid unreliable weather forecasts, imaginary illnesses, repellent cooking, and an unopenable can of pineapple chunks.
Three Men in a Boat was a terrific success for its author, and a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the age. George, Harris, and J., the narrator, were entertaining representatives of the new middle class, seeking to escape the dreary world of offices and desks during weekend trips out into the countryside. Jerome's heroes proved so popular that he brought them back for an equally picaresque bicycle tour of Germany, an adventure recorded in Three Men on the Bummel. The new Introduction by Jeremy Lewis describes the social context of the two books and the remarkable life of their author.
It was to Henry a return rather than a removal. He almost fancied that in some far-off age he had seen all these things before. The forests and the mountains beckoned in friendly fashion; they had no terrors, for even their secrets lay open before him. He seemed to breathe a newer and keener air than that of the old land left behind, and his mind expanded with the thought of fresh pleasures to come. The veteran guide, Ross, alone observed how the boy learned, through intuition, ways of the wilderness that others achieved only by hard experience. They had met fair weather, an important item in such a journey, and there had been no illness, beyond trifling ailments quickly cured. As they traveled slowly and at their ease, it took them a long time to pass through the settled regions. This part of the journey did not interest Henry so much. He was eager for the forests and the great wilderness where his fancy had already gone before. He wanted to see deer and bears and buffaloes, trees bigger than any that grew in Maryland, and mountains and mighty rivers. But they left the settlements behind at last, and came to the unbroken forest. Here he found his hopes fulfilled. They were on the first slopes of the mountains that divide Virginia from Kentucky, and the bold, wild nature of the country pleased him. He had never seen mountains before, and he felt the dignity and grandeur of the peaks.
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