HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel
Author: Jerome K. Jerome
Cover Illustrator: Lucien Davis
Publisher: Oxford University Press, republished in 2009
Related website: http://www.oup.com/worldsclassics (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: 16 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Jerome, Jerome K. Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel (originally published in 1889 and 1900; republished in 2008 by Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon St., Oxford, England OX2 6DP). When I was in eighth and ninth grades, our Latin teacher, Mrs. Ruth Mackey, wrote a different aphorism on the blackboard every day. One that has always stuck with me is “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours,” attributed to Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927). I was recently surprised to learn that this quote is taken from a book by Jerome, Three Men in a Boat, published in 1889. Three middle-class Victorian friends, J. the narrator, George, and Harris, all young and single, along with Montmorency the dog set off on a comic expedition up the Thames to Oxford. Their hilarious misadventures along the way provide the author with opportunities to make brilliant social comments about English life in the late 1880s.
About ten years later, Jerome wrote a sequel, Three Men on the Bummel (also known as Three Men on Wheels), in which the three Englishmen, now middle aged, with two of them married and having children, escape from the claustrophobia of suburban life to go on an equally picaresque cycling and hiking tour in the Black Forest of Germany. Again, there is social commentary, not only about Germany but also more about England as well. Instances of smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol are found, though when writing about the excessive drinking of beer in Germany, the author seems not to approve of it. And references to swearing and cursing occur. In the first book, aside from the euphemistic “darn,” there is no actual bad language, but in the second, the “d” word is used a few times.
Some people, especially those who do not care for (or understand) the old-style, dry, British type of humor, may not think that the books are really all that funny, but I consider the observations quite witty. And one learns a little about the history and geography of both England and Germany along the way. Admittedly, Jerome chases a lot of rabbit trails in his descriptions of the events, but that is part of what makes them so humorous. The stories are based on real occurrences but are highly fictionalized. Each novel is rather short. Modern combined editions have been published by both Oxford University Press and Penguin Classics (2000). By the way, do you know what a “bummel” is? J. describes it as “a journey, long or short, without an end; the only thing regulating it being the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from which one started.”