Sunday, January 30, 2011

Jerome K. Jerome

Jerome Klapka Jerome: some people are just blessed with the best names.  Is it any wonder he was a humorist?  It's like the name Charlie Chaplin.  You can't help but hear it and assume he's going to amuse you.  Granted, Charlie's full name, Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, is less provoking of a man falling down humorously.
Jerome K. Jerome, to say nothing of the dog
For those who don't know who Jerome K. Jerome is, I'll explain.  He was a Victorian humorist, most famous for his travelogue Three Men in a Boat, to Say Nothing of the Dog.  According to Jerome, he "did not intend to write a funny book, at first."  To say it just sort of happened is not exactly fair though.  He was recently married, and had written some works before.  On Stage and Off was about his time in a traveling theatre group, and Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow was a collection of brief sketches about simple topics, such as being shy, being in love, cats and dogs, et cetera.  These two--mostly the latter--had established him somewhat as a writer, though his claim to fame was the book he wrote in 1888: Three Men in a Boat.
Based somewhat on his personal experiences of traveling down the Thames with his two friends, the book was begun as a simple travelogue with some humorous anecdotes thrown in for good measure.  With that in mind, it stands to reason that he was intending to write it strictly for the money, as these travelogues were becoming popular in England at the time.  The humorous anecdotes took over, however, and his publisher pretty much threw out all the rest.  What was left is the delightful tale, similar in style to Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers, of three men--J., Harris, and George (not to mention the dog, Montmorency)--as they take an excursion down the Thames, to improve their health, which, frankly, had nothing wrong with it to begin with.
It wasn't exactly a hit right away.  Jerome himself said in his autobiography, "I think I may claim to have been, for the first twenty years of my career, the best abused author in England."  But that's not fair.  It wasn't a hit with critics.  His publisher said, "I pay Jerome so much in royalties I cannot imagine what becomes of all the copies of that book I issue. I often think the public must eat them."  In ten years, 202, 000 copies were sold, which isn't including the pirated copies sold in America.  (Seriously, America, what the hell?  For shame, America. For shame!)  Needless to say, the public highly enjoyed it, and still does today.  Jerome is considered on the best humorists of the Victorian period, compared to Dickens and the George Grossmith, who was a principle actor in the Gilbert and Sullivan musicals and famous for his book, written with his brother Weedon, The Diary of a Nobody.
In 1900, Jerome brought the characters back for a sequel entitled Three Men on the Bummel.  It was not as well received as it's predecessor, though it was used as a school book in German for a while.  The main flaw with this book is that it is too vast; there is too much room to wander, which is something Jerome is prone to do.  Even in Three Men in a Boat, he finds himself off in places unexpected, but the Thames is always there, and in the end, he must stay on course.  However, a cycling tour through German's Black Forest allows for plenty of space to get lost in.  It has received praise, however, for certain parts that are considered not only as funny but often funnier than Three Men in a Boat.
While Jerome went on to write many other works, most notably, his autobiographical novel Paul Kelver, his somber play The Passing of the Third Floor Back, and his actual autobiography, none of them have maintained the success of Three Men in a Boat or it's sequel.
Still, for the fourth child of an ironmonger and Congregationalist preacher (Jerome Clapp), I'd say this Victorian humorist has done quite well for himself, notwithstanding the whole being dead thing, which I'm sure he had no choice in doing and we should probably just forgive him for it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi - I don't know whether you'll get to see this comment, as this blog seems to be dormant now, but anyway - I have just seen your five-star review of The Pickwick Papers on Amazon. (I decided to leave this comment here as you mention Pickwick in the Jerome K. Jerome piece above.) As you obviously enjoyed Pickwick, you might be interested in taking a look at my new novel Death and Mr Pickwick, which tells the story of the origins and subsequent history of The Pickwick Papers. You can find out more at:

    Or, for a quick overview, here is the first pre-publication review from Publishers Weekly:

    I hope this news is of interest to you.

    Best wishes

    Stephen Jarvis