It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do. It is not that I object to the work, mind you; I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.What it is is a comedic classic that tends to reduce the readers to suffocating shrieks of laughter. There's the medical situation of the narrator, who has everything except housemaid's knee. There is Harris's encounter with the swans. There is the description of the special pain experienced by those trying to do anything in a house occupied by a courting couple. There is a photograph gone terribly wrong. There is the supreme, never-to-be-forgotten incident of the tinned pineapple.
Or really--just read it and find out.
It must have been much like this when that foolish boy Henry VIII. was courting his little Anne. People in Buckinghamshire would have come upon them unexpectedly when they were mooning round Windsor and Wraysbury, and have exclaimed, “Oh! you here!” and Henry would have blushed and said, “Yes; he’d just come over to see a man;” and Anne would have said, “Oh, I’m so glad to see you! Isn’t it funny? I’ve just met Mr. Henry VIII. in the lane, and he’s going the same way I am.”I was surprised, on this re-read, to see how fresh and up-to-date the book seems. You wouldn't think that a book published in 1889 would still be so much of a scream, given the changing cultural context, but the humour in Three Men in a Boat is evergreen and will keep on convulsing readers, I hope, in 3249 AD. Which is not to say that parts of the book don't seem a little naff. Jerome's original intent to write a guidebook peeks out every now and then, in serious passages which almost seem funny because they are written in such garishly purple prose. But none of these go on for very long, and Jerome gets us right back into the jokes, which mostly consist of preposterous anecdotes and side-splitting meditations upon everything from small dogs to blackmail.
We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so. It dictates to us our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon, it says, “Work!” After beefsteak and porter, it says, “Sleep!” After a cup of tea (two spoonsful for each cup, and don’t let it stand more than three minutes), it says to the brain, “Now, rise, and show your strength. Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye, into Nature and into life; spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a god-like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!”Three Men in a Boat has been outrageously popular ever since it was first published more than a hundred years ago. If you love English humour at all (and if you don't, you must not have a pulse), you should definitely read this.
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