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Three Men in a Boat:

The novel Three Men in a Boat, written by Jerome K. Jerome, is a story about a boat trip that J. takes with Thames River and his friends George and William Samuel Harris. The author’s prose is long-winding and digresses into anecdotes or observational passages quite often.

Three Men in a Boat Summary

Three Men in a Boat starts with three friends named Jerome, George, and Harris smoking together in their apartment in London. They are all hypochondriacs and always talk about their illnesses. After doing some research on various diseases at the British Museum, J. somehow concluded that he has all the diseases known to man except for housemaid’s knee. The friends then make a plan of taking a vacation together as it would be good for their health. After some contemplation, they decide to spend a week rowing up the Thames with their dog, Montmorency.

The men then make the necessary arrangements for the trip and choose to bring a cover for the boat and sleep in it, instead of carrying a tent or living at an inn. They make a long list of items but then realize that they ideally need to only carry the essentials. Although they are friends, J. doesn’t really like Harris and compares him at length to J.’s incompetent Uncle Podger. They finally decide to bring a hamper of food, clothing, a methylated spirit stove for cooking and a cover for the boat.

The friends sleep too long but ultimately get on a train to Kingston, from which they will start their journey, on the first morning of the trip. J. mentions some local landmarks, including Hampton Court and some pubs that Queen Elizabeth dined in. Harris narrates an incident about getting lost in the hedge maze at Hampton Court.

The men then go through their first lock, which is a canal set off from the river that allows boats to pass through a steep area. J. immediately talks about how irritating it is when women wear ‘boating clothes’ that are too flimsy to get wet. George then moves away from his group to do some work for his employer in Shepperton. Harris then gives the idea of visiting a cemetery to see an interesting tombstone, but J. rejects his plan. Harris then falls into the food hamper while trying to find a bottle of whiskey.

When J. and Harris have a lunch break on the riverbank, a man lands up blackmailing them and accuses them of trespassing the area. Harris, who has a tall and huge frame, physically intimidates the visitor and they carry on their journey. J. talks about some more local points of interest, and the two men join George in Shepperton.

Harris and J. persuade George that they should tow the boat from the shore, which can be a difficult task leading to problems if the tower becomes distracted. The men then have an enjoyable dinner and sleep in the boat at night. The next morning, they get up early and George narrates a story about forgetting to wind his watch and starting his workday six hours early to J., who then falls in the water and Harris tries to make scrambled eggs but is unsuccessful.

The men pass Datchet and remember the time when they were trying to find a place to sleep there on another trip when the inns were full. They all sleep at an inn in Marlow on that night. Montmorency runs after a big cat but gets quite scared to attack it. The next day, they cross more interesting historical landmarks including Bisham Abbey.

Their drinking water gets over and they get appalled when a local lock-keeper asks them to drink from the river. Harris loses his balance and falls off the edge of a gulch while eating supper. The next evening, they make delicious Irish stew and George merrily plays the banjo. But he is a just an amateur and his music is so bad that Harris and J. request him to never play banjo for the rest of the trip.

George and J. go out to have a couple of drinks in the town of Henley the same night, but get lost on their way back. They somehow manage to find Harris sleeping in the boat, who then explains to them that he had to move the boat as he was attacked by a flock of aggressive swans.

The friends pass through Reading and as they approach Goring, they see a woman’s corpse floating in the water. They later find out that the lady had drowned herself after having a child before marriage and was unable to support it. The men try to wash their clothes in the Thames, but the clothes become dirtier and their effort goes in vain. That night, they again go out for drinks at a pub in Wallingford.

They later move toward Oxford, where they would turn back and come over to London. J. talks about an incident where he and George had gone for rowing and ruined a professional photographer’s pictures by falling over at the same moment. J. goes on to describe the attractions of Dorchester, Abingdon, and Clifton, which include Roman ruins and the grave of a man who had 197 children. They then steer through a tricky stretch of river near Oxford and spend two days there. J. disrupts the story and warns the readers that it is not a good idea to rent a boat in Oxford as they are of poor quality.

While on the way back from Oxford, it starts raining and the men land up being cold, wet, and wretched. They soon settle abandoning the boat and spend the rest of the trip at an inn. That night, they indulge in a scrumptious supper and feel happy about their decision to abandon the boat when things got tough. Montmorency barks in agreement in the end.

Three Men in a Boat: Main Character List

J.

The narrator of the novel whose character is mostly based on Jerome himself. He has a dog named Montmorency and sees himself as intelligent, hard-working, and competent.

George

A friendly banker and one of J.’s best friends.

Harris

A friend of George and J., who joins them on the trip. J. doesn’t like Harris and always criticizes him for being lazy and uncultured.

Montmorency

J.’s lively fox terrier dog, who loves fighting with other dogs and hunting.

Uncle Podger

J.’s accident-prone uncle, who is portrayed as deceased in the story. J. compares Harris to Uncle Podger as he thinks both of them cannot do anything without making mistakes.

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