When I first read Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), the 1889 work by English author Jerome K. Jerome (1859 – 1927), I dissolved in tears of laughter at his description of the smelly cheese saga in chapter four:
“I remember a friend of mine buying a couple of cheeses at Liverpool. Splendid cheeses they were, ripe and mellow, and with a two hundred horse-power scent about them that might have been warranted to carry three miles, and knock a man over at two hundred yards. I was in Liverpool at the time, and my friend said that if I didn’t mind he would get me to take them back to London, as he should not be coming up for a day or two himself, and he did not think the cheeses ought to be kept much longer.
“Oh, with pleasure, dear boy,” I replied, “with pleasure.”
“I called for the cheeses, and took them away in a cab. It was a ramshackle affair, dragged along by a knock-kneed, broken-winded somnambulist, which his owner, in a moment of enthusiasm, during conversation, referred to as a horse. I put the cheeses on the top, and we started off at a shamble that would have done credit to the swiftest steam-roller ever built, and all went merry as a funeral bell, until we turned a corner. There, the wind carried a whiff from the cheeses full on our steed. It woke him up, and, with a snort of terror, he dashed off at three miles an hour. The wind still blew in his direction, and before we reached the end of the street he was laying himself out at the rate of nearly four miles an hour, leaving the cripples and stout old ladies simply nowhere.” (Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), Jerome K. Jerome 2004, pp. 24 – 25).
Things go downhill from there, with the foul-smelling cheese causing havoc on the train journey to London.
There is a blue plaque commemorating the place where Jerome K. Jerome wrote this novel, at 91 – 104 Chelsea Gardens, Chelsea Bridge Road SW1.
Jerome K. Jerome was born in the village of Caldmore in Walsall, Staffordshire, but financial difficulties took the family to London. This poor start in life, combined with the death of both his parents while he was still a young teenager, forced Jerome to abandon studies and seek his living. He held many jobs, including on the railways, in theatre, and a stint as solicitor’s clerk. During this time he wrote, and had his work rejected, but finally got lucky with his 1885 memoir, On the Stage — and Off, followed by Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow in 1886.
The inspiration for Jerome’s comic, best-selling masterpiece, Thee Men in a Boat, may have come in part from his honeymoon, which he spent with his new bride, Georgina Marris, in a boat on the Thames in 1888. The work has since been adapted many times for film and radio, including a 1975 adaptation by Tom Stoppard, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Tim Curry, Michael Palin and Stephen Moore.
Jerome K. Jerome died from a stroke in 1927. His ashes were buried in St Mary’s Churchyard at Ewelme in Oxfordshire, beside several members of his family.
Photos by Sven Klinge
(please credit photographer & website when using these photos)
- Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome
- On the Stage – And Off by Jerome K. Jerome
- The Other Jerome K. Jerome by Jerome K. Jerome (edited by Martin Green)
- The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome
- My Life and Times: The Autobiography of Jerome K. Jerome