Friday, 5 January 2001

Jerome K. Jerome: Three Men on the Bummel (1900)

Edition: Penguin, 1994
Review number: 707

The sequel to Three Men in a Boat was written over a decade later, and Jerome begins with his characters aged an appropriate amount, two of them married with children. "J", George and Harris decide they want a break from London, and so set out on a bicycle tour of the Black Forest. They choose a suitably roundabout route to get there, via Hamburg, Berlin and Dresden, and have several reasonably amusing adventures. (A bummel, by the way, is an aimless pleasurable wandering.)

There are two main targets of the humour, such as it is, in this novel. One is tourists, and particularly ones who do not speak the language. The funniest joke in the book falls into this category. George is trying to buy an embroidered cushion as a present, but asks the girl in the shop for a "kuss" rather than a "kissin". He is rather surprised when she won't sell him one, and insists, so that she eventually gives him the kiss he actually asked for.

The jokes about the German character are not so funny. They are perhaps not particularly offensive, but they are stereotypical, predictable, and what might be expected from a man who was later one of the more enthusiastically pro-war writers in 1914.

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