I have suggested that the funniness of Three Men in A Boat is founded on Jerome K. Jerome’s sensitivity to the fallenness of the world, or, as he aptly puts it, “the natural cussedness of things in general.” That phrase occurs in a scene that is the symmetrical opposite to the sleeping-in scene discussed below. It is a waking-up-too-early scene:
I WOKE at six the next morning; and found George awake too. We both turned round, and tried to go to sleep again, but we could not. Had there been any particular reason why we should not have gone to sleep again, but have got up and dressed then and there, we should have dropped off while we were looking at our watches, and have slept till ten. As there was no earthly necessity for our getting up under another two hours at the very least, and our getting up at that time was an utter absurdity, it was only in keeping with the natural cussedness of things in general that we should both feel that lying down for five minutes more would be death to us.
What could be a better description of how life in this valley of tears actually feels? It is that sense of injustice at a world which never seems to conform itself to reason.
In one of the many train conversations recounted by Maurice Baring in The Puppet Show of Memory a Russian student gives the following opinion of J. K. J.:
The student talked of English literature with warm enthusiasm. His two favourite English modern authors were Jerome K. Jerome and Oscar Wilde. When I showed some surprise at this choice, he said I probably only thought of Jerome as a comic author. I said that was the case. ‘Then,’ he said, ‘you have not read Paul Clever [presumabably Paul Kelver], which is a masterpiece, a real human book a great book.’
I have not read Paul Kelver, but I would maintain that Three Men in a Boat is “a real human book.”