What happens during the camping out scene in the second chapter of Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome?
While the three men are planning their trip, they debate over whether or not they should “camp out” or sleep at inns each night. George and J., the narrator, immediately vote for camping out. This decision is followed by a lengthy and romantic description that imagines what it would be like to make camp. The men would pitch the tent, make supper, light and smoke their pipes, and spend a lovely, leisurely evening listening to the river flow past them, beneath a beautiful full moon.
Then Harris interrupts with the question of what would happen if it should rain. The imagined scene changes abruptly. Suddenly rain is pouring down, their equipment is wet, and the men have all sorts of trouble working together to get the tent up. Their food is wet. Everything has become soup. The tobacco is wet, too. When they finally fall asleep, the tent falls down upon them, and the men end up in a tangled-up pile. Thinking of this possibility, the three decide “to sleep out on fine nights, and hotel it, and inn it, and pub it, like respectable folks, when it was wet, or when we felt inclined for a change.” No full dedication to camping out, for them.
There is no actual camping out that happens in the chapter. Instead the friends are trying to plan their trip on the river and imaginatively entertain the idea of camping out. Two of the friends are for the idea, and the narrator presents a comically romantic and idealized image of camping riverside until the practical Harris demands to know what will happen when it rains; there follows an horrific representation of what it would be like to struggle to raise the tent in the pouring rain, the nightmare of trying to sleep in the tent, and waking to find that the tent has collapsed. Much better, the friends decide, to camp out when the weather is fine, and stay at an inn when it is wet!