Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

by Jerome K. Jerome
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What is the plot of the novel Three Men in a Boat?

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The story begins with the narrator (J.), Harris, and George discussing how unhealthy they have been feeling lately. The reader quickly figures out that J., and likely the other two, are hypochondriacs. There is nothing wrong with any of them. They aren't sick at all, but most likely they are...

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The story begins with the narrator (J.), Harris, and George discussing how unhealthy they have been feeling lately. The reader quickly figures out that J., and likely the other two, are hypochondriacs. There is nothing wrong with any of them. They aren't sick at all, but most likely they are feeling restless. The men decide that they can solve their problem by spending more time outdoors on a trip of some kind. The men decide to take a boat trip on the Thames. They also decide to bring Montmorency (a dog) with them.

The men take an excessively long time deciding all of the specifics of their trip, and they frequently argue about various things. For example, whether to stay at inns or actually camp is a major discussion in chapter two. The men also have a great deal of trouble deciding exactly what stuff needs to be brought along on the trip. The actual packing is a fiasco, but the men and their stuff eventually make it to their boat and begin their river trip.

The trip's narration is constantly being interrupted by George, Harris, and J.'s stories and reminiscences. Harris's narration of his experience in a hedge maze is especially humorous. The stories are all hilarious, and each story further shows readers that the three men are bumbling fools.

The actual river trip further illustrates to readers how the men are hysterically out of their element. They are incapable of even doing something as simple as cooking some eggs for breakfast.

The result was not altogether the success that Harris had anticipated. There seemed so little to show for the business. Six eggs had gone into the frying-pan, and all that came out was a teaspoonful of burnt and unappetizing looking mess.

Their experiences on the river continue to get worse and worse until the men decide to abandon the boat and spend the rest of their trip at an inn in Pangbourne. From the comfort of the inn, the men decide that their trip was awesome.

“Well,” said Harris, reaching his hand out for his glass, “we have had a pleasant trip, and my hearty thanks for it to old Father Thames—but I think we did well to chuck it when we did. Here’s to Three Men well out of a Boat!”

And Montmorency, standing on his hind legs, before the window, peering out into the night, gave a short bark of decided concurrence with the toast.

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Three Men in a Boat has a simple plot as its foundation. Three friends decide that they need to take a trip to improve their mental and physical health, collectively. They choose to travel along the River Thames in southern England. We follow their planning and packing processes, and then accompany the men and their dog on the journey itself. We are told the story in first person by a narrator who is referred to as “J.” He tends to be reminded of other stories by just about any activity or scene that comes his way; and so he often digresses from the main topic in each one of the 19 chapters. Although the trip is based loosely on actual outings that author Jerome K. Jerome took along the Thames, this book is a work of fiction, and not a strict memoir or a travel guide. River trips became popular in England in the late 1800s. Jerome was therefore writing about a fad when this book first came out in 1889. Its appearance helped to further promote such adventures.

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