Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Diary of a Pilgrimage by Jerome K. Jerome


Before I started reading Victorians, I thought they were all so long, and so serious, and had so many words. . . . and a lot of them do.  But I was really surprised to people had a sense of humor back then. If you haven't read Jerome K. Jerome, he's hilarious -- his most famous work, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) is one of my all time favorites.  If you haven't read it, it's the story of J., a slightly dimwitted Victorian man known as J.,  who takes a boat trip down the Thames, with two equally clueless friends and a hyperactive fox terrier, Montmorency.  (I've often compared it to Jeeves and Wooster -- if Bertie went on a trip and took a dog along instead of Jeeves.  Hilarity ensues). 

I'd never seen anything else written by JKJ, other than the sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, in which the friends reunite and take a bicycle trip through Germany, though I still haven't read it.  However, I was poking around Half-Price Books a couple of years ago and found a Nonsuch classics copy of Diary of a Pilgrimage, which I'd never heard of.  It was by Jerome K. Jerome and it was only $4, so I couldn't resist.  (It then sat on the shelf with all those other books I HAD to buy, then promptly forgot.)  The Victorian Celebration was the perfect time to re-visit Jerome.  

The setup is very similar to the other books -- basically, a travelogue is the excuse to make witty observations about life and travelers thrown in different situations, with some witty asides.  In this story, the narrator and his friend "B" take a trip to Oberammergau, Germany, to see the Passion Play, a traditional seven hour play about the life of Christ, which the locals have put on every ten years since 1634, during the height of the bubonic plague. 

Though the Passion Play is the purpose of the journey, it's mostly just an excuse for Jerome to make funny comments about travel and tourism, and life in general.  For example, after he's invited on the trip, the narrator considers the invitation:

I pondered for a moment, looked at my diary, and saw that Aunt Emma was coming to spend Saturday to Wednesday next with us, calculated that if I went I should miss her, and might not see her again for years, and decided that I would go.

Jerome also pokes fun at tourists, packing, railway journeys and saving seats, maps that are out of date, and things of that nature.  I was delighted to discover that Jerome's journey from London to Bavaria was nearly identical to the route that I took many years ago with my sister -- we were poor students and took the Trans-Alpino from London to Berlin, an overnight journey of 22 hours which I will never forget.  We took a night train from London to Dover, changed to a ferry, and then we went to Ostend, Belgium -- just like Jerome.  In the middle of the night we switched to a train which took us to Cologne (Jerome talks about the famous cathedral towers, which we sadly missed).  Jerome's journey was about 100 years before mine, so the trains were slower and his trip lasted several days; he and B. stop several times to do sightseeing and stay overnight in inns, unlike my sister and me.  Still, it was fun to read about someone in a book take nearly the same route as us.

This book is short, less than 200 pages, and my edition was a cute little paperback, only about five by seven inches; plus it had illustrations so it's a very quick read.  It's broken up into short chapters so it's easy to pick up and read a bit when you have time.  It's a really nice antidote to some of the heavier (and longer) Victorian on my to-read list.  If you're looking for a short Victorian, it's just the thing.

19 comments:

  1. I'm becoming addicted to Victorian travelogues, and this sounds like a perfect fit!

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    1. I thought this was really fun. Which other Victorian travelogues have you read? I'm also hoping to read Pictures from Italy by Charles Dickens.

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  2. I'm digging the guy's name - Jerome Jerome? Awesome.

    I've had Three Men on a Boat on my to-read list for a while now but haven't had the incentive to actually pick it up from the library. Thanks to your review I think I will! It sounds very fun.

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    1. I always wonder about his name too -- what kind of parent gives their child the same first and last name?

      And Three Men in a Boat is really fun. There's a great audio version narrated by Martin Jarvis from Naxos audio, I highly recommend it.

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  3. Oh, I just LOVED Three Men on a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel! I have always wanted to try some of his other works, but never knew where to start. I think this one sounds wonderful! Thanks for the review!

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    1. I still haven't read Three Men on the Bummel. He wrote a lot of other stuff that's available in ebooks now.

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  4. This sounds like perfect summer reading - short & funny!

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    1. It was a great summer read. I'm using this time to read as many short Victorians as possible.

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  5. I am surprised that humor is involved. I will have to try one of his books. Thank you for the great post and recommendation.

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  6. Oh, it's very funny. Three Men in a Boat has kind of a wry humor, sort of like P. G. Wodehouse, if you like that sort of thing.

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  7. After many years on the TBR I finally read Three Men in a Boat this week and loved it - very funny~! And it is nice to read some shorter Victorians between the longer ones.

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  8. I've read it at least three times and it still makes me laugh. I know I should read some longer Victorians too, maybe it's time to pick up some Trollope.

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  9. There are a bunch of Jerome K. Jerome's books on ManyBooks for Kindle as free downloads, including this one and Three Men on Wheels.

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    1. Thanks! I'll have to look for them.

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  10. Oh, I'm glad this was a light and fun one, too. I feel like Jerome has this interesting (and sometimes awkward) way of writing that can be either really hilarious or very intensely lyrical. I have a feeling that would be even more likely to happen in a book about a pilgrimage.

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    1. Absolutely -- sometimes his descriptions were really beautiful. I think he was a really good writer, he just got so known for the funny stuff, people forget how good he really was.

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  11. I love travel journals and am reading A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain. He's SO funny! I'll have to try Mr. Jerome's books.

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  12. If you like Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel, you'd love Idle Thougts of an Idle Fellow. But Jerome also published serious work, including the really quite disturbing Weeds (see www.victoriansecrets.co.uk)

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  13. Oh, Karen, Karen, if you loved Three Men, there is a spin of it, and many more books called To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis, it's fabulous, one of my contemporary favorite books. It's about present day people who travel to the Victorian era, and the humor is pitch perfect.

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