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Jerome also pokes fun at tourists, packing, railway journeys and saving seats, maps that are out of date, and things of that nature.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.