Wednesday, November 14, 2007

EDW: Jerome K Jerome

The post below this one begins with an apt quotation from Jerome K Jerome. Those of you who know of him will probably know him for Three Men in a Boat: a worthy enough thing to be remembered for in itself – it's funny, appeals to a broad range of people, it stands up well to the passage of time and has a certain Edwardian charm to it.

The sequel, Three Men on the Bummel in which George, Harris and the narrator visit Germany for a bicycling tour is also well worth reading: it manages to make fun of the Germans (pre-World War One without rancour) and the Englishman abroad rather successfully.

So, a fine humourist, then. And, as the picture shows, a sharp enough fellow. But JKJ's particular appeal to me is his masterwork Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. It is the wittiest and sharpest rebuke towards those who somehow believe that labour for material gain, or for its own sake because of a lack of wit and imagination to appreciate other things, are in themselves good things.

I overuse the word "puritan" as a term of abuse, I know, but in this case it precisely the sort of joyless, grinding mindset that is so utterly inimical to the thrust JKJ's arguement that in this instance I shall throw the term about with the abandon of a pederast handing out sweets in a orphanage.

There is in this work the proper philosophy of idleness. I amazed that no one has tried to develop it further. Still, here is the key to the pleasure of doing nothing in particular.

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.

Quite. There is plenty more on these lines. While I urge you to read the whole lot if you haven't here are a couple more pertinent bits. In keeping with the EDW theme of the post, here he is on clothing:

They say--people who ought to be ashamed of themselves do--that the consciousness of being well dressed imparts a blissfulness to the human heart that religion is powerless to bestow. I am afraid these cynical persons are sometimes correct. I know that when I was a very young man (many, many years ago, as the story-books say) and wanted cheering up, I used to go and dress myself in all my best clothes.

Then there is one of the most apt sections of the whole book. In JKJ argues that with the barriers to women beginning to fall, it's only a matter of time before they were treated as equals with men and started doing the same job. Gradually, he predicted, women would be able to do all the important work, leaving men free to concentrate on more important things. It's a great pity that he was rather too optimistic about the rate of progress and that women are still paid less than men, and face glass ceilings, sexism and other such problems. Without them his most delightful of prophesies might have come true:

I am looking forward to the time when we men shall have nothing to do but lie in bed till twelve, read two novels a day, have nice little five-o'clock teas all to ourselves, and tax our brains with nothing more trying than discussions upon the latest patterns in trousers and arguments as to what Mr. Jones' coat was made of and whether it fitted him. It is a glorious prospect--for idle fellows.

Higher wages and longer hours for women now.



Blogger Glamourpuss said...

I think we already have the longer hours, what with all the 'home making' and child rearing on top of the day jobs, but the higher wages would be most welcome.

I have an affection for JKJ, too. Splendid chap.


10:26 am  
Blogger dominic said...

As "3 men in a boat" was (and is) a staple of English courses in the USSR and successor states, JKJ is regarded by many Russians, etc, as the quintessential englishman.

As such, he indirectly the cause of Litvinenko's poisoning, Roman Abramovich's role at Chelsea, and the influx of oligarchs' kids into British public schools.

11:16 am  
Blogger Quink said...

Fine stuff. I read a chunk of Three Men in a Boat when my brother got married earlier this year. Was a huge hit with all who heard it.

I love JKJ, though he is prone to piss off on a wet and sentimental riff for a few pages before getting back to the comedy.

I read one thing of his I couldn't stand - the play version of Passing of the Third Floor Back.

4:52 pm  
Blogger Glamourpuss said...

I taught a Russian oligarch's child in a British public school. Vile child - used to pay his fees in cash, boast about all the prostitutes he'd screwed in the school holidays, threaten to kills pupils who crossed him, and regularly expose himself to female classmates.


5:02 pm  

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