Three Men in a Boat is an immensely popular Victorian novel, published in 1889. It remains popular in some circles to this day.
Jerome K. Jerome’s early career as a writer was less than promising. He often had to resort to hack journalism to make money, and his first two books – a memoir and an essay collection – were modest successes, but not lucrative enough for him to support him as a full-time writer.
This changed when he published Three Men in a Boat in 1889. The comic travelogue was first serialized in Home Chimes, and then published as a book in the same year. Jerome had taken a very similar trip along the Thames for his honeymoon in 1888, and his experiences provided him the subject material for the novel.
Critics savaged Three Men in a Boat, describing it as vulgar for its attempts to appeal to the lower classes. However, it was extremely popular, and its success ensured Jerome and his family financial stability for life. It sold 202,000 copies in its first year, and more than one million copies in the 20 years after its publication. Its popularity extended around the world – it was translated into many languages, has been adapted into film versions, and for decades was considered compulsory reading in all Russian schools (Nicholson). To this day, it has never been out of print, and fans of the book continue to follow Jerome’s itinerary along the Thames.