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

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) Summary and Analysis of Chapters 12-14


Chapter 12

Next, the men pass Picnic Point, where Henry VIII is said to have courted Anne Boleyn. J. remarks that such spots are located all over England, and the common people must have had a great deal of trouble trying to give Henry and Anne their privacy. He then digresses to discuss how awkward it is to walk in on young couples who are ‘spooning.’

The boat then passes the spot where Earl Godwin choked after being accused of murdering Edward the Confessor’s brother.

They row past Datchet, and reminisce about the first boat trip they took together. They had attempted to find an inn in Datchet, but all of the town’s lodging-houses were full. After asking everywhere, the men came across a young boy who offered to let them sleep at his family’s house. They did, and were grateful for the room despite the uncomfortable conditions.

When lunchtime arrives, the men are very disappointed to discover that they had forgotten to pack mustard. George saves the day by revealing that he brought along pineapple, but the men have great trouble trying to open the can. After taking turns trying to break it open, they give it up.

They pass quickly through Maidenhead, a tourist town “too snobby to be pleasant” (119). They spot three old men fishing, and Harris’s poor steering disturbs the water near the men, who then curse at them.

That night, the friends stay at an inn in Marlow.

Chapter 13

The men pass by Marlow and Bisham Abbey, where many important historical figures are buried. At Medmenham, they pass an abbey that once housed a hedonistic order of monks whose motto was ‘Do as you please.’

The friends stop for lunch in a village, and Montmorency chases a large tom cat, only to back away when the cat calmly stares him down. The men stock up on food in Marlow, and by the time they finish shopping, several errand boys are trailing behind them carrying their purchases. J. humorously describes what the procession must look like to an outside eye. They then have trouble departing from Marlow because of the large number of steam-launches in the water, which are noisy and difficult to navigate around.

Near Hambledon lock, the travelers run out of drinking water. The lock-keeper advises them to drink from the river, but they are concerned about the “germs of poison” present in the Thames (130). They find some water from a nearby cottage well, but J. speculates in retrospect that this was probably river water as well. However, since they did not know it, it did not taste bad.

As they continue on their journey, they see a dog floating on its back down the river. When they settle down on the shore for dinner, Harris unwittingly sits at the edge of a gulch, and falls into it when he leans back. Because they do not see him fall, J. and George initially believe he is dead (and are not terribly upset about it). However, Harris then climbs from the gulch and angrily accuses them of making him sit there on purpose.

Chapter 14

George, Harris, and J. pass a number of landmarks near the idyllic villages of Wargrave and Shiplake. However, the day takes a turn for the worse when they attempt to peel potatoes for supper, but over-peel the potatoes until they are no bigger than peanuts. They attempt to make Irish stew anyway, putting in potatoes without peeling them. Montmorency catches a water-rat and offers it to the men to add to the stew, but they decline. The stew turns out to be delicious.

When the tea kettle shrieks, a frightened Montmorency attacks it. After dinner, George plays the banjo. A novice player, he is terrible at it. Montmorency howls along, and Harris and J. persuade George not to play for the remainder of the trip. J. mentions that George was later forced to sell the banjo because neither his landlady nor the passers-by outside his house can tolerate his playing.

That night, George and J. head into the village of Henley for drinks; Harris stays behind on account of an upset stomach. They return to the boat fairly late, but forget which island it is docked off of. When Harris does not answer their calls and it begins to rain, George and J. start to panic. They only find the boat by following the sound of Montmorency’s barking.

When they arrive, a terribly exhausted Harris explains that he spent hours fighting off a flock of aggressive swans, whose nest they disturbed when they moored the boat. The next morning, Harris does not remember anything about the swan fight, and George and J. wonder if he dreamt it.


Jerome’s use of concise, accessible historical accounts is another reason why Three Men in a Boat was so popular. In the Victorian period, history texts tended to use formal language, presenting information in a stiff, politically correct manner. Jerome’s lighthearted, gossipy account of Henry VIII’s courtship of Anne Boleyn – and his jokes about Queen Elizabeth’s drinking habits – would have been unusual at this time. The account of the monks who lived under the motto 'Do as you please' provides a nice symbol through which to understand his educational approach - he both acknowledges the reverence of history while remaining willing to treat the figures like actual humans, with failures and desires. By taking a comedic tone as he describes local history, Jerome adds an educational layer to Three Men in a Boat without undermining its entertainment value.

As in Chapter 11, Jerome’s populist outlook is on full display here. He brushes off Maidenhead – a favored destination of the upper classes – as ‘snobby,’ covering it in less than a paragraph. Meanwhile, he spends more time on historical sites and middle-class villages like Datchet. This reflects Jerome’s experience (he was relatively poor when he wrote the book), but may also be an attempt to cater to working- and middle-class readers by detailing destinations that they could afford to visit.

Although Jerome is often critical of human foibles, he also shows a meticulous eye for psychology. Much of his humor is based on the contradictions and complexities of the human mind. These universal behaviors are his primary focus in Chapter 13, which consists of a short series of vignettes as the men continue down the river. When the travelers seek out drinking water, Jerome sends up their germ-phobia and notes that “what the eye does not see, the stomach does not get upset over” (129). Another example of Jerome’s unique brand of popular psychology comes when Harris insists on blaming his friends after he falls into the gulch. People, Jerome suggests, often find comfort in blaming others for their misfortunes, even when said misfortunes are truly an accident. All in all, these stories and others conform to Jerome's interest in the illusions that humans use when understanding themselves and others.

The discussion of George's banjo playing provides Jerome another opportunity for satire. As Jerome writes, “You would think that Society, for its own sake, would do all it could to assist a man to acquire the art of playing a musical instrument. But it doesn’t!” (138). Observations like these are written to be clever and entertaining, but they also imply a more serious critique of people who care more about their individual needs than about the common good. As mentioned earlier, Jerome reveals a somewhat cynical, judgmental attitude even in his lighthearted observations.

Finally, it is worth noting the way Jerome uses Montmorency. Interestingly, Jerome did not actually have or bring a dog on this journey, meaning that Montmorency is a purely literary invention. Throughout Three Men in a Boat, Jerome uses Montmorency to enhance the satirical points he makes about human nature. Often, Montmorency acts as a foil to his human masters. Consider, for example, his quiet competence in catching a water-rat for supper, which contrasts with the men’s mishap-filled attempts to cook. Jerome personifies Montmorency extensively. In addition to ascribing human traits and emotions to the dog, Jerome also has his characters interact with Montmorency as if he were human. This has the dual effect of further personifying Montmorency, while also putting his human masters into silly, comedic situations.