Idle Thoughts on Jerome K Jerome: A 150th Anniversary Celebration by Jeremy Nicholas

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Idle Thoughts on Jerome K Jerome: A 150th Anniversary Celebration by Jeremy Nicholas
Buy Idle Thoughts on Jerome K Jerome: A 150th Anniversary Celebration from Amazon.co.uk

Buy Idle Thoughts on Jerome K Jerome: A 150th Anniversary Celebration from Amazon.com

Genre: Biography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A collection of contributions first published in the Jerome K. Jerome Society's Idle Thoughts newsletter, including scholarly and lighthearted articles from various writers, alongside little-known stories and pieces by the writer himself, published to celebrate his 150th birthday.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: May 2009
Publisher: The Jerome K Jerome Society
ISBN: 978-0956221209

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Although he was a prolific novelist, short story writer, dramatist and journalist, Jerome Klapka Jerome will always be remembered first and foremost as the author of Three Men in a Boat. This fascinating anthology, published on the 150th anniversary of his birth, reminds us that there was far more to the man than that one admittedly enduring book.

The writing in this book was originally published in the Jerome K. Jerome Society's Idle Thoughts newsletter. It opens with an article on the JKJ Birthplace Museum at Walsall, which ran from 1984 until financial difficulties forced it to close in 2008, but which however inspired the founding of the Society. There are several biographical articles on the writer and his father, the Rev Jerome Clapp, who lived in North Devon for a while before moving to the Midlands. A number of short stories and a resumé of an anonymously-written novella, Weeds, show a different side to his writing from that with which most of us will be familiar.

Some of the pieces are fairly scholarly, others quite lighthearted. One of those which I found most interesting was a comparison of the similarities between his satirical essay on socialism, The New Utopia, reproduced in full, and George Orwell's 1984. If we are to believe Jerome, he did not take politics too seriously; he once claimed he was a die-hard Tory at 25, was later asked to accept a safe Liberal seat but declined, and later became (or so he believed) vice-president of the Oxford University Labour Party. One of the contributors suggests that he had a social conscience, particularly after his observation at first hand of poverty in the East End of London during his boyhood, but doubts whether he was a committed socialist.

On the subject of his near-contemporary Oscar Wilde, his views were certainly those of the contemporary 'moral majority'. He regarded homosexuality as an unnatural disease, and in his autobiography, made a brief reference to a London restaurant he sometimes visited where Wilde and his friends would appear and sit at a table in the far corner; one pretended not to see him.

Also included are an obituary and account of his funeral from The Times, plus an obituary from the same paper of Carl Hentschel, who was not only a renowned theatergoer and first-nighter of the day but also the original of Harris in Three Men in a Boat. The book would not be complete without a bibliography of Jerome's published writings, and this takes up eighteen well-researched pages.

All in all this book makes a delightful companion to the author's work. Some of the articles succeed in portraying his endearingly eccentric personality very well, while others offer an excellent insight into his writing. I read it cover-to-cover, but I can see it as a good book for the casual reader to dip into as well. Anyone who has read his most famous book will certainly find it very rewarding.

Our thanks to the Jerome K. Jerome Society for sending us a copy.

For more on contemporary Victorian writers, why not also try The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle by Russell Miller, or Oscar's Books by Thomas Wright.

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