Birthday: May 2, 1859
Died At Age: 68
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Jerome Klapka Jerome
Born in: Caldmore, United Kingdom
Famous as: Writer
Quotes By Jerome K. Jerome
Spouse/Ex-: Georgina Elizabeth Henrietta Stanley Marris
father: Jerome Clapp Jerome
mother: Marguerite Jones
siblings: Blandina Dominica, Milton Melancthon, Paulina Deodata
children: Elsie, Rowena
Died on: June 14, 1927
place of death: Northampton
education: St Marylebone Grammar School
Jerome Klapka Jerome was a noted English humorist, novelist and playwright, best known for his humorous and comic masterpiece 'Three Men in a Boat'. His father, a nonconformist preacher and a mine owner, lost all he had when his coalmine was submerged in flood water. As a consequence of it, Jerome spent his early years in abject poverty in East London. The condition became even worse when he lost his father at the age of thirteen and his mother at fifteen. Living alone in London’s dingy quarters and working as a clerk, he never lost hope and at the age of nineteen, joined a repertory troupe, returning penniless to London after three years. Subsequently, working in various capacities, he started writing essays, short stories and satires; experiencing first success with ‘On the Stage—and Off’, which after a series of rejection, began to be serialized in a journal, edited by a retired actor, Aylmer Gowing. However, he remains best known for his comic travelogue ‘Three Man in a Boat’, depicting a two-week boating holiday on the River Thames. Since its publication, the book has never been out of print.
Childhood & Early Yars
Jerome Klapka Jerome was born on 2 May 1859 in Caldmore, now a part of the industrial town of Walsall in Staffordshire. At birth, he was registered as Jerome Clapp Jerome; but later Clapp was changed into Klapka after the exiled Hungarian general and family friend, György Klapka.
His father, Jerome Clapp, was a nonconformist preacher, and owned a coalmine on Cannock Chase. Before that, he had tried farming and stone quarrying in Devonshire.
Jerome’s mother, Marguerite Jones, was the daughter of a prosperous Swansea solicitor. She had brought in considerable dowry, which his father had invested in the coal mine. Coming from heroic Welsh nonconformist stock, she never lost her faith in spite of repeated failures in family fortune.
Jerome Jr. was born at Belsize House, located on the corner of Bradford Street and Caldmore Road. He was his parents’ fourth child, having two elder sisters named Paulina Deodata and Blandina Dominica, and one elder brother named, Milton Melanchthon, who died at the age of six.
Initially, they were quite well off. But on the night of Jerome’s first birthday, his father gently woke up his mother to say that his coalmine had been flooded and that he was now a ruined man with just a few hundred pounds left.
In 1861, he shifted his family to a smaller house in Stourbridge and moved alone to London. There he set up a wholesale iron mongering business, which did not do as well as he expected. Consequently, he did not call for his family, living on 5 shillings a week.
When Jerome was four years old, his mother came to know about his father’s condition and moved her family to London. There, they set up their home in a small house on Sussex Street in Poplar, East London.
In Poplar, Jerome grew up surrounded by the poorer section of the society, who detested him for his gentlemanly upbringing and tried to bully him. Indeed, the environment there was anything but congenial and in his biography, Jerome held it responsible for his brooding and melancholy disposition.
Possibly in January 1869, just before his tenth birthday, young Jerome gained admission at the Philological School, which later became known as Marylebone Grammar School. Although he dreamed big, aspiring to be a man of letters or a renowned politician, his father’s death in 1872 put an end to it.
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As per his mother’s diary, Jerome K Jerome began his career at the London and North Western Railway on 12 January 1874, at the age fourteen. Being posted at Euston Station, his first job was to collect coals that fell along the railway, but very soon, he was promoted to the post of a clerk.
His mother died sometime in the middle of 1875. By then his sisters had left home and living alone in dingy lodgings in London and working as a clerk, Jerome entered the bleakest period of his life. In spite of that, he did not give up hope.
Sometime now, he joined an amateur theatre group, acting in small roles in his spare time. Finally in 1877, he left his job to join a repertory troupe, which produced plays on a shoestring budget, with actors buying the costumes and props with their own resources.
He remained with the troupe for three years, may be for the excitement of traveling around. Sleeping in the dressing rooms or church porches he played various parts, doubling or even trebling roles. Sometime he had to look at his costumes to remind himself which part he was playing.
Finally at the age of 21, he had enough of acting and returned to London, literally penniless. Subsequently, sleeping in dosshouses, he was discovered by an old friend, who managed to get him a short-lived job of a journalist, requiring him to cover police stations and coroners.
He next became a school master in Clapham; but this job too did not last long. Thereafter, he took up an array of menial jobs, working for an illiterate builder, as a packer for a commission agent and also for a parliamentary agent. Finally, he became a solicitor’s clerk.
While joining the solicitor’s office, he had a vague intention of being trained for a career in law. Simultaneously, he started writing essays, short stories and satires, sending them to different magazines. Although initially most of his works were rejected, he never gave up.
Jerome tasted his first success, when inspired by Longfellow’s poems from ‘By the Fireside', he wrote a series of comic sketches on his experiences as an actor. Initially published in a journal called ‘The Play’, they were collected in a book form in 1885 and published as ‘On the Stage—and Off’.
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His next book, ‘Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow’, was also a collection of humorous essays previously published in Home Chimes. Published in book form in 1886, it established him as a writer. He dedicated the book to his tobacco pipe, his friend and companion.
By 1888, he was sufficiently established to be able to get married and spend his honeymoon in a little boat on Thames. On his return, he wrote ‘Three Men in a Boat’, his most famous work. Initially serialized in Home Chimes, it was published in book form in August 1889.
The book was not well received by the critics. While some were lukewarm, others were downright hostile, finding the book suitable only for working class Londoners, whom they called 'Arrys and 'Arriets’ (Harrys and Harriets). Punch magazine went one step further, calling Jerome 'Arry K. 'Arry’.
In spite of bad reviews, ‘Three Men in a Boat’ sold in such a huge number that the publisher famously quipped, “I often think the public must eat them”. The royalty he received from the sale made him financially secure and he could now devote his time entirely to writing.
Continuing to write, Jerome produced number of plays, essays and novels. Although they were not as popular as ‘Three Men in a Boat’, he remained established in the centre of London’s literally world, which included luminaries like Eden Phillpotts, J.M. Barrie, Rider Haggard, H.G.Wells, Conan Doyle, W.W.Jacobs, Hall Caine, Thomas Hardy, Israel Zangwill and Rudyard Kipling.
In 1892, Jerome K. Jerome was appointed co-editor of ‘The Idler’ with its founder Robert Barr. Later in 1895, he became its editor, a position he held until 1898. Meanwhile in 1893, he founded a weekly journal, Today; but due to enormous cost and a libel suit, he sold his interest in 1898.
In 1898, he went on a tour of Germany, later writing ‘Three Men on the Bummel’ on it. Also known as ‘Three Men on Wheels’, it was published in 1900. A sequel to ‘Three Men in a Boat’, the book describes his journey on the bicycle through the Black Forest.
”Three Men on the Bummel’ was more or less well-received by readers at home and became very popular in Germany. In 1900, he moved his family to Dresden, where he lived for two years. In the same year, he had his first autobiographical novel entitled, ‘Paul Kelver’ published.
First World War & Thereafter
Jerome loved to travel, visiting countries like Russia and Norway, going on a lecture tour to the USA in 1907. But Germany remained his favorite travel destination. Therefore, the First World War came as a shock to him. Although he was 57 years old he volunteered for war service.
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Rejected by the British because of his age, he joined the French Army as a frontline ambulance driver. When he returned he was a different man, later depicting his experience as wartime ambulance driver in ‘All Roads Lead to Calvary’. Published in 1919, it was one of his last novels.
In 1926, he published his autobiography, ‘My Life and Times’. Although the book contains very little domestic details and is devoid of chronology, it provides a glimpse into his personality. It is also is one of his most entertaining books.
Jerome is best remembered for his 1889 publication, ‘Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of Dog)’. Starting at Kingston upon Thames, going up to Oxford and back, the book depicts two-week boating holiday on River Thames.
Although written directly after returning from his honeymoon on Thames, it finds no mention of his wife, replacing her with his two real-time friends, George Wingrave (George) and Carl Hentschel (Harris), with whom he often went on boating trips. However, the character of the dog is purely imaginary.
Intending it to be a serious travel guide, he included the history of the places en route. But the humorous elements in the book became so prominent that many found the serious inputs to be a distraction. Never going out of print, the book remains as popular as before.
Awards & Achievements
On 17 February, 1927, Jerome was made Freeman of the Borough of Walsall. In reply to the felicitation, he said, "This Freedom of the Borough, it is the people's knighthood. I take it you have conferred upon me the Knighthood of Walsall, and I shall always be proud of my spurs."
Personal Life & Legacy
In June 1888, Jerome K. Jerome married Georgina Elizabeth Henrietta Stanley Marris. The daughter of a Spanish soldier, she was known by her pet name Ettie. At the time of their meeting, she was married with a five-year old daughter named Elsie.
Jerome was very fond of her stepdaughter and was devastated when she died in 1921. They had another daughter, Rowena. Born in 1898, she survived both her parents.
Towards the end of his life, he spent more time at his farmhouse, Gould's Grove, located southeast of Ewelme near Wallingford. However, they also had a home in London.
Sometime towards the end of May or beginning of June 1927, Jerome and Georgia were returning to London from a motoring tour to Devon. They were coming home via Cheltenham and Northampton. En route, Jerome suffered a paralytic stroke and a cerebral haemorrhage.
He was immediately admitted to Northampton General Hospital, where he lived for two weeks, unable to move or speak, breathing his last on 14 June 1927. His mortal remains were cremated at Golders Green and the ashes were buried at St. Mary's Church in Ewelme.
In 1984, a small museum, dedicated to his work, was opened at Belsize House, his birth home in Walsall. However, it closed down in 2008. The contents can now be seen at the Walsall Museum.
To commemorate his best work, ‘Three Men in a Boat’, a sculpture of a boat and a mosaic of a dog, have been erected on the Millennium Green near his childhood home in New Southgate, London.
In 1989, a Heritage blue plaque was put up at 104 Chelsea Gardens, Chelsea Bridge Road. It states that Jerome K. Jerome wrote ‘Three Men in a Boat’ while living here.