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Three Men in a Boat and Soggy Ophelia

March 7, 2014



Inspired by a paper given 2 days ago by our resident Shakespearean.

An Editor’s Office 1889.

E = A generic editor.

J = “J” = Jerome K. Jerome.


J.             So  – did you think it was funny?

E.            Funny?  Listen mate, you have redefined funny.  You are OED funny.  This is enduringly hillarious, funny for countless generations as yet unborn.  Three Men in a Boat belongs to the ages.  I laughed and laughed and laughed.  Everyone in the office laughed.  Everyone at the club laughed.  Back home, Marjorie laughed.  And Marjorie hasn’t laughed in decades.

J.             So, which bits did you like best?

E.            Bits?  Ah, there are so many.  The fight with the tin of pineapple, the crazy old sexton advertising skulls, the murderous meditation on “No Mooring” signs… I could go on.

J.             So, you’ll publish it then?

E.            Oh for sure.  For sure we’ll publish it, subject to the usual er… necessary extra chapter.   Need I say more?

J.             I think you better had.

E.            Well… you’re intelligent man,  you can see for yourself what’s missing.

J.             Missing?

E.            Where’s the drowned woman?  I read this three times and couldn’t spot her?

J.             The what now?

E.            Look, you and I, we’re Victorians aren’t we?

J.             I suppose so.

E.            Aren’t we?

J.             I should say so.

E.            You love your Queen don’t you?  You’re not some crazy republican anarchist type are you?  You’re proud to call yourself a Victorian.  Say it loud, man!  Or should I be calling Special Branch? Is there a republican anarchist on the loose they should know about?

J.             Of course not.  Yes, erm.  Victorians are what we are.

E.            Glad to hear it.  And what do Victorians like?

J.             Large scale engineering projects? Three volume novels?  Flush lavatories?

E.            John Everett Millais is what we like.  Us Victorians.  We like Soggy Ophelia by John Everett Millais.  Do you know Soggy Ophelia by John Everett Millais?

J.             Of course I do.  Everyone in the latter half of the nineteenth-century knows that painting.  It’s even at the top of this blog post.

E.            The what now?

J.             Sorry, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  Yes I know the painting.  So what?

E.            We Victorians expect to see women who’ve been sexually compromised drowning in rivers.  And your book is all about a river.  A river runs all the way through it.

J.             Yes, but the book’s supposed to be funny.  You said it was funny.

E.            Let me put it another way.  Under no circumstances could a firm like J. W. Arrowsmith even contemplate publishing a full length volume about a river unless you’re prepared to drown a woman in it.

J.             Why do I have to drown anyone?

E.            You need to drown a woman.  The plot is impossible otherwise.

J.             What ‘plot’ did you have in mind?  This isn’t House of Cards?

E.            House of what now?

J.             Sorry, getting ahead of myself again. 

E.            Are you sure you’re a Victorian?  Sure you’re not a Georgian or an Edwardian?  We Victorians know what we like and we like a drowned woman.  If we see a river, we expect to see a woman drowned in it.    Our fascination with the flesh is matched only by our self  loathing.  We like our sexuality twisted, negated and sublimated in bizarre ways.  We combine a ludicrous degree of conversational squeamishness to function alongside an industrial scale of underground pornographic production.  We chant repressive bourgeois mantras about decencies while cataloguing endless subcategories of sexual  practice in the name of abstractions like “Science” and “Medicine”.  And we like reproducing images of Ophelia gone all soggy.  Because soggy Ophelia appeals to the prurient puritan in us, the “having our cake and eating it” aspect of our collective Victorian scopophile pathology.  That’s us Victorians.  In an odd way, by having the sexually transgressive woman drown, we’re not only punishing her, we’re baptising her.  She is extinguished and reborn simultaneously.  Water both confirms and expunges the fact of sexual sin.  As (male) Victorians we just love this and we want to see it represented and read it described over and over and over again because that’s what it means to be Victorian and if you’re not prepared to sign up to this complex of soggy-sexual dissonance then you might as well spit right into the face of our beloved Queen Empress.  God Save the Queen!

J.             God Save the Queen.

E.            So, you’ll drown a woman for us?

J.             When you put it that way – how can I do otherwise?

E.            You’ll thank me for this.

J.             You don’t think the chapter might stand out a bit, seem a bit out of character?

E.            Trust me, by the 21st century, it’ll be everyone’s favourite bit.

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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    Reposting on the occasion of Jerome K. Jerome’s Birthday.

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