Below the Fairy City: A Life of Jerome K. Jerome

by Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton

” there is a great temptation to quote and quote from this fascinating cornucopia of Jeromeabilia” Idle Thoughts

Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) was the author of Three Men in a Boat, one of the best-loved books in the English language, but much of his prolific career has been left unexplored.  Over a period of forty years, Jerome was variously a humourist,  novelist, journalist, essayist and dramatist, leaving behind him a prodigious quantity of work, belying his famous quote “I like work. It fascinates me. I could sit and look at it for hours.”

In this major new biography, Carolyn Oulton unearths hitherto unknown details of Jerome’s early life in Walsall with his Micawberish father and God-fearing mother, and follows his momentous move to the Fairy City of London, where a formative encounter with Charles Dickens influenced his choice of profession.

Although famous for his unerring ability to capture middle-class experience in comic form, Oulton also reveals Jerome’s serious side as campaigner on animal rights, champion of the underdog, and fierce opponent of the New Woman. Jerome was desperate to shake off the persistent association with larking about on the Thames, but never quite achieved it in his own lifetime.

Jerome K. Jerome is revealed in Oulton’s book as a complex figure worthy of reassessment, with his contradictions, idiosyncrasies and, above all, his exquisite wit.

This edition also includes a Foreword by Jeremy Nicholas, President of the Jerome K. Jerome Society.

Read the prologue

Carolyn Oulton is a Reader in Victorian Literature and Co-Director of the International Centre for Victorian Women Writers at Canterbury Christ Church University. She had written Literature and Religion in Mid-Victorian England: from Dickens to Eliot (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) and Romantic Friendship in Victorian Literature (Ashgate 2007) when some demon persuaded her to try biography for a change. The first result was Let the Flowers Go: A Life of Mary Cholmondeley (Pickering and Chatto 2009). The most exciting moments were reading Cholmondeley’s supposedly missing diaries, two months before the birth of child number two – such were the yelps coming from the (straight out of Possession) box room where they were kept, that the kind hearted but doubtless slightly nervous owner spent much of the day on standby, calling out, ‘Are you all right up there?’ from time to time. These experiences pop up randomly throughout her subsequent poetry collection A Child, a Death and the Making of the Fairy Tale Woman (bewrite books 2011). For the current biography of Jerome, involving many hours battling for microfilm printers, effecting entry to the attics of total strangers, and deciphering all but illegible private correspondence, there is no excuse other than a lifelong joy in the story of George’s shirt.

Victorian Secrets also publishes Jerome K. Jerome’s dark novella Weeds: A Story in Seven Chapters.

Cover design © Ramona Szczerba

Availability Available in print and Kindle editions through Amazon and other online retailers.

ISBN 978-1-906469-37-5

Price £14.00 | $23.00 | €16.00 | AUD 23.00 | CAD 23.00