The story begins by introducing George, Harris, Jerome and Montmorency, a fox terrier. The men are spending an evening in J. ‘s room, smoking and discussing illnesses they fancy they suffer from. They conclude they are all suffering from ‘overwork’ and need a holiday. A stay in the country and a sea trip are both considered, then rejected after J. describes the bad experiences had by his brother-in-law and a friend on sea trips.
The three decide on a boating holiday up the River Thames, from Kingston upon Thames to Oxford, during which they will camp, notwithstanding Jerome’s anecdotes about previous experiences with tents and camping stoves. They embark the following Saturday. George must go to work that morning (“George goes to sleep at a bank from ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when they wake him up and put him outside at two”), so J. and Harris make their way to Kingston by train.
They are unable to find the correct train atWaterloo Station (the station’s confusing layout was a well-known theme of Victorian comedy) so they bribe a train driver to take his train to Kingston, where they collect the hired boat and start the journey. They meet George up-river at Weybridge. The remainder of the story describes their river journey and the incidents that occur. The book’s original purpose as a guidebook is apparent as the narrator describes passing landmarks and villages such as Hampton Court Palace, Hampton Church, Monkey Island, Magna Carta Island and Marlow, and muses on historical associations of these places.
However, he frequently digresses into humorous anecdotes that range from the unreliability of barometers for weather forecasting to the difficulties encountered when learning to play the Scottish bagpipe. The most frequent topics are river pastimes such as fishing and boating and the difficulties they present to the inexperienced and unwary. The book includes classic comedy set-pieces, such as the story of two drunken men who slide into the same bed in the dark, the plaster of paris trout in chapter 17 and the “Irish stew” in chapter 14 – made by mixing most of the leftovers in the party’s food hamper:
I forget the other ingredients, but I know nothing was wasted; and I remember that, towards the end, Montmorency, who had evinced great interest in the proceedings throughout, strolled away with an earnest and thoughtful air, reappearing, a few minutes afterwards, with a dead water-rat in his mouth, which he evidently wished to present as his contribution to the dinner; whether in a sarcastic spirit, or with a genuine desire to assist, I cannot say.
George was a bank clerk (who ‘goes to sleep at a bank from ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when they wake him up and put him outside at two ‘) and was living in a back room of the same house. The landlady suggested that, to save money, the two might share a room. They ‘chummed ‘ together for some years – both shared a love of the theatre -and a life-long friendship was formed. George, who remained a bachelor, rose to become manager of Barclays Bank in the Strand and outlived.
Character sketch of Harris – Harris is a vain fellow who pretends to be extremely hard working but usually pushes off the burden on other people. he is outspoken and does not hesitate to tell his friends what he thinks about them even if it may not be pleasant. for example he outwardly tells george that his new blazer is utterly revolting and that he must not wear it around them (harris and j). when harris takes on a job he makes a huge fuss out of it like the narator;s uncle podger the world would know about it. he also thinks very highly of himself and his voice though his friends do not want him to even attempt singing. he is extremely fascinated by tombs and graveyards much to j ‘s dislike. he is also quite short tempered and it is best to let him rant off his anger rather than try and talk to him about it. he wouldn ‘t mind a drink at any time of the day and enjoys the company of his friends .