Impressions of the Thames Valley
By Chris Dodd
Given almost 130 years in print, it will come as no surprise that some editions of Jerome K Jerome’s bestseller enjoy outstanding illustrators, while some employ, shall we say, chancers. Chris Dodd turns the pages of Trois Hommes dans un Bateau.
The most enjoyable ‘impressions’ among this collection are those of Bibliothèque Rouge et Or, Paul Duval, Éditions Rombaldi and Éditions du Nord. The first three are French and the fourth Belgian, and they each employ splendid illustrators.
The Rouge et Or artist is Émile Folliette who faithfully traces the wake of the boat and illuminates boldly, whether in colour or black and white vignettes. Parts 2 and 3 of this series have shown other Folliette examples.
The 1938 Rombaldi book’s weakest illustration is the depiction of Marlow with its chain bridge and church steeple on the cover – not because it is a bad picture, but because of poor design. But inside are copious examples of André Faye’s watercolour impressions of dappled water, wispy foliage and fleeting clouds.
The handsomest volume of Trois Hommes dans un Bateau is the Paul Duval edition, illustrated by René Giffey and Jean Hée. This is not only because Jerome becomes Jérome in this 1935 production, but also because the format is large, the pages thick, the type elegant and the pictures superb. Giffey in particular was one of the most prolific and most talented Parisian artists of the first half of the twentieth century.
Roméo Dumoulin peppers the Belgian book with strong cameos and a remarkable frontispiece of Tower Bridge. Remarkable because Tower Bridge did not exist when our three men, to say nothing of the dog, first went afloat in 1889. It was under construction, but did not open until 1894. Bit of artistic license there, and besides, the expedition did not go anywhere near the tidal Thames.
Which brings me, as a good Bristolian, to anomalies in André Faye’s portfolio of impressionistic watercolours in the Romaldi edition. On pages 26 and 27 are two views of sailing ships and Thames barges; on page 37 is a beach with coasters and ferries steaming past; on page 53 a tidal creek; and on page 252 what is definitely Clifton Suspension Bridge spanning the Avon Gorge. It’s as if Faye dashed off a portfolio of a visit to England and dumped it on his publisher who, none the wiser, dropped pictures in where space allowed. The Avon Gorge was unsullied by the passage of George, Harris and Jerome, although I once came across an account of a cruise-by-skiff from Oxford to Oxford via Isis, Gloucester, Severn, Avon, Kennet and Avon Canal, Thames etc.
Part 5 “In the wake of Jerome” will be published tomorrow.