Jerome Klapka Jerome was born Jerome Clapp Jerome on 2 May 1859 in the Staffordshire town of Walsall. The family surname was originally Clapp, but his parents took the seemingly inexplicable decision to change it to Jerome. The failure of his father’s colliery forced the family to decamp to London, where Jerome attended the Philological School (later Marylebone Grammar School). They lived in Poplar at the heart of the East End, where Jerome was tormented as an obvious outsider and the family had no choice but to relinquish their middle-class lifestyle. After his father’s death, the fourteen-year-old Jerome was obliged to find a job, working as a clerk for the London and North Western Railway. When his mother died two years later, Jerome was able to achieve his ambition of becoming an actor, a profession of which his god-fearing parents would have strongly disapproved. Although touring with theatre companies provided variety and excitement, Jerome soon found himself sleeping rough on the streets of London. He was discovered there by an old friend who persuaded him to become a journalist. The pay and prospects weren’t much better, and Jerome supplemented his income by working as a solicitor’s clerk. He had, however, risen sufficiently in the world to settle down, marrying in 1888 the recently divorced wife of his first cousin. It was shortly after his marriage that Jerome wrote Three Men in a Boat (1888) the phenomenally successful novel that was to become both a curse and a blessing. Although it catapulted him to literary stardom, most reviewers refused to take his subsequent work seriously, and his lower-middle-class status was ridiculed by many. He felt an affinity with Charles Dickens who could never escape the legacy of Pickwick. Mindful of the backlash if he attempted to write in a different genre, Jerome asked that his 1892 novella Weeds be published anonymously. Unfortunately, this dark tale of sexual corruption made his publisher nervous and it was never made available for sale. The book wasn’t linked with Jerome until 1968 when a letter was auctioned at Sotheby’s (it is now available in a critical edition). Despite being predominately famous for one book, Jerome wrote eight novels, fifteen collections of sketches and short stories, two autobiographical works, over thirty plays, and an uncalculable number of journal articles. In addition he edited the illustrated monthly The Idler and the weekly To-Day, which featured contributions from George Gissing and Aubrey Beardsley. On this platform, Jerome campaigned on a variety of issues, such as vivisection and corporal punishment, and also attacked the industrialist Samson Fox for fraudulent behaviour. Alas, in 1897 the mighty Fox sued for libel, leaving Jerome with costs of £9,000, which he was only able to cover by selling his interest in both magazines. A two-year stay in Germany inspired Three Men on the Bummel (1900), a sequel to Three Men in a Boat. Undaunted, he continued writing , including the autobiographical novel Paul Kelver (1902) and a series of plays, the most successful being The Passing of the Third Floor Back (1908). Like many prominent men, Jerome was initially an enthusiastic propagandist for the First World War, but a stint with a French ambulance unit left him ‘cured of any sneaking regard I may ever have had for war’. His 1919 novel All Roads Lead to Calvary demonises a crowd that lynches a conscientious objector, and Anthony John (1921) explores his move towards socialism. This attempt to redefine himself as an author of political fiction was futile, and Jerome was described as ‘a typical humourist of the eighties’ in his Times obituary, nearly forth years after the publication of Three Men in a Boat. Jerome K. Jerome died on 14 June 1927, following a series of strokes, and was buried at St Mary’s Church in the Oxfordshire village of Ewelme.