The KISS Grammar Workbooks Back to March Menu

Notes for Four Selections from 
"Cheeses," from Chapter IV of  Three Men in a Boat
by Jerome K. Jerome

See the complete "Cheeses" excerpt.

Selection #1 AK SC - L6.3
Selection #2 AK SC - L6.3
Selection #3 AK - L6.3
Selection #4 AK SC - L6.3

     I want to begin by thanking Celia in Wollongong, Australia, who suggested using selections two, three, and four. I also want to thank her for bringing Jerome K. Jerome to my attention. These passages are delightful, and I look forward to reading more of Jerome's work, much of which is available at Project Gutenberg. When I looked at the complete "Cheeses" passage, I decided to add selection #1 both because I found it funny and because it illustrates some interesting points about sentence structure.
     My original intention was to put these selections in the April (Focus on Literature) menu, but in the process of analyzing them, I decided to move them here because they illustrate an important -- and some distinctive -- points about style. In these passages, taken as a whole, those points are somewhat identical -- and thus, perhaps, easier to see. The important point is that as they learn how to analyze sentences, students can see for themselves that writers often have distinctive syntactic styles. In the short time we have in the classroom, this only begins to emerge, but even there students begin to see that some writers regularly use compound main clauses whereas other writers rarely do. And some writers use lots of subordinate clauses whereas others use only a few. And some writers seem to love gerundives or appositives, whereas other students barely use them.
     These four selections are, of course, too small a sample to make any general conclusions about Jerome's style, but, from another perspective, within this small sample there are some relatively unusual constructions that appear with some frequency. For one, there are three examples of putting the complement of the verb before the subject. In Selection #1 we find "Splendid cheeses they were." And in Selection #3, we find "the journey ... I shall ever look back upon ...." and "The presence of your husband's cheeses ... she would ... regard as a 'put upon'." This somewhat unusual word order emphasizes "Splendid cheeses," "the journey," and "The presence of ... cheeses" by putting them at the beginning of their main clauses, but there is other type of  "unusual" word order that may interest ninth graders.
     KISS explains some clauses as interjections in order to explore an aspect of style. In Selection #3, for example, we find:

"Madam," I replied, "for myself I like the smell of cheese, ...
Traditional grammars would normally explain this by, in effect, rearranging the word order to make the "I replied" the main subject and verb:
 I replied, ["Madam, for myself I like the smell of cheese,] ...
The problem with this is that is does not make, for the students, a clear distinction between the "interjectional" and the less mature sentences that start with the speaker or thinker. Among other things, the KISS distinction is aimed at those frequent sentences in students' writing that begin with "I think," "I believe," etc., as opposed to the professional writers' occasional use of "The book was, I believe, a success." By labeling the latter an interjection, KISS not only comes closer to the psycholinguistic model of language processing, it also gives students a clear term for distinguishing the difference in the two structures.
     Jerome uses four of these interjected clauses in the third selection. In addition to the one above, there are:
She has a strong, [I may say an eloquent], objection ....
... she would, [I instinctively feel,] regard ....
"Very well, then," [said my friend's wife, rising,] "all I have to say is, ....
Such clauses, I should note, are probably not that a-typical in professional narrative prose, but they are a-typical for students, and thus this exercise may be a good introduction to them.
     Interjected clauses are not the only aspect of Jerome's use of clauses that deserves attention. He uses subordinate clauses fairly heavily and at second and third levels of embedding. For example, in Selection #1, we find five subordinate clauses in the second part of a compound sentence:
I was in Liverpool at the time, / and my friend said [that [if I didn't mind] he would get me to take them back with me to London, [as he should not be coming up for a day or two himself,] and [*as* he did not think [the cheeses ought to be kept much longer.]]] / 
And in Selection # 3 there are six subordinate clauses in one main clause, two of them being semi-reduced:
She kept her word, leaving the place in charge of the charwoman, [who, [when *she was* asked [if she could stand the smell,]] replied, "What smell?"] and [who, [when *she was* taken close to the cheeses and told to sniff hard,] said [she could detect a faint odour of melons.]] / 
Traditional textbooks, by the way, rarely, if ever, deal with untangling so many subordinate clauses in one main clause, but teachers who can identify clauses will see, if they look, that many of their ninth-grade students regularly stack two, three, or even four subordinate clauses in one main clause.
     Still another interesting aspect of Jerome's clause structure in these selections is that it raises the question of the validity of grammatical definitions and rules. Selection #4 is particularly interesting in this respect. First we find:
He said [he dearly loved a bit of cheese], / but it was beyond his means; / so he determined to get rid of them. /
As the notes for the Level Three Analysis Key explain, the "but" clause can be considered a main clause, but it can equally validly be considered another subordinate clause functioning as the direct object of "said." And how do we explain the "so" clause? Some grammarians and linguists will claim that it is a main clause; others argue that it is subordinate. 
     The sentence that immediately follows the preceding example is also of particular interest because of its use of a semicolon:
He threw them into the canal; but had to fish them out again, [as the bargemen complained.]
Many textbooks present rules for using the semicolon, but I do not remember ever seeing one that said that a semicolon can be used to separate compound finite verbs. It may be argued that this is a reflection of when Jerome lived and wrote, but as the note in the analysis key suggests, that semicolon is still effective today.
     Part of the humor in Jerome's description comes from his use of compounding various constructions to include details in a very specific way, the first being realistic and the later being fantastic. Perhaps this is what caught me in the first selection -- "Splendid cheeses they were, ripe and mellow, and with a two hundred horse-power scent about them ...." "Ripe" and "mellow" accurately and realistically appeal to cheese lovers, but then we hit the "two hundred horse-power scent." And Jerome doesn't stop there -- the scent "might have been warranted to carry three miles, and knock a man over at two hundred yards." The "two hundred yards" is another unrealistic realistic detail.
     This compounding occurs too frequently to discuss all the examples, but in Selection # 2, we are told that the horse, "laying himself out  at the rate of nearly four miles an hour," was "leaving the cripples and stout  old ladies simply nowhere." At four miles an hour? And, later in the same selection, "one of  the men had the presence of mind to put a handkerchief over his nose, and to light a bit of brown paper." Is the "brown" relevant? Or is the author playing with us? Perhaps one of the most interesting examples of this "irrelevant relevancy" technique is in Selection # 3, where we learn that "The lady under whose roof I have the honour of  residing is a widow, and, for all I know, possibly an orphan too." She is a widow, so we sympathize with her and certainly would not want to "put upon" her. But an orphan? The "for all I know" and "possibly" totally undercut that, since for all I know possibly anyone could be an orphan. But at the end of that paragraph we are told "and it shall never be said that I put upon the widow and the orphan." 

Sentence-Combining and Decombining Exercises

     I have made a sentence-combining exercise from each of the four passages, but as in other cases in which I have done so, I would suggest that giving the students the original selections and having them decombine to create sentence combining exercises may be as or more beneficial than the combining exercises. Discussing the results of their attempts to decombine as a class may be enlightening, both for students and teachers. Part of the third selection, for example is:

But, in this world, we  must consider others. The lady under whose roof I have the honour of  residing is a widow, and, for all I know, possibly an orphan too.
In an attempt to make the sentences as short as possible, with as few subordinate clauses as possible, I ended up with:
But, in this world, we must consider others. I have the honour of residing under the roof of a lady. She is a widow. For all I know, she is possibly an orphan too. 
That doesn't work very well because it places "I" immediately after "we must consider others." It also raises the importance of "I have the honour of residing" by placing it in a main clause. In discussing their attempts, both the combine and to decombine, students will learn much about how sentence structure shapes the focus of a text. 

The complete text of Three Men in a Boat is available at Project Gutenberg: