Parlant de ma lecture de Three men in a boat, j'avais eu l'occasion d'apprendre qu'une suite existait. Où nos trois héros, Georges, Harris et J., ne partent pas en barque sur la Tamise, mais à vélo à travers la Forêt Noire.
L'humour anglais et l'oeil ironique de Jerome K. Jerome sur la société britannique de la fin du dix-neuvième siècle étaient engageants. Mais à la différence du premier, deux des trois "hommes" sont mariés, et les trois jugent une autre nation. L'humour n'est donc pas fondé uniquement sur l'auto-dérision, l'absurde, les "tartes à la crème"; il recourt à des ficelles pour lesquelles notre seuil de tolérance a changé: les différences hommes/femmes, et les clichés concernant une population étrangère. Du coup, même si on peut croire que l'auteur ne partage pas le point de vue de son narrateur et de ses héros, on ressent une légère gêne dans un certain nombre de passages.
Cela dit, Three men on the Bummel (le mot, introuvable dans mon dictionnaire, est défini en toute fin du livre) est très amusant. Le démarrage est un peu long; il faut attendre la deuxième moitié pour être en Forêt Noire (où je découvre que le trajet entre Londres et la Forêt Noire passe par Hambourg, Berlin et Dresde !). Des gags prévisibles sont bien présents (vous pensez, des vélos, des montagnes, c'est facile). On se moque aussi de ses compatriotes à l'étranger (ça n'a pas changé). Donc des pages qui font sourire... là où le premier faisait rire.
"For they have a way of teaching languages in Germany that is not our way, and the consequence is that when the German youth or maiden leaves the gymnasium or high school at fifteen, “it” (as in Germany one conveniently may say) can understand and speak the tongue it has been learning. In England we have a method that for obtaining the least possible result at the greatest possible expenditure of time and money is perhaps unequalled. An English boy who has been through a good middle-class school in England can talk to a Frenchman, slowly and with difficulty, about female gardeners and aunts; conversation which, to a man possessed perhaps of neither, is liable to pall. Possibly, if he be a bright exception, he may be able to tell the time, or make a few guarded observations concerning the weather. No doubt he could repeat a goodly number of irregular verbs by heart; only, as a matter of fact, few foreigners care to listen to their own irregular verbs, recited by young Englishmen. Likewise he might be able to remember a choice selection of grotesquely involved French idioms, such as no modern Frenchman has ever heard or understands when he does hear." (Chapter VI)
"I have pondered much upon the apparition, and have come to a definite opinion. A man I met later at Frankfort, and to whom I described the pair, said he had seen them himself in Paris, three weeks after the termination of the Fashoda incident; while a traveller for some English steel works whom we met in Strassburg remembered having seen them in Berlin during the excitement caused by the Transvaal question. My conclusion is that they were actors out of work, hired to do this thing in the interest of international peace. The French Foreign Office, wishful to allay the anger of the Parisian mob clamouring for war with England, secured this admirable couple and sent them round the town. You cannot be amused at a thing, and at the same time want to kill it. The French nation saw the English citizen and citizeness—no caricature, but the living reality—and their indignation exploded in laughter. The success of the stratagem prompted them later on to offer their services to the German Government, with the beneficial results that we all know.
Our own Government might learn the lesson. It might be as well to keep near Downing Street a few small, fat Frenchmen, to be sent round the country when occasion called for it, shrugging their shoulders and eating frog sandwiches; or a file of untidy, lank-haired Germans might be retained, to walk about, smoking long pipes, saying “So.” The public would laugh and exclaim, “War with such? It would be too absurd.” Failing the Government, I recommend the scheme to the Peace Society." (Chapter VIII)
"A thing that vexes much the high-class Anglo-Saxon soul is the earthly instinct prompting the German to fix a restaurant at the goal of every excursion. On mountain summit, in fairy glen, on lonely pass, by waterfall or winding stream, stands ever the busy Wirtschaft. How can one rhapsodise over a view when surrounded by beer-stained tables? How lose one’s self in historical reverie amid the odour of roast veal and spinach?
One day, on elevating thoughts intent, we climbed through tangled woods.
“And at the top,” said Harris, bitterly, as we paused to breathe a space and pull our belts a hole tighter, “there will be a gaudy restaurant, where people will be guzzling beefsteaks and plum tarts and drinking white wine.”
“Do you think so?” said George.
“Sure to be,” answered Harris; “you know their way. Not one grove will they consent to dedicate to solitude and contemplation; not one height will they leave to the lover of nature unpolluted by the gross and the material.”
“I calculate,” I remarked, “that we shall be there a little before one o’clock, provided we don’t dawdle.”
“The ‘mittagstisch’ will be just ready,” groaned Harris, “with possibly some of those little blue trout they catch about here. In Germany one never seems able to get away from food and drink. It is maddening!”
We pushed on, and in the beauty of the walk forgot our indignation. My estimate proved to be correct.
At a quarter to one, said Harris, who was leading:
“Here we are; I can see the summit.”
“Any sign of that restaurant?” said George.
“I don’t notice it,” replied Harris; “but it’s there, you may be sure; confound it!”
Five minutes later we stood upon the top. We looked north, south, east and west; then we looked at one another.
“Grand view, isn’t it?” said Harris.
“Magnificent,” I agreed.
“Superb,” remarked George.
“They have had the good sense for once,” said Harris, “to put that restaurant out of sight.”
“They do seem to have hidden it,” said George. “One doesn’t mind the thing so much when it is not forced under one’s nose,” said Harris.
“Of course, in its place,” I observed, “a restaurant is right enough.”
“I should like to know where they have put it,” said George.
“Suppose we look for it?” said Harris, with inspiration.
It seemed a good idea. I felt curious myself. We agreed to explore in different directions, returning to the summit to report progress. In half an hour we stood together once again. There was no need for words. The face of one and all of us announced plainly that at last we had discovered a recess of German nature untarnished by the sordid suggestion of food or drink." (Chapter XII)
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