Saturday, May 14, 2011
Tom Brown's Schooldays: Review
Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes is one of the first (if not the first) books about boys and adventures in public school life. First published in 1857, Hughes was looking to write a novel for boys that would tell about the public school life “in a right spirit but distinctly aimed at being interesting.” In it, he introduces us to Tom Brown—first describing his home village and his life there and then following Tom through his years at Rugby under Dr. Arnold. We are given Tom’s experiences as a new boy with everything from his first football match to being tossed in a blanket. And then follow him through the rigors of learning Latin and Greek to learning what it means to be a true British gentleman. We are taken over the countryside to investigate kestrel nests and to fish in forbidden waters; we see Tom defend a younger boy’s honor in his first and last fist fight; and finally we see Tom at the end of his school days as captain of the cricket team and having learned all his lessons well.
This is a very interesting snapshot of life at the public school in early Victorian times. Dr. Arnold (a real personage) has recently taken over as the master of Rugby and is trying to instill the ethics of the good, Christian British gentleman while reining in the bullying and other nastiness that public schools have been known for. Most important of the lessons Tom learns is that of fighting the good fight—for what you believe in, for the good of a friend, for the underdog. I think this quote does a good job of exemplifying this:
...so bear in mind that majorities, especially respectable ones, are nine times out of ten in the wrong; and that if you see man or boy striving earnestly on the weak side, however wrong-headed or blundering he may be, you are not to go and join the cry against him. If you can't join him and help him, and make him wiser, at any rate remember that he has found something in the world which he will fight and suffer for....
After a difficult period of tricks and trouble, Tom is given a younger, new boy to take under his wing and it is then that he really begins to learn the life lessons that Dr. Arnold values.
The beginning drags on a bit. It takes quite a while to actually get Tom to school. Once there the story itself is interesting and very informative of this time period. We learn a lot about what a boy’s life in the public school of the time would have been like. It is perhaps idealized in part—it is obvious that Hughes, who really did attend Rugby under Dr. Arnold, has rosy memories and great respect for the master of Rugby. Hughes does tend to go on a bit with a preachy attitude about the moral of the story, but this is understandable given the time period. Three stars out of five. [Book actually finished 5/13/11]