Public school stories

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dishes
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Public school stories

Post by dishes »

What are people's thoughts on this genre? Propaganda geared to getting the lower orders to look up to their betters, and justify the old empire, or a ready-made closed-world setting ideal for generating story ideas?

[Edit: or any other view you may have. Not meaning to imply these are the only two valid viewpoints!]
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colcool007
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Re: Public school stories

Post by colcool007 »

I never saw them as old order propaganda, but as an extension of the genre. Look at how many Enid Blyton stories featured public schools, not to mention the Chalet School books and many other books featured them such as Tom Brown's Schooldays.

And when you look at how few actually portrayed them in a positive light, it just felt like an easy device to create a closed world system for narrative ease. Look at the Billy Bunter, The Four Marys or even The Red Circle stories.

If I am honest, these stories did not appeal to me when I was a kid, but as I get older, they are fascinating to look at and unpick all the implied social assumptions within them.
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philcom55
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Re: Public school stories

Post by philcom55 »

The worldwide success of Harry Potter proves that this genre is still popular. In fact I'd guess it appeals rather more to less privileged children than those who actually DO get packed off to boarding school by well-off parents. The clever thing about the Four Marys in Bunty was the inclusion of scholarship girl Mary Simpson which gave poor kids a character they could realistically identify with.

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Re: Public school stories

Post by Kashgar »

'Smith of the Lower Third' was a classic example in the Wizard of how Thomson's inverted the Greyfriar's mould and allowed an ordinary working class boy to be a central figure in what was essentially a long-running public school saga. And, of course, both 'Smith of the Lower Third' and the later 'Four Marys' in Bunty were each the brainchild of Thomson boys paper managing editor Bill Blain.

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Re: Public school stories

Post by paw broon »

I think for the most part they were ".....a ready-made closed-world setting ideal for generating story ideas"
But there was also a bit of superiority in them as well, given the sheer number of lords, dukes and sirs who populated the stories. The Magnet/Gem type stories didn't appeal to me when I was young but in the last decade I have found a great deal of pleasure in reading many of them, particularly Bunter, who is hilarious. There's also the attraction of the mystery/detective angle which appeared, especially in Magnet and Nelson Lee and in many of the Christmas "ghost" stories. In the comics, as well as the papers, masked mystery characters and groups made them a must for me, although these characters should really be described as hooded, robed and sometimes masked. If anyone doesn't know a whole lot about the genre, I would suggest a look at Friardale, where there are many great stories from the above papers and others.
http://www.friardale.co.uk/Story%20Papers.htm

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dishes
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Re: Public school stories

Post by dishes »

philcom55 wrote:The worldwide success of Harry Potter proves that this genre is still popular. In fact I'd guess it appeals rather more to less privileged children than those who actually DO get packed off to boarding school by well-off parents.
You might be onto something there. When I was a kid, I, a comprehensive school kid, was fascinated by them (both in the still-appearing Winker Watson series and in old books), whereas my dad, who had been to boarding school, spoke of them with scepticism (at least, he did and does as an adult. I don't know what he thought of them as a child. He loved the anarchic and irreverent 'prep school' "Molesworth" books actually, as do I).

"I don't know why they were always about public schools," he would say. "Most of the children reading them wouldn't have gone to them. I think maybe it was because the people who wrote the stories went to them". I now know that that was not always the case: for example Charles "Frank Richards" Hamilton never went to one.
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dishes
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Re: Public school stories

Post by dishes »

paw broon wrote: But there was also a bit of superiority in them as well, given the sheer number of lords, dukes and sirs who populated the stories.
Yes. I used to wonder why people referred to boarding/public school stories as "old-fashioned" or "outdated", when these schools still exist. But what has changed (apart from however the schools themselves have changed) is the assumption that everyone always want to read about the upper crust. At the same time the early public school novels were appearing, novels for adults were also full of lords and ladies. And they continued to be the heroes and heroines of historical romances and airport fiction. It goes back to fairy tales starring princes and princesses. Historically, the rich and powerful always had more agency, leisure time and wherewithal to enjoy adventures and intrigue whereas everyone else (save a few bold vagabonds) was stuck in one place tilling the fields.

When P.G. Wodehouse (who had been to public school), graduated from public school stories to adult novels he still kept writing about the aristocracy (he claimed this was because that's what the American editors and publishers wanted from an English author). I've always found his work hilarious so maybe part of the reason I like reading about posh people is that, thanks to him and his disciples and imitators, their language on the page is pretty funny.

So while I agree, the setting is ideal for whodunnit plots, rivalries, pranks and every other kind of tangled scenario, and that's part of why I like them, there's also the Wodehousean language aspect.

After all these years reading public school stories, I just finally read the granddaddy of them all, "Tom Brown's Schooldays". Interesting historical document. I find it amusing that the boys drink beer.

I thought those recent Wilbur Dawburn-drawn Winker Watson strips in the new Dandy annuals were interesting in that they had a tongue-in-cheek satirical quality.
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philcom55
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Re: Public school stories

Post by philcom55 »

It's worth remembering that PG Wodehouse always presented the upper-class Bertie Wooster and his pals as 24-Carat twerps (albeit likeable ones), whereas the super-competent Jeeves had a much more lowly pedigree.

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dishes
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Re: Public school stories

Post by dishes »

philcom55 wrote:It's worth remembering that PG Wodehouse always presented the upper-class Bertie Wooster and his pals as 24-Carat twerps (albeit likeable ones), whereas the super-competent Jeeves had a much more lowly pedigree.
Not all his toff characters were dim though.
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philcom55
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Re: Public school stories

Post by philcom55 »

That's true. Lord Emsworth's niece discoursing on Schopenhauer is amongst the funniest things I've ever read! :)

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