Tom Brown’s Schooldays

May 8, 2009

tom-browns-schooldays Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Published in 1857, Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes was one of the first of the so-called “school novel” genre that detailed what life is like at one of Britain’s many public schools. This particular novel concerns a boy named Tom Brown, to whom the reader is introduced while still a baby. We get a glimpse of Brown’s early character and family life, and then follow him to Rugby, beginning at the age of 11. Tom had attended other schools prior to Rugby, but this was his first attempt at a public school — which to us Americans, is actually what we would call a private or boarding school.

Upon arrival at Rugby, Tom soon befriends a boy named Harry East. The two are similar in personality and temperament, and remain best chums for the rest of their time at Rugby. They have it rough in the early going, however, as an older fifth-form bully named Flashman makes them his favorite targets. But with the help of a sixth-form boy, Brown and East stand up to Flashman and are finally able to get him off their backs. From there, the two young lads become rather reckless and mischievous, and seem headed down the wrong path.

But the insightful headmaster knows just the right way to stem the tide. The year that Brown turns 14, the headmaster Dr. Arnold gives him a younger boy to look after. The younger boy is 13-year-old George Arthur, as different from Brown as night and day. Arthur is a pale, sickly, shy, studious child, scared to get his socks and breeches dirty or wet because he might fall ill — of course making him an easy target for bullies. At first, Brown is not pleased that Dr. Arnold makes him room with Arthur instead of his pal East, but Brown takes his charge seriously, and defends Arthur from bullies while showing him how to get on at school. The two eventually become true friends.

The rest of the novel shows how much Tom Brown’s character changes as a result of his time at Rugby, and how influential his schooldays, his friends, and even his headmaster turn out to be in his post-Rugby life.

Liked:

  • Tom Brown was a likable character, so it was fun to follow him through his schooldays.
  • This novel provided an interesting look at what it was like for boys in a British public school. I wouldn’t know, of course, but from other sources I’ve read, Tom Brown’s Schooldays is pretty accurate in its depictions.
  • This was a simple story, yet it ended up influencing an entire genre, and led to such works as Goodbye, Mr. Chips and St. Trinian’s.

Disliked:

  • The beginning of the novel started off rather slowly, with a lengthy description of the countryside and a short history of the Brown family. None of this turned out to be necessary background information, so I wish it would have just been left out. I almost gave up on the book because the first two chapters were so boring!

Rating:

After an extremely slow start, Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes bounces back and proves to be a genuinely interesting read. It recalls the innocence of childhood, as well as the trials and tribulations that typical kids endure as they try to make their way through school. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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