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Tom Brown’s School Days is finished

I have just finished the recording of Tom Brown’s School Days that I have been doing for LibriVox. This is my first solo project, and I’m very pleased with it. Now that I’ve finished, though, perhaps it’s time to think about what the book meant to me.

I remembered the book from the 1970’s BBC TV series that I watched as a child. I particularly remembered the scene where Flashman, the school bully, roasts Tom in front of an open fire. But although the struggle against a bullying culture is a large part of the book’s message, I was surprised to realize that it’s main message was the growth of a normal, English boy into an English man.

The opening chapters deal with Tom’s early childhood, and describe country life in the Vale of the White Horse. The people we see there are held up as examples of good, honest working folk, the best that England can produce. The author certainly does not approve of modern customs.

Tom is sent to Rugby, a public school, and we find that he is no better than average at his lessons, but masterful at getting into and out of trouble: he comes home late after a long run; he falls foul of a gamekeeper and a local farmer; and he is involved in a famous fight. The School’s headmaster despairs of him, but he hatches a plan to pair Tom with a “good” boy who will need his protection, and so we meet George Arthur.

For me, this is where the book loses a great deal of its fun. It becomes a catalogue of virtuous behaviour as Tom learns to try properly at his lessons instead of using a crib, to pray nightly as he was taught, and to value honesty and “Christian” manliness. My strong impression is that this second part of the book represents the meat of what Thomas Hughes has to say to us. I found it more than a little priggish and proselytising, and was made distinctly uncomfortable by the overtly Christian message. For instance, one of the scenes that had the greatest effect on Tom was talking with Arthur , who had narrowly survived a bout of fever. The dream that Arthur recounts isn’t at all subtle in its portrayal of Christian ideals, and yet it strongly affected Tom. It would have had me sticking two fingers down my throat if I’d been in Tom’s position.

Nevertheless, I am glad I did re-visit this book. I now have a much deeper appreciation of what it really is. And most importantly, I have a deep pride in what I have made.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. paulina jaeger | 20 February 2010 at 3:52 am | Permalink


    I’ve been listening to your recordings of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. I am writing my undergraduate thesis on tales of growing up, using Tom Brown’s Schooldays and Harry Potter as my primary sources for study and comparison. I’ve appreciated your voice. If you ever feel like sharing any other thoughts you have had, I am sure I would find them valuable. Right now I am looking into the role hat each mentor in Tom’s life plays. It’s been such a while since I read the beginning that I’m going to go back to read; I cannot remember much about Benjy.


  2. icyjumbo | 20 February 2010 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Paulina,thank you so much for taking the time to comment, especially as the comment was such an appreciative one.

    It’s been such a long time since I recorded the book that I too forgot about Benjy until I read what you had written. For some reason Tom Brown is really about Rugby in our minds, and we forget that he is really stands for the solid middle English yeoman, and must therefore have a solid middle English pre-school too. That first part of the book was huge fun to read, trying to get the accent as it was written.

    Good luck with your thesis. I will certainly be interested to see how you compare and contrast Tom’s experiences with Harry Potter’s. I can see Dumbledore in the Arnold role, but I don’t really see an Arthur figure, unless it is Neville, who seems to be almost completely good, for all his comedy value in the earlier books.