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June 2, 2009 6:51 PM   Subscribe

The Magnet (scroll down on the linked page to see scanned copies of the magazine) published stories about an English public school called Greyfriars from 1908 until 1940.

Additional scans of Greyfriars stories from The Magnet here as jpgs.

Jeffrey Richards wrote an interesting book about the function of the British public school in fiction which I enjoyed very much. Public school was a huge influence in upper-class British life from the Victorian era forward. Alec Waugh (Evelyn's brother), who wrote a scandalous (for the time) thinly-disguised autobiography about his experiences at Sherborne, discusses the system in this book. The evolution of the ideal of adolescence itself was worked out in some ways in public school stories - the first novel which used the word adolescence was about public school. This is, of course, public school in the British sense, which is private and expensive. Anxiety about a perceived decline in British morality and shifting gender roles focused attention on the education of young men. Interestingly, the primary readers of public school stories were young boys who did not attend public schools, and many of the stories written about public schools disproportionately emphasized virtues like obedience to authority that were suitable for the audience, if not faithful to the reality of public school life.

School stories were an important part of the popular landscape in Britain at the turn of the twentieth century. P. G. Wodehouse contributed a number in his time. My favorite are the Mike and Psmith stories.

Desmond Coke's The Bending of a Twig quotes heavily from famous school boy stories in a sort of ongoing meta-commentary throughout the book.

The St. Dominic's stories by Talbot Baines Reed were very popular, though he himself had never attended a public school.

A nonfictional account of attending Eton. A fictional account. Note that some thirty years and the First World War separates the accounts, during which there were vast shifts in popular conceptions of public schools and citizenship.
posted by winna (18 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
George Orwell touched on public school stories in his lengthy, amusing, and quite fascinating essay on boys' weeklies.
posted by xthlc at 7:02 PM on June 2, 2009

"Such, Such Were the Joys" is Orwell's classic essay on his own public school experiences (also included under xthlc's link above).
posted by timeo danaos at 7:06 PM on June 2, 2009

Oh! I wish I had included that essay - it explains the phenomenon very well.
posted by winna at 7:10 PM on June 2, 2009

Tom Brown's Schooldays.
posted by ericb at 7:40 PM on June 2, 2009

posted by ericb at 7:57 PM on June 2, 2009

Tomkinson's Schooldays. (Yeah, you can find it on YouTube but it goes well beyond any reasonable definition of fair use so I draw the line at linking to it.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:03 PM on June 2, 2009

After 1940, they mostly covered Boston indie rock.
posted by klangklangston at 8:04 PM on June 2, 2009

Lest we forget (from the teaching masters point-of-view: Goodbye, Mr. Chips and To Serve Them All My Days.
posted by ericb at 8:05 PM on June 2, 2009

You missed an important link: the Billy Bunting Yahoo group, which is still amazingly active for a discussion group about a 100-year-old serial.
posted by shii at 8:17 PM on June 2, 2009

The Fifth Form at Saint Dominic's by Talbot Baines Reed. "The most famous of late-Victorian public school stories." (John Sutherland).
posted by stbalbach at 8:28 PM on June 2, 2009

When I was a kid I loved Anthony Buckeridge's stories of Jennings and Darbyshire.
Later, of course I gravitated towards the works of George MacDonald Fraser.

I did actually attend the equivalent of a public school, in South Africa, but as a day student and not a resident (not that I envied them that much!).
More recently I've worked for a prominent Oxfordshire public school, helping design two new 'socials', which in their arcane lingo denotes the boy's residences.
I thought about J & D's adventures all the time while doing those drawings, imagining all the hijinks that would be going on in these dormitories, wondering how the kids were going to manage to sneak out at night...
posted by Flashman at 8:51 PM on June 2, 2009

The Greyfriars stories are incorporated into the mythology of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in The Black Dossier (annotations here). Billy Bunter is still living there, as of Moore's fictional 1958. This was one of the references lost on me--thanks for sharing all this.
posted by Tesseractive at 9:12 PM on June 2, 2009



Fagging. A guy I know who went to Eton in the 1960's, said when he was a fag he was required to get up in the middle of the night and warm the toilet seat for a senior boy. He said the suicides that happened were hushed up.

But wonderful illustrations from the Magnet and great fan site.
posted by nickyskye at 9:40 PM on June 2, 2009

I love the Mike and Psmith books, but I skip all of the cricket, which turned the first one into a short story.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:29 PM on June 2, 2009

Oooo! the Fat Owl of the Remove. Topping post.
posted by tellurian at 11:14 PM on June 2, 2009

Thanks for the post and all the subsequent links. I'd heard the name Billy Bunter used before but didn't know its origins.

I'm not sure why I do, but for some reason I find the English public schools of yesteryear intriguing. If anyone is interested in watching a well-portrayed account of life in a 1930s public school and also a fine film, I would recommend checking out Another Country. It is loosely based on spy and double agent for the Soviets Guy Burgess' school days at Eton.
posted by Onanist at 5:50 AM on June 3, 2009

Man, I love this stuff. Something about Victoriana/Edwardiana just fascinates me. It's like a little trip to a whole 'nother planet--and yet it was just yesterday (forgive the mixed metaphor). Such a completely different society only 90, 100, 150 years ago. Just yesterday. Great post, winna.
posted by scratch at 6:19 AM on June 3, 2009

Not quite as old, but let us not forget the young ladies....

(And, of course, St Custards.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:21 AM on June 3, 2009

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