Eight of my favourite books set in schools
Today I am blogging about books set in schools and Moira at Clothesinbook.com is doing the same. Our tastes are similar but don’t quite overlap, so I’m always fascinated to see what she has chosen.
There are very few fictional schools that one would like to have attended or to have sent one’s own children to, but Llanabba Castle in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall (1928) takes the biscuit. As Mr Levy of Church and Gargoyle, scholastic agents, explains to Paul Pennyfeather, ‘We class schools into four grades: Leading School, First-Rate School, Good School, and School. Frankly . . . School is pretty bad.’ And so it proves. Very dark and very funny.
As a child I didn’t go in for school stories, but this was an exception: Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did at School (1873), her follow-up to What Katy Did. I adored this story of Katy and Clover and their year at a boarding school in Connecticut and I still enjoy it even now.
In Charlotte Bronte’s Villette (1853) Lucy Snow goes to teach at a girls school in Belgium and falls in love with Monsieur Paul. It is years and years since I read this, but I vividly remember the atmosphere of erotic longing and repressed emotion.
Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961). Ah, Miss Brodie and her crème de la crème: the influence of a teacher – for good or ill – can be lifelong. An examination of good and evil through the prism of school life – but funny, too.
Nicholas Blake, A Question of Proof (1935). Closed communities such as schools, especially boarding schools, make excellent settings for crime novels. This one, set in a boys prep school, was the first crime novel by poet, C. Day Lewis, writing as Nicholas Blake, and is a Golden Age mystery with a difference: the detective, Nigel Strangeways, was based on W. H. Auden.
Robert Player, The Ingenious Mr Stone. Another crime novel, partly narrated by the bursar at a dreadful boarding school for girls. Ingenious, yes, and funny.
How to be Topp and Down with Skool by Geoffrey Willans with illustrations by Ronald Searle: ‘Hurra for the botany walk! Now boys get into croc. Tinies at the front, seniors at the rear. Off for the woods and keep your eyes skinned. Ha-ha- what do we see at once but a little robin! There is no need to burst into tears fotherington-tomas swete though he be. Nor to buzz a brick at it Molesworth 2. Pause at the zebra, look left look right. Strate into the vicar’s bicycle. That’s all right we were none of us hurt and i canot believe the vicar really said that grabber . . . A dead bird, Peason? I don’t think that would find its place in the nature museum it is so very dead.’ I was a grown-up when I discovered Molesworth, ‘the curse of St Custard’s.’ The kind of book that is wasted on children. A perfect marriage of text and illustrations. Sublime.
Finally, Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons, set in an elite girls boarding school. Not among her best – Poirot takes far too long to appear – but good fun all the same.
So that’s it. I’ll add a link to ClothesinBooks once Moira’s post is up.
Now it is: with surprising results! http://bit.ly/16X4I99