In Tom Brown’s School Days, Thomas Hughes created what proved to be the archetypal novel of life in a British public school (that is, privately funded boarding school). Written as his own eight-year-old son went off to Rugby School, Hughes’s novel was to be an inspiration and a model of what his son might expect. Hughes had entered Rugby School in 1833, five years after Dr. Thomas Arnold had become headmaster, and many of the incidents and much of the atmosphere of the novel reflect Hughes’s own years at Rugby. Tom Brown’s School Days is not, however, merely a fictional recollection of Hughes’s experiences. Hughes had a didactic purpose: He produced a moral tract concerning what the public schools and their students might attain.
Some of England’s most prestigious public schools had their origins in the late Middle Ages. By the early nineteenth century, these boarding schools had become the exclusive preserve of the sons of Britain’s ruling class. Fees and tuition were charged, and although scholarships were sometimes available, the schools were extremely exclusive. The public schools were producing the next generation’s government leaders, politicians, generals, admirals, and diplomats; they were the training ground for the rulers, not the ruled.
The first section of Tom Brown’s School Days has nothing to do with Rugby. Instead, it portrays Tom’s early childhood and where he grew up, a rural area...
(The entire section is 1014 words.)
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