Public school. School that Jenkins attends as a boy. A British “public school” is equivalent to an American private school; parents pay fees, and only parents with some financial resources are able to afford them. Jenkins’s school is unnamed, suggesting that it is not meant to represent one of the great schools of England—such as Eton or Harrow. However, it appears to be of some distinction, as most of its boys are of the affluent middle class, and some have connections with the aristocracy.
The school is a late childhood version of English upper-class society. Charles Stringham has titled connections. Jenkins’s father is an army officer, and Peter Templer’s father is a successful industrialist. Kenneth Widmerpool is an anomaly; he comes from the lower middle class and was sent to the school by his parents at a great financial sacrifice to make connections that may help him later in life. The cheerful arrogance and social poise of Stringham and Templer differ from the social ineptness and groveling of Widmerpool. The latter’s constant striving sets a thematic pattern for the rest of the work; the indifference of Stringham and Templer to hard work and calculating conduct is set against Widmerpool’s determination to succeed, however questionably. Jenkins, slightly below Stringham and Templer in the social and economic hierarchy, but above the vulgarity and slyness of Widmerpool, represents a kind of ideal gentleman, moral, fair-minded, and unassertive.
*Oxford University. One of the great British institutions of higher learning, in which a social hierarchy is again present. Some young men, such as Templer, who could attend, refuse to do so, confident of their connections to get them ahead. Widmerpool, obviously not bright enough to get a scholarship, cannot go on, but gets right to work on his plan to make something of himself.
It is at Oxford that Jenkins meets characters who will people his world when he begins his career in London. At the time of the novel, the university world is more than simply a matter...
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