Tuesday, 17 February 2009


My literary taste buds are currently being tickled by the delightful thing that is Mr Perrin and Mr Trail, by Hugh Walpole, which Capuchin Classics published in January.  This amusing, carefully-observed story of the rivalry between two public school masters, is also layered with dark pathos, but is never sentimental. The story particularly well contrasts the trammelled and (physically and emotionally) confined lives and rituals of the school employees and their families, with the wild Cornish coastal landscape which surrounds them.  Another tremendous feature of the book is the way in which Walpole describes how the human soul is steadily pecked away at by the harpies of apparently trivial everyday irritations and frustrations.

I'm being reminded, as I read the book, of other literature which depicts the school world.  One of my favourite examples is the wonderfully baroque and bloated world of Gormenghast, by the absurdly talented and under-known Mervyn Peake.  Peake's staffroom, wreathed in toxic smoke, writhes with grotesque characters and their equally repellent characteristics. At the other extreme, the Molesworth books made brilliant, surreal and affectionate mock of the English public school system in the 1950's and practically created their own language in the process.

Molesworth famously described one school dinner as 

"The piece of cod which passeth understanding" 

and Walpole has this counterpart:

 "He had been brought a small red tomato and a hard, rocky wedge of bacon with little white eyes in it, and an iron determination to hold out at all costs, whatever the consumer's appetite"

There is a whole sub-category of writing about school food, I suppose.  Scope for an anthology? Called the Inedible Journey?  Sorry.

Quotation of the day
"Grown ups are what's left when skool is finished."  Molesworth.

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