The school story is a fiction genre centering on older pre-adolescent and adolescent school life, at its most popular in the first half of the twentieth century. While examples do exist in other countries, it is most commonly set in English boarding schools and mostly written in girls' and boys' subgenres, reflecting the separation of education by gender typical until the 1950s. It focuses largely on friendship, honor and loyalty between pupils. Plots involving sports events, bullies, romance and bravery are often used to shape the school story.
The popularity of the traditional school story declined after the second world war, but school stories have remained popular in other forms, with a focus on state run coeducational schools, and themes involving more modern concerns such as racial issues, family life, sexuality and drugs. (see Grange Hill). More recently it has seen a revival with the success of the Harry Potter series, which uses many plot motifs commonly found in the traditional school story.
- 1 History
- 2 School stories elsewhere
- 3 Themes
- 4 Writers
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 External links
The Governess, or The Little Female Academy by Sarah Fielding, published in 1749, is generally seen as the first boarding school story. Fielding's novel was a moralistic tale with tangents offering instruction on behavior, and each of the nine girls in the novel relate their story individually. However it did establish aspects of the boarding school story which were repeated in later works. The school is self-contained with little connection to local life, the girls are encouraged to live together with a sense of community and collective responsibility. Fielding's approach was imitated and used as a formula by both her contemporaries and other writers into the 19th century.
Emergence of school stories in nineteenth century
School stories were a somewhat late arrival as a popular literature. Children as a market were generally not targeted until well into the nineteenth century. There was concern about the moral effect of novels on young minds, and those that were published tended to lean towards giving moral instruction.
Thomas Hughes and successors
Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Brontë, and Dombey and Son (1848) and David Copperfield (1850) by Charles Dickens had school story elements, which generated considerable public interest and close to 100 school stories had been published between 1749 and 1857, the year that Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes appeared. It is perhaps the most famous of all such tales, and its popularity helped firmly establish the genre, which rapidly expanded in the decades to follow across thousands of novels.
Hughes never wrote another school story: the sequel Tom Brown at Oxford focused on university life. However, more school stories followed such as F.W. Farrar's Eric, or, Little by Little: A Tale of Roslyn School (1858), Revd H.C. Adams' Schoolboy Honour; A Tale of Halminster College (1861) and A.R. Hope's Stories of Whitminster (1873). In 1870 the Education Act paved the way for universal education for children, and so gave the market for school stories a considerable boost, which led to some publishers advertising novels specifically as school stories.
Talbot Baines Reed
Talbot Baines Reed wrote a number of school stories in the 1880s, and contributed considerably to shaping the genre, taking inspiration from Thomas Hughes. His most famous work was The Fifth Form at St Dominic (1887) (serialised 1881–82). It was reprinted on a number of occasions, selling 750,000 copies in a 1907 edition. While seated in Baines Reed's Christian values, The Fifth Form at St Dominic showed a definite leaning from the school story as instructional moral literature for children and with greater focus on the pupils and a defined plot.
Gender difference in school stories
As schools were segregated by gender in the nineteenth century, school stories naturally formed two separate but related genres of girls school stories and boys school stories. J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter series represents a more recent amalgamation of the two traditions.
There had been an increase in female schooling from the 1850s, augmented by the 1870 Education Act. L. T. Meade, who also wrote historical novels and was a magazine editor, become the most popular writer of girls' school stories in the final decade of the nineteenth century. Her stories focused on upper class pupils at boarding schools who learned to earn trust by making mistakes, they had little focus on sports and were primarily interested in friendships and loyalty. They remained largely rooted in Victorian values and preparing girls to be proper wives and mothers.
Most literature for girls at the turn of the twentieth century focused on the value of self-sacrifice, moral virtues, dignity and aspiring to finding a proper position in societal order. This was to a large extent changed by the publication of Angela Brazil's girls school stories in the early twentieth century, which featured energetic characters who challenged authority, played pranks, and lived in their own youthful world in which adult concerns were sidelined.
The School Story in America: Arthur Stanwood Pier
Though he wrote in many genres -- science fiction, social novels, histories of St. Paul's School and Harvard University, etc. -- Arthur Stanwood Pier is today best remembered as the author of a sequence of turn-of-the-century boarding school stories, the St. Timothy's series.
Pier was born in Pittsburgh on April 21, 1874. His father, William Stanwood Pier, was a prominent Pittsburgh lawyer. His mother was Alice Moore Pier. Arthur's father tutored him at home until he was 13 years old. The young Pier seems to have been an extraordinary student. His parents placed him in St. Paul's School (Concord, N.H.) in 1887. He entered in the Third Form, and from then until his graduation in 1890 stood at the top of his class in English, Classics, and History. At St. Paul's he was a Ferguson Scholar and frequent contributor to the literary magazine, of which he became editor in his last year. As a Fifth Former, he won the school prize in English Composition.
Arthur Stanwood Pier graduated from St. Paul's in 1890, but, being only 16 years old at the time and judged too young for immediate entry to college, spent an additional postgraduate year at the school. He entered Harvard in 1891.
William Stanwood Pier died during Arthur's sophomore year at Harvard. Arthur Stanwood Pier's David Ives: A Story of St. Timothy's gives a thinly-disguised autobiographical account of his father's death, from which it may be seen how heavy a blow it was not only to his son but to the Pier family. Though he went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard in 1895, Arthur's thoughts were clearly preoccupied with the plight of his mother, sister, and two young brothers. During the interim, the sister contributed to the support of the family by giving music lessons. In 1896, having graduated and earned a position on the editorial staff of The Youth's Companion, Arthur -- like the hero of his story David Ives -- moved his family to Cambridge. He then set about earning his living, and their support, by his writing.
Pier's first book, an underrated novel of Cambridge life in the "aesthetic" 1890s, was The Pedagogues (1899), which took as its setting the Harvard Summer School. The Boys of St. Timothy's, the first of his boarding school stories, followed five years later. St. Timothy's, a lightly fictionalized version of St. Paul's School, would be the setting of fifteen more Arthur Stanwood Pier books, among them several classics of the turn-of-the-century school story genre.
In 1908, Arthur Stanwood Pier was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. From 1916 to 1921 he taught English composition at Harvard, and during this same period researched and wrote a "popular" history of the university, The Story of Harvard (1918). In 1918 he became editor of the Harvard Graduates' Magazine -- today's Harvard Magazine -- in which position he continued until 1930.
In 1909, Pier married Elise R. Hall of Boston, with whom he would have two children. They were a close couple -- a sense of what their marriage meant to each other can be gotten from Pier's novel The Women We Marry -- and Elise's death in 1922 came as a personal tragedy. Pier found himself suddenly a grieving widower, 48 years old, with two children to raise alone. The declining circulation of The Youth's Companion during the 1920s further deprived him of a reliable source of income, and in 1925 he ended his long connection with that magazine.
In 1930, Pier returned to St. Paul's as a master and member of the English department, a position he would hold for 14 years. He was a popular teacher, stimulating to the best students and encouraging to the slow, always concerned to impart a sense of moral values along with the rudiments of English composition. The Arthur Stanwood Pier remembered by his students resembled, in short, the most sympathetic masters portrayed in his St. Timothy's stories -- which, given the popularity of the books among boys at the school, may be seen as hardly accidental. In 1934, Scribner's published Pier's History of St. Paul's School, an affectionate and attractively written account of the school's founding and traditions. When he retired from teaching in 1944, he moved back to Boston and resumed his career as a full-time writer. In the end, the number of titles that had proceeded from his pen was thirty two. He died on August 14, 1966, at the age of 92.
Arthur Stanwood Pier: School Stories
The Triumph (1903)
Boys of St. Timothy's (1904)
The Ancient Grudge (1905)
Harding of St. Timothy's (1906)
The New Boy: a Story of St. Timothy's (1908)
The Crashaw Brothers (1910)
The Jester of St. Timothy's (1911)
Grannis of the Fifth: a Story of St. Timothy's (1914)
Dormitory Days: More Stories of St. Timothy's (1919)
David Ives: a Story of St. Timothy's. Illustrations by Franklin Wood (1922)
Friends and Rivals: a Story of St. Timothy's. Frontispiece by Frank M. Rines (1925)
The Coach (1928)
The Captain. Illustrations by Frederic A. Anderson (1929)
The Boy from the West: a Story of St. Timothy's. Illustrations by Kleber Hall (1930)
The Cheer Leader (1930)
The Champion (1931)
Decline of the school story genre
The peak period for school stories was between the 1880s and the end of the Second World War. Comics featuring school stories also become popular in the 1930s.
After World War II boarding school stories waned in popularity. Coeducational schools for all British schoolchildren were being funded by the public purse; critics, librarians and educational specialists became interested in creating a more modern curriculum and tended to see stories of this type as outdated and irrelevant. School stories have remained popular, however, with a focus shifting towards state- funded day schools with both girls and boys, and dealing with more contemporary issues such as sexuality, racism, drugs and family difficulties. The Bannerdale series of five novels (1949–56) by Geoffrey Trease, starting with No Boats on Bannermere, involved two male and two female pupils of day schools in the Lake District, and a solo mother.
The Harry Potter series of novels has in some respects revived the genre, although having a strong leaning towards fantasy conventions. Elements of the school story prominent in Harry Potter including the action being described almost exclusively from the point of view of pupils.
School stories elsewhere
While school stories originated in Britain with Tom Brown's Schooldays, school stories were also published in other countries. 'Schulromane' were popular in Germany in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and school stories were also published in Soviet Russia. Some American classic children's novels also relate to the genre, including What Katy Did at School (1873) by Susan Coolidge, Little Men (1871) by Louisa May Alcott and Little Town on the Prairie (1941) by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The 1980s and 1990s Sweet Valley High series by Francine Pascal and others are set in California.
However, the core school story theme of the school as a sort of character in itself, actively formed by the pupils and their enjoyment of being there, is primarily a British and American phenomenon. In France, Mémoires d'Un Collégien (1907) by André Laurie (Jean-François Paschal Grousset), set in a boarding-school context similar to Talbot Baines Reed's St. Dominic's in England and Arthur Stanwood Pier's St. Timothy's in America, would have a considerable influence on French stories in the genre. German school stories tended to be written for adults, in the tradition of the earlier Bildungsroman, and explored the disruption the school environment made to a character's sense of individuality. Soviet stories tended to focus on how individualistic behaviour could be corrected and brought into line with collective goals by the school environment. See also manga such as School Rumble and US dramas Beverly Hills 90210, Glee and Pretty Little Liars.
The vast majority of school stories involve the culture of boarding schools in general. Common themes include honour, decency, sportsmanship and loyalty. Competitive team sports often feature and an annual sports event between rival school houses is frequently a part of the plot. Friendships between pupils are a common focus and also relationships with particular teachers, and the difficulty of new pupils fitting in to the school culture is a central theme.
Bullies often feature in school stories, particularly boys school stories. Identical twins appear with some frequency and are often the subject of comedy. School principals are usually even handed and wise and provide guidance to characters  and will often bend the rules to get them out of trouble.
Earlier in the development of the genre, school stories avoided dealing with adolescence or puberty directly. Eric, or, Little by Little by Dean Farrar was a classic moral tract set in a boarding school. Its Victorian tone was never adopted as generic convention.
Commercially-successful authors of school novels include writers for boys, such as P. G. Wodehouse, Anthony Buckeridge, and prolific writer Charles Hamilton, better known as Frank Richards, who wrote the Greyfriars School series, St. Jim's and Rookwood, and others for the Amalgamated Press between 1906 and 1940, his most famous character being Billy Bunter. Writers for girls include Angela Brazil, Enid Blyton, Elinor Brent-Dyer, Dorita Fairlie Bruce, Mary Gervaise and Elsie Oxenham.
- Harold Avery
- Margaret Biggs
- Enid Blyton, notably the St. Clare's series
- Angela Brazil, formative author for girls' school stories
- Rae Bridgman; wrote on Gruffud's Academy (Canadian school set in the secret, magical city of MiddleGate)
- Elinor Brent-Dyer
- Anthony Buckeridge (Jennings in a boarding school, Rex Milligan in a grammar school)
- Dorita Fairlie Bruce
- Josephine Elder
- Frederic William Farrar
- Antonia Forest, Kingscote School for Girls
- Frank Richards
- L. T. Meade, most popular girls' school stories author at the end of the 19th century
- Clare Mallory
- Elsie J. Oxenham; although her main Abbey Series is set as much out of school as in it, many of her other titles are set in schools
- Geoffrey Trease
- Carmen Reid
- P. G. Wodehouse
Characters and works
- Billy Bunter
- Naughtiest Girl series
- St. Clare's series
- Malory Towers
- Rover Boys
- Chalet School
- Nigel Molesworth
- A.J. Wentworth, B.A.  (Comic stories about a hapless prep school master by H. F. Ellis)
- Goodbye, Mr Chips
- Botchan by Natsume Sōseki; this is from the slant of a neophyte teacher
- St. Trinian's School
- Phyllis Matthewman
- Such, Such Were the Joys
- Bruno and Boots
- the pothunters
- the gold bat
- Foster, Shirley; Simons, Judy (1995). What Katy read: feminist re-readings of "classic" stories for girls. University of Iowa Press. p. 195. ISBN 0-87745-493-0.
- Foster, Shirley; Simons, Judy (1995). What Katy read: feminist re-readings of "classic" stories for girls. University of Iowa Press. p. 196. ISBN 0-87745-493-0.
- Foster, Shirley; Simons, Judy (1995). What Katy read: feminist re-readings of "classic" stories for girls. University of Iowa Press. p. 197. ISBN 0-87745-493-0.
- Whited, Lana A. (1992). Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature: Chronicles of Disorder. UNC Press. p. 168. ISBN 0-8078-4387-3.
- Hunt, Peter; Butts, Dennis (1995). Children's Literature: An Illustrated History. Oxford University Press. p. 154. ISBN 0-19-212320-3.
- Whited, Lana A. (2004). The ivory tower and Harry Potter: perspectives on a literary phenomenon. University of Iowa Press. pp. 141–2. ISBN 0-8262-1549-1.
- Hunt, Peter; Butts, Dennis (1995). Children's Literature: An Illustrated History. Oxford University Press. p. 157. ISBN 0-19-212320-3.
- Arbuckle Reid, William; Filby, Jane (1982). The Sixth: An Essay in Education and Democracy. Taylor & Francis. p. 78. ISBN 0-905273-29-X.
- Hunt, Peter; Butts, Dennis (1995). Children's Literature: An Illustrated History. Oxford University Press. pp. 157–8. ISBN 0-19-212320-3.
- Whited, Lana A. (2004). The ivory tower and Harry Potter: perspectives on a literary phenomenon. University of Iowa Press. p. 141. ISBN 0-8262-1549-1.
- Grenby, Matthew (2008). Children's Literature. Edinburgh University Press. p. 88. ISBN 0-7486-2274-8.
- Hunt, Peter; Butts, Dennis (1995). Children's Literature: An Illustrated History. Oxford University Press. p. 159. ISBN 0-19-212320-3.
- Briggs, Julia; Butts, Dennis; Grenby, M.O.; Anderson, Brian (2008). Popular Children's Literature in Britain. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 169. ISBN 1-84014-242-1.
- Whited, Lana A. (2004). The ivory tower and Harry Potter: perspectives on a literary phenomenon. University of Iowa Press. p. 142. ISBN 0-8262-1549-1.
- Grenby, Matthew (2008). Children's Literature. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 87–8. ISBN 0-7486-2274-8.
- Anatol, Giselle Liza (2003). Reading Harry Potter. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 73. ISBN 0-313-32067-5.
- Anatol, Giselle Liza (2003). Reading Harry Potter. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 77. ISBN 0-313-32067-5.
- Anatol, Giselle Liza (2003). Reading Harry Potter. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 78. ISBN 0-313-32067-5.
- Anatol, Giselle Liza (2003). Reading Harry Potter. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 79. ISBN 0-313-32067-5.
- George Brown's Schooldays (1946) by Bruce Marshall is a novel dealing with boarding school education; it is much more sensitive to the misery and sexuality of all-male boarding, disqualifying itself from the genre.