Tom Brown's School Days

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This article is about the novel. For its film adaptations, see Tom Brown's Schooldays (film).
Tom Brown's School Days
Tom Brown's School Days 1st edition cover.png
Spine and cover of 1st edition.
Author Thomas Hughes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre School story
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date
Media type Print (calfskin binding)
Pages 420
ISBN 0-19-283535-1
OCLC 42414413
LC Class PR4809.H8 T66 1999
Followed by Tom Brown at Oxford
Text Tom Brown's School Days at Wikisource

Tom Brown's School Days (sometimes written Schooldays) is an 1857 novel by Thomas Hughes. The story is set in the 1830s at Rugby School, a public school for boys. Hughes attended Rugby School from 1834 to 1842.

The novel was originally published as being "by an Old Boy of Rugby", and much of it is based on the author's experiences. Tom Brown is largely based on the author's brother, George Hughes. George Arthur, another of the book's main characters, is generally believed to be based on Arthur Penrhyn Stanley. The fictional Tom's life also resembles the author's in that the culminating event of his school career was a cricket match.[1]

Tom Brown's School Days has been the source for several film and television adaptations and has been influential on the genre of British school novels, which began in the 19th century, and led to Billy Bunter's Greyfriars School, Mr Chips' Brookfield, St. Trinian's, and Hogwarts.

A sequel, Tom Brown at Oxford, was published in 1861.

Tom's nemesis at Rugby is the bully Flashman. The 20th-century writer George MacDonald Fraser featured the adult Flashman in a series of successful historical novels.


Tom Brown is energetic, stubborn, kind-hearted and athletic, rather than intellectual. He follows his feelings and the unwritten rules of the boys.

The early chapters of the novel deal with his childhood at his home in the Vale of White Horse. Much of the scene setting in the first chapter is deeply revealing of Victorian England's attitudes towards society and class, and contains a comparison of so-called Saxon and Norman influences on England. This part of the book, when young Tom wanders the valleys freely on his pony, serves as a contrast with the hellish experiences in his first years at school.

His first school year is at a local school. His second year starts at a private school, but due to an epidemic of fever in the area, all the school's boys are sent home, and Tom is transferred mid-term to Rugby School.

On his arrival, the eleven-year-old Tom Brown is looked after by a more experienced classmate, Harry "Scud" East. Tom and East become the targets of a bully named Flashman. The intensity of the bullying increases, and, after refusing to hand over a sweepstake ticket for the favourite in a horse race, Tom is deliberately burned in front of a fire. Tom and East defeat Flashman with the help of Diggs, a kind, comical, older boy. In their triumph they become unruly.

In the second half of the book, Dr. Thomas Arnold, the historical headmaster of the school at the time, gives Tom the care of George Arthur, a frail, pious, academically brilliant, gauche, and sensitive new boy. A fight that Tom gets into to protect Arthur, and Arthur's nearly dying of fever, are described in loving detail. Tom and Arthur help each other and their friends develop into young gentlemen who say their nightly prayers, do not cheat on homework, and play in a cricket match. An epilogue shows Tom's return to Rugby and its chapel when he hears of Arnold's death.


Major themes[edit]

A main element of the novel is Rugby with its traditions and with the reforms that were instituted by Dr Arnold. He is portrayed as the perfect teacher and counsellor and as managing everything behind the scenes. In particular, he is the one who "chums" Arthur with Tom.

The central theme of the novel is the development of boys. The symmetrical way in which Tom and Arthur supply each other's deficiencies shows that Hughes believed in the importance of physical development, boldness, fighting spirit, and sociability (Tom's contribution) as well as Christian morality and idealism (Arthur's).

The novel is essentially didactic, and was not primarily written by its author as an entertainment. As Hughes said:

Several persons, for whose judgment I have the highest respect, while saying very kind things about this book, have added, that the great fault of it is 'too much preaching'; but they hope I shall amend in this matter should I ever write again. Now this I most distinctly decline to do. Why, my whole object in writing at all was to get the chance of preaching! When a man comes to my time of life and has his bread to make, and very little time to spare, is it likely that he will spend almost the whole of his yearly vacation in writing a story just to amuse people? I think not. At any rate, I wouldn't do so myself.

—Thomas Hughes, Preface to the sixth edition[2]


Although there were as many as ninety stories set in British boarding schools published between Sarah Fielding's The Governess, or The Little Female Academy in 1749 and 1857,[3] Tom Brown's School Days was responsible for bringing the school story genre to much wider attention. Subsequent works directly inspired by the novel include J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, whose first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, has many direct parallels in structure and theme to Tom Brown's School Days.[4]

The book contains an account of a game of rugby football, the variant of football played at Rugby School (with many differences from the modern forms). The book's popularity helped to spread the popularity of this sport beyond the school.

In 1899, an abridged version of the book (omitting chapter 9 of part 1, and chapters 5 and 7 of part 2) was translated into Japanese. A further Japanese translation by Tsurumatsu Okamoto and Tomomasa Murayama appeared in 1903, which also omitted the scene at the cricket match, ostensibly owing to the translator's ignorance of the rules of the game.[citation needed] In the preface to this version, the translators praised the English education system, citing the example of the friendship between Tom and Dr Arnold as an example of how to raise a great nation. Another partial translation, consisting only of part 1 of the book, was released in 1912 by schoolteacher Nagao Tachibana. A fourth translation, also abridged, by Sada Tokinoya arrived in 1925. Finally, a complete translation was released in 1947 that eventually ran to ten separate editions.[5]

References in other works[edit]

  • Tomkinson's Schooldays, the pilot episode for the TV series Ripping Yarns, is a parody of the novel.
  • "The Tom Brown Question" in P. G. Wodehouse's Tales of St. Austin's (1903) has a schoolboy expressing the opinion that the second part, featuring Arthur, was written by an improving committee and not by the vigorous hand of Thomas Hughes. The argument is well developed.
  • Terry Pratchett has confirmed that the section of his novel Pyramids set at the Assassin's Guild School is a parody of Tom Brown's School Days.[6]


The character of Flashman was adopted by the British writer George MacDonald Fraser as the narrator and hero (or anti-hero) of his popular series of "Flashman" historical novels. In the Flashman novel Flashman in the Great Game, the main character reads Tom Brown's School Days (achieving a remarkable degree of abstraction as Flashman, a fictional character, is portrayed reading a real book about himself). The novel's real popularity causes the fictional Flashman some fictional social troubles. The Flashman novels also include some other characters from the novel, for example: George Speedicut and Tom Brown himself (in the book Flashman's Lady). Flashman also encounters the character of "Scud" East twice, first in Flashman at the Charge, when both he and East are prisoners of war during the Crimean War, and again in Flashman in the Great Game at the Siege of Cawnpore during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. East is mortally wounded during the massacre and dies in Flashman's arms.

In a second-order reference, one of Sandy Mitchell's Warhammer 40000 novels about Commissar Ciaphas Cain, a character largely based on Flashman, includes Commissar Tomas Beije, an old schoolmate of Cain, as a secondary character. Beije displays much of Brown's piety but, unlike Brown, is also petty, jealous, bitter and distrustful.

References to actual geography[edit]

The geography of Rugby has changed greatly since the period in which the book was set. Rugby has expanded enormously, industrialising in the late 19th century and later. For example, most of the named pools along the River Avon that the boys used for authorised swimming were obliterated when the British Thomson-Houston factory was built and the Avon through the new industrial area was straightened and deepened to prevent floods. The countryside where Tom Brown's adventures in the Avon river valley happened, is now an industrial area and terrace housing on the north slope of Rugby Hill and the flat land at its foot.

In the book, Tom's first year at the school mentions no transport to Rugby except stagecoach, but the end part of Tom's last year mentions "the train". The London and Birmingham Railway was built through Rugby while he was at the school but none of his adventures mention the railway or its working, or the large rowdy noisy navvy-camp which would have been in the area while the railway was being built.

County boundaries have been changed so that most of the Vale of White Horse is now in Oxfordshire, not Berkshire as the author says several times.

Dramatic adaptations[edit]

DVD cover of the 1940 film version, released in 2004

Tom Brown's School Days was adapted for film in 1916 (British),[7] 1940 (US),[8] and 1951 (British).[9] In the 1940 US version of Tom Brown's School Days, the role of Dr. Thomas Arnold as a reform-minded educator was given greater prominence than in the novel.[10] Arnold was portrayed by Cedric Hardwicke and the title role was played by Jimmy Lydon. The 27 June 1940, debut of the film version at New York City's Radio City Music Hall was chronicled in a photo spread by The New York Times, "showing some of the pastimes, curricular and otherwise", as the fight scene between Tom Brown and Flashman was captioned.[11]

In the 1951 film Tom Brown's Schooldays Robert Newton portrayed Thomas Arnold John Howard Davies portrayed Tom Brown.

It has also been adapted for television in 1071 again as Tom Brown's Schooldays by the BBC,[12] and as a two-hour ITV as the 2005 TV film Tom Brown's Schooldays,[13] starring Alex Pettyfer as Tom and Stephen Fry as Dr. Arnold. The 1973 BBC documentary Omnibus: The British Hero featured Christopher Cazenove playing Brown.

A musical version with music by Chris Andrews and book and lyrics by Jack and Joan Maitland was presented at the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End in 1971 with Keith Chegwin, Roy Dotrice, Simon Le Bon, Tony Sympson, Richard Willis and Dougal Rose. The rights to that version were acquired in the late 1970s by Bruce Hertford of Orem, Utah, who had a composer named Mark Ogden flesh out the score. The result played for a sold-out run at Brigham Young University.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Seccombe, Thomas (1911). "Encyclopædia Britannica (Hughes, Thomas)" 13. p. 861. 
  2. ^ Hughes, Thomas. "Preface to the sixth edition, Tom Brown's School Days, by Thomas Hughes". Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  3. ^ Gosling, Juliet (1998). "5". Virtual Worlds of Girls. University of Kent at Canterbury. 
  4. ^ Steege, David K. "Harry Potter, Tom Brown, and the British School Story". The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon: pp141–156. 
  5. ^ John J. Macaloon, ed. (2013). Muscular Christianity and the Colonial and Post-Colonial World. Routledge. pp. 15–17. ISBN 9781317997924. 
  6. ^ Breebaart, Leo; Kew, Mike. "The Annotated Pratchett File v9.0 – Pyramids". Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  7. ^ Tom Brown's Schooldays (1916) at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ Tom Brown's School Days (1940) at the Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ Tom Brown's Schooldays (1951) at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ "Tom Brown's School Days; Adventures at Rugby". Variety. 1 January 1940. Retrieved 23 January 2009. 
  11. ^ "Reflections of passing events in the screen world" (PDF). The New York Times. 23 June 1940. Retrieved 2009-01-23. 
  12. ^ Tom Brown's Schooldays (1971) at the Internet Movie Database
  13. ^ Tom Brown's Schooldays (2005) at the Internet Movie Database

External links[edit]