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ARTICLES SHADES OF THE PRISON HOUSE: DISCIPLINE AND SURVEILLANCE IN TOM BROWN'S SCHOOLDAYS ROBERT DINGLEY The University ofNew England The delight widi which ... he regarded even the unsightliness of the great Birrningharn Railway, when it was brought to Rugby, was very characteristic of him. — "I rejoice to see it", he said, as he stood on one of the arches, and watched the train pass on through the distant hedgerows, — "I rejoice to see it, and think that feudality is gone for ever". (Stanley, Life ofArnold, 507n.) When Tom Brown first leaves his Berkshire home to begin his schooldays at Rugby, he travels up by coach, and Hughes lavishes several pages of nostalgic evocation on the details of his journey — on "the music of the rattling harness", on "the cheery toot of the guard's horn", even on the bitterly cold weather, which is relished as a test of "silent endurance, so dear to every Englishman" (76; Part One, Ch. 4). Some eight years later, his schooldays ended, Tom leaves Rugby for the last time: by midday, we are curtly informed, he "was in the train, and away for London" (367; Part Two, Ch. 8). Hughes makes no direct comment on the crucial shift that has taken place in transport and communication during the relatively brief course of Tom's school career, but the way in which that career is framed by two such starkly contrasted journeys is one among many textual hints that the book's preoccupation with historical change extends far beyond the transformation of a single school by a uniquely gifted headmaster. Thomas Arnold's educational reforms of the 1830s are Victorian Review 22.1 (Summer 1996) Victorian Review construed by Hughes both as symptomatic of, and as partly responsible for, a more general adaptation in the structure of English life. In common with other mid-nineteenth century novelists — the most obvious examples are Thackeray in Vanity Fair and George Eliot in Middlemarch — he seeks to locate in the comparatively recent past the origins of the distinctive present inhabited by himself and his readers. All three writers, indeed, select a pivotal, partly symbolic and partly instrumental, event — the Battle of Waterloo, the coming of railways and reform to a country town, the arrival of Arnold at an ancient foundation — in which it is possible to locate the tentative establishment of a new order, or in which, at least, a momentum for change becomes demonstrably irreversible. And, in the case of Tom Brown's Schooldays, the nature of that change seems clearly defined. When Tom first enters Rugby, Arnold has been there only a short time and has already made himself deeply unpopular by insisting on the abolition of cherished and time-honored traditions. The school he has set out to reform appears (both to its inmates and to Hughes's readers) to be regulated largely through displays of violence, and the nature and extent of that violence to be dependent on the personal qualities of the senior pupils rather than on the authority of the more or less invisible teaching staff. The regular replacement of each sixth form by its successor means that no stability or continuity can be assured from year to year, and there is always, consequently, a potential for anarchy — for what Hughes calls "nogovernment " (167; Part One, Ch. 8) — in which corruption and cruelty go unchecked. The systematic torture of small boys by larger ones — tossing in blankets, scorching before the fires in Hall — is presented in Hughes's narrative as aberrant and is carefully ascribed to the influence of individual sadists like Flashman, but it is also visibly part of a nexus of customary practice which has developed over centuries and it is not readily isolable (either in narrative or in ethical terms) from a culture where beatings, fist-fights, and football matches during which little boys can be knocked unconscious by big ones, receive not only institutional sanction but fulsome endorsement At one revealing point, indeed, it is even suggested that bullying itself forms part of the educational curriculum: in his valedictory address to School House, the exemplary old Brooke concedes that "there's a deal of bullying going on" but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 1-12
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
N
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