Thursday, 10 September 2009

Tom Brown’s School Days byThomas Hughes

The ultimate public school novel, Tom Brown’s School Days follows Thomas Hughes’s eponymous hero through his education in the 1830s, much of it taking place at Rugby School under Doctor Arnold.

So far all very worthy, and not too much about drink, although flicking through the book, I was amused to see the boys drinking beer. Probably of the ‘small’ variety. Anyway, it’s Flashy the school bully and his exploits I was looking for. Later resurrected by George MacDonald Fraser for an excellent series of novels, Flashman is a toady and a creep who after persecuting Tom Brown and his chum ‘Scud’ East all term, finally goes to far and ‘roasts’ young Brown over a fire. (Boo, hiss!)

Flashy is first encountered on the rugger field, playing the game in a most ungentlemanly fashion. Later at supper, the head of the winning team stands up on the table to make a truly gushing speech, firstly about how well the team played (hurrah!) then to impart a word of warning about the vices available in the local boozer.

Then there's fuddling about in the public-house, and drinking bad spirits, and punch, and such rot-gut stuff. That won't make good drop-kicks or chargers of you, take my word for it. You get plenty of good beer here, and that's enough for you; and drinking isn't fine or manly, whatever some of you may think of it.

Flashy, as is well known, comes to a bad end. After scorching Tom Brown, he eventually finds himself thrown out for drunkenness:

One fine summer evening Flashman had been regaling himself on gin-punch, at Brownsover; and, having exceeded his usual limits, started home uproarious. He fell in with a friend or two coming back from bathing, proposed a glass of beer, to which they assented, the weather being hot, and they thirsty souls, and unaware of the quantity of drink which Flashman had already on board. The short result was, that Flashy became beastly drunk.

Doctor Arnold, who had long had his eye on Flashman, arranged for his withdrawal next morning, and he exits the novel in disgrace. The book is frankly the poorer for that.

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