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Tom Brown Series

Tom Brown's School Days

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The son of a country squire enters Rugby and quickly learns the harsh realities of life in an English boarding school

338 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1857

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About the author

Thomas Hughes

270 books15 followers
Librarian note: There is more than one author by this name on Goodreads.

Thomas Hughes was an English lawyer and author. He is most famous for his novel Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), a semi-autobiographical work set at Rugby School, which Hughes had attended. It had a lesser-known sequel, Tom Brown at Oxford (1861).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 208 reviews
Profile Image for Ariel.
301 reviews64.2k followers
February 18, 2018
If you need to read this because you're studying the history of British boarding schools, then fine.. but if not, I'd say avoid it. It's boring and preachy and doesn't pay off.
Profile Image for George.
87 reviews13 followers
June 11, 2008
A must read for any of the legions of Flashman fanatics (like myself) if only for a better understanding of what George MacDonald Fraser was satirizing in his famous, and infamous Flashman, series. Of course, this was aimed at Victorian boys to inspire them to be better Victorian gentlemen and not to jaded, cynical world weary reprobates like myself. So, perhaps I'm not the most appropriate reviewer of this book. No doubt, Tom Brown, Arnold and the author himself would arm wrestle each other to be the first to agree.

Even so, it's not such a bad read, even now in the 21st century. Tom Brown is a reasonable Boy's Life character, full of vim and vigor, not overly intellectual, but the very model of bravery and integrity, everything one would most definitely want in a defender of the empire, and most assuredly everything my preferred character, Harry Flashman, is not. His triumph over the upperclassman bully, young Flashman is the highlight of the novel. It's been filmed as a movie on several occasions, and not without reason.

Profile Image for Jim.
248 reviews79 followers
July 19, 2009
This is the story of a boy, Tom Brown, and his years at Rugby school during the tenure of Thomas Arnold as headmaster, in the early Victorian era.

Unless you're a hopeless anglophile, you might prefer watching one of the dramatisations of this story. (The made-for-television film with Stephen Fry as Doctor Arnold is especially good.) The films tend to have more plot than the book, which is more a series of chronological anecdotes set amidst statements of philosophy than it is a novel. The philosophy in question was that championed by Doctor Arnold, which sought to root education in Christian ethics, to end the culture of bullying that held sway in most schools (as personified by the character Flashman), and to inculcate a sense of respect for all people, regardless of social standing.

If you're an anglophile, you'll probably like the what-ho, jolly good tone of the writing. There's a lot about cricket bats, rugby football, and toasted cheese in here.

If you're a fan of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series, this book might be of interest, as this is where Harry Paget Flashman makes his literary debut as a young bully, toady, liar, cheat, and all-round scoundrel.

From a historical standpoint, this book is a good illustration of the philosophy of "muscular Christianity," a brand of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism that combined the virtues of social ethics, clean living, and personal reliability with manliness as expressed in team sport and outdoor pursuits. It was an adaptation of Christianity to Victorian mores.

This book was also an early example of the public school novel, a popular youth genre which has had echoes in later works. As I read about Tom Brown's Rugby, I kept thinking it was a bit like Hogwarts, but without the magic.

Profile Image for Kavita.
760 reviews370 followers
August 22, 2020
We may think of one another now as dangerous fanatics or narrow bigots, with whom no truce is possible, from whom we shall only sever more and more to the end of our lives, whom it would be our respective duties to imprison or hang, if we had the power. We must go our way, and they theirs, as long as flesh and spirit hold together ...

Not much has changed in some respects. I have childhood friends that I feel must go their way and me mine. I am sure in these charged times, it's true of almost everyone. However, despite this melancholy thought, Tom Brown's Schooldays is mostly a paean to school days and a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Based on the author's own school days at Rugby, we follow Tom Brown from his nursery days to his first trip to school, and his gradual rise up the school. It's a fascinating and delightful look at how public schoolboys lived in the 1830s. Many of the anecdotes come from the experience of Hughes' younger brother, George's experience at Rugby. The Doctor is probably based on the headmaster of Rugby at the time, Thomas Arnold. And the annoying boy mentioned below might be based on Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, probably less annoying in real life than in fiction.

There is a lot of sport - football and cricket and random other things. Then there are some really odd things such as beer being provided in schools and older boys smoking, which in our cleaner days, seems quite strange. I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of fagging as a school custom. There were many more such interesting anecdotes in this snapshot of school life of the 1800s.

Tom immediately makes friends at school, becoming chummy with Harry East. The two start off well but become unruly after a while. To moderate their excesses, a third character, George Arthur, is introduced midway through the book. His angelic looks and blue eyes immediately aroused my suspicions. I was proved right. The new boy is a little annoying with his prayers and piety and ruminations about the Bible. For almost three chapters, Hughes goes on and on about religious stuff and has a lot to say about morality. In fact, he begins with an entire chapter on moralising and telling English boys never to travel. These parts were quite annoying but I suppose no Victorian author could help himself in this respect.

However, the rest more than made up for it. I enjoyed the relationships Tom makes with both his peers and the masters. I wish some more time was devoted to Tom as a preposter in the sixth form and what he gave back to the school in more detail. There is a sequel of Tom Brown at Oxford, which might be quite interesting as well.
183 reviews16 followers
January 12, 2016
I was surprised by the way this book made me feel like a boy-detesting maiden aunt. It wasn't as if I didn't have a pretty good idea of what was in it beforehand, but really, they're unlikable little thugs, the boys in this book. If they're not shooting peas at passers-by and bribing their way out of trouble about it they're throwing stones at other people's livestock and bribing their way out of trouble about it. Hughes' aim is to intercut this pleasant, healthy, natural boyishness with a concern for morality. I'm pretty sure that the bullying and copying other people's work and it not being a done thing to say your prayers were the real bit of Hughes' own schooldays, even in the days of the sainted Doctor Arnold, while the effeminate little saint who teaches his friends not to be so embarrassed to behave as their mothers would like them to and brings them back improving messages from near-death experiences is the part that Hughes has inserted because it ought to have been true. I'd have been willing to agree, even at its most sickening, except that Hughes still doesn't quite believe that British public schoolboys aren't allowed to do whatever they like and therefore doesn't succeed in convincingly reforming them. He comes close to it once, with a prefect explaining that it's called theft when they steal chickens from the farmers living nearby. However, he explains this once he's paid the aggrieved farmer off and arranged for the boys not to get in trouble, and there's still a sense that this behaviour is rather attractive and very natural. Hughes is living in a world in which Rugby schoolboys have more power than the ordinary people they encounter and he doesn't succeed in getting away from that. He talks a lot about how the British public schoolboy ought to defend those without power. He's not being disingenuous, he's just not clever enough to realise how much work he needed to do on Tom Brown and his friends. I do like stories about institutional living so every now and then I enjoyed it, but I found a lot of it obnoxious.
Profile Image for Deborah Pickstone.
852 reviews91 followers
July 10, 2016
A children's classic - but one of those written for all ages, which is how books were written at the time. There was no shame in a child and his/her parent sharing the same favourites. So, a classic, a debut novel (really an only novel) and a singular account of school life in the Victorian era under a very famous headmaster. Not only this but it spawned another classic - or perhaps a modern classic? in Flashman, the character first met here, at Rugby; a bully, a cad, a bounder and general all-round bad seed, he ends by being expelled, to the relief of all the 'fags' (a word which has since had other connotations and did not mean what we would today read it as: here they are junior boys who have to essentially slave for a senior boy and take their luck on whether or not that senior is fair minded or kind.) Flashman became a much greater success, perhaps, than his progenitor was.

As to this novel, it is naturally dated in language and mode of writing - it is also awkwardly written at times and can be quite verbose. It's not, therefore, an especially easy read but I believe it is worth the little extra effort required. It was suggested that the story was autobiographical - Hughes said not but, reading it, I have to suspect he was not entirely adhering to the actualité there. Certainly he was at Rugby under Dr Arnold. Probably what was not true was Flashman himself, who may have been written from an amalgam of less popular senior boys - as far as I am aware no-one has been put forward as a candidate for his character! These are just my own thoughts, however. It remains a favourite for me and I further see it as more of a historical document than I did when I read it around age 9 or 10.
Profile Image for Abigail.
7,110 reviews186 followers
June 2, 2020
Raised near a rural village in Berkshire, in the Vale of White Horse (presently part of Oxfordshire), Tom Brown was a healthy, hearty young English boy, full of fun and plenty of mischief. His parents, convinced that the female authority of his nurse was not enough to keep him in line, sent him to private school at the age of nine. When this school unexpectedly closed due to illness, he was sent early to Rugby, one of England's great public schools.** His father advised him that he would see a great many cruel deeds at school, but that he should always "tell the truth, keep a brave and kind heart, and never listen to or say anything you wouldn't have your mother and sister hear." Arriving at school, Tom initially found it rather difficult to adhere to this good advice, discovering that he and his new schoolfriend, Harry East, had made an enemy in the form of the upperclassman and bully, Flashman. The battle with this adversary takes up the rest of the first part of the book, while the second is devoted to Tom's growing friendship with the frail and saintly George Arthur, a pious and brilliant young new boy, who has a reciprocal good influence on our eponymous hero...

First published in 1857, and set during the 1830s, Tom Brown's Schooldays - alternately knowns as Tom Brown at Rugby, School Days at Rugby, and Tom Brown's School Days at Rugby - was an immensely influential work of children's fiction, both in the genre of the school story, but also in the field of schooling itself. It is apparently based upon the experiences of author Thomas Hughes' brother, George Hughes, while he was a student at Rugby, while the sequel, Tom Brown at Oxford (1861) was based upon George Hughes' time at that university. The character of George Arthur is thought to be based upon the figure of Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, a churchman and academic also educated at Rugby in the 1830s. Needless to say, the beloved 'master' in this story, frequently referred to simply as 'the Doctor,' and named only in the final chapter, is educational reformer Thomas Arnold, Rugby headmaster from 1828-1841. In an interesting twist, the character of Flashman, although not believed to be based upon one specific real-life person, did go on to become the anti-hero of a series of immensely popular novels written by Scottish author George MacDonald Fraser, from 1969 to 2005.

In addition to exploring the institutions and customs of Rugby - birthplace of rugby football, which features prominently in the story - Tom Brown's Schooldays is often considered the first and best argument in favor of what would come to be called "Muscular Christianity." This was a mid-19th-century English philosophy that tied moral and physical education to one another, emphasizing the masculine experiences of religion and sport, and tying them to national duty and political citizenship. In the context of Britain, this meant participation in the British Empire, but in the United States, where it spread in the later part of the 19th century, its was tied to patriotism more generally. Many of the authors of boys' sports fiction of the late 19th and early 20th centuries might be said to exhibit a kind of Muscular Christianity, or, in the case of authors like Earl Reed Silvers, whose work was secular, a kind of Muscular Good Citizenship.

Tom Brown's Schooldays is a book that I had long been aware of. It has often been incorrectly cited as the first British school story, an honor that actually belongs to Sarah Fielding's 1749 The Governess; or, The Little Female Academy . Although not the first, it was certainly influential in the development of the genre into the later Victorian and post-Victorian periods. It was an assigned text in the history of children's literature I took while getting my masters, and I am glad to have read it. I found the story engaging, and became quite fond of Tom's forthright, goodhearted, and non-intellectual character. I can understand why some today might find the story preachy, but I actually thought it quite entertaining, and I found the discussion of prayer quite moving. There are many different kinds of cowardice, and many different kinds of bravery, something Tom discovers when he witnesses the frail George Arthur kneel down to say his evening prayers, surrounded by a group of boys who are likely to mock and bully him for it. Tom's epiphany that night - his realization that in this sense, he himself has been a coward, while the frail boy he pitied has been strong and brave - is a valuable one, and the perspective shift perceptively captured. The peace that he feels, once he has decided how to respond to this revelation - "he who has conquered his own coward spirit has conquered the whole outward world" - was very moving to me. Surely, whether one is religious or not, the conduct of those who stick to their beliefs, in the face of possible persecution, can be admired and respected.

In sum: this is well worth the time of any reader interested in Victorian children's literature, the school story genre, sports fiction for boys, or the development of the idea of Muscular Christianity.

**American readers should note that in the British context, 'public school' does not refer to a state-funded school, but to a certain kind of prestigious private school, open to "the public" of the nation.
Profile Image for Farseer.
613 reviews1 follower
October 29, 2018
After reading and The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's (1881), by Talbot Baines Reed, I decided to go back 24 years, to 1857, and read Tom Brown's Schooldays, by Thomas Hughes. There were a few books in a school setting before that, but this is the one that would create a storytelling tradition and prove that it could be commercially successful, the one that set the conventions of the genre that would be developed by later writers.

Hughes would not write another school novel. He had said what he wanted to say on the subject. The book was written for his son Maurice, to prepare him for his life at Rugby School and to encourage him to grow up to be a good man. Tragically, Maurice died in a drowning accident shortly afterwards and did not have the opportunity to go to Rugby. The story his father wrote for him, however, entertained and inspired countless children.

So let's see how kind the passage of time has been to this story.

First, I have to say that it's rather different from The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's. The target audience is the same, boys, but while Reed's book is light entertainment, Hughes' intention is more unapologetically moralizing. He wants to tell a story that will entertain boys and catch their imaginations, but also guide them on their mental and spiritual development, and pay tribute to his beloved school and his old master, Dr. Thomas Arnold, whom he clearly worshiped. Arnold was the headmaster of Rugby School from 1828 to 1841, where he introduced a number of reforms that were very influential in British public schools.

So, while Reed simply told a story, and let readers draw their own conclusions about the characters and their actions, Hughes frequently addresses the reader in second person, to comment on the story and give advice. It's quite preachy by modern standards. On the other hand, if you are going to be preachy, you might as well do it in this pleasant, colloquial manner. When he addresses the reader, Hughes' style is informal and gentle, like an uncle addressing a beloved nephew. The book is well-written, and the style makes the preachiness more palatable than it might otherwise be. Moralizers are often priggish, but there's nothing like that here.

In the words of the American writer W. D. Howells:

It is not often that in later years one finds any book as good as one remembers it from one's youth; but it has been my interesting experience to find the story of Tom Brown's School Days even better than I once thought it, say, fifty years ago; not only better, but more charming, more kindly, manlier, truer, realler. So far as I have been able to note there is not a moment of snobbishness in it, or meanness of whatever sort. Of course it is of its period, the period which people call Middle Victorian (...)

The author openly preaches and praises himself for preaching; he does not hesitate to slip into the drama and deliver a sermon; he talks the story out with many self-interruptions and excursions; he knows nothing of the modern method of letting it walk along on its own legs, but is always putting his hands under its arms and helping it, or his arm across its shoulder and caressing it. In all this, which I think wrong, he is probably doing quite right for the boys who formed and will always form the greatest number of his readers; boys like to have things fully explained and commentated, whether they are grown up or not. In much else, in what I will not say are not the great matters, he is altogether right. By precept and by example he teaches boys to be good, that is, to be true, honest, clean-minded and clean-mouthed, kind and thoughtful. He forgives them the follies of their youth, but makes them see that they are follies.

Unlike earlier moralizers, Hughes tells a story that boys would want to read, a story about red-blooded boys who get into fights, get bullied and rebel against their bullies, who misbehave and shirk their schoolwork, but who are fundamentally good-hearted. Looking back at the kind of books that were available for boys to read in 1857 I can imagine how delighted they must have been with this story, where the heroes are boys like them.

In short, the reader will find already here the ingredients of a good public school novel. We have the plucky young protagonist, good at sports and not so good a scholar, loyal, generous, but willing to break the rules in his boyish escapades. We have the school, which becomes his second home and family. We have sports. We have the coming of age story that resonates with the reader, because being sent to a boarding school, away from your family, at such a young age is scary and forces you to grow up and integrate in a different kind of society, with its own rules and rituals, and it makes for an appealing tale.

Bizarrely, the book starts with a slow chapter dedicated to describing the little town where the Browns live, and eulogizing the British countryside. You could safely skip this first chapter if you don't feel up to it. However, the narration, preachy as it is, has a certain earnest charm. Perhaps it helped that I was listening to the excellent LibriVox audiobook that is distributed for free. It's read by a volunteer, but the quality is exceptional and I loved it. Listening to the audiobook, your attention can drift slightly away during these bucolic descriptions, and only get the tone of it, which is what truly matters.

Then we witness Tom's first years and what kind of boy he is. It takes a while to actually get to Rugby, but these first chapters gives us a picture of our main character, and as such are not unimportant.

Tom finally gets to Rugby School and in his very first day is shown the school, makes a friend (Harry East) and is made to take part in a game of Rugby football: the School-house where he belongs against the School (all the other houses combined). The description of game is bewildering and quite interesting for sport historians. All the boys play at the same time, more than two hundred, including little ones and strapping young men, in two very large teams that do not even have the same number of players each (the School-house boys are outnumbered). The whole thing is like a lightly-regulated riot.

Obviously, in both teams the big young men of the sixth form dominate, but little Tom has his modest moment of glory, when he helps prevent a goal that would have defeated the School-house and is praised by Brooke, the captain of his house:

And now the last minutes are come, and the School gather for their last rush, every boy of the hundred and twenty who has a run left in him. Reckless of the defence of their own goal, on they come across the level big-side ground, the ball well down amongst them, straight for our goal, like the column of the Old Guard up the slope at Waterloo. All former charges have been child's play to this. Warner and Hedge have met them, but still on they come. The bull-dogs rush in for the last time; they are hurled over or carried back, striving hand, foot, and eyelids. Old Brooke comes sweeping round the skirts of the play, and turning short round, picks out the very heart of the scrummage, and plunges in. It wavers for a moment; he has the ball. No, it has passed him, and his voice rings out clear over the advancing tide, “Look out in goal!” Crab Jones catches it for a moment; but before he can kick, the rush is upon him and passes over him; and he picks himself up behind them with his straw in his mouth, a little dirtier, but as cool as ever.

The ball rolls slowly in behind the School-house goal, not three yards in front of a dozen of the biggest School players-up.

There stands the School-house praepostor, safest of goal-keepers, and Tom Brown by his side, who has learned his trade by this time. Now is your time, Tom. The blood of all the Browns is up, and the two rush in together, and throw themselves on the ball, under the very feet of the advancing column—the praepostor on his hands and knees, arching his back, and Tom all along on his face. Over them topple the leaders of the rush, shooting over the back of the praepostor, but falling flat on Tom, and knocking all the wind out of his small carcass. “Our ball,” says the praepostor, rising with his prize; “but get up there; there's a little fellow under you.” They are hauled and roll off him, and Tom is discovered, a motionless body.

Old Brooke picks him up. “Stand back, give him air,” he says; and then feeling his limbs, adds, “No bones broken.—How do you feel, young un?”

“Hah-hah!” gasps Tom, as his wind comes back; “pretty well, thank you—all right.”

“Who is he?” says Brooke.

“Oh, it's Brown; he's a new boy; I know him,” says East, coming up.

“Well, he is a plucky youngster, and will make a player,” says Brooke.

And five o'clock strikes. “No side” is called, and the first day of the School-house match is over.

It's a wonder the younger boys survive this game.

Anyway, during the victory celebration in the School-house, Brooke, who is about to leave the school, gives a speech and warns them against bullying. He says that they were only able to win this game because, although inferior in numbers, they were better united than their opponents. He says that if bullying is allowed to come back, that unity will be lost and the School-house teams will no longer dominate.

In the following chapters, after Brooke and other sixth-form boys that had been the backbone of the house leave, we see that his prophecies come true. With no one able to curb them, the bullies led by a senior boy named Flashman make the life of the younger boys miserable. Flashman is a nasty piece of work, and when Tom Brown and Harry East lead a rebellion of fags that turns popular opinion in the house against Flashman, the bully decides to target them personally.

Since this is the original public school novel, Flashman remains in popular culture as the trope maker of the irredeemable bully. He features prominently in all the movies and series based on this novel (much more prominently than in the novel itself, actually) and more than a century later an adult Flashman became the protagonist of very successful series of historical novels by George MacDonald Fraser.

After they finally are rid of Flashman, Tom and Harry start going down the wrong path themselves, repeatedly breaking the school rules and neglecting their studies in favor of having a good time.

In the second part of the novel, the story changes when Tom is asked to help a weak, sensitive new boy, who would surely have a bad time in such a school without some guidance and protection. Tom is reluctant, but the matron knowingly appeals to his better nature and he accepts. For once, Tom takes his responsibility seriously. However, the new boy ends up helping Tom even more than Tom has helped him, becoming his conscience and his guide in spiritual matters. Tom even falls in love with him (a Platonical, manly love, what did you think).

Yes, there are still a good number of classical schoolboy scrapes, like the epic fight between Tom and "Slogger" Williams, that ends without a clear winner and with both boys having gained respect for each other. In fact, the novel doesn't gloss over some of the worst features of school life at Rugby. Now, however, the novel's preachiness turns religious. But perhaps that adjective doesn't do it justice, because it's more than religion. Let's say, the boys experience some spiritual growth. Again, completely different than what we would get in a modern novel. It's done gracefully, in a sentimental fashion, which some readers will dislike but I appreciated (I became emotional in a couple of places... yes, I'm hopeless).

Finally, boys grow up and become men, but Tom, now a student at Oxford, comes back to pay tribute and reflect when he learns about Dr. Arnold's untimely death.

And that's the novel. It's certainly not everyone's cup of tea. Many readers will find it overly preachy and boring at certain moments. It's a bit more difficult to enjoy than Talbot Baines Reed's uncomplicated novels, but if you do enjoy it, like I did, you'll enjoy it on a deeper level.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,821 reviews284 followers
March 18, 2021
Tom Brown is sent off to school when an epidemic breaks out in his local school, and, at first, his times at school are scarred with incessant bullying. But then Tom is befriended by Harry East and he is given charge of young George Arthur, and things begin to change. Tom gradually becomes a man of character.

I enjoyed this look at British schools in the 1830s, especially after learning that the author based the story on his own time away at school.

1001 Children's Book You Must Read.
Profile Image for Illiterate.
1,750 reviews31 followers
December 31, 2021
Public schools, muscular Christianity, blah, blah. Read only as a prelude to the Flashman Papers.
Profile Image for Bev.
2,897 reviews258 followers
May 14, 2011
Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes is one of the first (if not the first) books about boys and adventures in public school life. First published in 1857, Hughes was looking to write a novel for boys that would tell about the public school life “in a right spirit but distinctly aimed at being interesting.” In it, he introduces us to Tom Brown—first describing his home village and his life there and then following Tom through his years at Rugby under Dr. Arnold. We are given Tom’s experiences as a new boy with everything from his first football match to being tossed in a blanket. And then follow him through the rigors of learning Latin and Greek to learning what it means to be a true British gentleman. We are taken over the countryside to investigate kestrel nests and to fish in forbidden waters; we see Tom defend a younger boy’s honor in his first and last fist fight; and finally we see Tom at the end of his school days as captain of the cricket team and having learned all his lessons well.

This is a very interesting snapshot of life at the public school in early Victorian times. Dr. Arnold (a real personage) has recently taken over as the master of Rugby and is trying to instill the ethics of the good, Christian British gentleman while reining in the bullying and other nastiness that public schools have been known for. Most important of the lessons Tom learns is that of fighting the good fight—for what you believe in, for the good of a friend, for the underdog. I think this quote does a good job of exemplifying this:

...so bear in mind that majorities, especially respectable ones, are nine times out of ten in the wrong; and that if you see man or boy striving earnestly on the weak side, however wrong-headed or blundering he may be, you are not to go and join the cry against him. If you can't join him and help him, and make him wiser, at any rate remember that he has found something in the world which he will fight and suffer for....

After a difficult period of tricks and trouble, Tom is given a younger, new boy to take under his wing and it is then that he really begins to learn the life lessons that Dr. Arnold values.

The beginning drags on a bit. It takes quite a while to actually get Tom to school. Once there the story itself is interesting and very informative of this time period. We learn a lot about what a boy’s life in the public school of the time would have been like. It is perhaps idealized in part—it is obvious that Hughes, who really did attend Rugby under Dr. Arnold, has rosy memories and great respect for the master of Rugby. Hughes does tend to go on a bit with a preachy attitude about the moral of the story, but this is understandable given the time period.
Profile Image for Paul Foley.
114 reviews4 followers
October 29, 2012
The point of education is not to learn stuff, but to build character... according to this 19th century classic of a boy's life at an English public (that is, private) school. Character is of course built playing sports, like Rugby football, a sport which in this book resembles a kind of riot with rules, where small boys are pitted against large boys and little or no thought is given to the dangers of concussion, broken limbs, or death. It's a rough and tumble environment, great fun until someone loses an eye, and perhaps even after someone does lose an eye.

"Character" and "fair play" are much emphasized but remain forever fuzzy concepts in this book, which rather deflates its moral purpose. Jolly great fun is had by chucking stones at Irish laborers and otherwise tormenting the lower classes. "Fagging"--the practice of young boys having to fetch and carry for the older boys (and yes, that's where the word comes from)-- is an accepted and honored institution. That's different from bullying, at least in Thomas Hughes' ethic. Bullies are of course cowards, and standing up to bullies is another of the things that builds "character". Peaching on one's fellows does not build character, quite the opposite in fact, and boys must never go to the school authorities with tales of bullying. A lesson which makes me extremely thankful that we no longer live in the 19th century.

As a window on the past, Tom Brown's School Days is highly interesting. As interesting for what it leaves out as for what it includes. Most conspicuously left out is sex. Or not so much left out as sublimated, and in a manner that is startlingly obvious to the modern reader. Adolescent Tom Brown takes under his wing young Arthur, a "new boy" who is pale, sensitive, the very picture of an angel... or of a girl. Tom hovers over him, protects him, can't bear to be separated from him; all in a very Christian manly way of course. Right. When this most feminine of young boys falls ill, Hughes' narrative indulges in perhaps the most icky religious sentimentality that was ever penned. It's priceless.

I found Tom Brown's School Days a fun rewarding read. Though probably for none of the reasons Thomas Hughes intended.
Profile Image for Surreysmum.
1,116 reviews
May 30, 2010
[These notes were made in 1984:]. Despite the preachiness and rather offensive Toryism, I rather enjoyed this - really the grand-daddy of school-stories. The shape is so familiar - from new boy through various troubles to responsible upper-school-man, the whole thing ending with a gala of some sort: in this case, a cricket match. Hughes does not attempt to hide the fact that Tom's hero-worship of Dr. Arnold is autobiographical in origin. But I doubt if there was any real-life counterpart of the saintly Arthur (unless, perhaps, he was a relative of Tennyson's A.H.H.?); and I doubt very much if Flashman the bully was drawn entirely from life. The whole picture seems so very pretty and naive, even with the fagging and the bullying, compared to the cynical view of the public schools we have come to accept. There is one curious passage about "miserable little pretty white-handed curly-headed boys, petted and pampered by some of the big fellows, who ... did all they could to spoil them for everything in this world and the next," which Hughes footnotes mysteriously "I can't strike out the passage: many boys will know why it is left in." As an Old Boy, one can only assume that Hughes was well aware of the sexual goings-on, but this is as close as he gets to mentioning them. Tom apparently exists in a sexless realm of brotherly love and hero-worship until he's 19 years old! Oh well, it's a kid's book, and that makes the preachiness a little less objectionable too, since kids have a high tolerance level for that sort of thing - they have no qualms about skipping! This book is the very embodiment of that Victorian English complacency I find half fascinating and entirely repulsive: how could one be so very sure that one's home, one's school, one's Church and one's God were the only possible ones for the best sort of man?
Profile Image for Michele.
617 reviews167 followers
October 13, 2019
A charming picture of England's best (loyalty, courage, honor, might for right) without any of its worst (colonialism, repression, might makes right). The values of Tom Brown appear in stark contrast to those exhibited by certain current Brits (and Americans). For example, here is Tom talking about the influence and impact of the headmaster of Rugby:

"...[W[e listened, as all...will listen...to a man who we felt to be, with all his heart and soul and strength, striving against whatever was mean and unmanly and unrighteous in our little world...the warm, living voice of one who was fighting for us and by our sides, and calling on us to help him and ourselves and one another."

And here is the headmaster, offering some advice:

"...[B]ear in mind that majorities, especially respectable ones, are nine times out of ten in the wrong; and that if you see a man or boy striving earnestly on the weak side, however wrong-headed or blundering he may be, you are not to go and join the cry against him. If you can't join him and help him, and make him wiser, at any rate remember that he has found something in he world which he will fight and suffer for, which is just what you have got to do for yourselves, and so think and speak of him tenderly."

That said, I admit to skipping the 20+ page blow-by-blow account of the final rugby game lol
Profile Image for Filipa.
1,699 reviews249 followers
August 27, 2015
So this is one of the worst books I've read this year...my entire life, actually. I had high expectations because some of my teachers in college talked about it and I was certainly curious. Turns out that I did like the theme, I think it is reflects perfectly a lot of ideas about education, society and colonial issues in the British culture of the nineteenth century but the author's writing is unbelievable. He mentions in the preface wanting to preach about something he believed in but if you want to preach, you do it in a convincing, pleasurable way. You do it in that way so you can beckon future followers of your ideals. But Hughes preaches in a way that makes you want to do something appropriately desperate so that you can escape his writing. If this wasn't for college purposes, I wouldn't even have gotten to page 100. As it is, I read the parts that interested me and the rest, I just don't know what was going on with my head. Why would anyone want to read this and furthermore why would any teacher want his students to go through something like this?! They sure do like to make us suffer.
Profile Image for Leslie.
2,660 reviews202 followers
February 14, 2018

This book struck me as being the boys' version of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women - the same mixture of stories of childhood events and moralizing. Not being a boy nor from England, this one didn't make the same connection with me that Alcott's classic did.

I was spurred to read this by the references to it in Flashman, which I read (and hugely enjoyed) last year. It was interesting to see how Hughes portrayed Flashman, who was much more prominent in this book than I had expected. Fraser did a great job taking such a cowardly bully & sneak and, without making him a different person, making him the 'hero'. That interest & the lovely illustrations by Rhead made me give this an extra ½ star.
Profile Image for Laghima.
5 reviews11 followers
July 21, 2019
This book is really close to my heart , I read it as a kid , and couldn't help but read and re-read it again and again ...
Profile Image for Emilie Reads.
44 reviews3 followers
January 26, 2021
This was a bit long at times, but I liked the story. The boarding school setting worked very well for this. Hughes used sports to illustrate the character development of from a rough rugby to strategic cricket. It also stresses the importance of caring for others and how it should be incorporated in education.

Thomas Hughes was a student at Rugby school himself under the headmaster Thomas Arnold. This appears in several parts of the novel.
Profile Image for Dave/Maggie Bean.
155 reviews11 followers
July 30, 2011
I hate to admit it, but my introduction to young Master Brown was via George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series. Fraser’s anti-hero was based on Hughes’ school bully, Harry Flashman. I hate to admit it even more, but Fraser’s Flashman is such a likeable villain; I actually put off reading Hughes’ novel because of said character’s loathing for Brown.

Having since read it, I can honestly say that I find Brown even more likeable than his nemesis, as he was hardly the “goody two shoes” Fraser’s version of Flashman made him out to be. As Clarence A. Andrews, in his introduction to the 1968 Airmont edition of Tom Brown…accurately states: “There are no really bad boys here, no saints. For the most part, these are boys who, while young, will violate seemingly every rule in the book of morals and manners – and then will grow up to be like their fathers – landed gentry, merchants, rectors and deacons, and members of parliament.”

I don’t know that this book will be everyone’s cup of tea. A typical Victorian novel for boys, it follows the protagonist’s education at Rugby from childhood until graduation. It’s a tad stuffy and moralistic in parts (Hughes himself admitted as much), but overall, it’s a good, fun read –even for an old fart like me. Perhaps I’m succumbing to a bit of nostalgic “phantom pain,” as it were, but (the fact that I’m an overgrown, Scots-Irish guttersnipe, myself, notwithstanding) I like the idea of an age in which men sent their sons to school to become “…brave, helpful, truth-telling Englishmen, and gentlemen, and Christians.”

I disagree with Hughes in many, many respects. His notion of the proper role of the State, for example, raises my Hillbilly hackles and sets my tobacco-stained teeth on edge. Be that as it may, there’s much to be said for _Tom Brown’s School Days_, and I recommend it highly.

I’d never heard of it (let alone considered reading it) until I encountered George MacDonald Fraser’s _Flashman_ series, while I was in college. Fraser (one of my favorite authors) had taken Hughes’s nastiest character and made him the protagonist in a hilarious Victorian series, relating Harry Flashman’s post-Rugby misadventures. As Fraser’s Flashman clearly loathed Brown (and I actually liked ol’ Flashy, despicable as he was) I opted to dig a little deeper. I purchased Hughes’s book when I was nineteen -- and let it sit on the shelf, gathering dust, until I was thirty-nine. Youth is truly wasted on the young…

Hughes’s novel – a quintessentially Victorian novel, at that – chronicles the education of Tom Brown, a middle-class English boy, at a thinly disguised version of Thomas Arnold’s Rugby. If nothing else, it proves that boys are boys – and that there’s truly nothing new under the sun. But there’s quite a bit else, as luck would have it. Unlike his proximate contemporary, Dickens (another favorite of mine), Hughes admits the English Public Schools’ shortcomings without "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." Ultimately -- to reiterate -- he portrays them as institutions which, when properly run, produce "brave, helpful, truth-telling gentlemen, and Christians."

My political and ideological disagreements with Hughes notwithstanding, I’d die happy if Post-American America could produce even one such boy – whether privately, publicly, or home-schooled.

And don’t even bother with BBC’s nauseating movie adaptation. It leaves only a vaguely urine-smelling stain upon Hughes’s literary legacy. The actor who plays Arnold gets it right (he’s the movie’s saving grace), but everything else is dead wrong.
Profile Image for Wreade1872.
688 reviews140 followers
August 15, 2018
This starts well enough, a love letter to old england. Its view of early 1800's schools being pretty unique. The story has a fair bit to say about bullying which i found surprising, when you have in Dickens kids being beaten and starved to death i wouldn't have thought anything as smalltime as bullying would register with the victorians ;).
Some of the slang and other word usage can be a little difficult at times. Our protagonist is also a little too tough to completely sympathize with. You expect someone a little weaker for a coming of age tale like this. The narrator can also be a bit of a problem as you always feel his presence and that adds more distance between reader and characters.

But its still not bad and at the half-way point looks like improving. The introduction of a weaker character seems as if its correcting one of the issues i pointed out.
However thats when it all starts to fall apart. The book devolves into an insipid mess, actually reminded me of What Katy Did, not the sort of company any book should want to be in ;) .
Its also far too sporadic and makes too many time leaps preventing any potential connection to the characters.

At its best its ok, but for parts of the second half its far from its best.

Listened to some of it on a good Librivox recording.
Profile Image for Joel Van Valin.
107 reviews2 followers
January 26, 2018
An excellent bildungsroman from the 19th century, following the adventures of young Tom Brown just before and during his schooling at Rugby. Episodic in nature, the novel's charm for me lay in its Victorian mix of nostalgia and laid back moralism- and the subjects they are taught. (Most class time seems spent declining Latin verbs, while Tom has such a poor grasp of geography he does not seem to know the location of the United States!) Some critics have claimed that the Harry Potter books borrow a lot from Tom Brown's School Days. Those critics must not have actually read Hughes' book, as it has absolutely nothing to do with magic, orphans, or evil wizards. There is a good deal of cricket though! A wonderful novel in its own, very original way.
Profile Image for Frazer.
321 reviews11 followers
September 25, 2020
I'm a bit of a sucker for this type of book. Both its sentimental Victorian style, and its boys'-own subject matter.

Yes, it's over-wrought, a bit preachy at times, twee, and seems to turn all of a sudden (two thirds of the way through) from a rollicking Just William tale of mischief and miscreants to make the case for piety and Christian sincerity. I'm sure this could've been a bit less disjointed.

BUT: it has some quite lovely character sketches, playful changes of register (from the biblical epic to the pundit), and believable protagonists (at least for the 19th century).

Must be read lightly and with a pinch of salt. But also repays being open to its touching moments.
Profile Image for A.J..
Author 3 books7 followers
January 9, 2011
Downloaded this as an ebook from Project Gutenberg.

One of those books which is definitely 'of its time'. It was slow to start - about a fifth of it had gone by before Tom actually got to school - and then ponderous and moralistic as it went on. I can see that the description of the game of Rugby would be very interesting for historians of that sport, but the heavy-handedness of the religious and moral messages in the book made it hard to read for me.
Profile Image for Justin.
98 reviews6 followers
July 25, 2011
I very very rarely put a book down without finishing it. I love Victorian novels, but I could not get into this one. I read about 150 pages and then called it quits. It was too preachy for me. It went into too much detail about how to play various rough games and sports, none of which I am the least bit interested in. I suppose it is a good snapshot of public school life, but there are many other, and better, novels that are capable of accomplishing the same. I did, however, enjoy Hughes' conversational narration and informal tone, and how he spoke directly to the reader in the second person.
Profile Image for Wayne Farmer.
379 reviews7 followers
November 24, 2015
While the "story" in Tom Brown's schooldays isn't particularly exciting (I'm sure people would find what I did at school just as exciting...), the book does give us a fascinating insight into school life in the 1840s. Out of the 2 books I actually preferred the lesser known Tom Brown at Oxford as it seemed to have a bit more of a plot in the form of his various romances. Again the novel gave us an interesting look at Oxford University later in the 1800s. Overall I enjoyed both novels for the way they were written, and for the historical side of things, as opposed to the story they told.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
June 5, 2008
I had to read this for school. Loathed it. I had to compare it to Harry Potter, of all things. That was not a happy module for me. It's just... stodgy. Unexciting. Full of Good Sound Education about Empire and Leading The World.
Profile Image for Christine.
3 reviews1 follower
August 8, 2012
I made a lot of connections between this 1857 English novel and Robert Cormier's 1977 novel The Chocolate War. I wrote a 20 page paper comparing the two and how they portray Catholic schools negatively, and are really novels for adults, rather than children.
Profile Image for Callum.
12 reviews
December 29, 2020
An English classic, will definitely have to read it to my sons if I ever have any.
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