REVIEWSrnBrookfield Revisitedrnby Michael McMahonrnLetters Between a Victorian Schoolboyrnand His Family, 1892-1895rnEdited by David Lisle CranernPrivately published (available throughrnw vvw.worldwidebooks.comj;rn433 pp., £35.00rnThe Golden Year of the Golden Agernof Hollywood was, perhaps, 1939.rnAmongst its many films that have sincernbecome classics —including Gone Withrnthe Wind, ‘The Wizard of Oz, WutheringrnHeights, Stagecoach, and The Hunchbackrnof Notre Dame—was the first (andrnbest) version of James Hilton’s novelrnGoodbye, Mr. Chips. The film (like thernbook) tells the stor)’ of the three loves inrnits hero’s life: the boys he teaches, thernwife he marries, and the school he servesrnfor a lifetime and whose values he comesrnto represent. As he ages, Mr. Chips looksrnback on, and champions, what he thinksrnof as the golden years of the English publicrnschool. It is precisely this era that isrncovered, as fact, by Letters Between a VictorianrnSchoolboy and His Family. Thernfictional Mr. Chipping would have beenrnbeginning the third of his five decades asrna master at the imaginary BrookfieldrnSchool when the very real —and veryrnsmall—Tankred Tunstall-Behrens arrivedrnas a boarder at Clifton College,rnnear Bristol, and encountered the Victorianrnpublic school myth for himself.rnLetters is a remarkable book. DavidrnCrane has assembled the complete correspondencernbetween Tankred and his parents,rnother letters that passed between thernfamily and the school, and a host of associatedrndocuments and ephemera includingrnreports, examination papers, and contemporaryrnmagazine articles. Nearly arnhundred photographs, as well as maps,rndrawings, and facsimile manuscripts, illustraternand support the text. There is arnfull critical introduction by Julia Crane,rnDavid’s wife. The book is annotated,rncross-referenced, and indexed in a wayrnthat makes its content accessible even tornthose who knov’ nothing of English historyrnor culture. And though few of thernbook’s readers will need to turn to the biographicalrnindex to discover that “Alfredrnthe Great (849-901)” was “King of thernWest Saxons,” those puzzled by a passingrnreference to “Blackie” will be as amusedrnas they are enlightened to find him listedrnas “a Newfield goldfish (d. 1895).” Thernediting is nothing if not comprehensive,rnand displays the kind of scholarly attentionrnto detail that you would expect ofrnone who has recentiy re-edited The MerryrnWives of Windsor for the CambridgernUniversit)’ Press.rnLetters provides an unusually completernpicture of upper-middle-class life inrnlate Victorian England. The charactersrnrevealed here are very much of theirrntime, but they are not all bound by it, forrnthis was, after all, an age on the very cusprnof modernit)’. On one page, there is arnphotograph of the boy’s aunts Lilian andrnMabel pedaling a kind of archaic doubletandem;rna few pages later, his mother,rnMin, is pictured in the open cockpit of arnbiplane. Min is, in some ways, the mostrnsympathetic character to emerge fromrnthe correspondence. The warmth of herrnpersonalit)- and her enthusiasm for socialrnjustice, democracy, and the emancipationrnof women remind one very much ofrnher fictional contemporary, Katherine,rnthe short-lived and much-loved wife ofrnMr. Chips. (Though, had Hilton letrnKatherine live, it is perhaps unlikely thatrnit would have been so that she could designrnand patent an “omnidress” to allowrnwomen the freedom of movement necessaryrnfor their emancipated state. Minrndid.) Min was much loved, too; not leastrnby her brother, John Tunstall, who wroternwith embarrassing intensity to his sister’srnfuture husband that “no one on earth wasrnever more adored by Father, Mother &rnBrother than my Dear Dear Sister is; wernare as completely wrapt up in her, as everrna lover was in the object of his love.”rnTiuistall was writing from New Mexicornand could not return to England becausernof the “extremely critical position of [his]rnaffairs.” That, at least, was no exaggeration:rnHe was killed shortiy afterward inrnan incident which started the LincolnrnCount}- War and made Billy the Kid arnlegendar’ figure.rnFor all the incidental interests that arerntouched upon in this collection of lettersrn—the moral, political, and religiousrnpreoccupations of the time, and the charactersrnthat weave in and out—the realrnheart of the collection is the struggle ofrnTankred to work out a relationship withrnthe phenomenon that dominates thernbook: the Victorian public school. Hernwas sent to one because Leu, his father,rnhad a view of such places which was everyrnbit as romantic as that represented inrnGoodbye, Mr. Chips. For Leu was a foreignerrn—a German immigrant who wasrndetermined to found a family dynasty inrnhis adopted country, untarnished in honorrnand based squarely on the respect hernexpected from the son who was to be hisrnheir. It must have seemed to him thatrnthere was no better place to reinforcernsuch values than Clifton, a school selfconsciouslyrnfounded to provide the expandingrnempire of Britain with leadersrnamong men. It was, in some ways, a goodrnchoice. After all, it was to be an OldrnCliftonian, Sir Henry Newbolt, whornwould later write that most patrioticrn(and now, sadly, much-mocked) ofrnpublic-school poems, “Vitai Lampada”rn(“There’s a breathless hush in the Closernto-night— / Ten to make and the matchrnto win . . . ” ) . The stirring message isrnalso a simple one: that the teamwork,rncourage, and self-sacrificing stiff-upperlipperyrnthat is practiced on the playingrnfields of English public schools turn intornheroism in time of war.rnWhat Leu failed to realize was that onernof the rules binding the whole system togetherrnis that even its unjust punishmentsrnhave to be accepted without complaint.rnA key strand of the correspondence relatesrnTankred’s moral outrage when he isrnbeaten by his house prefects for some minorrnoffense of which he claims innocence,rnand his father’s rigid defense ofrnthe offended honor of his son. Germanicrnheels dig in, and the letters that fly tornand from the school become increasinglyrnheated. Tankred comes very close tornbeing thrown out. On March 10, 1895,rnLeu writes to his house tutor:rnWill you kindly explain to me thernpowers and limits of power of thernVI form boys. Is their serious responsibilityrnsupposed to excluderngenflemanly behaviour & permitrncowardice? Can a praefect [sic] dornno wrong & is therefore unpunishable?rn—If such is an existing error atrnClifton I desire to expose it & havernit rectified.rnSEPTEMBER 1999/29rnrnrn