Tom Brown's Schooldays Part Two

Chapter 1 

Because a large part of this exam is concerned with attitudes and values, you might find the second half of the story a little bit difficult to stomach. The attitudes and values Hughes introduces through the character of George Arthur, the new boy that Tom and east are given responsibility for are very Victorian indeed. 

Arthur is the son of a clergyman, who died of typhus working among impoverished working men in an industrial city and Hughes makes it clear that the Christian values that shaped Arthur’s father and the boy himself, are the values that turn Tom Brown and his closest friends into decent Christian men, through their contact with the young boy. The Doctor’s sermons have already had a small effect on Tom, but it is the practical working out of Christian kindness and charity when Tom has to take care of the delicate newcomer that really have a profound effect on the character’s development. There is a good deal of Victorian sentimentalism in this half of the book, which you may want to reject as tosh. Please remember that your study is contextual. The novel is a product of its time, written by a Christian for a predominantly Christian audience. It uses Victorian styles and reflects Victorian attitudes and values. You are not required to do anything other than recognise them and comment on them objectively. Piety, sentimentality, fevers, deathbeds, angelic blond-headed children and all other Victorian ingredients are to be expected and they appear in abundance in part two, so be prepared and be open-minded if you can. Hughes’ audience would have loved it. You probably won’t, but it doesn’t matter. 

Arthur is a timid boy who is ‘delicate’. This is a typical Victorian stereotype and an interesting contrast to the robust character of Tom. Arthur is assigned to Tom’s new study and he is split up from East. It is obvious that the Doctor has arranged this as they two boys are invited to tea with the Doctor on the first day back. It is soon apparent that Tom will have to assume the role of guardian to Arthur, as he is so gentle and shy. When he kneels down to say his prayers in the dormitory on the first night, Tom has to intervene to prevent the other boys form bullying Arthur. He does so and then the ‘conversion’ of Tom begins. He realises that he promised his own mother that he would pray every day when he went off to school, but of course he has never done so. In order to protect Arthur from ridicule, Tom decides that he will kneel down and pray with him. Quite soon, many other boys follow this example in the dormitory and Hughes makes it clear that this had, eventually a good effect all over the school.

Chapter 2

Tom in effect becomes a ‘new boy’ again, but Hughes uses the term metaphorically. It is a ‘new side’ to Tom’s character that comes out as he takes on the job of being Arthur’s friend. This causes some tension at first between East and Tom, but East is won over by Tom’s determination to ‘stick at it’ with Arthur and try to bring out the ‘pluck’ (courage) in the boy. 

There is an odd section in this chapter concerning the ‘miserable little pretty white-handed curly-headed boys’ who were ‘petted and pampered’ by some of the ‘big fellows’. Hughes is elliptical here and seems to be referring to relationships that he considers to have been rather sordid. Modern readers will no doubt catch on to what he seems to be implying straight away, but he of course is very careful not to spell out what he really means. The little boys are ‘spoiled’ and Hughes in a footnote hints darkly at why this passage is ‘left in’ the book. Tom and East deal with the little ‘whippersnapper’ by giving him a kicking for trying to get School House boys to fag for his protector. It’s a interesting little digression and worth a note as to why Hughes doesn’t go into details except to have Tom describe the type as the ‘worst sort we breed’ and to be thankful that ‘no big fellow ever petted me’. Not a lot of tolerance, though. If ‘curly headed boys’ are euphemisms for homosexuals, then Tom and East indulge in a spot of ‘queer bashing’, which sits rather oddly with Tom’s newfound inclination to pray in the dormitory.

 However, Arthur soon manages to persuade Tom, again by example, that Bible reading is also a good way to pass the time. In addition, we find Tom asking Arthur to use his Christian name, rather than the traditional ‘Brown’. The two boys become friends and exchange confidences, Arthur being very willing to share details of his home and his family with Tom. In a touching digression, Hughes gives the reader details of Arthur’s father’s ministry among the poor working classes of Turley (a fictitious industrial centre in the Midlands) and we see the Christian influence of that good man on his only child. Note here that Hughes will be writing from fact. Men like Arthur’s father did work in circumstances as described and very often paid for it with their lives. The result of the new friendship is that East and one or two other boys join Tom and Arthur for Bible readings and discussions in their study on most nights of the week.  

Chapter 3

Arthur makes a new friend (a boy of his own age in his own class) called Martin. He is a mad scientist and Hughes describes him as ‘out of place’ at a public school. This is an interesting idea, because science was still considered rather strange and not a serious academic subject (note the early Victorian emphasis on Classics rather than the present day emphasis on science and technology). It’s called ‘natural philosophy’ in this book. Martin, therefore, is the butt of good many practical jokes because of his collections of birds and various other creatures. In fact we might even say that he is bullied in a way for his odd academic interests. Tom is pleased that Arthur is making friend of his own, as he feels that he is missing the opportunity to spend time with his former friends. Hughes makes it clear that the ‘new’ Tom is becoming a better person for having no time to spend in breaking the rules, but at the same time there is a suggestion that Tom needs to give ‘more time to the education of his own body’ (i.e. physical pastimes like fishing and playing sport) which he cannot do because Arthur is not yet ‘up to it’. 

Martin and Arthur get on well and form a quartet of friends with East and Tom. Arthur is to be initiated into country pastimes like bird nesting and egg collecting, which gives Tom the chance to get out too. The chapter ends with the account of the ‘vulgus’ exercise. Three times a week the pupils are set several lines of translation and a construction (composition) in either Greek or Latin, which is done as homework and then read out in class. The master marks the vulgus and if a boy cannot do the exercise he is demoted to the bottom of the class. Some boys have collections of past exercises written out in ‘vulgus books’ which they use to compose their own efforts . Tom has one of these books and does his homework from it. Pupils without a vulgus book write out the lines in English first, then put them into the Latin or Greek with a dictionary. Martin has to do this.The clever students, like Arthur, compose freely in Latin or Greek without help at all. Later on this will form the basis of the attempt by Arthur to 'reform' Tom and make him take his academic studies seriously. 

Chapter 4 may well be one of the most non PC ones in the book, dealing as it does with an expedition to steal eggs from nesting birds, then having a jolly time hunting them with stones. Readers in Hughes time, of course would have found it rather a delightful account and seen nothing at all wrong in it. Consider the fact that it was Victorian naturalists who researched and catalogued a good deal of the animal kingdom and you’ll see why. This is all good clean fun, as far as the author is concerned. You’ll no doubt want to make some serious points about conservation and respect for the animals. (Maybe.) and obviously you can see that Hughes is restoring the balance with Arthur becoming initiated into the ways of the countryside, presumably in exchange for teaching the others how to read the bible.

The most peculiar thing here is the incident with the farmer and his hired man. They chase the boys because quite rightly they object to them trying to stone a guinea fowl to take home for dinner. The boys run and meet two sixth formers on the way back to school. Notice how the sixth formers deal with the countrymen. They have not seen the incident – Tom and the others lie through their teeth that they were doing nothing wrong and Holmes and Diggs immediately back their schoolmates. They address the farmer as ‘Farmer’ and tell him it’s his entire fault for ‘leaving all that poultry about’ and that he deserves to have them stolen. In fact they behave in a very arrogant and patronising way, convincing the farmer that they are masters, not students. The threat to take the farmer up to school to see the Doctor makes him change his attitude and the matter is settled by payment of a bribe to the farmer of two shillings and the boys are let go. The morality here is very twisted. Holmes lectures the boys on the immorality of stealing chickens immediately after he has lied about it to the farmer and East goes back later on to raid the farmer’s barn. This time he is ‘severely handled’ (probably beaten by the farmhands) and has to pay them off with an eight shilling bribe to escape being reported to school. Obviously readers are meant to assume that the class status of the Rugby students puts them above the law of common men, while there is also an assumption that amongst themselves some sort of code of honour operates – perhaps not being caught out by the lower classes? 

Quite how young Arthur’s Christian morals fit in here is not made clear. We can assume that Tom, East and Martin have elastic consciences about telling lies, but it’s strange that Arthur not only says nothing, but actively joins in the deception of the farmer by the sixth form students. Perhaps it’s meant to be part of his acclimatisation into the world of ‘jolly good fellows’.

 Chapter 5 

Inevitably, Tom is called on to defend Arthur against bullying with his fists and this chapter recounts that incident. Tom himself, remember, succeeded in neutralising Flashman by beating him up, with East, two against one after the roasting incident and in this chapter we see the same kind of defence on behalf of a smaller boy who is victimised for his intelligence and honesty. 

Again, we have a subject that is now rather non PC, but Hughes defends the right of physical settling of scores vigorously. Note how he justifies the use of fist fighting, too – ‘what would life be without fighting?’ – he asks. (page 265) It seems that he is suggesting that it is a natural part of human nature and we see once again that he equates it with manliness. In fact you might almost say that Hughes sees the ritual of a fight between two boys as something similar to the knight’s code of honour, because he describes Tom’s only serious fight as a ‘passage-at-arms’.  

The incident arises because of an incident in class. The boys have a new young teacher who makes the pupils translate the normal set number of lines of Homer’s Iliad very quickly. Only Arthur has learned enough to go past this point and he is translating as the lesson is nearing its end. Unfortunately, he bursts into tears as he reaches two very beautiful lines and the master stops him. ‘Slogger’ Williams, the ‘cock of the shell’ (the toughest boy in the class) threatens to beat Arthur up for stopping at the difficult part and is made to go down in class for knocking Tom’s books off the desk when Tom objects. The master asks ‘Slogger’ to translate and he can’t do it. He lies about only having to learn forty lines for the lesson and Arthur, asked by the master if this is true, says it isn’t. ‘Slogger is put down again and decides to kill Arthur after class for being a ‘young sneak’. Tom intervenes as ‘Slogger’ is holding Arthur by the collar later that day and offers to fight him instead. 

The fight is described accurately and has every aspect of an old-fashioned fist fight. Gloves are not used, as the fight is ‘bare-knuckle’, although the boys do have seconds and a ring is marked out by the spectators. There are set ‘rounds’ which are timed and a fair amount of unofficial betting goes on amongst the spectators. As with the description of the rugby match in part one, the narrative goes quite quickly here and you will recognise most of the ‘rules’, although you might note the ‘unsporting’ use of the wrestling fall by Tom, which causes the fight to be stopped for a while. Note, too, how Brooke’s arrival and his ruling that wrestling holds above the waist are fair game is enough to let it continue. Presumably, like the professional prize fights of the time, the match would have gone on until one of the fighters was unable to stand up and ‘threw in his sponge’, but the under porter (a school servant) arrives to tell the competitors that the Doctor ‘will be out in a minute’. 

When the Doctor arrives the fight stops, with neither boy the winner. Notice how he handles the situation and how Brooke justifies the fight by saying that it will clear the air between two school houses. This seems to be acceptable and the fact that neither of the boys is disciplined seems to suggest that the Doctor agrees with Brooke’s reasoning.  Tom feels ‘very friendly to the Slogger after the fight, so it seems that Brooke was right. Again we have the theme of honour and ‘fighting for the School House flag’. 

Hughes writes a lengthy defence of boxing and fighting with fists (pp 281 – 283), claiming it to be the ‘natural English way for English boys to settle their quarrels’ and advises his readers to learn to box ‘as you learn to play cricket and football’. He then advises them to ‘keep out of fighting’ which seems to be a contradiction, then contradicts himself again by advising them never to back down from a fight ‘if you fear a licking’. The sentiments here are really odd for a modern audience to grasp, but presumably they would make some sense to Victorians. 

Chapter 6

Contextually, in a novel of this period, there would have to be death, or a serious threat of death to one of the characters. Dickens usually kills off angelic little children or equally vulnerable characters in his novels. Hughes is no exception and the vulnerable character who faces the Grim Reaper here is, naturally, Arthur. 

A word here about how pupils got ‘up the school’. Progress depended not on age, but academic ability. Getting into the sixth is not automatic after the sixteenth birthday in this novel. Tom and East stay in the fifth because they can’t do the work to the level required for sixth form, while young Arthur is into the sixth form at sixteen, two years younger than Tom and East are. He is still ‘delicate’ – a Victorian euphemism for ‘not very healthy’ and when fever breaks out at school, he gets it. Hughes doesn’t say what sort of fever it was, but you should know that outbreaks of quite serious infectious diseases were common at that time, sanitation being what it was and people did die very quickly and in quite large numbers when an outbreak happened. The first casualty is Thompson, who dies and Arthur is seriously ill. Details of his sickness are not given, but the illness is used as a catalyst for the final ‘conversion’ of Tom, who is worried and anxious about his friend. As Arthur recovers, Tom is allowed to visit him and the meeting between the boys (pp 289-302) is the central moral point of the novel. 

Hughes openly states that he intends to ‘preach’ in part one of this book and this section really is the central point of the extended ‘sermon’ that makes up the second section of this book. Hughes has Arthur deliver the ‘sermon’ to Tom about becoming a better man and giving up using cheats and studying seriously. The sentiments here once again are very typical of the whole book and fit into its contextual form. Arthur (note how he becomes ‘George’ or ‘Geordie’ for this section, to reflect the serious intimacy of the friendship) asks Tom what he wants to do and ‘carry away’ from Rugby (i.e. what he wants from his education). Tom, typically says that he wants to be good at sport and have  just enough Latin & Greek to get through Oxford respectably. Arthur’s opinion is different, of course, and he suggests that Tom should concentrate more on academic study. To this point, the content of the talk is quite unremarkable, but then Hughes has the character of Arthur go into a lengthy account of his near-death experience and the effect that it had on his spiritual state. What he describes is a descent into a kind of spiritual darkness, rather like that which happened to Christ before his resurrection. Arthur ‘seemed to lie in (a) tomb’ when he was at the lowest point of his illness and then had a vision he describes as seeing a ‘multitude’ (crowd) of people on the other bank of a great river. Obviously this is a reference to the figurative River of Jordan and the people Arthur saw were the inhabitants of Heaven. He sees also another multitude on the ‘earthly’ side of the river, all of whom are doing a ‘great work’ and a strange voice speaks to him in explanation of it. Written very metaphorically, Hughes seems to be creating some idea of God’s ‘work’, and suggesting that everyone in earth and in Heaven toils ceaselessly at that task. Arthur does not understand it, but knows that there is ‘work’ still for him to do on earth and believes that his recovery is so that he can do it. Quite what a modern audience makes of this section is unclear. Hughes’ a readers would recognise the imagery, though and the sentiments expressed.

The section is very idealistic, especially the meeting Tom has with Arthur’s mother, Frances and it might be easy to dismiss it all as pious sentimentality. Remember, though that the purpose of the novel is to show the transformation of a rough character into an honourable man and we see that Hughes uses this encounter to show the ‘final touch’ on Tom’s development as that honourable young man. Arthur owes his physical strength to Tom. He would have died if he had not been physically more robust than he used to be and that is due to the sport and exercise that Tom has encouraged him to do at school. In return, Arthur has taught Tom to be Spiritually strong, first by encouraging him to pray, then to read the Bible and lastly to take his academic responsibilities seriously. If Tom is responsible for saving Arthur’s life, so that he can do the ‘great work’, then the same can be said of Arthur, who has saved Tom’s soul. It is interesting to see that the two gifts left for Tom from the Arthur family are a fishing rod and a Bible. 

Chapter 7

In a ripple effect, Arthur’s influence on Tom, to stop using cheats for his Latin and Greek and work seriously, passes on to East, but only after an interesting section about the morality of using them. East’s point of view is that a state of ‘war’ exists between staff and pupils. The masters have to make the pupils learn and the pupils have to find ways to do as little as possible. Provided this is done without lying outright, both sides are content and that is the ‘school morality’. Tom, however, is determined to make a try at doing it Arthur’s way and working honestly without help.

In addition, there is a new set of masters now who treat the boys differently and Tom is determined to try the new way. He wants East to do the same. Tom tells East about Arthur’s vision and his thoughts about life and death and East listens seriously. Hughes here goes into an examination of the nature of the friendship between Tom and East, revealing that East is in fact what would be called today a ‘loner’. Tom’s friendship for East is ‘intimate’ but not emotionally deep at this stage. Tom is the popular boy and East is self contained and aloof. He is not unpopular, but other boys do not seek him out the way that they do Tom. In fact what Hughes suggests is that there is an element of Christian spirituality missing which will either make or break Tom and East’s relationship and this is the time that Tom decides to open his heart to his friend. Again it is the influence of Arthur that has made it possible. In effect what Tom says to East is the same sort of thing Arthur has said to Tom. If East is to be a ‘good man’ then he must also be a Christian. East tells Tom that he is not confirmed (made a member of the Church of England so that he is able to take Holy Communion) and that Tom’s new friendship with Arthur had stopped him from deciding to take Christian instruction for confirmation. Tom feels sad and guilty about this and encourages East to reconsider. Note the way Tom explains the idea of a small band of brothers fighting against the powers of darkness and uses the analogy of forgiving Flashman to make it clearer to East. Tom’s prayer of forgiveness for Flashman when he was confirmed seems to convince East that there is something very significant in the idea of making a Christian commitment. Eventually he decides to go and talk to the Doctor and makes the decision to take instruction and, presumably, become a better person as a result.

 Once again we have to put all this into context for the book and the time it was written. It is perfectly natural that Hughes, with his Christian background, would believe that a conversation like this would happen and that the outcome would be exactly as he tell the reader. It is natural that Tom and East remain friends, as they are the main characters. Arthur is characterised as a kind of catalyst – an agent of change. He is never intended to be the same type of friend to Tom as East, but a good example to all the people he meets. He is idealised and we could say very artificial, or ‘too good to be true’. Hughes uses his character in order to effect a change on Tom, to make him grow up and take his rightful manly place in the world. If Tom does that, then so must East. If Tom discovers the benefits of Christianity, then so must East. You may need to suspend your disbelief at this point in the book and understand the authorial motive. Hughes is preaching, after all. There has to be a change or Tom and East will just be ordinary characters. Hughes needs them to be extraordinary, to make his point about growing up in the right kind of way, so East has to be converted in the same way as Arthur converts Tom.

 Chapter 10

Fittingly enough, Hughes chooses to end the account of Tom’s days at Rugby with a sporting event, this time the annual cricket match with the Marylebone team from Lord’s cricket ground in London. The description of the match is fairly straightforward once more and you should note the poetic imagery. Hughes of course makes Tom Brown the captain and note how the conversation between him, Arthur and the master suggests that there is now a balance between study and sport in Tom’s life. Note, too, the comments about the benefits of team sports like rugby and cricket and the recurring theme of co-operation. In fact the match itself is ended before both sides have played all their innings and declared a win for the opposition, but only for form’ sake. It is the spirit of the game that really counts. The master is the same one who spoke to the Doctor about giving Tom a young person to look after.

East has left school and gone to India into the army and Tom is going on to University at Oxford. There is an interesting interlude when Tom takes tea with the master and they talk about the meaning of work. Work for a living is different to ‘doing some real good in the world’ (the kind of ‘work’ that Arthur saw in his death-vision) and the master’s advice to Tom is to keep the ‘doing good’ idea  ‘before you as your one object’. Later the master tells Tom that the idea of pairing him with Arthur was an experiment of the Doctor’s and that he has watched the development of both boys with great interest. It is at this point that Tom really understands the nature of the |Doctor’s character and realises that he is  a ‘wise and good man’. In fact Arnold, on whom the Doctor is based, was held in great esteem by his staff and by many of the pupils he taught. Hughes comes closest here to being ‘himself’ as he describes how ‘the Doctor’s victory’ over Tom is at that moment ‘complete’. The leaving is very low key, as Tom takes the train (note the progress in transport) to London and ‘the next stage (of his life) upon which he was entering with all the confidence of a young traveller.' 

Chapter 9

In a coda entitled ‘Finis’ (the end) Hughes has an older Tom revisiting Rugby school after the death of the Doctor, to pay his last respects to the Headmaster’s memory. Tom has finished University and hears the news while he is on a fishing trip in Scotland with friends. Typically Hughes takes the opportunity for a homily on the way that death ‘knocks away all props’ so that man can ‘stand on the Rock of Ages’ (God). Tom rushes off to Rugby, where he learns that the Doctor is buried under the altar of the school chapel and goes there to pray. The passage on page 349 is rather beautiful as Tom sits in the deserted chapel and reflects on his days as a Rugby pupil and how much he owes to the man who led the school. In keeping with the sentiments expressed earlier in the book (remind yourself of Arthur’s thoughts on not being afraid of death) he realises that there is no need to feel sad, for the spirit of the Doctor is near him and he will certainly see him again in due course. Hughes leaves the reader with a poignant picture of the young man at the altar rail, a ‘young and brave soul’ and ends the book with what reads like a prayer for all young people to ‘come to the knowledge of Him (God) through our human relationships.


© V Pope 2004