Saturday, March 27, 2010

22 Novels Set in Boarding Schools

Prompted by reading Paul Murray's new novel Skippy Dies, we looked around the shelves of our Library and compiled a list of (mostly recent) novels set in boarding schools.

  1. Lord Dismiss Us, by Michael Campbell (1967): supposedly set in an English public school, it is in fact a portrait of St Columba's many years before we became co-educational. Sharply written, it explores the nature of love in a single-sex school.
  2. The Catcher in the Rye, by the late J.D. Salinger (1951), and studied in TY here. The first seven chapters are set in Pencey Prep: 'The more expensive a school is, the more crooks it has - I'm not kidding.'
  3. Fools of Fortune, by (Old Columban) William Trevor (1983). It's a stretch to say that the novel is set in a boarding school, but Chapter 5 definitely is, and it's definitely St Columba's...
  4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005). Gradually it becomes clear that the teenagers at 'Hailsham' are a distinctly unusual lot...
  5. The Harry Potter series ... well, we had to mention it. And many visitors think our Dining Hall is Potteresque.
  6. A Good School, by Richard Yates (1978). Set in 'Dorset Academy' in Connecticut just before WWII; listen to a podcast about this and other Yates works recorded a year ago here.
  7. Friendly Fire, by Patrick Gale (2005). Entertaining novel by a very enjoyable contemporary novelist, set in 'Tatham's' (Winchester College) in the late 1970s.
  8. The Night Music, by Christopher Campbell-Howes (2006). Mostly set in an English prep school in the early 1950s. Our review here - 'beautifully written and constantly absorbing.'
  9. Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray (2010). Just out, set in a thinly-disguised Blackrock College - a big, ambitious and very funny novel. See our review here.
  10. Spud by Howard de Ruit (2005), as well as its sequels The Madness Continues (2007) and Learning to Fly (2009). These novels are very popular in our Library. The first book is set in 1990 in South Africa as Nelson Mandela is about to be released.
  11. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005). Coming-of-age story set in Ault School in Massachusetts (we reviewed her later American Wife here).
  12. And also popular in our Library, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (2005), the first in the Gemma Doyle trilogy, set in Spence Academy in England in the late 1800s.
  13. Cracks by Sheila Kohler (2000), and set in a South African boarding school, partly filmed at St Columba's...
  14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce (1916). Joyce's great early work sees Stephen Dedalus at Joyce's own school, Clongowes Wood College near Naas. Joseph Strick's 1979 film adaptation saw St Columba's posing as Clongowes...
  15. Kate O'Brien's The Land of Spices (1941) is set in a convent school - a portrayal of a nun, a young pupil, and a family secret in mid-century Ireland.
  16. Old School by Tobias Wolff (2003): set in New England in the early 1960s, and dealing with the vital nature of literature for the boys (some of us weren't convinced by this one).
  17. Testimony, by Anita Shreve (2008): this time it's 'Avery Academy' in New England (what is it with that part of the world? and we haven't even mentioned Dead Poets Society - whoops there it goes). Shreve's skilful multi-perspective story follows the aftermath of a scandal.
  18. Decline and Fall, by Evelyn Waugh (1928): brilliantly sharp comedy set in ghastly 'Llanabba Castle'. The 'notice of vacancy' states that the status of the school Paul Pennyfeather is going to is 'School'. Mr Levy of Scholastic Agents comments that "we class schools, you see, into four grades: Leading School, First-rate school, Good School, and School. Frankly, school is pretty bad."
  19. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë (1847). Lowood School, a charity establishment, makes some of the ones above look positively luxurious.
  20. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier (1974). Boys, bullying and brutality in Trinity High School.
  21. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles (1959). Yet another New England prep school here, called 'Devon'. Set during the Second World War, at its centre is that very boarding school feature, intense friendship. (thanks to @).
  22. The Headmaster's Papers by Richard A. Hawley (1983) is an epistolary novel set in The Wells School (yes, New England again). The letter form skilfully unpeels the pressures on the headmaster, John Greeve.
[updated 27.09.10]


Boarding Schools said...

So many novels to read. I've never expect that I could have so many novels choose from. I've been searching for some reference on my research and you've provided me so many options.

Thanks for this list.

Anonymous said...

The Chocolate War?

Anonymous said...

"Good Times/Bad Times" by James Kirkwood is another, funny and sad and mysterious, about a boy who kills his headmaster in a US prep school.

Anonymous said...

"To Serve Them All My Days" is another...a Welsh veteran of World War I becomes a teacher at a British boarding school and finds himself, despite his left-wing leanings, becoming a part of the place.