The School Story
Writing in 1940, George Orwell argued that the school story was fundamentally socially and politically conservative and, second, ‘a thing peculiar to England.’1 Both of these judgments are open to question. First, if the genre is inherently conservative, it seems odd that several of the most canonical of its texts were greeted by widespread opprobrium on their first appearance. Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky & Co. (1899), Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War (1974) and Melvyn Burgess’ Doing It (2003) are all good examples. Second, school stories have existed outside Britain. In Germany Schulromane were popular in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Many were being published in the Soviet Union around the time Orwell was writing. And since then, it has been in the United States that many of the most celebrated school stories have appeared – John Knowles’ A Separate Peace (1960) for example. Indeed, in calling the school story an English genre, Orwell was overlooking many earlier north American classics too, such as Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did At School (1873), Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men (1871) and L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea (1909).
On the other hand, the classic tradition of the school story – narratives in which the school features almost as a character itself, and in which children fit happily into their school, each helping to form the character of the other – does seem to be rooted in British culture. Interestingly, Coolidge’s, Alcott’s and Montgomery’s