September 14, 2014
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Tom Brown at Oxford

by Thomas Hughes

A readable book, but not the Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Why the first book lives, despite its overtly sentimental structure and its patently melodramatic scheme, while the second book flounders, remains an interesting question.

I’m inclined to lay the blame on Harry East, the seeming-sidekick of the first book who is, in fact, its dramatic and moral center. East leaves Rugby first, an unexplained surprise that presumably relates to unmentionable class tension. Yet East is clearly more U than Hardy, his substitute at Oxford, a man who is never unconscious of his comparative poverty. East never seems conscious of being anything other than a gentleman — perhaps of being a gentleman who doesn’t get on with everyone, but his whole point is that he’s a gentleman and yet he’s somehow not Young Brooke, a self-indulgent and thoughtless fellow. As ever, Tom meanders but comes fairly close to being right in the end.