Costumes of Literary Characters: English


Figure 1.--"Tom Brown's School Days" spawned a whole new genre of books--the famed English school stories. Tim Brown himself became a stalwart example of a stout-hearted, fair-minded, and trust-worthty English school boy.

Many famous English liteary characters are boys. English authors like Americans have created many memorable boy characters. It is surprising how many memorable boy characters English writers have created and how few have been created by other European writers. A few novels are set around their boyhood experiences. Some of the first known boyhood literary characters, and some of the most beloved, are English. Some are even English characters written by American authors. Some of the most memorable are: David Balfour (Kidnapped), Tom Brown (Tom Brown's School Day), William Brown (Just William), Billy Bunter, David Copperfield, Jim Hawkins (Treasure Island), John Christopher Timothy Jennings, Kim O'Hara, Peter Pan, Philip "Pip" Pirrip (Great Expectations), Harry Potter, Christopher Robin, and Oliver Twist. Images of these boys have been provide in the text and illustrations of the originial editions as wll as subsequent illustrators and more recently movie and TV productions. This is especially the case of these English boy characters as there have been so many new editions and well as movie and TV productions.

Individual Characters

We note several different boy characters in English literature.

Balfour, David

The novel Kidnapped by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson was an introduction to 18th Century Scotland for a generation of American boys. David fights to regain his heritance with background of the tension between the Jacobites and English.

Bigglesworth, James

James Bigglesworth or Biggles was one of the most popular boys' novels in the 1950s. These were really children's literature, but the Biggles' books were so popular that Biggles have to be considred as an important English literature character. James Bigglesworth, or Biggles as he is better known, was created by Captain W.E. Johns. Johns wrote 80 books about Biggles and his airplane adventures. The Biggles saga begins in India--Britain's most important colony. He was born in May or August 1899. As was the case for many British boys in India, Biggles was sent home to go to school at age of 12. (Some British boys were sent home for their prep school.) Biggles apparently had trouble with India's tropical climate. He was sent home to England because he coudn't take the climate. At about age 15, Biggles begins at Malton Hall boarding school which focuses on preparing the boys to enter a military academy. Biggles was not the normal English school story. In fact, it was an aviation adventure story. In many ways, however, Biggles was a school story set in the RAF. He is perhaps better known as an aviation hero.

Brown, Tom

English authors have published countless school tales. The first of this genre and perhaps the most famous has been Tom Brown, a thoroughly British gutsy boy who as a new boy confronted the bullies at his public school, in his case Rugby. His adventures were chronicled in Tom Brown School Days and were contemporary with reform-minded headmaster, Dr. Arnold.

Brown, William

Richmal Crompton's William Brown is the one of the two most famous schoolboy in English literature. (The other of course is Jennings.) William is the youngestvson in the Brown family. He is a bright-eyed boy with unrully brown hair. He is full of life, if only the adult world of parents, teachers, vicars, and other assiociated figures of authority "would leave him to it," as the Englih would say. The author wrote about 40 books, from 19?? to 19??, beginning with Just William. The books were written for children and were profusely illustrated, providing a detailed source of images on English schoolboy dress during the 19??s. As many episodes take place out of school and include other children, the books provide an overall picture of English boyhood clothes.

Bunter, Billy

One of the most famous British public (private) school boy is Billy Bunter. The series of books was written by Frank Richards. At one time it was so popular that it was transmitted at 5.25pm for children and again two hours later for the parents! Bunter's teacher was Mr. Quelch (Kynaston Reeves) and Harry Wharton, Bob Cherry, Inky, Ram Singh, Frank Nugent, Mauly, and the bully Coker were his schoolchums at Greyfriars School. He loved jam tarts particularly.


Figure 2--"David Copperfield" was written by Charles Dickens. The many illustrations of David show him in a variety of diffrent clothes.

Copperfield, David

Charles Dickens published David Copperfield in 1849-50. David is more or less an autobiography of Charles Dicken' own life. More or less meaning that in most cases he does not use actual names, but makes up the scenery and names of the people. The events and general meaning, however, remain the same. To create such an atmosphere and still have it retain the same essential elements of a true autobiography is an act of shear genius. The book is divided into two basic parts: 1)David as a boy, and 2) David as a young man. David's father dies 6 months before he is born. David and his mother are very close until she marries Mr. Murdstone, who is a cold, mean man who dominates the relationship between David and his mother. Before any of that happens, David spends a few weeks with Peggoty at her brother Dan's house. David meets to kids, Little Em'ly and Ham. When David's mother dies in still childbirth, his step-father appretices him off to London to work where he meets Wilkins Micawber, who let's David stay with him. He turns out to be a fraud, but does so in such a weird way that it's hard not to like him. Micawber is in great financial trouble, and is always "expecting something to turn up". Micawber is later arrested and sent to debtors prison. David's last stop in his youth is Dover, where he lives with his fathers sister, Betswet Trotwood, who lives with crazy cousin Mr. Dick. David takes to Mr. Dick right off, and he is finally happy. He is sent to live with the Wickfield family, which includes old Mr. Wickfield who is a well off, but alcoholic, businessman; his daughter Agnes who is David's age, and the clerk, Uriah Heep. By the time David graduates from school, Agnes has fallen in love with David (although he doesn't know it yet). Mr. Wickfield has fallen under the influence of the evil Uriah Heep, and Heep has hired Mr. Micawber. David returns to London to become a writer where David meets up with Steerforth whom he once knew in school. The two soon become fast friends. Together, they attend an opera where David is introduced to Dora who will eventually become his bride. The rest of the book deals with David as a young man and how Uriah Heep is finally exposed.

Famous Five

Another famous Enhlish literary character was really a group consisying of five children. This was a children's series created by Enis Blyton. It was one of the most popular series of children's books in England and America. The books were translated into many languages. The boys were commonly costumed in inter-War era, jumpers, short trousers, and sandals.

Hawkins, Jim

Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island may have been the first English boy introduced to generations of American boys. The book, written by Robert Louis Stepenson, was set in the 18th century. Jim is the hero of the book. It is Jim who finds the map and eventually saves everyone from the pirates. After many adventures on Treasure Island he returns to England with the treasure. Treasure Island was written in 1882 and was Stephenson's first major literary success. It was a marvelous yarn involving piracy, buried treasure, and adventure on the high seas. There have been many printings and several film versions. The original title was The Sea-Cook.

Jennings, John Christopher Timothy

Jennings is one of the most famous English school boy. Jennings as he was usually referred to is a prep school boy. (Although elementary age boys, they used their last names. In fact I don't even know his first name.) The other famous schollboy was Jennings who went to a state elementary school. The first Jennings story was serialised on the radio in 1948. Two years later the first Jennings book was released, authored by Anthony Buckeridge. One musical, several plays, 22 books and nearly 10 million sales later, the Jennings books are still enjoyed, and generation after generation have been able to read about "that boy Jenning's exploits". He was educated at Linbury Court Preparatory School.

O'Hara, Kimball ("Kim")

Rudyard Kipling's final and most famous novel, Kim was about an Irish orphan who follows a Tibetan monk while being trained in British espionage. You can't get more exciting than that. Kim was Kimball O'Hara, an orphaned son of a British seargeant serving in India. The American film version with ??? was especially good. In it Kim wore a very smart uniform with a red jacket and cap which he did not like. Kipling like Stephenson also married an American lady. He liveed in the U.S for a time. He wrote an unfinished biography about his childhood called 'Something of Myself.' There is a good story about 19th century childhood.

Pan, Peter

Perhaps the most beloved literary characters of all time is Peter Pan. The story was written by J.M. Barie and first resented to the public in 1904. Stage productions appeared in 1904. The petic fairy-take play enchanted both children and adults when it was first presented and continues to do so today. Peter is a imaginary boy, leading the nursery-bound Darling children through exciting adventures. Peter is remembered for the Peter Pan collar. This was an existing fashion, but acquired the name because of illustrations for the book and theatrical costuming used in for Peter.

Pirrip, Philip "Pip": (Great Expectations)

Philip Pirrip, better known as "Pip", is both the central character and narrarator of Dicken's masterpiece Great Expectations. No author has created more classic boy characters as Dickens. He nariates the book through the eyes of the adult Pip, even though Pip is a young boy at the beginning of the book. As a boy, Pip was strongly influenced by his guardians, Joe Gargery and his wife, Mrs. Joe. Joe instills a sense of honesty, industry, and friendliness in Pip, while Mrs. Joe does a great deal to contribute to his desires and ambitions through her constant emphasis on pomp and property. Pip is a good-natured and thoughtful, and very imaginative. His false values, which are bolstered by his love of the unapproachable Estella, decrease the respect that he has for Joe, who is uneducated and has none of the social graces. His alienation from Joe and Joe's values builds through the second part of the novel, as Pip who is educated as a gentleman becomes selfish, greedy, and foolish. During the period when his expectations are intact, his only morally positive act was to secretly help Herbert Pocket into a good position. Upon discovering that the frigtening Magwitch is his misterious benefactor, a new phase begins in Pip's moral evolution. At first, Pip no longer feels the same human compassion for Magwitch that he did the first time he saw him out on the marshes. Gradually, Pip changes his perception of Magwitch, unlearning what he has learned. Pip becomes concerned with the man, and not the expectations that he could provide. When Jaggers presents the thought that there may be a way for Pip to get his hands on Magwitch's property, the idea sounds hollow and utterly empty to Pip. Pip learns about Estella's parentage through Magwitch, and that his aspirations were falsely based. When Pip is arrested for his debts and becomes too ill to go to prison, Joe tends to him. Thus, the positive values which Joe had shown Pip as a child are reinforced. After the ruination of Pip's expectations, the only good he experiences comes directly from the only good he did for others while his expectations where intact. From the beginning to the end of the novel, Pip loses and then rediscovers the importance of human relationships and virtue over wealth and position.

Potter, Harry

The most popular litteary sensation of 1999 were the success of the Harry Potter books. Harry is an orphaned English boy training to be a wizzard. He has taken the literary world by storm. Harrey Potterisms have begun to enter the lanuage. One nice aspect of the Harry Potter books is how they have interested many boys who are not avid readers. Harry attends the Hogwarts School and is often pictured in English school uniforms.


Figure 3.--Disney after caving in to the spimisters and having Christopher wear red sneakers have come out with another set of books with him back in strap shoes.

Robin, Christopher

A.A. Milne writes in his autibiography that "It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders." In fact, A.A. Milne was already a successful playwright and humorist in 1924 when, during a rainy holiday in Wales, he wrote a whimsical collection of verses about his then 4-year-old son. The book, When We Were Very Young, and three later volumes--featuring the adventures of a wide-eyed child named Christopher Robin and his guileless teddy bear companion Winnie-the-Pooh--would sell thousands of copies, be translated into more than 30 languages and also shadow the real Christopher Robin until his death, at 75, on April 20 in Devon, England. Young Milne was raised in London, and as a child he once admitted that he "quite liked being Christopher Robin and being famous." The novelty began wearing thin at boarding school, where classmates taunted him, and he became shy and started to stammer. Eventually the strains of establishing his own identity soured relations with his father. In 1948, he risked the senior Milne's disapproval and that of his mother, Daphne, to marry his first cousin Lesley de SÚlincourt, now 70. The two had one daughter, Clare, 40, who suffers from cerebral palsy. After moving to Dartmouth, in Devon, in 1951, Milne opened a bookstore, wrote a two-volume memoir and seemed to make a posthumous peace with his father, who had died in 1956. He sold his claim to any future royalties from the Pooh books to the Royal Literary Fund for a lump sum in order to provide for his disabled daughter. Distancing himself altogether from his famous alter ego was impossible, however, and even in his later years fans of the books "would throw their arms around him and kiss him, whether he wanted it or not,'' says Mike Ridley, a longtime Milne acquaintance who runs a Pooh souvenir shop in Hartfield, England. "The Christopher Robin he tried to get away from is the Christopher Robin that's going to be remembered."

Secret Seven

The Secret Seven is another group of English children created by Enid Blyton. The books are about a secret club with official meetings and everything. The club members were Peter, Jack, Barbara, George, Pam, Colin, Janet and of course Scamper (the dog). These books are not great literature, in fact, English teachers one discouraged children from reading them. HBC has, however, included them because of the huge number of children who read them and Blyton's enormous ability to interest children in books and reading..

Starling, Jim

E.W. Hildick (1925- ) wrote the "Jim Starling"-series. Our information on this chharacter is stll very limited. Jim Starling is an English boy who visits a Technical school at Cement Street. His friends are: Terry Todd, Grimshaw and Nip Challons. The first "Jim Starling" book was published in 1958 in England, known just as Jim Starling. Several books in the series were published in the United States.

Twist, Oliver

Oliver Twist may not be Dicken's best novel nor is his portarait of Oliver the most finely crafted of his boy characters. It is probably Oliver, however, that is the most widely recognized. Perhaps it was the first of his great successes. Perhaps it is Oliver's truiumphs over all of life's obscalcles. Perhaps it is his plucky, most British spirit that makes Oliver such an engaging chracter to this day. Oliver was as popular in America as in England, and also popular in many European countries as well. Oliver Twist is one of Charles Dickens's early works and shows its Victorian origins when he sometimes strays into extended passages of gross sentimentality. But Dickens uncovered his fierce passion for defending the underdog in Oliver Twist and this theme was repeated in some way in all his subsequent work. His depiction of the cruelty of England's poor laws and the petty tyranny of the minor bureaucrats who sprung up as a result of those laws was so vivid that it stirred people to demand change. But what a cast of characters Oliver encounters. With the stock of fantastic characters in Oliver Twist it is a strange failing of Dickens that the eponymous hero is sometimes little more than a cipher. It is at times as if Oliver doesn't really exist, he's just a foil who brings out the worst or the best in those who come into contact with him. The strength of most of the other characterizations, however, makes up for this anomaly. Bill Sikes is such a suitably deplorable villain that his villainy becomes etched in your mind. Few villans are so starkly drawn as Bill Sikes in all of English literature. One almost fears that you might bump into him and his evil dog. Fagin, the Jewish pied piper, has a strange charm, although I'm sure Dickens didn't mean him to be taken as anything other than another arch villain (of the manipulative kind--a foil to Sikes's horribly violent nature). There are plenty of other vivid characters, but the great strengths of Oliver Twist are the passages describing London, and especially the miserably poor part of London, in the 1830s. Follow Sikes and Oliver on their trek across this metropolis and you'll get as clear and vivid a picture of Industrial Revolution London as ever was put into prose. No-one could write about dirt, squalor, or injustice quite like Dickens, and when you combine this facility with a real comic genius you have a winning formula.

School Boys

Of course being boys, most of these characters are schoolboys. Tom Brown's exoloits are the first school story. The beginning of a fasinating genre in English literature. The characters, however, vary widely to the extent tpo which their exploits concern school. The Jennings and Billy Bunter series are set in schools. The William and Jim Starling series hace relatively little to do with school. Several different issues occur to us about these school stories. One is the type of schools in which the adventures are set. Another interesting question is the relative popularity of the characters. A reader writes us, "You say that 'William Brown is the one of the two most famous schoolboy in English literature. (The other of course is Jennings.)" Well, what about Billy Bunter? I would have thought that he is the most famous of the three. [Collings] This is an interesting question.

Sources

Collings, Chris. E-mail message, April 22, 2005.






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Created: October 19, 1998
Last updated: 5:02 PM 4/22/2005