Welcome to the boys' school stories page!

Illustration from The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's drawn by Gordon Browne

An entire page of my website dedicated to boys' school stories... it was a long time coming, really.


The school story was a popular genre of juvenile fiction in the United Kingdom from approximately the second half of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th. Due to the nature of education for the middle and upper classes in nineteenth century Britain, school stories take place predominantly in boarding schools, more specifically public schools, (which weren't actually public in the modern sense of the designation but when they were founded that term had a slightly different meaning, but you can read about that here) both real and fictional. Due to the school story as a genre being primarily defined by it's setting, school stories fall into various different genres, most commonly slice of life, drama, and comedy (and many incorporate all three). The boys school story went into a decline after the end of World War II, partially due to changes in the education system (such as coeducation becoming more common) and the public perception of it, making the genre seem outdated. It was only slightly outlived by its sister genre the girls' school story, and since then most of the works within it have fallen into obscurity, despite their positive qualities.

Why do you like this genre so much?

Because of my inclination towards the obscure and searching for hidden gems, and I find it interesting to be able to read the ephemeral popular literature of over a century ago. The popular media of a culture can tell you certain things about its values, as unlike historical fiction, it was written by people who actually lived in those times and isn't written from a historical standpoint. Also, I like particular tropes and character archetypes that are common in the genre, so that is another thing which draws me to these sort of books.

How many have you read so far?

Thanks for asking! I've listed them in chronological order based on publication date here below.

Basil, the schoolboy, or, The heir of Arundel by Edward Monro

Schoolboy Honour: A Tale of Halminster College by Henry Cadwallader Adams

St. Winifred's: or, The World of School by Frederic William Farrar

Orville College: A Story by Mrs. Henry Wood

Oudendale : a story of schoolboy life by R. Hope Moncrief

My Schoolboy Friends: A Story Of Whitminster Grammar School by R. Hope Moncrieff ☆

George's Enemies: A Sequel to "My Schoolboy Friends" by R. Hope Moncrieff ☆

Stories of Whitminster by R. Hope Moncrieff ☆

A Peck of Troubles: An Account of Certain Misfortunes which Happened to Certain Young People of Whitminster by R. Hope Moncrieff ☆

Who Did It?: or, Holmwood Priory by Henry Cadwallader Adams

The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's: A School Story by Talbot Baines Reed

The Willoughby Captains by Talbot Baines Reed

Follow My Leader: The Boys of Templeton by Talbot Baines Reed

Tom, Dick and Harry by Talbot Baines Reed

Gerald Eversley's Friendship by J.E.C. Welldon

The Human Boy by Eden Phillpotts

Chums at Last : A Tale of School Life by Mrs. G. Forsyth Grant

The Hill by Horace Annesley Vachell

☆: Indicates that a book belongs to a series

Do you have any favorites?

Yes, I do! I'll write about my top three below

Tom, Dick and Harry

What's it about?

Well, it's about a lot of things, as it's a slice of life comedy sort of story. Of the four of Reed's school stories that I have read so far I'd say that it's the funniest, not only due to the episodes within the novel but the way that they are portrayed from the protagonist's point of view. By the way, the title comes from the first names of the three main characters.

What do you like about it?

Well, I'm somewhat biased towards it particularly as it was the first boys' boarding school novel that I had read, but even when I compare it with subsequent school stories that I've read since it's still one of my favorites. For all of its high-spirited 'jolly japes' (as they were called then) it has a lot of genuine heart. One thing that I like about the episodic style of the chapters, along with the first person point-of-view (since this book was originally serialized in the Boys Own Paper) is that they really allow you to get attached to the characters.

The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's

What's it about?

Well, it's a bit difficult to pin down, as it's a story about quite a lot of things, but the story begins with the arrival of a new boy at school, Stephen Greenfield, and his adventures (and misadventures). The later part of the book deals with his older brother, Oliver, and a mystery involving a stolen examination paper. A prominent part is given to the school newspaper, providing humorous sketches about the various characters. All in all, it falls more into the slice of life drama category.

What do you like about it?

Well, it reminded me somewhat of Tom, Dick and Harry in the comedic aspects, however this story had more serious elements and a more connected plot. I liked how the story starts off by following a new student in order to make the exposition feel more natural (if the workings and customs of a large victorian public school seemed strange to someone who had never been to one in the 1880s when this book was published, they seem even more strange now!). I also enjoyed this book as due to its popularity when it was published, it helped to set a trend in boys' school stories for several decades afterwards, so it helps to contextualise many later school stories that used it as a source of inspiration.

Fun fact: The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's was adapted as a silent film in 1921 as well as a four episode television serial by the BBC in 1961, however as neither adaptation has had a home video release both have since become lost media.

St. Dominic's also had a comic adaptation illustrated by Cecil Doughty serialized in Look and Learn magazine from December 1979 to March 1980. While I've been unable to find scans of the actual comics online I have been able to find the illustrations sans text on this website (you can view and download the images for free in a good resolution by clicking on them.)

The Hill

Cover design from 1905 edition

What's it about?

This one's easier to explain. The plot revolves around the triangular relationship of two boys vying for the friendship of a third at Harrow School during the late 1890s. It definitely falls into the drama genre and is in a way a more 'concentrated' version of the fairly common subplot in school stories involving one boy longing for the friendship of another with a sort of mix between love and hero worship, however this story changes it up by essentially making it into a love triangle of sorts (several earlier editions were literally published with the subtitle 'A Romance of Friendship').

What do you like about it?

Not only was the plot interesting (I actually went into this book entirely blind after I stumbled across it on the Internet Archive one day) but the way the story progressed was very engaging. The prose was very lush and vivid (even if it was a bit purple at times), and it felt almost nostalgic. Without spoiling anything, it left me with a bittersweet feeling once I finished it. Despite feeling more 'dated' than some other school stories (it feels very distinctly edwardian) it was very entertaining.

Fun fact: Despite being largely forgotten in the 21st century, The Hill was a very popular novel when it was originally published and went through nine editions in 1905 alone and remained in print until the mid 1980s. It has gone back into print since it lapsed into the public domain and been republished by several small publishers that specialize in obscure public domain fiction.

Links & Reading Material

Helpful resources for getting into and researching boys' school stories. The linked books are available to loan for free on the Internet Archive.

Genre tag: School Story - (Incomplete) list of school stories published from 1837 to 1901 on Victorianweb's victorian fiction database.

Article about the school story on Wikipedia

Happiest days: The Public Schools In English Fiction by Jeffery Richards

The Heirs of Tom Brown: The English School Story by Isabel Quigly

From Brown To Bunter: The Life and Death of the School Story by P. W. Musgrave

Just for fun

I made a bingo card of common school story tropes!