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23 January 2010

Introduction & Project Background


On that day Max had taken an all-embracing look at the beautiful green cricket oval, the neat tennis courts, and the grey stone buildings, which held so much unknown romance and so many hidden wonders for him. The name "Tuck-Shop" on an outbuilding gave him quite a thrill ... for it called up visions of the heroes in the innumerable schoolbooks he had absorbed. (Pyke, Max the Sport 62)

The school world was first fictionalised in England in 1749 with Sarah Fielding’s The Governess, yet it was more than a century later that the success of Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857) helped establish the school story as a popular genre in British children’s fiction. Tom Brown’s Schooldays, set at Rugby, endorsed public school values and ethics. The genre’s development and form is strongly linked to the rise of the English public school system and its traditions and values. As a particular genre, the school story established certain conventions, involving standard plots, character types, and ideals and themes. With the majority set in either public schools or smaller private schools, daily activities such as lessons, sport and boarding school life feature prominently. Plots and themes are based on ‘playing the game’, school honour, sport, friendships and rivalries, though increasingly from the 1930s mystery and adventure plots became common. From the late 19th to the middle of the 20th century, the school story was an important genre in British children’s fiction, with over 2500 British school stories published between 1749 and 1970.1 In its hey day in the 1920s, 43% of all new girls’ stories published in 1924 were school stories (Sims ‘Introduction’ in Sims & Clare 10). Certain authors, series and characters became part of British popular culture, including Billy Bunter, Jennings and Darbishire, the Abbey Girls and the Chalet School.

Australian children’s fiction was still in its infancy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. British imported fiction remained prevalent in the Australian market, and Australian publishing and the establishment of Australian branches of British firms developed slowly. From 1889 to 1953, Australia was Britain’s largest market for book importations and during the interwar period Australian publishers accounted only for ten percent of all book sales in Australia (Lyons 19-20). Some fifty-five Australian school stories were published from the 1870s to the 1960s2, yet a lack of knowledge of the history and extent of the genre has led to contemporary scholarly dismissal of its existence or significance. As recently as 2001, Heather Scutter stated in her article on children’s literature in The History of the Book in Australia that the boys’ school story never developed in Australia (298). This is just one of a number of examples of the critical dismissal of the Australian school story (which will be discussed in the ensuing literature review), that is comparable to the treatment of British school stories. Perhaps the successes of Ethel Turner and Mary Grant Bruce, who wrote 44 and 38 children’s novels respectively, with their family and domestic stories which came to define early 20th century Australian children’s fiction, overshadowed the development of other genres in Australia. Another reason may be the massive volume of British school stories produced which make the number of Australian school stories seem unimportant.

The school story did exist in Australia despite assertions to the contrary and its numbers make it a significant genre in Australian children’s fiction. The aim of this thesis is to definitively pinpoint the extent and history of the school story in Australian children’s literature, through the compilation of an annotated bio-bibliography identifying all known examples of Australian school stories. This will be the first time a complete bibliography of Australian school stories has been compiled. The bibliography consists of annotated entries on every full-length Australian school story, listing the title, publisher, place of publication, year published, illustrator and number and type of illustrations. The annotations discuss the plots, themes and motifs and style of the novel and include brief details about subsequent editions. Each author’s career and life is discussed in a biographical entry, allowing the recognition of forgotten or lost authors. A substantial introduction presents a history of the genre, contextualising the topic with a study of British school stories and their educational and literary legacy followed by a history of Australian school stories with a particular emphasis on boys’ school stories, girls’ school stories, educational developments, and the school story in Australian literary culture.

1Figures calculated from an examination of titles listed in The Encyclopaedia of School Stories and do not include reprints.

2 Refer to Alphabetical Listing of Australian School Stories and Chronological Listing of Australian School Stories.


The literature review charts the research that has been conducted on the Australian school story genre in order to establish what has been studied and is known about the genre, what themes and methodologies have been used, what interpretations and conclusions reached, and to highlight any existing gaps in the field. In discussing the historiography of Australian school stories, the historiography of British schools stories needs to be examined as well. The British genre had an important influence on the content and style of Australian school stories. In addition, the research done on the British genre has been at the forefront of school story research and has affected subsequent research on the Australian genre.

The school story was a very significant genre in British juvenile publishing, though its importance and value has not always been recognised, it has typically been "ignored or deplored" (Auchmuty "The Encyclopaedia: Origins and Organisation" 149). Over 2500 British school story novels were published between the 1750s and the 1960s, and between the 1850s and the 1950s the genre came to dominate juvenile publishing over other children’s genres such as mystery, adventure, career and family stories. Rosemary Auchmuty comments on the negative treatment of school stories:

School stories have long suffered from critical dismissal and public derision and it is only recently that their influence and merits have been re-valued... In general, however, school stories continue to be absent from mainstream criticism, being regarded as unworthy of serious criticism. Where included in comprehensive studies of children’s literature, references are often grudging and, in the case of girls’ school stories in particular, characterised by ignorance and error. (Auchmuty in Sims & Clare vii-viii)

The negative conclusions reached on British school stories by British researchers were also apparent in the early research on Australian school stories with some additional concerns. The Australian genre has often been dismissed for two main reasons. Firstly, because of its small numbers in comparison to the British genre and the domination of British imports in the Australian market, there are questions as to whether the genre ever developed or existed in Australia. Secondly, when the genre is acknowledged, the authors are assessed as having merely copied the British model with little or no Australian input and a consequent lack of literary value. While Australian school stories owe much to the British tradition, this charge of imitation fails to recognise Australia’s educational history. Australian private schools emulated the British public school system, copying their structures and traditions which accounts for overtly British overtones in Australian school stories.

There have been two main movements in the historiography of school stories. In the early period, the main method of analysis was evaluative literary scholarship or criticism, in which the genre received much negative criticism. Children’s literature in general only became part of mainstream academic research after the Second World War, particularly from the 1960s and 1970s. Research into children’s literature examined literary quality and merit and applied the methods of evaluative textual criticism in critiquing poor style, plot and characterisation, commenting on formulaic plots and stereotyped characters. Following this early research was a movement towards a more positive assessment of the school story after a realisation of the genre’s cultural significance rather than literary quality or lack thereof, and increasing interest from a number of academic fields other than english, including gender, education, history, cultural studies and history of the book.

The first major study of the history of Australian children’s literature was H. M. Saxby’s A History of Australian Children’s Literature 1841-1941 (1969). Saxby did examine some of the Australian school story authors in the 1920s and 1930s, and attempted to contextualise the genre against its British influences, but he studied only a limited number of authors and concluded that there were few outstanding Australian school stories (160). Research was characterised by a lack of knowledge about the number of Australian school stories and their authors. Although Marcie Muir’s A Bibliography of Australian Children’s Books (1970-76) improved knowledge on Australian children’s novels, information about the school story genre remained vague.

It has only been from the 1970s and 1980s that there has been a movement towards more comprehensive research into school stories and consequently a more positive reappraisal with a shift away from evaluative textual criticism with other disciplines becoming interested in school stories: firstly historical approaches followed by feminist and gender studies, and studies in the interdisciplinary field of history of the book. Brenda Niall’s Australia Through the Looking Glass (1984) adopts a cultural history approach, undertaking a more detailed analysis of the genre than had been previously attempted, devoting a chapter to each of the boys’ and girls’ school story novels. Niall examined Australian children’s fiction to see what it revealed about Australian society and the process by which British literary traditions were transplanted into Australian children’s literature (xi). While Niall did much in examining an increasing number of school story titles and authors, she discusses 8 novels in the chapter on boys’ school stories and 5 in the girls’ school stories chapter, she concluded that Australian school stories failed in a literary sense because of their conflict in attempting to give the British genre an Australian identity without compromising its traditional form. She argued that public school stories in their purest form could not flourish in Australia and had to merge with the adventure story (168), failing to understand that this characteristic was not peculiarly Australian. In Britain school stories were adopting mystery and adventure elements too. As with the boy’s genre her main criticism of girls’ school stories was their similarity to English school stories, concluding that there were "dozens of feeble and imitative Australian schoolgirl stories" (188). It is interesting to note that while she claims there were dozens of feeble and imitative Australian girls’ school stories, only six titles are listed in her bibliography.

One of the most important developments that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s was the emergence of research on the girls’ school story. In England research on school stories tended to focus solely on the boys’ school story genre, ignoring the girls’ genre as an inferior imitation of the boys’ stories (Auchmuty in Sims & Clare vii).3

The impetus for re-examining girls’ school stories stems from the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s which resulted in Women’s history emerging as an academic discipline which sought to include women as objects of study. The emerging field of social history which examined marginalised social groups (peasants and workers, etc) added legitimacy to integrating women into history and mainstream scholarship (Scott 42-66). This is evident in Cadogan and Craig’s pioneering study of British girls’ fiction, You’re A Brick Angela (1975), which included chapters on school stories. More research on girls’ school stories followed which sought to bring them out of obscurity and place them on a level with boys’ school stories. Feminist research evolved into gender based research which examines the construction of femininity and masculinity. Sally Mitchell’s The New Girl (1995) looked at girls’ culture in England before the First World War examining school, career and college stories. In Australia Martin Crotty’s Making the Australian Male (2000) explored the construction of middle-class masculinity and the transformation of the Australian boy through education, literature including adventure stories and school stories, and organisations such as boy scouts and religious youth groups.

Increasing quantitative research into Australian school stories occurred in the 1990s. The Oxford Companion to Australian Children’s Literature (1993) extended the bibliographical and biographical research into school stories. An entry on the school story genre is included and many previously forgotten or unknown authors and their works are presented, which significantly increased knowledge on the genre. Following a similar method were revised editions of H. M. Saxby’s A History of Australian Children’s Literature studies, Offered to Children (1998), and Images of Australia (2002). Saxby’s studies are the most comprehensive survey to date, listing the largest number of authors and novels, undertaking a detailed study of the early development of the genre, though its post-war treatment is sketchy.

The increasing academic and popular interest in British school stories was consolidated and highlighted in The Encyclopaedia of School Stories (2000). The Encyclopaedia is indicative of the shift in attitudes towards the genre that occurred in the 1990s (Auchmuty "The Encyclopaedia: Origins and Organisation" 150).The Encyclopaedia was a pioneering work for several reasons. Equal importance was given to both boys’ and girls’ school stories, with a volume dedicated to each, The Encyclopaedia of Boys’ School Stories, and The Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories. Each volume listed every known British school story providing biographical information on many of the authors and bibliographical details. The girls’ volume contained the first comprehensive bibliography compiled, including many ‘forgotten’ authors. The Encyclopaedia is an example of the genre’s push into mainstream research and marks a significant period for research and study into the history of the genre, paving the way for future studies.

The Encyclopaedia is also significant because of its collaborative author approach and the contribution of non-academic research to the volume. Auchmuty, co-editor of The Encyclopaedia comments on the role of ‘grass-roots’ research by fans in the field:

It is amateur booklovers who have made the most substantial contribution to knowledge about both boys’ and girls’ school stories, setting up networks and journals to exchange information about the books and their authors. (Sims & Clare viii)

There are significant fan networks which maintain an interest in the genre though journals, societies, publications, websites, discussion lists, events and boutique publishers such as Girls Gone By who republish collectible school stories.

My analysis of the historiography of Australian school stories has outlined the major developments in research, but has also highlighted the opportunity for further research in the field. Saxby’s Offered to Children and Images of Australia are the most comprehensive in their treatment of school stories but whilst their study of the genre in the early 20th century period is strong, the post World War II section is weaker. No complete bibliography of the genre has been published. Whilst The Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories included Australian authors in its entries the boys’ volume did not. Until an exhaustive bibliography of Australian school stories is assembled, historical or thematic studies of the genre will remain deficient because they fail to understand the size and extent of the genre. The compilation of the bibliography will also allow the correct identification of some stories which have been previously labelled school stories in earlier studies. In both Saxby and Lees & Macintyre, The Ferneythorpe Choristers (1876) and The Four School Mates (1896) have been classified as school stories but closer examination contradicts this. Despite its title, The Four School Mates, which concerns the lives of four former school friends, contains few details about their schooldays. Rather it is a Victorian tale on the evils of alcoholic and moral temptation with many characters dying because of their misdeeds. Its interest is that it was written by P. D. McCormick who later composed Australia’ national anthem Advance Australia Fair. The Ferneythorpe Choristers is slightly less didactic concerning schoolboy choristers, but the story is mostly set in the church and choir with little in school.


3 See for example Quigley, Musgrave & Richards.


This thesis assembles an annotated bio-bibliography of all Australian school stories published up to the end of the 1960s. The stories must be full-length novels (short stories are not included), featuring Australian schoolboys and schoolgirls and set in Australian schools. The 1960s has been chosen as the limiting date, because the bibliography is concerned with what might be termed the traditional school story (i.e. set in single sex private schools) and it is concluded that stories written after the 1960s were generally set in modern schools and bore little resemblance to the English public school inspired models. Some stories were considered for inclusion, but for a number of reasons have been omitted from the final bibliography. Some authors used characters from school stories in non school stories, e.g. Lillian Pyke’s Sheila at HappyHills and Dora Joan Potter’s Those Summer Holidays. There is also at least one ‘adult’ school story, Henry Handel Richardson’s The Getting of Wisdom, and another, Vera G. Dwyer’s A War of Girls, which is set partly in school, but concerns the romance of two rival school teachers. Because of the merging of the school story with other genres such as mystery and adventures stories from the 1920s, there are a number of ‘part’ school stories which have been included.

Two bibliographical studies of British school stories have provided models for the compilation of a bibliography of Australian school stories. Benjamin Watson’s English Schoolboy Stories: an annotated bibliography of hardcover fiction (1992) lists over 700 English boys’ school stories with some annotated entries including a plot summary. The Encyclopaedia of School Stories (2000) is an excellent example of a genre-based bibliography. The authors of the volume on girls’ stories, The Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories, discuss the content of their bibliographies and some of the issues that arose in compiling such a bibliography. Sims & Clare stated they provided only basic bibliographical details of each book as their intention was to give readers a checklist of each writer’s output. Initially they had hoped to provide a brief plot summary of every school story in an annotation but they realised this would prove too lengthy to allow for publication. Their compromise was to discuss each author who had published at least three full-length school stories. The Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories lists over 400 authors and 1500 school stories. With the relatively small number of Australian school stories, fifty-five by twenty-eight authors, in this thesis it is possible to prepare a substantial annotation for each school story including a discussion of motifs and themes and provide more detailed bibliographical information which will increase its research value.

The history of the genre is presented both chronologically and thematically with a clearer understanding of the extent of the genre in Australian obtained through the compilation of the annotated bio-bibliography. First the legacy of the British school story and British private education is examined, as the content and form of school stories reflect the contemporary education practices of private schools, showing the changes and developments. Australian private schools were modelled on British public schools and many Australian schools followed the British tradition. Second the novels are studied to understand how the genre evolved over time in Australia with the development of private education in Australia. The Australian schoolboy and schoolgirl are investigated. Lastly, the place of school stories in Australian literary culture is studied by examining the process of having a manuscript published and design and payment issues. The readership for school stories is also considered.

Explanation and Arrangement to the Annotated Bio-Bibliography

The bibliography will be arranged alphabetically according to the author’s surname. The name listed will be the name the author wrote under, including pseudonyms, in which case the author’s real name will be listed underneath. Following will be the biographical outline provided for each author where possible. It has not been possible to obtain details on some authors, but these remain in the minority, and for some forgotten authors, detailed information has been collected which does not appear in standard literary reference works. Biographical outlines include details of parentage, education, career, and families, etc. School stories are listed chronologically with the following details provided: title, place of publication, publisher, date published, number of pages, illustrator and type and number of illustrations. A copy of each school story has been physically examined, except for some rare titles such as Robert Richardson’s school stories for which photocopies or microfiche copies have been studied, to obtain these details. Marcie Muir & Kerry White’s definitive Australian Children’s Books: A Bibliography has been used as an aid in the identification of first editions, and for clarification in areas such as illustrative content.

Three shorter bibliographies will also be provided in addition to the annotated Bio-Bibliography: a Short Bibliography, and an Alphabetical Listing and a Chronological Listing .

After my Master of Philosophy thesis was finalised I located another Australian School Story: Pip and Andrew in Danger by Keane Wilson. This title has now been included in the annotated bio-bibliography, the motif guide and the relevant sections which pertain to the number of school stories published (now 55 not 54).


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