Teachers in the Novels: Vice and Virtue

  • Philip Collins


While Dickens was still alive, Notes and Queries began what remained for years one of its most popular controversies — what relation did Dotheboys Hall bear to the actual Yorkshire schools in general and to Mr William Shaw’s Bowes Academy in particular? As a gratified Dickensian could claim, several decades later, ‘Perhaps no literary subject (with the exception of the oft-recurring Shakespeare-Bacon theory) has proved so controversial.’1 No other school, indeed no other character or episode, in Dickens is as thoroughly documented as this, for here he had made a formidable attack on a specific localised target. When, in other novels, he satirised some widespread educational practice or some unspecified school, no one was eager to announce that the cap fitted; probably few teachers, anyway, recognised a strong resemblance between themselves and Dr Blimber or Mr M’Choakumchild. Dickens had not identified the school in Our Mutual Friend as a Ragged School, so no one protested that Ragged Schools were not like that, or wrote to agree that they were. Many Yorkshiremen, however, had no option but to acknowledge or dispute the justice of the Nickleby chapters and, as Dotheboys Hall has remained ever since the best-known of Dickens’s fictional schools, there was always a market for reminiscences of the actual Yorkshire schools.


Private School Literary Subject District Magistrate Strong Truth Wooden Spoon 
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  1. 5.
    Robert Southey, Letters from England, ed Jack Simmons (1951), 260–1.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Titbits, 14 June 1890; Weekly Telegraph, 29 June 1895; Birmingham Daily Mail, 4 October 1889. For opposing views of Shaw, see Dick, VII (1911), 9–13, 49–50, 156–8. For defenders of Shaw, see Dick, XI (1915), 278; R. M. Dote, Pall Mall Gazette, 30 May 1889; F. W. C, N & Q, 4S vi 245. For further references, see the next dozen Notes. Dr Manning (pp 86–95) uses several other sources, which I had overlooked, but I shall argue that he is mistaken in his contention (p 90) that Shaw did not correspond in appearance to Squeers.Google Scholar
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    W. W. Fowler, Brief Memoir of John Coke Fowler (1901), 18. I am obliged to Mr Leslie M. Rees, Chief Librarian, Swansea Public Libraries, for this reference.Google Scholar
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    T. P. Cooper, Dick, XXXV (1939), 107–8; Clinton-Baddeley, 372. Eleven boys from Shaw’s school were buried at Bowes in 24 years; if these were all the boys who died at or as a result of attending his school, and if the reported figure of 200–300 boys was accurate and applied to the whole period, the deathrate was 1·83 per 1000 per annum. The deathrates for boys in the North Riding 1813–30 were 12, 8 and 10 per 1000 per annum for boys aged 5–9, 10–14, and 15–19 (Population of Great Britain, 1831, III, ‘Parish-Register Abstract’, 398). But there are too many ifs. Google Scholar
  6. See also K.J. Fielding, ‘NN Illustrated’, Genealogists’ Magazine, XIV (1962), 101–7.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Philip Collins 1963

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip Collins
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LeicesterUK

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