I’m probably going to show my age again. Or perhaps it’s just a sign of reading too many books all at once. At the moment I’m on ‘War and Peace’ which I’m following TV episode by episode, ‘Death Plays a Part’ by Lesley Cookman, ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’ and Kate Atkinson’s stunning ‘A God in Ruins,’ which believe it or not brought the dreaded Violet Elizabeth Bott shrieking into my head. Now I can hear you all saying ‘who’s she?’ as well you might. Perhaps I had better explain.
At an early point in Kate Atkinson’s book there is a sequence called ‘The Adventures of Augustus’ which an aunt has written about our hero’s childhood, seeing him as a “scuffed, badly behaved schoolboy, his cap glued permanently to the back of his head and a cowlick of hair in his eyes and a catapult hanging out of his pocket.” That was such an exact description of ‘Just William’ I wanted to rush out and find a copy of one of the books, which I’d gobbled up when I was nine years old and read it again for old times sake. Just to look at the book covers made me quite nostalgic.
But then of course I went on to remember the dreaded Violet Elizabeth Bott, who was the next door neighbour to our William. She had ringlets and a lisp and was quite hideously spoilt, threatening to ‘thcream and thecream until I thick’ if she didn’t get her own way instantly. When I was nine, I simply saw her as a character to hate, now I can see that she was a bully and that set me wondering about bullies, because I’m also reading ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’ and that’s a blueprint for how a big public school can and does produce hideous bullies. Flashman in that novel holds Tom Brown so close to the fire in order to torment him, that he scorches the kid’s legs. The cane is used by far too many people in this story, but Tom Brown has convinced himself that it’s all being done to “make a man of him.” Hmmm. But what sort of man? I ask myself. By that time my brain had slotted itself into a completely new gear and I got to thinking about how many bullies there are in our society now and wondering why it should be.
I wonder what you all think about it. More in my next perhaps.