Costumes of English Literary Characters: Tom Brown

Figure 1.--"Tom Brown's School Days" was published in 1858, launching an entire genre of British literarure. I'm not sure who the illustrator was.

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. This school story tells about the friendship of three boys called Tom, East and Arthur. They are boarders who come into conflict with the school bully called ‘Flashman.’ It also depicts life of the boarding school at that time. Rugby was the school William would go to when he was 11. Because accounts of the school in the early 19th century are limited, we can use the Tom Brown account to get an idea what the school was like in the 1820s when William attended. The school depicted in Tom Brown's School Days was a very rough place, especially for the younger boys. This was the situation at other public schools as well. Hughes book is a fictional account. but is believed to accurately describe school life at the time.

Rugby School

Rugby School was and still is an independent boarding school in Warwickshire. This is in the middle of England. These schools are called public schools in England even thoufg thaey are exclusive private schools. Rugby is one of the most famous of these schools. The school was founded in 1567 by Lawrence Sheriff, a local resident, as a boys' boarding school. Sheriff was one of the Gentlemen of the Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen), a grocer, and Second Warden of the Grocer's Compoany. The school was endowed with estates in the Rugby area and in London suburbs. The school did not, however, for a variety of reasons, get the full benefit of those endowments until 1653.


Thomas Hughes (1822-96)

Thomas Hughes wrote Tom Brown's School Days which was published in 1857. It has become a classic in English literature. The sequal Tom Brown in Oxford which was published in 1857 described Tom when he moved on to univerity. It proved less populr. Hughes was a lawyer who became a judge. He was a Member of Parliament for the Liberal Party. He was an advocate for social reform in Victorian England.


After the first 1857 edition, Tom Brown's Scholl Days was reprinted in numerous additional editions. I'm not sure when the edition shown here was published. The 1928 edition had an interesting introduction by W.D.Howells.

Figure 2.--The 1928 edition of "Tom Brown's School Days" had some lovely illustrations by Louis Rhead. This illustration appears to be an accurate depiction about how anew boy arriving at Rugby School might look in the 1850s.


Several diferent illustrator have worked on Tom Brown's School Days. I do not know yet who the original illustrator was. The 1928 edition had some especially nice illustrations by Louis Rhead.

British Education

School Stories

Tom Brown's School Days is ca classic in English literature. Not only is it an exciting book, but is a accurate depiction of the English public schools at mid-19th century. It was also was the first of a whole genre of British literature--the school story. Here it was almlost always stories set in exclusive private boarding schools which were of course attended by only a smll minority o British boys.

Movie Versions

There have been several film versions, including adaptations in 1916, 1940, 1951, and 1972 (British TV miniseries). The classic film version is the 1940 by the same name in 1950. Frddy Bartholomew played Tom Brown. Cedric Hardwicke plays the headmaster. The new boys like Tom Brown and East encounter severe hazing in a school dominated by bullies like Flashman. Tom helps organize resistance with all kinds of tricks and practical jokes. They naol Flashman's furniture to the ceiling. The 1940 film was reissued in America as Adventures at Rugby.


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Created: March 28, 2003
Last updated: March 28, 2003