Alexander Staveley Hill

(1825—1905) barrister and politician

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Horace Annesley Vachell, 1905, John Murray. The novel begins with the arrival of young John Verney at Harrow a couple of years before the outbreak of the Boer War. The first person he meets is Harry Desmond, a cabinet minister's son, who becomes his idol. Unfortunately, he has a rival for Desmond's affections in the powerful but corrupt Scaife, whose deficiencies seem to be as much social as moral (his father is a self-made millionaire). There is a great deal of public-school background, complete with impenetrable slang (some of it glossed in footnotes). The school might be seen as a metaphor for the state of the ruling classes: sound structure, a certain amount of ‘dry-rot’ here and there (‘too many beasts wreck a house, as they wreck a regiment or a nation’). The bestiality, which involves Scaife, seems to be restricted to bridge. ‘Thank God,’ the Headmaster remarks, ‘this is not one of those cases from which every clean, manly boy must recoil in disgust.’ After an Eton–Harrow cricket match, in which Desmond and Scaife distinguish themselves, war is declared; both join the army, and leave for South Africa. Desmond dies a heroic death. The slightly younger Verney, still at school, is unconsolable—until he receives a letter from Desmond, written the night before the latter's death, describing him as ‘the best friend a man ever had, the only one I love as much as my own brothers—and even more’.

From The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.

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