I actually began reading this a few weeks ago, but didn’t get into it, and then found this very good reading of it among Librivox’ newly catalogued works. I’m guessing the lone reader may have had a bit of a public school education himself – he certainly seemed very comfortable reading the quotations in Greek and Latin.
Once the story gets going it’s a very good one, describing Tom Brown’s time at Rugby and his growth there, in company with his friends Arthur and East, and under the supervision of The Doctor. I read Hughes’ preface to the 6th edition as describing it mostly as a polemic against bullying, and while that is an important issue I think there is rather more going on. Hughes is very open about recommending a whole moral code to his intended readership of (public) school boys of his time, from a particular Victorian view of Englishness, boyhood and Christianity. I wouldn’t espouse it all myself, by any means, but I can see that he ties it together, and justifies whatever he sees as being at all non-mainstream. He is very strongly against bullying, in all its forms, and sees it as a trait to be stopped early (often through corporal punishment) or never.
The volume I have also includes Tom Brown at Oxford, which I’m looking forward to reading, now that I’ve got interested in the characters and how they are progressing. Will Tom’s moral compass hold true as he is exposed to new ideas? Indeed, how much will he be?
Over in Niccolo Rising, chapter 5, Claes, Felix and their friends are also showing their ability to cause large amounts of mischief without malice (we hope).