Friday, March 20, 2015

Tom Brown and William Brown

I recently came across a review of two of the Just William books, written by Lincoln Allison in 2006:
William Brown first featured in a short story in 1919 and went on to be the central character in thirty-eight collections of stories. 
He shares his surname with Tom Brown and also a place in the great English catalogue of children's (mainly boys') writing which began with Charles Kingsley and Tom Hughes. (I'm not sure when it ended.) But otherwise they are opposites in every way; William is the alternative Brown, the alternative boy. 
Most of the central characters in the vast collection of English children's writing, including thousands of school stories, embody the Victorian idea of virtue to some degree. 
William does not: he does not "do" modesty, humility or unselfishness. His virtues, if you will allow them, are a love of liberty, a zest for life and a kind of honesty. He is more like Falstaff or Bottom than he is like Tom Brown. 
When compared with the Christian Socialism to which the Doctor converts Tom, William's political preferences are a dictatorship with himself as dictator - followed by anarchy if that isn't an option.
He concludes:
I'm tempted by the idea of the universe as a struggle between two eleven-year-old boys called Brown. Tom Brown, I think, stands for something rather sinister, at least potentially. William Brown stands for humour, freedom and the uninhibited enjoyment of both reality and fantasy. ¡Viva la libertad! ¡Viva Guillermo!

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