William's World

Posted by Tory Historian Monday, March 19, 2007

Tory Historian came across an old edition of one of the William Brown books, “William - the Outlaw” by Richmal Crompton. Came across describes the process very well as people in a neighbouring street had put out a couple of boxfuls of old books, encouraging passers-by to take what they wanted and to leave financial contributions, should they so wanted. Tory Historian did leave some.

The books were all a little decrepit and were clearly part of a somewhat random family collection. There was a strong smell of damp hanging around them and “William - the Outlaw” had a sticker that indicated it had been acquired in a bookshop in Lusaka. In fact, there must be an interesting tale around those books.

However, first things first. A book newly acquired requires some reading. In this case, this meant an entire afternoon happily devoted to William Brown and the Outlaws.

Richmal Crompton had the enviable knack of being able to draw any reader immediately into the world she describes. Within a few pages one knows a good deal about William, his parents and siblings, the Outlaws, the school they go to, their other friends and enemies, the village in general and, what is more, one cares about them.

Some aspects remain a little vague. Just exactly how large is that village? Or is it a question of several villages close to each other, all surrounding a nameless town where, one assumes, most of the men work, with farms and fields around them?

For the village has a strongly defined class structure with society being run by matrons and families who live in large houses called things like “The Laurels” and descending to those people in the cottages such as jobbing gardeners. The Browns and the other Outlaw families are in the middle.

They are not particularly grand but Mr Brown manages to keep a cook, a parlour maid and a gardener, as do the parents of Ginger, Douglas and Henry. Mrs Brown is always involved in village activity, such as fetes and bazaars, much disliked by Mr Brown. Robert, William’s brother goes to university and Ethel, his sister, does nothing very much apart from buying new hats, going to garden parties and flirting with young men.

The vicar’s wife figures prominently, as do other locally active ladies.

There is another gang in the village or nearby, the Hubert Laneites against whom the Outlaws wage permanent war. It is assumed that the Hubert Laneites are probably from slightly better off families.

There are enough children in either this one village or several neighbouring villages to keep one or two boys’ schools and, presumably, a girls’ school going, with the assumption that a number of the socially superior children probably attend boarding schools. Children of jobbing gardeners and suchlike, go to the elementary school and get jobs soon after that, possibly by going into service.

William’s school is obviously dedicated to good education and even the Outlaws manage to pick up a certain amount of random knowledge. It is, in fact, surprising how much boys who are dedicated to the outdoor life, playing pirates and Red Indians and the avoidance of anything that smacks of learning, actually know.

The title story of “William - the Outlaw” involves the four eleven year old boys discussing (with a hit and miss accuracy) such matters as parliamentary legislation, trade unions and letters to the press on the subject of people needing a lot of fresh air.

In other stories they display some knowledge of history and literature. Douglas, who is the intellectual of the group, is even knowledgeable about Bible stories and suggests that Joseph must have been like a particularly obnoxious and sneaky boy in the village, called Georgie. Sadly, the growth of civilization prevents the Outlaws from dealing with Georgie as Joseph’s brothers had dealt with him, but they still manage to defeat the little sneak, with the help of one right-minded adult and through some knowledge of English history. (No, no, read it yourself. The story is called “Georgie and the Outlaws”. You won’t regret it.)

In the “Knights of the Square Table”, the Outlaws are driven by bad weather to reading a book about King Arthur, given to Ginger by his aunt, and the tales enthral them.

When William affirms that there must still be wrongs to right though they probably do not hear about them, Ginger agrees:

My father’s got a lot of wrongs to start with. Rates an’ income-tax an’ that sort of thing.
William disagrees:
We’re not going to start rightin’ those. It’d take us months to right those. They’re not really wrongs, either. They’re only things grown-ups go on about at breakfast. They’d go on about somethin’ else if we got those righted. They aren’t what I call wrongs. Not like bein’ put in dungeons an’ havin’ your lands ravidged by giants nd your castle stole off you by false knights.
Well, he has a point.

Needless to say, their desire to emulate the knights of old ends in a complicated disaster but they do manage to bring the young man they have befriended together with his damozel.

William does almost always mean well. It is not his fault and not really fair, as he keeps trying to explain, that things go wrong.

Tory Historian’s own favourite story is “William, Prime Minister”, in which Henry, who usually knows things about the outside world, explains to them what the forthcoming election is all about:
“Do shut up int’ruptin’, said Henry, “I’m tryin’ to tell you ‘bout this gen’ral election. There’s four sorts of people tryin’ to get to be rulers. They all want to make things better, but they want to make ‘em better in different ways. There’s Conservatives an’ they want to make things better by keepin’ ‘em jus’ like what they are now. An’ there’s Lib’rals an’ they want to make things better by alterin’ them jus’ a bit, but not so’s anyone’d notice, an’ there’s Socialists, an’ they want to make things better by taking everyone’s money off ‘em and there’s Communists an’ they want to make things better by killin’ everyone but themselves.”
This may have been published in 1930 and the Liberals are but a sad dream but for all of that, it is hard to find a better summary.

William, wisely, eschews political ideas and goes for personalities, becoming Conservative because the man who had been their guest a little while ago “who’d just returned from a shooting trip in the African Veldt where he’d shot elephants, buffaloes and numerous other animal, and had once met a lion face to face on a jungle path when he was totally unarmed and had walked past it showing no more concern than if it had been a hen” is a Conservative.

On that platform, he wins the election, becomes Prime Minister and is immediately faced with demands from the electorate. Fulfilling, more by luck than design, the first demand, William, again wisely, decides that being Prime Minister is no fun at all, resigns and goes off to play Red Indians.

Would that other politicians followed his example.


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