Joe's in English Literature.
Joe's features in at least three novels, Kicking Around by Terry Taylor, the ironically titled Leave a Light on for Jesus by Vincent Cobb (RIP), The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths and The Boy in The Boat by Brian O’Raleigh .
Kicking Around by Terry Taylor follows the life of the protagonist through childhood to adolescence, in a series of hilariously comical vignettes, centred around playgrounds, classrooms and soccer and rugby pitches. The action takes place in the city of Southpool, a soubriquet for Blackpool, a name modification in the style of Thomas Hardy. At St John of The Cross Primary School (St John Vianney's), soccer is the preferred sport, while at St Michael's (Joe's), rugby is taught by Oliver Xavier O'Connell, known to the boys as Oxo, an amalgam character composed of features of several typical teachers at Joe's. This is the author's description of Oxo.
'In youth probably built like a mountain, by middle years Oxo's figure had suffered major landslides, resulting in a shape not unlike a gargantuan pear-drop. ........ On a rugby pitch, civilisation ceased at his hairline, above which nestled a full head of neatly coiffeured fleece greying to the perfect shade of leaden silver which can complement real looks and mature sophistication. Below Oxo's scalp squatted two hundred and fifty pounds of raging moo-cow. He was a large flabby animal with a film-star hairdo.'
Joe's is neatly summarised in this succinct passage.
'Like most grammar schools with pretensions, St Michael's had a small chip on its shoulder about not being a public school. So we had our prep school, and, though in a very small minority, boarders. And also a range of school traditions in the Tom Brown vein. some unique - the single sanctioned deviation from a strictly-enforced school uniform was the green cravat worn by the head boy. Some pious - fasting in lent and a week-long religious retreat prior to Easter. Some mundane - sports days, speech days, masters' gowns, a choir, an orchestra and a school song with a chorus in Latin. And some frankly eccentric - an unswervable insistence that Friday lunch consist of fish cake, chips and beans, considered nourishing, rather than peas, considered common.'
As you will see, the work has a style of its own rather than following in the pattern of Classical English comic writing. It owes more to Mark Twain than to Jerome K Jerome. I don't believe it is autobiographical although it does contain autobiographical material and it has the air of truth about it, despite some palpable exaggerations. But as Mark Twain himself says 'There was things what he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. ...That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied, one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly or the widow.'
Leave a Light on for Jesus by Vincent Cobb (RIP) is a scarifying indictment of the Catholic school and clergy system. The protagonist is a boy, brutalised by his sadistic father and by the Christian brothers, and later sexually abused by the clergy. In the opening chapter, we are introduced to his austere school.
'St Joseph's College - or Holy Joe's jailhouse as it was commonly referred to - was situated on the top of a hill, on a main road, about a half mile from the Catholic church St Kentigern's and approximately two miles from Blackpool's town centre. It was a singularly depressing building, constructed of grim, grey, quarry-stone slabs, sometime in the last century. It was also a part boarders' college, and whenever Erin felt overly sorry for his lot, he only had to consider the plight of the boarders, who had no means of escape, to lift his spirits.'
Three of the characters are instantly recognisable. There is 'the Headmaster, Brother Woodhouse, or Woodpecker, as he was sarcastically referred to', a vacillating character who recognises that a boy in his charge is suffering abuse but whose ultimate solution is to try to have him moved to a state school. Brother Phillips (actually Tubs Phelan) sees the boy as 'a cocky little runt' and his teaching methods include beating the boy about the head with a strap. Some time after the setting of the novel, Phelan disappeared from Joe's after accusations of sexual abuse of boys. Another character is Brother Murray who, 'as a rule, cared for the general welfare of his pupils'. Murray struggles ineffectively to defend the boy, pointing out to Woodhouse that 'someone has to come bottom of the class', but his pleas are rejected by the headmaster, who seeks to place the blame for the boy's troubles outside the school, and exacerbates the boy's plight by writing to his father, accusing him of neglecting his son's education. The actual Murray became sickened by the attitude of his fellow Christian Brothers, and some time later left the order. Woodhouse's letter acts as a catalyst for the father's indignation, causing him to explode and perpetrate more violence, which obliges the boy to leave for London, where he encounters other abusers and other forms of abuse.
The text is often excruciatingly explicit in detail but the narrative allows the reader to empathise with the protagonist, who maintains a positive attitude, despite all that he encounters. A fine story and a good read, but not for the squeamish reader.
The Woman in Blue by
Elly Griffiths is a post modernist detective story, possibly influenced by
elements from Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. The mystery is
enclosed within Walsingham, a pilgrimage centre in Norfolk, where all the
characters are imbued with some form of religious belief or remnants of
it. There are priests and vicars and lady priests, in abbeys, chapels, a
cathedral, churches of multi denominations and a lunatic asylum where the
inmates talk of angels. As if this weren’t enough, the beginning of the
work introduces a Druid and a cat called Chesterton.
The Boy in The
Boat by Brian O’Raleigh is one of those coming-of-age novels in which
the protagonist passes through a series of crises and eventually finds
redemption. ‘The Boy’ is trapped in a dystopian environment with a brutal
drunken father, a lifestyle of penury and a horrific school, St Joe’s!
|If you know of any other novels that mention Joe's, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org If you don't know of any, why not consider writing one?|