Latin, stockings, and snobbery - Naomi Mitchison, George Orwell and others remember their schooldaysby Ian Irvine / August 21, 2013 / Leave a comment
Janice Galloway with classmates at primary school (third row, far left)
Naomi Mitchison recalls her days at the Dragon School in Oxford before the First World War:
“I liked the smell of school, I liked hanging up my coat with the rest… The only wretched thing was that when I started school I had to start wearing black stockings which went right up under my button-below-the-knee knickers. Apart from that I wore a blue serge skirt and a blue jersey, but I did at least have a school blazer with badge. I remember in my first term a boy approached me with a tin and asked if I would like some bread and cheese. Not being allowed to eat cheese and supposing myself not to like it, I hesitated. But when he opened the tin it was hawthorn buds which I ate happily and still eat… I felt I was being admitted into the society.”
George Orwell writes about prep school in 1915:
“The snobbishness that was an integral part of my own education would be almost unthinkable today, because the society that nourished it is dead. I recall a conversation that must have taken place about a year before I left St Cyprian’s. A Russian boy, large and fair-haired, a year older than myself, was questioning me.
“‘How much has your father got?’
“I told him what I thought it was, adding a few hundreds to make it sound better. The Russian boy, neat in his habits, produced a pencil and a small notebook and made a calculation. ‘My father has over 200 times as much money as yours,’ he announced with a sort of amused contempt.
“That was in 1915. What happened to that money a couple of years later, I wonder? And still more I wonder, do conversations of that kind happen at preparatory schools now?”
Lorna Sage remembers grammar school in the early 1950s:
“Latin stood for higher education, still, in the early 1950s, a kind of litmus test for academic aptitude—you couldn’t get into university without an O-level in Latin, it was the sign of being able to detach yourself from [the] here and now, abstract your understanding of words, train your memory…
“‘Nisi Dominus Frustra’ [‘Without the Lord, all is in vain’—the school’s motto] was mumbo-jumbo for the mind’s ear. The motto my new…