The Public School Magazine, January 1902
A Good School-Story
Acton’s Feud, by Fredk. Swainson (George Newnes, Limited). One of the daily papers in reviewing this book said that it “professed to be a story of Public School life,” and went on to criticize it as unnatural. Surely the reviewer cannot have been at a Public School, or else he must have forgotten much. “Acton’s Feud” is, with the exception of Barry Pain’s “Graeme and Cyril,” in our opinion, the best story of Public School life that has ever appeared. The principal character, Acton, is unique in his way. In every other school-story that, we have read, the villain is simply physically incapable of doing anything right. If he is muscular, he is a bully. If he is not muscular, he is a sneak. He does not know the rudiments of boxing. He lounges about the “play-ground” torturing small boys instead of playing football, and, in a word, makes an utter beast of himself in every possible way. Acton is different. One can see from the beginning that, treated the right way, he is one of the best. Even when he wages war against the hero, one’s sympathies are with him. Most of his methods are sportsmanlike in the extreme. He is in the slackest House in the school, and he drags it with infinite trouble to the position of Cock House. His football is a dream, and by constant practice he rises from being a poor boxer to the heavy-weight silver medal at Aldershot.
As regards the style of the book, Mr. Swainson has hit off the speech of school-life to perfection. It is in the dialogue that most school-stories fail. Even the best of them are behind the times. Mr. Swainson is up-to-date. The following is picked out at random as a sample. One of the juniors, Grim, has caught the work-fever and is trying to lead a higher and nobler life. A friend, Wilson, argues with him thus:—
“Whatever is the good of getting the very word the Beak wants, Grimmy? I always translate Carmen—a song. Does it matter a cherry stone that it sometimes means a charm? Think of your friends, Grimmy, do. If I didn’t know you were a bit cracked, I’d say your performance was undiluted smugging.”
“Cork that frivol, do,” said Grim, “and look over there. How beautiful it is!”
“How beautiful what is?” asked Wilson, astonished.
“The sunset, you ass!”
“Matter of fact,” said Wilson, elaborately agreeing with his friend as a mother might with a sick child, “it is rather fine. Not unlike a Zingari blazer; eh?”
“Exactly like. And that pink on the trees would do for the Westminster shirts.”
“Blazers and shirts,” cried Grim, in disgust, “Oh! get out.”
Also, the descriptions of the various incidents of interest throughout the book are absolutely without padding, “and therefore best,” as the advertisement says. When the opening words of a school-story plunge straight into the middle of things after Mr. Swainson’s fashion: “Shannon, the old Blue had brought down a rattling eleven—two internationals among them—to give the school the first of its annual socker matches,” the reader feels instinctively that here is a school-story that will not outrage his finest feelings with bullies and sneaks, or set his teeth on edge with good young masters. “Acton’s Feud” is a classic. No home will be complete without it. An excellent antidote to the monotony of evening preparation. It’s handy size enables it to be hidden with ease and rapidity on the approach of a master.
Unsigned review, attributed to P. G. Wodehouse in the Addendum to McIlvaine’s bibliography.
Richard Usborne’s Wodehouse at Work to the End (1976), pp. 53–54 (or p. 59 of Penguin 1978 paperback edition), states that Wodehouse wrote this unsigned review, presumably relying on Usborne’s correspondence with PGW. (Thanks to Nick Townend for this information.)