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A groundbreaking classic
on 21 August 2013
It's hard to imagine the society in which this was published. If you wanted a radical view of public schools, 'Goodbye Mr Chips' was about as far as it went. They were the unquestioned bastions of excellence in education, fostering world leaders, captains of business, culture and the media. Of all public schools, Eton was the very acme of empire and establishment. And in the days before Anderson's 'If', Beyond the Fringe and Monty Python, the words' 'empire and establishment' could be said without irony.
This book changed that and was one of many small shifts in direction that made the Sixties swing and built modern Britain.
A brilliant debut from a young novelist who went on to produce many other notable, but largely under-appreciated, books, The Fourth of June exploded the myth of power associated with public schools and with Eton in particular, a world where institutionalised bullying and privilege is assumed to create character, loyalty and integrity. It is a very human tale, touching and unsensational, but scalpel-sharp in its writing and satire.
Although it is something of a period piece, its re-release is incredibly timely. Once again, Old Etonians hold the highest positions in government and Michael Gove's policies hail a return to the educational values of the 1950s - values that this book does much to discredit.
This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how both culture and education got to where they are today - and where they might go if left unchecked.