The Hill: A Romance of Friendship Hardcover – 10 Sep 2010
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The central relationship of the story -- the one of the "romantic friendship" in the title -- is between the main character, John Verney, and his schoolmate, Henry Desmond. Competing with John for Henry's attention is Reginald Scaife, another boy at the school. Around these three is a group of subsidiary characters, all of whom are vividly rendered. They move the story along and provide new insights into the three main players.
This is a world where if someone is good he is consistently very good, and if he is bad, well, let's just say that the word "evil" gets tossed around quite a bit. (The so-called evil acts may strike a contemporary reader as quaint -- getting tipsy with alcohol, wagering over a card game, manipulating younger students, sneaking out at night to go to town.) The starkness of differentiation might all be due to the author's wish for moral instruction -- a common characteristic of public-school novels of the era.
One thing to note is that the "romance" at the heart of the story is not overtly homoerotic. Still, it is curious that over the many school terms depicted in the book there is little mention of females or the pursuit of them. The one teenaged girl who does appear mainly does so by showing up at one event or another on the arm of one of the boys -- seemingly more as a trophy than as an object of romantic pursuit.
Below I provide a list of the main characters and their nicknames, as well as a few words from the book that helped me to keep a clear picture of who's who as I read along. The author has a habit of sometimes referring to a character by his nickname and sometimes by his given name, so if you endeavor to read "The Hill" you might find this summary helpful.
The Manor - where the novel takes place
Damers - rival house of The Manor
(Note that there are several other houses at Harrow)
John Verney - the main character
Henry Julius Desmond - nickname "Caesar" - son of a Cabinet Minister, genial, smiling, with sparkling blue eyes
Reginald Scaif - nickname "The Demon" - son of a Liverpool dock merchant, very good-looking, dark, with strongly marked features
Esme Kinloch - nickname "Fluff" - son of the Duke of Trent - frail, delicate, develops a deep affection for John Verney
Egerton - nickname "The Caterpillar" - tall, slender, aristocratic, son of a Guardsman
Duff - nickname "The Duffer" - freckle-faced redhead, son of a parson
Lawrence - Head of House - big fellow, strong-marked eyebrows
Richard Rutford - House Master of The Manor - nickname "Dirty Dick" or "The Brute"
Dumbleton - butler in the house
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