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School Discipline

Corporal Punishment in Fiction

The Dragon in the Garden by Reginald Maddox. United Kingdom. 1968.

The book is written in the first person as the memories of a boy named Jimmy Stewart who is 13 and has never been to school. His somewhat unconvential artist parents have taught him at home, but after a fight, his father decides he needs to go to school to learn how to deal with other people and he is sent to the local all boys comprehensive. On his first day, his new classmates tell him that the best way to get along with their strict Form Master, is to make sure you call him “Charles” and never “Charlie.” When Jimmy does this, he is asked to identify the boy who told him this and when he does so (with no real understanding that you don’t tell on other people) that boy receives two strokes of the cane on his hands in front of the class. The Form Master intends to cane Jimmy, who refuses on the grounds that he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong, and that he doesn’t believe in corporal punishment anyway. He is sent to the Headmaster who impresses him with his fairness, making it clear that he will be caned and be expected to accept that if he deserves it, but on this occasion he won’t be.

Later on in the book, he mentions being slippered on the backside by the Gym Master who he likes and respects, when he deserves it.

I can’t avoid mentioning one other scene – he is sent to school because of a fight with a local bully named ‘Fagso’. When Jimmy’s father and Jimmy encounter Fagso engaged in an act of mindless vandalism, his pacifist father winds up putting Fagso across his knee and spanking him until he’s bawling like a little boy.


The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall. United Kingdom. 1975.

Set in a dockside city of England during the bombing raids of the Second World War. The local children collect souvenirs from the bombing – the more dramatic the better. Chas McGill has the second best collection of war souvenirs in the city – second only to his archenemy, the bully, Bodser Brown – and then in the wreckage of a German bomber hidden in the woods, Chas finds the ultimate souvenir – a machine gun and 2000 rounds of ammunition.

There are three canings in this book – Chas manipulates Bodser into getting six of the best for stealing souvenirs from the same plane Chas got the machine gun from (thus diverting attention as well), and also receives three strokes for for not paying attention in assembly. But the most detailed events surround a fight between Chas and Bodser where Chas seriously injures the much bigger boy by using his gas mask case as a weapon and receives six of the best across his bottom on the grounds that “British boys fight with their fists.”


Fathom Five by Robert Westall. United Kingdom. 1979.

Sequel to The Machine Gunners. Two years after the events described in that book, Chas McGill becomes convinced there is a spy operating in the city passing on shipping information to the Germans. Along with his friends (at least the ones who aren’t still locked up in Approved Schools and Borstals – Chas, coming from a ‘good background’ escaped with a birching) he investigates.

Less corporal punishment in this book than the previous with only one brief description. I really only mention it because I’m following on from the previous book and because it’s a fairly interesting description talking about his friend Cem always reacting with near hysterical laughter whenever he is caned simply as a nervous reaction.


The Headmaster’s Son by Tom Holland.

Jack Cairn is the Headmaster’s son, but far from being proud of his son the headmaster regards him as a lazy, morose, dull boy and a huge disappointment. Jack is bullied at school and very unpopular. Things come to a head over a skirmish with another boy and both are caned in front of the whole school at assembly. The headmaster automatically thinks his useless son must have been the instigator and so gives the other lad a token two strokes on his hand, whilst Jack gets a severe thrashing across his bottom. Improbably this becomes the turning point and with the encouragement of his kindly form master, to whom he pours his heart out after the teacher finds him sobbing shortly after his caning, Jack turns his life around by becoming the best football player in the school, eventually earning the respect of his father.


The Offenders by RH Ward early 60s UK
The book is set in a boarding school and it has several canings in it. First one of note is where the main character a prefect gives a bully eight strokes. The bully is wearing pajamas and the scene describes the bully taking his dressing gown off before bending over.

The Housemaster then canes the prefect because he had been making love to the Headmaster’s niece, and the Housemaster thought that he had been making love to another boy. He orders the prefect to lower his trousers and underpants and to raise his shirt. To the Housemaster’s surprise the boy strips completely before bending over. This puts off the Housemaster so muh that he doesn’t realise how hard he is caning, and hits hard enough to break the skin.

By the way the prefect is demoted as well as gated for the remainder of his time at the school, (several weeks before the end of term before going to university).

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