THE CHARACTER FACTORY: Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts and the Imperatives of Empire by Michael Rosenthal

THE CHARACTER FACTORY: Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts and the Imperatives of Empire

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Neither a biography of Baden-Powell nor a history of the Boy Scouts, which he founded in 1907; instead, a series of essays exploring the society of Edwardian England through the scouts and their founder. Rosenthal, author of Virginia Woolf, gives the familiar biography of the hero of Mafeking and tells how his experiences in the British Army led him to fear for a Britain threatened from within by weakness and by the specter of a working class beginning to disturb ""the serenity of a highly stratified society. ""Baden-Powell envisioned the scouts movement as a panacea for his nation's moral, physical, and military malaise (as Lloyd George said, ""You can't maintain an A-1 Empire on C-3 men""). The medicine would come in many forms. Not only was it a chance for English working-class boys to spend some time in the idyllic countryside. It was also an ideological tool, seeking to produce serviceable citizens for the empire. In this way, it was meant to go hand in hand with the public-school system, the latter forming the elite corps of empire, the scouts its soldiers and sloggers. Rosenthal demonstrates the parallelism of the scouts and public schools, examines the Scout Law, analyzes Baden-Powell's own Scouting for Boys, and looks at some of the other boys' groups that were influenced by the scouts, such as William Smith's Boys' Brigade. In taking these perspectives, he goes beyond the more conventional biographies, such as William Hillcourt's Baden-Powell: The Two Lives of a Hero, which is more concerned with its subject as a man of action. He was that, all right, but Rosenthal has given us a more interesting look at him as a man of ideas. A valuable addition to the literature of British imperialism.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1986
Publisher: Pantheon