STAND BEFORE YOUR GOD: A Boarding-School Memoir by Paul Watkins

STAND BEFORE YOUR GOD: A Boarding-School Memoir

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An unsentimental memoir of being an American in English boarding schools -- the first nonfiction from the author of The Promise of Light (1993), etc. Watkins registers his shock as a small boy upon being left by his father at the Dragon School near Oxford. A dreamy child, he learns to endure a sadistic teacher's beatings and the special ways the English have of dealing with such intruders as ""Our New Friend from the Colonies."" Watkins shows how quickly children can accept extreme conditions and get on with the concerns of childhood, from pillow fights to G.I. Joes, and once, blissfully, an outing in a small airplane with his visiting father. But home in Rhode Island on vacations, he doesn't fit in anymore: ""From now on I would be intruding in both places,"" he remarks, and writing stories begins to make him feel less lonely, ""free to travel across the centuries, in and out of people's hearts and minds."" Soon after Watkins moves up to Eton, his father dies of cancer. His father, a Welshman, had also gone to the Dragon School but had always felt inferior to Etonians, and Watkins here depicts an Eton in love with itself and its history; forced to be a good little soldier in school, he identifies with the Eton fallen of WW I and II, and the historical novels begin to take shape. His more personal experience of school, however, is explored less deeply than one could wish -- his regret at not having made more friends at Eton, his motives for reporting two boys he found in bed together, his reaction to a classmate's suicide. A graceful and ultimately sad account that tends to keep to the surface but, even so, makes us question assumptions about education, tradition, and the elite.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1994
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Random House