From the age of 8 to 13, Orwell attended the boarding school St. Cyprian’s under his real name, Eric Blair. Thirty years later he wrote about his experience in the essay “Such, Such Were the Joys,” which was published after the school’s owner, and the essay’s primary target, passed away. Linda Besner surveys Orwell’s experience and the state of boarding schools in the UK today:
“[I]t is difficult for a child to realise,” Orwell wrote, “that a school is primarily a commercial venture.” The Blair family was not rich, and the Wilkeses accepted bright Eric at St. Cyprian’s on reduced fees with the understanding that he must win scholarships and national prizes, the better to boost the school’s reputation. In his account of what would happen when he did badly on tests or otherwise let his academic performance slip, he would be called into the headmaster’s office, where the Wilkeses (known as “Sambo” and “Flip” at the real St. Cyprian’s; “Sim” and “Bingo” at the lightly disguised “Crossgates” of Orwell’s essay), would sit him down and gently threaten him. “And do you think it’s quite fair to us, the way you’re behaving? After all we’ve done for you? You do know what we’ve done for you, don’t you?…We don’t want to send you away, you know, but we can’t keep a boy here just to eat up our food, term after term.”
The child’s fear and shame—the mask of paternalism strategically pulled askew to remind that the face underneath is not that of a father, but a stranger bound to him by money and power—fuels the cringing obedience and rebellious rage of 1984.