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19th June 2024

Book review: A Very Private School by Charles Spencer

Finito World

 

Many people who have been to boarding school will recognise the following question and answer. “When you think of the school, what’s the one word that comes to mind?” “Fear”. This establishes the theme of Charles Spencer’s book which raises many questions around privilege and trauma in our society. Spencer’s time at Maidwell Hall, where he boarded for five years in the 1970s, was truly awful, and the writer makes multiple allegations of sexual abuse about the staff there, sometimes naming them. It is extremely brave of him to speak out about his experiences. Spencer also manages to do more than simply to convey them – sometimes he is able to understand them, suggesting that this book has been the product of a considerable amount of painful reflection. “’Her control over mesmerised boys was total, for we were starved of feminine warmth, and desperate for attention and affection,” he writes of one unnamed assistant matron who seems to have treated him especially badly.  Are things any better today? One hopes so, as much of this book is alarming to read. But I don’t think boarding school, since it involves wresting children from their parents at a young age, can ever really take fear out of the equation.

 

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