Deering of Deal

September 20, 2007

Deering of Deal, by Latta Griswold, is one of the most adorable books I’ve ever read, but I’m going to have a hard time talking about it, because I know I shouldn’t be devoting more time to Reggie Carroll than to Tony Deering, who is, after all, the main character.

Tony is a cheerful but sensitive southern boy, who, like all of the men in his family before him, has been sent north to attend a fictional boarding school called Deal. His father and grandfather, by the way, are named Victor and Basil, respectively. I mention this only because I think the names Basil, Victor and Anthony are sort of in harmony with each other in a way that pleases me.

When Tony arrives at Deal, the headmaster, Doctor Forester, who is an old friend of Tony’s grandfather, asks Jimmie Lawrence to help Tony find his way around the school. Jimmie is “a slender, dark-haired handsome youth. He [has] a frank countenance, an engaging smile, black hair, and beautiful dark eyes.”(7) This sounded very promising when I first read it, but six pages later, Reginald Carter Westover Carroll was introduced, and I sort of forgot all about Jimmie. Reggie Carroll, who is a year older than Tony and Jimmie, is tall, languid, and ironic. He has “rather fair, well-moulded features, a cool gray eye, a quiet but somewhat patronizing manner, a drawl to his speech, and a general air of distinction, not unmingled with conceit.”(13) He teases Tony by calling him “my Socrates.” He runs with a bad crowd. He writes poetry. In the world of Deering of Deal, there is no one cooler.

In the middle of his first night at Deal, Tony is woken by four boys bent on hazing him. Or rather, three boys and Reggie Carroll. This is Reggie’s bad crowd, and he mostly hangs out with them because he’s bored and they like to break rules. When Tony tricks the hazers, escapes from them in a way that makes them look very silly, and then passes up the opportunity to make fools of them by telling the whole school about it, Arthur Chapin, Harry Marsh, and never-given-a-first-name Thorndyke are super resentful, but Carroll appreciates Tony’s “whiteness” and the two become friends.

Carroll is actually in a pretty difficult position because, while he thinks throwing over Chapin, Marsh and Thorndyke for Tony is the right thing to do, and while he likes Tony better than them anyway, he’s not a particularly open person, and he can’t become close enough with Tony and his crowd to make up for the loss of his friends. This leads to: a) the occasional subplot in which Reggie starts hanging out with Chapin’s crowd again, but ends up doing something that shows both how honorable he really is and how much he cares for Tony, and b) a lot of brooding. Most of Reggie’s brooding centers on writing poetry by moonlight, but a good deal of it also involves regretting that Tony and Mr. Morris, their house master, don’t like Reggie as much as he likes them. He also knows how to balance his time, though: he only broods when no one is around. And he broods less as the book goes on, because he becomes good friends with both Tony and Mr. Morris, spends more time on his schoolwork than he had previously, and wins prizes in poetry and things. He’s so disaffected and cute.

Sadly, this book is not about Reggie Carroll. But Tony Deering is a nice boy, bright, cheerful, attractive, athletic — all that the hero of a book like this should be. He’s always getting in trouble because he’s too honorable to explain what really happened whenever he’s accused of anything. But that’s not as much of a problem as it is is some other books, because the situations in Deering of Deal aren’t created purely to make the characters suffer.

There is one pretty over the top situation, though, involving a boy named Finch, who, by general consensus, ought never to have been sent to Deal at all. He’s not “the right sort.” Bill Morris asks Tony to look out for Finch, knowing that Tony’s the only boy who could help Finch adjust, but instead Finch starts hero-worshipping Tony and playing mean pranks on people who seem not to like Tony. The lesson of the book seems to be that when lower class boys enter the intense homoeroticism of a boarding school atmosphere, obsessions and stalking ensue, but that said atmosphere encourages growth of character in what Stalky, Beetle, and M’Turk would call “pure-souled, high-minded boys”.

I thought a lot about Stalky & Co. as I read Deering of Deal. There are some obvious similarities, because the books take place at similar times, and there are also some scenes that made me wonder whether every boarding school during that time was exactly the same, or whether Mr. Griswold was supplementing his plot with bits of other peoples’. Mostly, though, it made me think that Stalky & co. probably weren’t quite as different from their classmates as they liked to make themselves out to be.

A note on the texts I’ve linked to: The Internet Archive was the only place I could find Deering of Deal, which means that there’s kind of a large file to be downloaded, , but it also meas that that largest pdf file they’re offering is sort of beautiful, which is not something I ever thought I’d say about a pdf until I started reading books from the Internet Archive. So don’t be discouraged.

As for Stalky, I’d have linked to the Gutenberg text — I usually do, when there is one — but I boycott their version of Stalky because they call M’Turk “McTurk.” So I’ve linked to Google Books instead. Isn’t it fabulous that there are choices like that?

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