13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2010
I'm very happy to have found this jewel amist the cobwebs of a used bookstore. I highly recommend taking some time with it. Lord, Dismiss Us is a remarkable novel with quite some depth to it. The setting is the Spring term of a boys' boarding school in the English countryside. Of note, Campbell actually makes the spirit of the school, for lack of a better phrase, one of the novel's characters as well giving us 2 main characters plus a number of other near-protagonists. The characters are quirky, passionate, intelligent, human & touchingly resonant with familiarity. We've all gotten caught up in being distracted from growing up by falling in--& being confused by--love. Campbell has penned a tragicomedy without much excessive narrative exposition but his lively dialogue gives us everything we need to follow the story, share the characters' growing pains & root for their successes. A criticism might be some readers may get lost with so many characters but Campbell handles his charactes with aplomb; no one gets lost. Campbell's style lies somewhere between a fleshed out play & a stripped down novel; it falls neatly in line with proper British restraint, the kind that sticks it tongue out when you turn your back. At 1 point the chaplain has the thought, "It is possible to have murder in one's heart. She had lately given a new & terrifying meaning to many sections of the Old Testament." The plot is engaging & unpredictable, surprising the reader. There are themes those more conservative will be uncomfortable with but Campbell never quite crosses that line. In fact, sex never quite happens, although it does approach. The novel is an insightful, biting comment on the destructive nature of, not so much homophobia in particular, but intolerance & the damage too close adherence to propriety can wreak, in general. At term's end, the reader is certainly left with both a bittersweet aftertaste & a need to ruminate on the limits of sacrifice.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2014
Without question, the British public school system (what Americans would refer to as private boarding schools) which isolated the sexes of the students during their school years had an enormous impact upon the lives of countless school children. There are novels aplenty to attest to that and the uniqueness of the system--so much so that one could almost consider the British boys (in particular) school novels a subgenre of British fiction. Michael Campbell's Lord Dismiss Us (1967; with an Introduction by Dennis Drabelle in the 2014 re-issued edition by Valancourt Books) is one of the more distinguished works to be set at such a school--in this case, at the fictional Weatherhill (based upon St. Columba's College in Dublin). A new headmaster, Philip Crabtree and his wife have arrived at the school to replace a long-time Head who, according to many, grew too slack "both in the classroom and in the field" and lackadaisical with the school and its some two hundred boys suffering the consequences. The Crabtrees' mission is two-fold: "bringing Weatherhill up to the mark" and proving to critics that such a school system is not "finished" and "out of date." It is a colossal undertaking, especially given the nature of such a school system, the diversity of the staff and students in age, backgrounds, and values and the rather inflexible attitude Philip Crabtree brings to his mission.
What elevates Lord Dismiss Us from many novels set in the British public school system are the characters Campbell creates and the situations in which he places them. Philip Crabtree comes the closest to being a stereotypical character: a humorless and stern new man in charge variously described as "weak and ridiculous." He proves to be single-minded in his approach to staff and students and incapable (as well as unwilling) to try to empathize with anyone at Weatherhill. Ironically, he sees his wife as a partner on his team when in fact she quickly finds herself fascinated with and drawn to the school's Chaplin in what becomes a very one-sided attraction. Philip Crabtree's blindness to his wife's needs and desires are typical of his self-centeredness. Equally typical is his inability to perceive how anything could possibly go awry when he has the "Senior Girls of Gillingham College" (an all-girls school) come to Weatherhill to acclimate the boys to comingling with female society and to ward off the evils of homosexual contact. The day that the two groups of students spend socializing together at Weatherhill which begins with a hilarious and vulgar banner hung to greet the girls is one of two of Campbell's most euphoric and entertaining sequences in the novel.
The all-male environment at Weatherhill and assorted ages of the students from pre-pubescent to near manhood lends itself, as does most novels with this sort of setting, to tales of bullying and sexual escapades. Readers will find some of this in Lord Dismiss Us during the year the novel covers--a term which a number of characters dub as bearing "a notable resemblance to the Spanish Inquisition," but it is far from the novel's main focus. Although there are students who pair off and have gay encounters in well-known (to the students) secluded areas, such escapades are largely kept off stage by Campbell and are not meant to titillate which can be the case in novels of this sort. Indeed, the two characters most conflicted about their sexual identity are not looking for a sexual outlet as much as they are looking for a complete, whole relationship and way of life which puts love at the fore with physical intimacy as a part of the equation, not the end result.
For "the good-looking and intelligent," "virginal, sinless" eighteen-year-old senior Terence Carleton who is handed the perfect opportunity to have sex with another boy, it is his infatuation and love for a different, "well built and dark" boy a year younger than he, Nicky Allen, that fills his dreams and fuels his frustrations. For Eric Ashley, one of the younger teachers on the staff who teaches French and isolates himself from most others on the campus, his inability to live as he would wish and to share his life and love with another male leads to torment. He quickly comprehends the budding love affair between Carleton and Allen and sees in it nothing but disaster for the two boys, especially Carleton to whom Eric finds himself drawn. The agony both Carleton and Eric feel are skillfully portrayed by Campbell as are the consequences and fates of both of the characters by the year's end and the conclusion of the novel.
Readers are likely to find the opening pages of Lord Dismiss Us a bit of a challenge with the number of characters that get introduced, some of whom are addressed by their first names at times and their last names at others, many of which have more than one name (having been given nicknames by the students). Once past that hurtle, the only criticism one can level at Campbell's novel is that on occasion it drags a bit with various characters' inner reflections and one has to watch carefully for Campbell's occasional, unexpected change of narrators.
Admirably, Campbell establishes a level of depth to Lord Dismiss Us that makes his novel much more than a gratuitous look at adolescent same-sex relations. Published in the year that Britain decriminalized sexual relations between consenting same-sex adults, Lord Dismiss Us, is a rewarding novel with its beautiful blend of sundry human emotions. Most of the "damn silly romances" that are created among the boys at Weatherhill come and go largely because of the boys' immaturity. Many of the masters realize this and look the other way knowing that little of a serious or lasting nature will continue between any of the couples. Some of the masters, especially Crabtree, are incapable of looking at such liaisons as anything but sin that must be put to a stop. Ironically, many of the older boys come to the realization that they are not ready to form lasting relationships at Weatherhill and as such, the school oddly fulfills its function to prepare the boys for the future that lies ahead in more than just academics.
Throughout Lord Dismiss Us readers will be aware of the fact that they are reading the work of a very serious-minded writer (he takes his comedy as seriously as his moments of pathos and carries both off brilliantly). The novel is surprisingly free of sentimentality, nostalgia, or melodrama. With a single, magnificently written line, Campbell can create more thought or finer images than many writers can utilizing a page of description. Given the length of Lord Dismiss Us, the amount of introspection among the characters, and the interactions between characters (adults to adults, adults to students, and students to students) readers get to know the fellows of Weatherhill quite well. Readers are bound to find themselves believing in the characters and sharing with the characters their many different sentiments, wishing most of them the best as the school year moves to a close.
The conclusion of Lord Dismiss Us brings with it hilarious mirth, unexpected tragedy, endings and beginnings. The novel's tender conclusion is a work of art.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 1998
I love the genre of British schoolboy novels, especially when there is a gay theme involved. I believe this book to be the best of that genre. It certainly caused a stir when it was first published in England. Although I can understand why it didn't enjoy similar popularity in America, being out of its cultural context, I think that's a shame. It has one of the most beautiful love relationships among adolescents portrayed in any book I've read, has plenty of engaging characters, and besides that it is at times absolutely hysterical, in that dry British way that we Americans have a hard time duplicating. I highly recommend this one.
on April 5, 2015
A book whose themes struck at me deeply. Recommended to those whose own school years were marked, or marred, by homosexual affections, or obsessions. Also recommended to those who wish to spend some hours experiencing the rooms, halls, and fields of a classically English boy's school public school. This book brings this setting to life. One laughs, hurts, floats, and despairs like the characters who seem real and live on after the last page is regrettably reached.
8 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 1997
Michael Campbell's 1970's novel deals with the love affair between two boys at a British public school. This school is a hotbed of passion between the boys, and several relationships between other boys form side plots to the main story.
Carleton is the older boy, who thought he was above all this passion. Yet, early on in the book he uses on of the younger boys to satisfy his physical needs. Then he finds himself falling in love with another boy. He desperately tries to keep the relationship on a platonic level, without any sex. This is played out in a storm of passion and sex between the majority of the boys and some of the masters at the school.
The two become a pair, and fall into a deep love without any passion between them. It is Carleton's last year, and he must move on to university at the end of term, leaving his pal behind.
Try as he may, at the climax of the story, Carleton gets his pal alone in his room. As they cuddle in innocence, his pal not knowing, sex unexpectedly occurs with Carleton climaxing against his pal's embrace. This physical passion shatters the relationship, Carleton cannot handle the forces it has unleashed. And he breaks off with his pal, who has not realized what just happened. Not a happy ending at all.