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"The Hill" takes place at the Harrow School in England in the era before the Boer Wars. It follows a group of boys from their first year at the school to their last, chronicling triumphs and failures in friendship, academics, and sports. For a modern reader, especially someone like me who is unfamiliar with the British public school system, some of the terminology will be confusing, although along the way the author sometimes provides explanatory footnotes that are helpful.
The central relationship of the story -- the one of the "romantic friendship" in the title -- is between the main character, John Verney, and his schoolmate, Henry Desmond. Competing with John for Henry's attention is Reginald Scaife, another boy at the school. Around these three is a group of subsidiary characters, all of whom are vividly rendered. They move the story along and provide new insights into the three main players.
This is a world where if someone is good he is consistently very good, and if he is bad, well, let's just say that the word "evil" gets tossed around quite a bit. (The so-called evil acts may strike a contemporary reader as quaint -- getting tipsy with alcohol, wagering over a card game, manipulating younger students, sneaking out at night to go to town.) The starkness of differentiation might all be due to the author's wish for moral instruction -- a common characteristic of public-school novels of the era.
One thing to note is that the "romance" at the heart of the story is not overtly homoerotic. Still, it is curious that over the many school terms depicted in the book there is little mention of females or the pursuit of them.Read more ›
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