‘The Loom of Youth is autobiographical, the story term by term of my four years at Sherborne.’
(A.R. Waugh, The Early Years of Alec Waugh (London: Cassell, 1962)
In 1965, Alec Waugh presented Sherborne School with the manuscript of his first novel The Loom of Youth. The novel was written between January and March 1916 while Alec was at the Inns of Court OTC training camp at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. He was 17 years of age. The novel was accepted for publication by Grant Richards on 31 January 1917 and published on 19 July 1917.
Alexander Raban Waugh (1898-1981) was born on the 8 July 1898, the elder son of Arthur Waugh (1866-1943), managing director of the publishing house Chapman & Hall, and his wife Catherine Charlotte (née Raban) (1870-1954). His younger brother, Evelyn Waugh, was born on 28 October 1903.
In September 1911, Alec joined Sherborne School and, like his father before him, boarded at School House. During his time at Sherborne Alec was a member of the 1st XV (1914) and of the 1st XI (1914, 1915), a House Prefect, captain of the School House XV, editor of The Shirburnian, a member of the Games Committee, and a Corporal in the OTC. While at Sherborne, Alec fell under the influence of Stuart Petre Brodie Mais (1885-1975) who had joined the School’s teaching staff in October 1913. Mais was in favour of educational reform and was a frequent contributor to discussions in the press. The Headmaster later blamed Mais for encouraging Alec to write The Loom of Youth, although Mais always denied any involvement. In January 1917, Mais’s novel Interlude was published by Chapman & Hall. The novel so closely detailed life at Sherborne School that Mais was forced to resign at Easter 1917.
Following a scandal caused by Alec’s relationship with another boy at the School, the Headmaster Nowell Charles Smith suggested to Arthur Waugh that Alec should leave a year early at the end of Summer term 1915. In September 1915, at the age of 17, Alec joined the Inns of Court OTC and in January 1916 he was sent to camp in Berkhamsted for training with his company. It was while at Berkhamsted that Alec began to write his ‘love letter to Sherborne’, posting it section by section to his father. Alec’s father later recounted the book’s genesis in his autobiography One Man’s Road (1931): ‘Just after Christmas 1915 he began The Loom of Youth, writing it on any odd sheets of paper which he could collect in the hut of the Y.M.C.A. at Berkhamsted, and sending me the pages to read, morning after morning, between breakfast time and the next parade. He wrote the book with the conviction of a man who has had a task set before him, and he carried the task through within a period of six weeks. It was a genuine tour de force, done against time.’
Initially, Arthur Waugh was against the publication of the novel. Writing to Alec on 21 January 1916 he warned him that if the novel was published that neither of them would be able to go to Sherborne again and that they would not be able to send his younger brother Evelyn to school there. However, once the novel was accepted by Grant Richards on 31 January 1917, Arthur could not resist the temptation of publication, although he still strongly advised toning the novel down. The manuscript reveals that Alec and his father did remove some of the more critical passages and that attempts were made to disguise the location and the identities of the individuals, although to anyone who knew Sherborne they were still immediately identifiable. Arthur Waugh’s main contributions to the text were editorial, correcting spelling and punctuation, although the manuscript reveals that he did make two substantive additions in the form of a description of the Chief [Headmaster Nowell Charles Smith] and a brief history of the Pack Monday Fair. Arthur Waugh’s prediction of how Sherborne School would react to the publication of novel was correct. Its timing, just six months after the publication of Mais’s scandalous Interlude, only increased the sense of outrage and betrayal felt by many members of the teaching staff. In the autumn of 1917, Arthur and Alec Waugh were asked to resign from the Old Shirburnian Society and Evelyn was sent to Lancing College.
The original manuscript of The Loom of Youth is written in pen and pencil, sometimes neatly, sometimes hurriedly, on a variety of papers ranging from notepaper to pages taken from an army workbook and the back of headed writing paper from the Waugh family home in Hampstead. The following extracts are taken from the original manuscript.
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