On Jon Silkin’s ‘School’
I first met Jon Silkin at a Manchester University Conference where, with Prof. C.B. (Brian) Cox and Ted Hughes, he was involved in the promotion of the Verbal Arts Association. This was in 1984, but we kept in touch.
As a result of our friendship, when Jon had commitments in London, I arranged for him to visit Downe House School in Newbury and North Foreland Lodge, Hampshire, where I was a senior mistress. I invited him to lead revision seminars. As with the greatest of teachers, his insights into The Merchant of Venice, and D.H. Lawrence’s poems ‘Piano’ and ‘Bavarian Gentians’ remain with me to this day.
The enlightened headmistress of North Foreland Lodge, Susan Cameron, allowed me to commission ‘School’, around the time of the school’s centenary. Jon was enchanted by the house and gardens, but appalled by the arrogance of the girls.
North Foreland Lodge was the lone survivor of a cluster of boarding schools for girls of ‘good family’; West Heath (where Diana, Princess of Wales was educated) was another and had recently closed. In the past, eccentricity and outrageousness rather than intellect had been encouraged at North Foreland Lodge. The aim, of course, was for the girls to marry ‘well’. The consequence was that the girls, while emotionally needy, became ruthless in their exploitation of others’ goodwill. Jon realised how drained I had become and worried for me.
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