4th December

The First Novel

This morning I received in the post a parcel containing a book and a letter. The book was a novel – a first novel, it transpired – and I recognised the author’s name at once: one of my boys, from all those years ago. I opened it and on the title page was a handwritten dedication – to me! Signed by the author – one of my boys!

I turned eagerly to the letter. It had been written with a proper pen, in black ink, and bore traces of the italic hand I insisted on being taught to every pupil in the school. I always said that, though a boy might later abandon the strict italic form, yet it would remain a steadying, underlying influence, ensuring, at the very least, neatness and legibility.

I remembered the author quite well: a bright, pale-faced boy, not the most intelligent pupil I ever had but certainly not a dunce or a sluggard. He always turned in a good essay. Yes, he knew how to write an essay, but I never imagined he would one day produce an entire novel! Yet here it was, his first, and he had sent a signed copy to me, his old English teacher and headmaster. I was pleased, and flattered too by the contents of the letter. He recalled my lessons – he thanked me for my encouragement – he said that I had left my mark.

Towards the end of the letter he warned that I might find some of the language in his novel strong, and some of his depictions explicit. He would not want to offend me. I was a little alarmed, but surely he would not have sent me the book if it really was offensive?

But oh, when I began to read it! I am old, and no doubt old-fashioned, but not, I hope, a prude. This, however, was too much. The obscenities were overwhelming, the subject matter poisonous. Perhaps he really does mean to insult me. And I am hurt, and ashamed that one of my boys should lower himself to such depths. I feel betrayed, and have laid the book aside. I can hardly think that I shall acknowledge receipt of it.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Guitar: Sorren Maclean
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