William the Fourth

The facts

William was not fond of his own society. He liked company of any sort. He went out to the lawn and stood by his father’s chair.
“You’ve not got much hair right on the top of your head, father,” he said pleasantly and conversationally.

  • Number: 4.14
  • Published: 1924 (1923 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Fourth
  • Synopsis: William stands in, at a school dress rehearsal, for “a Nanshunt Briton”.

Verdict

This one is just a bit too similar to William Gets Wrecked, 3.14, for me.

William dresses up in a caveman costume to help out at a school dress rehearsal; Ginger finds his clothes and, naturally assuming that they were the products of smugglers’ activities, has them sold for charity.

“All right,” said Ginger. “I’ll gettem back. If you will leave your clothes all about the cave lookin’ exactly like smugglers’ things…”

The rest of the story is William’s fruitless quest to regain his suit, during which he is mistaken for an Eskimo model and becomes the butt of the mirth of most of the village’s children.

Eventually he manages to get hold of a younger boy’s suit, which turns out to be ludicrously too small for him, but he puts a brave face on as he returns home: “You know… everyone says how fast I’m growin’…”

I’ve marked this one William comes out on top because, even though he fails to regain his clothes and is punished for their loss, he ends the story in blissful happiness: sitting in the garden, at his father’s knee, recounting an exciting pirate story he had recently read. Just what he had really wanted to do all day. (Mr Brown seemed less happy about this.)

The facts

Mr Bennison believed that children should be led, not driven, that their little hearts should be won by kindness, that their innocent curiosity should always be promptly satisfied. He believed that children trailed clouds of glory. He knew very few. He certainly did not know William.

  • Number: 4.13
  • Published: 1924 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Fourth
  • Synopsis: Ethel bribes William to rid the house of an unendurable elderly suitor.

Verdict

Something of Richmal Crompton’s message from this story must be, ‘Let boys be boys.’

Her distaste for Mr Bennison – an unmarried childless middle-aged man, besotted with Ethel, who has taken it upon himself to write books on good parenting – leaps off the page.

The bed was warm and comfortable and he was drifting blissfully into a dreamless sleep when the door opened and William, carrying the ‘Child’s Encyclopedia of Knowledge’, appeared.
“’Scuse me disturbin’ you,” said William politely, “but it says in this book what you kindly gave me somethin’ about Socrates” (William pronounced it in two syllables “So-crates”) “an’ I thought p’raps you wun’t mind explaining to me what they are. I dunno what So-crates are.”

However, his universal theory of childcare is left in tatters after a night spent in the same house as William.

William has clearly read Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, or at least rule four: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

Mr Bennison’s foremost principle was that “a child’s curiosity must be immediately satisfied when and where it appears, irrespective of inconvenience to the adult”.

But after a few nocturnal conversations about subjects as diverse as astronomy, radio technology and the execution of Charles I (“William was very clever at not understanding Compound Interest”) the houseguest suddenly remembered a pressing need to be elsewhere.

The facts

The dining-room in which William’s uncle was to hold his Liberal Party meeting had a hatch.
The hatch slowly opened. A dirty oval gilt frame appeared, and was by no means soundly attached to the top of the open hatch. Through the aperture of the frame appeared a snub-nosed, freckled, rough-haired boy with a dirty face and a forbidding expression.
William didn’t read sensational fiction for nothing.

  • Number: 4.12
  • Published: 1924 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Fourth
  • Synopsis: It’s election time in the village, and William discovers that the Liberal Party is going to make bread cheaper.

Verdict

Enticed by the wholehearted Liberalism of his uncle, William spies on a meeting of the Liberal Party and discovers, to his deep shock and indignation, that while they want to make the price of bread cheaper, the “ole rakshunary Conservies” are going to make it more expensive.

He therefore makes it his mission to secure a victory for the Liberal candidate.

William gasped. “You?” he said. “The Conservies? But – if you’re both tryin’ to make bread cheaper why’re you fightin’ each other?”

His technique involves breaking into the house of the Conservative candidate and confronting him with the price-of-bread issue.

But then he makes a startling discovery…

This story obviously speaks from Richmal Crompton’s own disenchantment with the rise of valence issues in politics. She seems, essentially, to be using William as a surrogate for her own political journey of discovery.