Standard Novels in Secondary Schools in British Isles, United States, ca. 1955-1965

Extollager

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For an article I'm working on, I'd welcome information about the prose fiction (not drama or poetry) you read (or know to have been read) by midcentury students ages 12-18 or so -- especially "college-bound" students.

In the U. S., these might have been likely selections, either for classroom assignments or recommended reading for summer:

Swift's Gulliver's Travels (abridged and perhaps retold)
Defoe's Robinson Crusoe
Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip van Winkle" (retold?)
Conrad Richter's The Light in the Forest
John Steinbeck's The Pearl
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans (abridged?)
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Scott's Ivanhoe
Poe stories -- "The Fall of the House of Usher," etc.
Dickens's Tale of Two Cities
Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter (also "Young Goodman Brown," perhaps "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," "Rappaccini's Daughter," etc.)
Melville's Moby-Dick, "Bartleby the Scrivener"
Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre
George Eliot's Silas Marner
Hardy's The Return of the Native
Conrad's "Secret Sharer," Heart of Darkness -- for the college-bound anyway
Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Tom Sawyer
Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
O. Henry's "The Lady or the Tiger?"
Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
Harte's "Outcasts of Poker Flat"
Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game"
Crane's Red Badge of Courage
Huxley's Brave New World
Orwell's Animal Farm and sometimes Nineteen Eighty-Four
Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye
Golding's Lord of the Flies
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

I might guess that British students would read some Kipling and Dickens, but I am pretty ignorant about their likely assignments.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Dale Nelson
 

Randy M.

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John Steinbeck's The Pearl
Poe stories -- "The Fall of the House of Usher," etc.
Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter (also "Young Goodman Brown," perhaps "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," "Rappaccini's Daughter," etc.)
Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Tom Sawyer
Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
O. Henry's "The Lady or the Tiger?"
Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
Harte's "Outcasts of Poker Flat"
Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game"
Crane's Red Badge of Courage
Huxley's Brave New World
Orwell's Animal Farm and sometimes Nineteen Eighty-Four
Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye
Golding's Lord of the Flies
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

I feel pretty confident recalling the above, though some of my recollections would be more between 1965 and 1975, and are based in part on what students in other sections mentioned reading.

I remember reading The Pearl, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, The Old Man and the Sea, Of Mice and Men, The Red Pony and A Separate Peace. Those would have been mid-to late '60s, so I would expect also earlier. Students in other sections mentioned Johnny Tremain. Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart" was read to us one Halloween by a TA dressed in appropriately somber clothing, curtains drawn, lights off, her desk lit by candles (I have trouble imagining a teacher getting away with that now).
 

The Judge

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The decade you've chosen is well before my time (ha! Not often I get to say that on here!) so I can't help with specifics in England for that actual period. My husband was only just starting in secondary school at the end of 1965, so again most of his school career is outside the decade, but he actually can't recall any novels that he might have been set in school, though he does recall the plays and Chaucer he did for O-level (aged 14-16) though whether he didn't study any novels or he's just forgotten them, who knows.

What I can say, though, is that we were both at good grammar schools, which were in the higher tier of state schools, and we had no "recommended reading" for the summer holidays of any kind, so the chances of the secondary modern or comprehensive schools having done so is remote, and I rather doubt it would have been any different in the decade before us.

As for me, I do recall having to keep a diary of my reading when I first started secondary school at age 11 (I was still entranced by Enid Blyton books and my mother was effectively told to get me off them and onto something better!) and we were certainly encouraged to read, but I can't recall anything we were reading at school then. By the time I was doing O- and A-levels we were looking at Austen and Thomas Hardy (possibly Eliot, as well?), and the only modern author was William Golding. The only likely difference from the decade before is no Golding and perhaps some Bronte or Trollope. I can't recall reading any American author in school, though again that might be my memory at fault.

There would have been no difference in our schools between those thinking of going to university and those choosing to go to FE colleges or straight to work -- any difference would have come about as a result of the O- or A-levels chosen. Those who did English or English lit from the age of 14 would necessarily have read more than those who didn't. (Though from memory I think English may have been a compulsory subject to the age of 16 in the 70s.)

That's probably not of any real help to you, but might just highlight some differences in how English schools worked. Scottish schools may well have been very different to us, by the way, as their education system was reputedly better than ours.
 

Extollager

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I feel pretty confident recalling the above, though some of my recollections would be more between 1965 and 1975, and are based in part on what students in other sections mentioned reading.

I remember reading The Pearl, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, The Old Man and the Sea, Of Mice and Men, The Red Pony and A Separate Peace. Those would have been mid-to late '60s, so I would expect also earlier. Students in other sections mentioned Johnny Tremain. Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart" was read to us one Halloween by a TA dressed in appropriately somber clothing, curtains drawn, lights off, her desk lit by candles (I have trouble imagining a teacher getting away with that now).
How about London's "To Build a Fire" -- did you read that one?
 

Randy M.

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Nope. The only London I read then was The Call of the Wild, on my own, because the paperback came attached to a big bottle of wash detergent. :LOL:
 

Extollager

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The decade you've chosen is well before my time (ha! Not often I get to say that on here!) so I can't help with specifics in England for that actual period. My husband was only just starting in secondary school at the end of 1965, so again most of his school career is outside the decade, but he actually can't recall any novels that he might have been set in school, though he does recall the plays and Chaucer he did for O-level (aged 14-16) though whether he didn't study any novels or he's just forgotten them, who knows.

What I can say, though, is that we were both at good grammar schools, which were in the higher tier of state schools, and we had no "recommended reading" for the summer holidays of any kind, so the chances of the secondary modern or comprehensive schools having done so is remote, and I rather doubt it would have been any different in the decade before us.

As for me, I do recall having to keep a diary of my reading when I first started secondary school at age 11 (I was still entranced by Enid Blyton books and my mother was effectively told to get me off them and onto something better!) and we were certainly encouraged to read, but I can't recall anything we were reading at school then. By the time I was doing O- and A-levels we were looking at Austen and Thomas Hardy (possibly Eliot, as well?), and the only modern author was William Golding. The only likely difference from the decade before is no Golding and perhaps some Bronte or Trollope. I can't recall reading any American author in school, though again that might be my memory at fault.

There would have been no difference in our schools between those thinking of going to university and those choosing to go to FE colleges or straight to work -- any difference would have come about as a result of the O- or A-levels chosen. Those who did English or English lit from the age of 14 would necessarily have read more than those who didn't. (Though from memory I think English may have been a compulsory subject to the age of 16 in the 70s.)

That's probably not of any real help to you, but might just highlight some differences in how English schools worked. Scottish schools may well have been very different to us, by the way, as their education system was reputedly better than ours.
Thank you! My hunch is that American students read more 19th- and 20th-century fiction with "romance" elements than their British counterparts did. Conversely, my impression is that British students reading 19th- and 20th-century novels and short stories would have focused on social themes, realistically presented, to a greater degree than Americans did. I mean by "romance" that type of literature that emphasizes unlikely or unusual peril, relatively sharply-delineated good and evil, perhaps the freedom of life in the forest contrasted with the restrictions of the town and city, and so on. The tradition of the realistic novel is seen in the books of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Trollope, etc. -- people dealing with familiar kinds of problems such as misunderstandings, faithfulness or unfaithfulness in friendships, the struggle to be a person of integrity over against false values of commerce, and so on. Does that sound right?
 

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we had no "recommended reading" for the summer holidays of any kind, so the chances of the secondary modern or comprehensive schools having done so is remote, and I rather doubt it would have been any different in the decade before us.
I was certainly given a "recommended reading list" like that by my Comprehensive School but I cannot remember what was on it now.; very similar books, I expect. However, this was the early 1970's, and also long after the period @Extollager is looking for. Before my children went to Secondary Schools in the UK (age 11 or 12) they were also given a reading list with these kinds of books. It's a long time since I had children that age though, so you would need to ask someone else if that still continues today.

I'm quite sure I never completed the list myself, and I doubt others did either, but I was also recommended books to read by individual English teachers than were much closer to what I wanted to read.
Those who did English or English lit from the age of 14 would necessarily have read more than those who didn't.

The good thing about that (as far as @Extollager is concerned) is that they would also read material for their exams that was "set" nationally by the exam boards. In my day, it was one novel, one book of poetry and one play, and there were many different University matriculation boards, each with their own syllabus (no idea about today, but I expect there is more uniformity now). Anyway, you could research old O and A level exam papers from that period to see which books were being set. It is likely to be Dickens, Austin, Chaucer, Hardy.

I did a quick online search and this is a question others have asked without an adequate answer. I think you may need to consult some academic journal for answers. The Journal of Curriculum Studies comes up as a hit on the search.
 

The Judge

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Thank you! My hunch is that American students read more 19th- and 20th-century fiction with "romance" elements than their British counterparts did. Conversely, my impression is that British students reading 19th- and 20th-century novels and short stories would have focused on social themes, realistically presented, to a greater degree than Americans did. I mean by "romance" that type of literature that emphasizes unlikely or unusual peril, relatively sharply-delineated good and evil, perhaps the freedom of life in the forest contrasted with the restrictions of the town and city, and so on. The tradition of the realistic novel is seen in the books of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Trollope, etc. -- people dealing with familiar kinds of problems such as misunderstandings, faithfulness or unfaithfulness in friendships, the struggle to be a person of integrity over against false values of commerce, and so on. Does that sound right?
The kind of book sounds right, but I can't recall any deep analysis of that kind, not even at A-level. My recollection is of broad themes -- nature, for instance in Hardy -- and scrutinising the language used, a kind of critique of word use.


I was certainly given a "recommended reading list" like that by my Comprehensive School but I cannot remember what was on it now.;
For summer holiday reading? You clearly had a more oppressive work load than we did then, or my nearest siblings (two older, one younger; one other grammar, two secondary moderns) because I'm sure I had nothing of the kind and I did sod-all in the summer hols** and if I'd been perceived as getting away with it but they'd had a reading list to work through, I'm sure I'd have got it in the neck.


** that is, I would have read a lot, but because I was a book-worm and all of my own choice from the library/my brother's SFs, not because it was recommended, let alone required
 

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For summer holiday reading?
It was given before we began school (same for my children) and to be perfectly honest I was never sure if you were meant to read them during the holidays before you began (which would be totally unrealistic) or if they were to be read during the first few years (which still didn't happen anyway). So, I couldn't say what the point of the list was. No one ever checked it had been completed. Did it ever change? Did anyone give feedback on it? I have no idea.
 

The Judge

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It was given before we began school
Ah, so not quite what I understood Extollager to be talking about in his opening post, which suggests US students had lists for each summer. I'm pretty sure we didn't have even that starting list, either, though, since I was definitely reading Blyton for at least the first term as a third former, she most certainly wouldn't have been on any list, and even allowing for innate bloody-mindedness I don't think I'd have totally ignored what I was being told/advised to read.

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Yes, that does ring a faint bell.
 

Randy M.

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I don't recall recommended reading lists, by the way. In my area that seems to have been a later development.
 

CupofJoe

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I can remember very joyless trips to the local library where one of my parents would take out some of the Recommended Reading list books for me to "enjoy" over the summer break. Across the summer I probably read most of them. Or at least told my parents I did. It did make me read Emil and the Detectives. There is two days I won't get back.
 

AnRoinnUltra

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Not much help, but your question got me thinking of a pretty hardcore Sci-Fi piece of fiction that was compulsory Irish secondary school reading up till the 80's (I'm guessing it must have reached the end of it's run at that stage); it was called An Dúchasach Deireanach and was set in a dystopian future where everyone over 50 years of age got the chop in a local 'hall of death' ...it stuck in my head at the time as it seemed so out of place among the the more traditional fiction -your post raised a long lost memory, and irritatingly the internet is drawing a blank (will post here if I find out more)
 

Extollager

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I don't recall recommended reading lists, by the way. In my area that seems to have been a later development.
I was thinking of possible lists that "college-bound" students might have been given as recommended summer reading. I was never given such a list myself, so far as I remember, and I don't know if anyone attending my various schools was. I believe some young people at the time were given such lists of suggested reading.
 

M. Robert Gibson

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Again, later than the requested time period (mid 1970s), but for 'O' level English we did Golding's Lord of the Flies
(The play was Julius Caesar and I think the poet was Ted Hughes)

Also, I've still got my old school books and one of the essays we did was to write from the viewpoint of one of the minor characters in Day of the Triffids, so I guess we had to read that as well. (I remember this not because of some wonderful feat of memory, but because I've recently posted it on my blog. Sad or what? :giggle:)
 

hitmouse

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I was thinking of possible lists that "college-bound" students might have been given as recommended summer reading. I was never given such a list myself, so far as I remember, and I don't know if anyone attending my various schools was. I believe some young people at the time were given such lists of suggested reading.
There are plenty of university courses that send out reading lists to freshers the summer before they go up e.g. Balliol College, Oxford. I know someone who actually read the whole list, but most people sit on a beach and make a fairly token effort.
 

Robert Zwilling

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Plenty of those already listed plus
Wharton's Ethan Frome
Steinbeck's Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, The Wayward Bus
Dicken's Great Expectations
Hershey's Hiroshima
Shute's On The Beach
Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man
Wells's War Of The Worlds, Time Machine, Invisible Man, Island Of Dr Moreau, First Men In The Moon, Food Of The Gods,
Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Around The World In 80 days, Journey To The Center Of The Earth, Michael Strogoff, Robur The Conqueror, From The Earth To The Moon,
van Vogt's The Weapon Shops Of Isher, fellow student recommendation

The Bradbury, Wells, Verne, stories were mostly from a paperback rack in the school library where you could purchase books. Hershey, Shute, Buck were in the same book display.
 

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