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ATHLETICISM AND EMPIRE IN P. G. WODEHOUSE'S THE WHITE FEATHER
BHARATI SESHA KASIBHATLA
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Bharati Sesha Kasibhatla
To my parents, Anu, Neets and Rishabh
I wish to thank Dr. Chris Snodgrass, whose faith in my ability and whose constant
guidance with my writing has helped me tremendously. I am indebted to Dr. Pamela
Gilbert for her comments on my work and for the many great classes I took with her. I
cannot imagine having completed my thesis without my parents' unwavering belief in my
abilities. The daily progress report I provided them helped me stay on course. I could not
have wished for a more loving and supportive atmosphere at home.
Special thanks go to my friend Anu, who has been and will be very dear to me for
reasons too innumerable to state. She has been one of the most significant influences on
my thought process. It has been my privilege to know Neets, a truly wonderful person. I
am thankful for her constant support and friendship. Working with Ariel has been a
pleasure, and I have greatly benefited from her comments and encouragement.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Rishabh, who has stood by me through all my worries
and depressions. I treasure his warmth and presence in my life, and hope to be there for
him as well.
Last but not least, I want to thank the English department faculty and staff, in
particular Kathy, who suffered my innumerable requests and questions. Her support is
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
ABSTRACT ............... ........................................ vi
1 IN T R O D U C T IO N ............................................................................... .............. ..
2 ATHLETICISM AND IMPERIALISM IN P. G. WODEHOUSE' S THE WHITE
F E A TH E R ............................................ ......... ..................................................... 4
A thleticism in Public Schools.............................................................. ............... 4
Disorder and Empire ................... ........ .......... .. .... .... .. ....... ....
S h e e n ...................................................................................................................... 1 0
Empire and Class ................ ......... .................. 17
D u n sta b le .......................................................... .................................2 1
3 CONCLUSION..................... ..................30
LIST OF REFERENCES ................ ......... .................32
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ........................................................................................ 33
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
ATHLETICISM AND EMPIRE IN P. G. WODEHOUSE'S THE WHITE FEATHER
Bharati Sesha Kasibhatla
Chair: Chris Snodgrass
Major Department: English
In his analysis of the influence of sports in the public school education of the late
Victorian and Edwardian ages, J. A. Mangan posits a link between the "inculcation of
manliness" of the games ethic and the diffusion of these games in the colonial world by
the erstwhile students of these public schools. A similar link between games and imperial
manliness can be drawn in P. G. Wodehouse's The White Feather. In the narrative,
Sheen, the protagonist, journeys from cowardice to a boxing title, and thereby the text
enacts the relationship between masculinity and empire, in which the defeated is the
colonial other. Wodehouse's argument legitimates an elite patriarchal norm by steadily
curbing "slackness," or disorder, which is read in terms of effeminacy, racial difference,
class and radical politics. That said it is significant that the text contains elements that
subvert this logic of imperial masculinity. The text grapples with inconsistencies within
the games ethic and these inconsistencies signal a rupture in Wodehouse's largely
orthodox argument. Dunstable, a student of Wrykyn, the public school in the story,
represents this potential for subversion. His ambiguous morality serves to question the
more or less stable moral versus immoral paradigm that the text valorizes.
The pedagogue with an academic mind and furrowed brow is not the schoolmaster
of today, he is a warm creature of flesh and blood who loves exercise.
Paul Ford in Cookson, Secondary Education
The outcome of Waterloo would certainly have been the same without the existence
of the Eton wall-game: the nature of the Empire would scarcely have been the same
without the public school games ethic.
J. A. Mangan, The Games Ethic And Imperialism
In his study of the influence of sports in the Victorian and Edwardian public school
systems, J. A. Mangan suggests that the diffusion of games in the colonial world by men
who went to public schools and universities in this period is often a "moral enterprise"
with "a profound purpose: the inculcation of 'manliness'" (Mangan, The Games Ethic
and Imperialism (17, 18). Furthermore, he draws a connection between the emphasis on
sports and manliness in the public school and empire. Games, he says, "were the pre-
eminent instrument for the training of a boy's character ... And by means of this [games]
ethic the public schoolboy supposedly learnt inter alia the basic tools of imperial
command: courage, endurance, assertion, control and self-control" (18). P. G.
Wodehouse's The White Feather, a Public School story published in 1907, follows
Mangan's logic that the British Empire is unthinkable without the games ethic of the
Victorian and Edwardian Public School. In the course of Sheen's journey from
cowardice to a boxing title, the text enacts the relationship between masculinity and the
empire, where the defeated is the colonial other. However, the text also grapples with
1 Sheen is the protagonist. He is a student at Wryky, the public school in Wodehouse's The White Feather.
inconsistencies within the games ethic and these inconsistencies signal a rupture in
Wodehouse's largely orthodox argument in favour of an elite imperialistic patriarchal
The White Feather valorizes an elite masculine ideal of a nation where the
victorious "hero" is also a political conservative and a part of the public school system.
Wodehouse's argument legitimates this elite and patriarchal norm by steadily curbing
"slackness," or disorder, which is read in terms of effeminacy, racial difference, class,
and politics of the left. Over this slackness, the text superimposes a patriarchal ethic of
honour, team spirit and morality, what Clowes 2 calls, "the old brigade," which is framed
within context of colonization. Therefore the masculine norm that the text upholds is a
victory over various versions of slackness: effeminacy, the lower classes, radical politics,
selfishness, racial/colonial others, and Dunstable's 3 challenge to the "old brigade." The
"old brigade" demands honour, and Dunstable, while he is masculine, is not attached to
honour as Wodehouse defines the term. Wodehouse's argument for a healthy mind, body
and nation (as opposed to a slack mind, body and nation) falls short of its promise in its
encounter with Dunstable, who is neither an adherent of this norm, nor opposed to it.
While the text easily controls slackness in the other areas through the binary of victory
and defeat, it cannot impose that pattern on Dunstable because of his ambiguous position.
For the argument to maintain itself as it nears its conclusion, it becomes important to
negate Dunstable's potential for disruption. With all the other versions of slackness, the
2 Clowes is an ex-student of Wrykyn, who is visiting as part of the university football team sent to play the
school. As he discusses the bad state of the school football team, he sighs dramatically and calls for a return
of the boys of the old brigade. Clowes in only half jesting, and in the story, Wodehouse goes on to
recuperate the old brigade values very much in earnest.
3 Dunstable is a student at Wrykyn.
pattern of negation or containment is defeat; but since Dunstable's ambiguity makes a
direct negation difficult, the text counters his problematic presence by eliminating him
from the second part of the narrative.
ATHLETICISM AND IMPERIALISM IN P. G. WODEHOUSE'S THE WHITE
Athleticism in Public Schools
In the last decades of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century, the
discourses on education and the public schools were concerned with debates about
intellectualism, masculinity and empire. The key debate was staged between the
supporters of the curriculum as the primary goal of schools and the supporters of physical
education, namely team games. The spokesmen who put greater emphasis on the intellect
included Matthew Arnold, S. P. B. Mais and E. H. Culley, who steadily criticized the
overwhelming emphasis of sports in the public school system. Ranged against them were
philathletes who were headmasters of public schools, such as Hely Hutchinson Almond
(Loretto, 1862-1903), C. Norwood (Harrow, 1926-34), M. J. Rendall (Winchester, 1911-
24), and Edmond Warre (Eton, 1884-1905). As Mangan argues in his excellent historical
analysis of public school education, the latter group envisioned masculinity and team
sports as a means of nation/empire building, and conflated intellectualism with passivity
and effeminacy. James Eli Adams' points out that "If masculinity defines a
fundamentally ascetic regimen, if manhood must be forged through being batteredd with
the shocks of doom,' then the feminine balms of home may seem to enervate rather than
support men" (10). In the context of the public schools, the pedagogue with the furrowed
brow who spent most of his time in study, it was argued, signaled an erosion of
athleticism and health. This enervation called for self-discipline, to renew the vigor
exhausted by excessive study, and the concomitant need in Public Schools for the ideals
of athleticism advocated by headmasters such as Almond. In The Games Ethic and
Imperialism, Mangan points out that H. H. Almond was interested in "a new generation
of men not characterized by literary accomplishment or varnish of culture, but disciplined
and strong." Mangan goes on to say that Almond
wallowed in a vocabulary of violence, strength, struggle, sacrifice, heroics and
hardiness. His language comprised a conscious attempt to paint in words an image
of a neo-Spartan imperial warrior, untroubled by doubt, firm in conviction, strong
in mind and muscle. It was a Darwinian rhetoric ... The imagery is that of the new
crusader, strong in the Lord and the power of His might, marching confidently to
the outposts of Empire in a righteous cause the guiding of the world's destiny.
In Loretto, the public school under his command, and in his quest for imperial
dominance, Almond proposed fitness tests for the Indian Civil Services, since "it is not
the scholar or mathematician, but the man of nerve, endurance, high courage, and animal
spirits, who may avert disaster in any future mutiny" (28). In the privileged public school
arena this imperial potential was located in team games such as cricket and football.
Mangan cites the Bristol Mercury to make the connection between race and sports: "a
race between the victors in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race and in the Yale and
Harvard contest would not only draw spectators but also strengthen the links of Saxon
unity as nothing else can. [John Astley Cooper's] objective is ... to develop the
sentiment of the Anglo-Saxon race through its common passion for sports" (54). To
actualize the imperial potential, it was essential to support athleticism, and in this context,
intellectual work is enervating. Sheen, the protagonist of The White Feather, is slack at
the beginning because he represents intellectual work rather than athleticism, and his
progress towards pugilistic glory is accompanied by an increase in his self-confidence
and sense of well being.
Wodehouse responded to the current debate in favour of physical prowess: "It is
bad to specialize at games at the expense of [academic] work, but of the two courses the
latter is probably less injurious. One gains at least health by it" (63). However, it is
significant that Wodehouse tempers his love for athleticism with the need to win
scholarships. He writes, "the happy mean was the thing for which to strive. And for the
future, [Sheen] meant to aim for it" (63). It is important for Wodehouse to temper his
emphasis on athleticism with intelligence or skill, even though he primarily supports the
former important because intelligence is the main difference between Sheen, on the one
hand, and Peteiro and Revidus on the other. As the commentary during Aldershot makes
evident, Peteiro is a mere slogger at boxing while Sheen, who is not as strong as Peteiro,
wins because he is skilled. Similarly, Albert Revidus is merely a rabble-rouser and,
although he supports the radical candidate in the elections, he does so on the basis of
muscle power rather than because of any supporting political rationale. Drummond 1 and
Sheen, who are "more intelligent," work well as heroes in opposition to Revidus and
Peteiro. So the Wodehousian framework admits the merits of Gotford winners, but does
so all the more when the student is also in the first fifteen or the first eleven. 2 Sheen, for
instance, who was in the unique position of a Gotford winner with no one to congratulate
him, found celebration only with his victory at Aldershot. The rhetoric used to celebrate
1 Linton, Drummond, Dunstable and Stanning are some of the other important characters in the book, all
students at Wrykyn. Drummond is important because he is one of Sheen's two role models in his aspiration
for an athletic and imperialist masculinity. Albert Revidus is a lower class bully who supports the rival
radical candidate, Pedder, in the elections. The school, Wrykyn, supports the conservative candidate,
Bruce. Peteiro is the half-caste who is sent home to England to be educated.
2 The Gotford is a prestigious scholarship. The first fifteen and first eleven are the school football and
cricket teams, respectively. These are the teams that represent the school at the inter-school level. There are
other teams within the school, for instance the house teams and also the second and third fifteens and
winners at Seymour's (the house Sheen belongs to) points to the valorization of athletics
at the expense of intellectualism. The use of the phrase "well played" as a general
metaphor for "well done" is a case in point.
There was a pleasant custom at Seymour's of applauding at tea any Seymourite
who had won distinction, and so shed a reflected glory on the house. The head of
the house would observe, "Well played, So-and-So!" ad the rest of the house would
express their emotion in the way that seemed best to them, to the subsequent
exultation of the local crockery merchant, who had generally to supply at least a
dozen fresh cups and plates to the house after one of these occasions. When it was
for getting his first eleven or first fifteen cap that the lucky man was being cheered,
the total of creakages sometimes ran into the twenties. (112)
In another Wodehouse School Story, The Head ofKay 's, the housemaster, Mr. Kay
is not a philathlete. His lack of interest in his team's fortunes on the cricket pitch is linked
to the disorder in his house. Mr. Kay commands no respect from his students because of
his "pettiness" in refusing to celebrate or even recognize the victories of his house in
cricket and football. The Head ofKays ends with his dismissal and with a philathlete's
accession to the position. All is well in this story since it ends with a sportsman at the
helm of the house. In the same story, in contrast to Mr. Kay, Mr. Blackburn of
Blackburn's is an enthusiastic supporter of football and commands his students' respect
because he is a sportsman. He knows, therefore, it is implied, the value of trust and the
right spirit to be at the helm of a Public School house. In the same vein, Seymour's, in
The White Feather, is a good house because its head, Mr. Seymour is a philathlete who,
in the spirit of sportsmanship, celebrates occasions of glory by saying, "well played!"
The resemblance between Blackburn's and Seymour's is not coincidental, where an
emphasis on sports is ultimately also a rejection of intellectualism, because intelligence
of the bookish order signifies effeminacy. The effects of such intellectualism are clearly
visible in Sheen, a coward who lets people take advantage of him. Among other things,
Wodehouse makes his argument for athleticism by portraying Sheen's shame at his lack
Disorder and Empire
The White Feather takes as its starting point, disorder, attributed to a general
"slackness" in school and compounded by the politically radical elements in town.
Eventually, in its efforts to cleanse the school (and implicitly the nation) of "slackness,"
the text works towards the "old brigade" values, which imply the love of athletics, order
and team spirit; Albert Revidus, a member of the lower class, symbolizes the political-
radical disruptive element; and Sheen of Wrykyn, the Public School in question,
represents a passivity and cowardice at the onset of the narrative. As the story evolves,
the disorder is rectified: Albert Revidus' candidate is defeated by the conservative Bruce,
and Sheen, who is initially submissive and avoids games, becomes a Public School
boxing champion. Other disorders are also rectified. Stanning, the selfish student at
Wrykyn representing a threat to the "old brigade" values, is exposed for a fraud. Peteiro,
who is the colonial other, a "half-caste" sent to England to be educated, is defeated at
boxing by Drummond and also later, by a reformed Sheen. The conceptualization of
disorder in these terms underlines Wodehouse's valorization of an orthodox upper class,
white, masculine and English ideal. This privileging of order and discipline over disorder
needs to be understood within the context of imperialism. In Dominance Without
Hegemony, Ranajit Guha links the vastly popular Samuel Smiles' emphasis on duty and
obedience to the dominant bourgeois need to avert such "negative consequences" as the
"Nihilists in Germany and Russia, and the fire and destruction of the Communists' war in
Paris," and the suffragette movement nearer home (41). Guha points out that in a
from obedience and duty Smiles saw the tragic decline of "the old principle that the
world must be ruled by kind and earnest guardianship." However, there was still a
place in the world where the "old principle" was very much alive and guardianship
was earnestly, if not altogether kindly, exercised. That was Indian under the British
The White Feather 's nostalgic longing for the "old brigade" values, in the tradition
of Smiles' search for the "old principle," ends with the arrival of the old principle
following the defeat of Peteiro, who is merely a slogger (though powerful), at the hands
of a now strong-willed and clever Sheen. In the process, the text rectifies disorder to
establish order; "slackness" and "effeminacy" (marked by Sheen's soft and flabby mind
and body) in favour of strength of will and a tight and muscular body; and radical politics
in favour of "discipline and order," and a particular version of masculinity and
conservative politics. Guha situates Smiles's "old principle" in colonial India; in
Wodehouse, the "old principle" is upheld when Sheen defeats Peteiro at Boxing.
Discipline is crucial to the discourses of masculinity, the latter being, in James Eli
Adams' words, "an incessant self-regulation."
Over the course of the century, however, commentators increasingly distinguished
between a masculine self-discipline, which they represented as an ongoing regimen
of aggressive self-mastery, and a feminine self-denial, which they represented as a
spontaneous and essentially static surrender of the will to external authority.
In an effort to establish Sheen's aggressive self-mastery, the textual containment
works through a series of exclusions: a passive Sheen is stifled at the beginning of the
story, but his increasing propensity to discipline and strength of body and mind makes
him legitimate, and finally, the hero. In the process, Albert Revidus, Stanning and Peteiro
are eventually silenced in the service of order and discipline. Sheen defeats Stanning,
because Stanning is jealous and divisive as his self-interest takes over his team spirit.
Drummond defeats Revidus because he represents radical politics in a text that favours
the conservative right, and both Drummond and Sheen defeat Peteiro because he satisfies
the role of the colonial other in Wodehouse's words, he is a "nigger" and a "savage"
Sheen is a "feminine boy" 3 who becomes an expert pugilist at the end of the story.
He is passive in his dislike for team games and his lack of self-confidence becomes a
matter of shame. The crisis in Sheen's life is the result of his "funking," when he is too
scared to defend his schoolfellows from Albert Revidus' marauding gang. Even as most
of the school imposes shame on Sheen by cutting him, Sheen is himself ashamed of his
cowardice and feebleness. Sheen, who begins by thinking of improving on his flabby
mind and body by steady exercise, 4 reaches a point following the "funking" where this
exercise is imposed on him in terms of honour and discipline.
We are introduced to Sheen in his study, and aptly so because domesticity is
Sheen's hobby. "On the afternoon following the Oxford A match, Sheen, of Seymour's,
was sitting over the gas-stove in his study with a Thucydides. He had been staying in that
day with a cold. He was always staying in. Everyone has his hobby. That was Sheen's"
(Wodehouse 18). The second chapter, where Sheen enters the narrative, is titled "Sheen
At Home," and as he decides to step out of his domestic space, the titles become more
I take this phrase from Norman Gale's verse. It is apt because it describes Sheen well.
"What is the world is the use of a creature
All flabbily bent on avoiding the Pitch,
Who wanders about, with a sob in each feature
Divising a headache, inventing a stitch?
There surely would be a quick end to my joy
If possessed by that monster a feminine boy" (Athleticism 189).
4 "[Sheen's] brain felt heavy and flabby. He realized dimly that this was because he took too little exercise,
and he made a resolution to diminish his hours of work per diem by one, and to devote that one to fives"
active. So, when Sheen's study is invaded by Dunstable and Linton, we are still at "Sheen
Receives Visitors and Advice," but this changes subsequently to "Sheen Begins His
Education," "Sheen's Progress" and Sheen Goes to Aldershot." The chapter titles make
the same journey that the text makes, from a passive domesticity to an active foray into
Sheen's journey from a passive domestic space to the public boxing ring suggests
James Eli Adams' point that masculinity and domesticity are incompatible. 5 Not only
must Sheen alienate himself from his "hobby" of reading in his study, the logic of
Wodehouse's argument compels Sheen to step into the public sphere to "perform" his
masculinity. 6 Wodehouse's introductory comments about Sheen place him firmly within
the category of the domesticity in two significant ways: Sheen is not a team-sports person
and he works exclusively for the Gotford scholarship. 7 While the Gotford is, in itself, an
active and ambitious pursuit, it is passive in opposition to sports. Wodehouse mentions
5 "If masculinity defines a fundamentally ascetic regimen, if manhood must be forged through being
batteredd with the shocks of doom," then the feminine balms of home may seem to enervate rather than
support men. This logic is one important, albeit largely tacit, rationale for the Victorian public school: the
"manliness" of a Charles Kingsley is a virtue that cannot be acquired at home. Less often observed is the
more subversive possibility that manhood cannot be sustained within domesticity, since the ideal is
incompatible with ease" (Adams 9, 10).
6 As Adams argues, there is the "intractable element of theatricality in all masculine self-fashioning, which
inevitably makes appeal to an audience, real or imagined" (11).
7 "Nobody at Wrykyn, even at Seymour's, seemed to know Sheen very well, with the exception of
Drummond; and those who troubled to think of the matter at all rather wondered what Drummond saw in
him. To the superficial observer the two had nothing in common. Drummond was good at games-he was
in the first fifteen and the second eleven, and had won the Feather Weights at Aldershot-and seemed to
have no interests outside them. Sheen, on the other hand, played fives for the house, and that was all. He
was bad at cricket, and he had given up football by special arrangement with Allardyce, on the plea that he
wanted all his time for work. He was in for an in-school scholarship, the Gotford. Allardyce, though
professing small sympathy with such a degraded ambition, had given him a special dispensation, and since
them Sheen had retired from public life even more than he had done hitherto. The examination for the
Gotford was to come off towards the end of the term." (Wodehouse 18, 19)
the study in opposition to the cricket and football field, and the description of Sheen in
his study is followed by Sheen's disgust at his flabbiness in mind and body. "[Sheen's]
brain felt heavy and flabby. He realized dimly that this was because he took too little
exercise, and he made a resolution to diminish his hours of work per diem by one, and to
devote that one to fives" (20).
The introductory description is followed by three visits: Stanning visits Sheen first
and laments his physical shape and his choice of Drummond over Stanning. The authorial
voice comments at this point that Sheen is painfully afraid of giving offence, "the
keynote of Sheen's character was a fear of giving offence. Within limits this is not a
reprehensible trait in a person's character, but Sheen overdid it, and it frequently
complicated his affairs" (19). In effect, Sheen's masculinity suffers because, in keeping
with Adams' point, masculinity is unsustainable, in this context, within the confines of
the study. This quality is evident in the second visit when Dunstable and Linton invade
his study for food. Instead of asking them to leave, Sheen offers them food. The moral of
the story, as Drummond later makes clear to Sheen, is that the public schoolboy needs to
be on guard against a tendency towards a slack and feeble disposition.
But look here, it's rot. You must keep your end up in a place like this, or everybody
in the house'll be ragging you ... Look here Sheen, you really must pull yourself
together. I'm not ragging. You'll have a beastly time if you're so feeble. I hope you
won't be sick with me for saying it, but I can't help that. It's all for your own good.
And it's really pure slackness that's the cause of it all. (28)
Drummond visits him third. The exchange implies that Drummond, who has little interest
outside of cricket, football and boxing, is healthier in his attitude to the house than Sheen
- Drummond's interest in sports is the reason for his healthy adjustment and for the fact
that he is an able administrator. The three visits underline the problems with Sheen's
passive submission, which is implicitly a product of slackness. In opposition stand four
dominant and aggressive alternatives for Sheen to emulate: Drummond, Linton, Stanning
Sheen follows Drummond through his transformation, and the parallels between the
two point to the desirability of an honourable male authoritative figure. Only Drummond,
among the four boys, is honourable at this stage in the narrative. Stanning is in the black
books of the authorities,8 and Dunstable and Linton are unscrupulous at this point.
However, Drummond is the only legitimate presence in the study he was invited by
Sheen. Also, he notices the problem with Sheen and tries to advise him on the demerits of
the situation, making him the only person among the visitors who really cares for Sheen.
Additionally, Drummond's ability as a leader is impressive he is capable of
taking care of the entire floor and does not need help with maintaining discipline. As a
mark of Sheen's success at emulating Drummond, Sheen, who is second in command, is
required to fill in for Drummond at a point when he (Sheen) has made tremendous
improvements as a boxer. In an exhibition that parallels Drummond's excellent
capabilities, Sheen, who would otherwise not be able to maintain discipline, makes
effective use of the swagger stick. But this comes later in this story; in the beginning
Sheen typifies the intellectual and effeminate stereotype that headmasters such as
Almond worked to expel from public schools.
It is significant that while Wodehouse favours physical prowess, he links it to
mental activity of a particular kind. As an example, Joe Bevan, the boxing instructor and
8 This is the introductory comment on Stanning, and his friend Attell: "There are certain members of every
public school, just as there are certain members of every college at the universities, who are "marked men".
They have never been detected in any glaring breach of the rules, and their manner towards the powers that
be is, as a rule, suave, even deferential. Yet it is one of the things which everybody knows, that they are in
the black books of the authorities, and that sooner or later, in the picturesque phrase of the New Yorker,
they will "get it in the neck". To this class Stanning and Attell belonged (Wodehouse 18, 19).
one of the best boxers in England, is also extremely fond of Shakespeare. Bevan is the
antithesis of the "savage" pugilist in his intelligence and sensitivity to his students' needs.
Like Drummond and later Sheen, Bevan is an intelligent boxer. Wodehouse needs to
make this distinction between the intelligent boxer and the pure slogger in order to create
that distinction between Peteiro, who is a "savage" and a "slogger," and Sheen and
Drummond, who are intelligent and agile. Implicit is the anxiety that the "savage" will
introduce disorder within the ordered ranks of the "old brigade," which is why it is
important to defeat Peteiro not once but twice, at the hands of both Drummond and
Sheen. Stanning, who funks just as he is to go to Aldershot because of Peteiro, is not of
the caliber to shoulder the responsibility of the nation, while Sheen, who is eager by this
point to shoulder the responsibility, makes for the perfect candidate for imperial
leadership. The race bias in unmistakable in this distinction where the "oriental" boy is
used to make the point of English supremacy.
Reverend J. E. C. Weldon, the headmaster of Harrow from 1881 to 1895, was
conscious of the duties of Harrow and its service to the Empire. Of "Oriental" boys in the
English Public School, Welldon argued that such boys could be introduced to the
"knowledge of Christian life by welcoming a limited number of Oriental boys to a full
comity with their English school fellows" (Mangan, The Games Ethic andImperialism
42). In his book Forty Years on, Weldon writes of an instance of a fight in school where
he 'naturally' excused a boy for hitting an Egyptian fellow student because the latter had
"said something bad about the British race" (38). Both these remarks reveal the discourse
surrounding the Oriental boy in a public school; a discourse Wodehouse was aware of
and responded to through Peteiro.
Peteiro is a "half-caste," "savage," "nigger" and is situated within the range of
colours from "ebony to light yellow." While the presence of this "half-caste" serves the
function of spreading "sweetness and light" to the otherwise savage world, defeating this
"savage" in boxing as a result of cleverness, if not strength, merely reinforces the
superiority of the European intellect. Notably, the adjectives used to delineate Peteiro's
character illustrate the danger he poses to the ideology of discipline defined by a
masculine, rational, disciplined and British imperial intelligence. Peteiro's intuitive
strength is, in this text, the problem both Drummond and Sheen counter in their path to
this discipline. Peteiro's introduction is clearly indicative of the ideology of the
racial/colonial other that he bears:
He was a sturdy youth with a dark, rather forbidding face, in which the acute
observer might have read signs of the savage. He was of the breed which is vaguely
described at public schools as "nigger", a term covering every variety of shade
from ebony to light lemon. As a matter of fact he was a half-caste, sent home to
England to be educated. (99)
It was Peteiro that Drummond defeated the previous year. In a telling parallel, Sheen
defeats Peteiro, capturing the ideal masculinity represented by Drummond and actively
instituted by Rendall, Warre, Norwood and other masters in the schools of the period.
Wodehouse draws the distinction between the savage "nigger" and the intelligent Anglo
Saxon very clearly in his description of the boxing match at Aldershot.
Sheen, who is witness to one of the preliminary Peteiro matches, feels his presence
first in these terms: "a swarthy youth with the Ripton pink and green on his vest pushed
past him and was entering the ring ... So that was the famous Peteiro! Sheen admitted to
himself that he looked tough" (131). The preliminary match is interesting because it is a
precursor to the rhetoric of the final between Sheen and Peteiro. The Pauline, "fought on
with undiminished pluck but the Riptonian was too strong for him, and the third round
was a rout ... Peteiro crowded in a lot of work with both hands, and scored a popular
victory" (131). If these lines suggest the sheer physical power of Peteiro, the fight with
Sheen confirms it and goes on to suggest that Peteiro is not much more than physical.
There was no doubt that Drummond's antagonist from the previous year was
formidable. Yet Sheen believed himself to be the cleverer of the two. At any rate,
Peteiro had given no signs of possessing much cunning. To all appearances he was
a tough, go-ahead fighter, with a right which would drill a hole in a steel plate. Had
he sufficient skill to baffle his (Sheen's) strong tactics? (131, 132).
Wodehouse has a stake in making the case for the happy mean, because it allows
him to set Peteiro against Sheen at the end so as to exclude the former from the ideal
masculine figure. As Mr. Spence (who looked after the Wrykyn cricket and gymnasium)
pointed out to Sheen, Peteiro is "just a plain slogger. That's all. That's why Drummond
beat him last year in the Feather-Weights. In strength there was no comparison, but
Drummond was just too clever for him and you will be the same, Sheen" (132). A look at
the final round between Sheen and Peteiro confirms the distinction between them as that
of the intelligent gentleman who plays well and the savage with pretensions to
excellence, who is really only a slogger. Peteiro "forced the pace from the start," he made
a "savage swing," came on with a "fierce rush," and when Sheen side stepped and turned
quickly, he found Peteiro "staggering past him, overbalanced by the force of his wasted
blow." Towards the end of the fight, even as Peteiro "rushed" and "dashed in," Sheen
realizes the 'truth' of Mr. Spence's pronouncements. "It was all so beautifully simple.
What a fool he had been to mix it up in the first round. If he only kept his head and stuck
to out-fighting he could win with ease. The man couldn't box. He was nothing more than
a slogger" (138).
Empire and Class
The Empire implies more than the defeat of the native: it also implies the othering
of the lower classes, and of political radicals. In Guha's analysis, Samuel Smiles is
anxious about the unsettling nature of communist movements as much as he is about the
suffragettes. Wodehouse displays a similar anxiety when faced with Revidus and his
politics. Discipline and order become important to superimpose a conservative bourgeois
paradigm on the nation. This anxiety in Wodehouse is evident in his treatment of St.
Jude's, the school in town, and Albert Revidus. Class is implicated in cricket, the game
that represents the nation. In his historical analysis of the economics of public school
games, Mangan argues that the development of sports requires money and schools that
could afford it participated in the race for the best facilities. "It was the wealth of the
upper classes which translated a value system into a set of actions by ensuring the
purchase and maintenance of sufficient fields so that each member of a large school could
find space to kick, chase and strike the ball" (99). It was the public school boy who
would eventually take up the reigns of Empire, not one of the Judies, certainly!9 So, while
the Wrykinians played football, cricket and fives, the Judies chased one another about
the playground, shrieking at the top of their voices" (Wodehouse 45). Scandal had it that
the Judies played such games as marbles and touch-last while the boys of Wrykyn got
ready to be the "statesmen and administrators of tomorrow. [Since] in their hands is the
future of the British Empire" (Mangan, The Games Ethic 36).
9 "Judies" in The White Feather is a derogatory term for the boys of St. Jude's, a town school. The
implication of this is that Wrykyn, the public school situated at the border of the town is the more
privileged and St. Jude's is a school for the rowdy elements from the town.
Revidus marks the beginning of Sheen's movement towards the Empire, because
Sheen's first foray into the public sphere is his encounter with Revidus. Because Wrykyn
supported the conservative candidate, Albert Revidus, as the leader of the rowdy element
and a supporter of the political radical, Pedder, shares Peteiro's predicament of being the
target of both Drummond and Sheen. Revidus' rivalry with Drummond, in which the
latter emerges victorious, is legendary. Sheen, on the other hand, is not up to Revidus'
standards in the beginning of the narrative. The exchange between Sheen and Drummond
following the "funking" incident is interesting because it paves the way for Sheen's
transformation into the "Drummond figure." The incident takes place when Drummond
and Sheen are on their way to Cook's for tea. Drummond notices a fight and also that
there are some Wrykynians involved. As a team player, he does not hesitate to join the
fight, but Sheen is overwhelmed by fear. When Sheen asked if there would be an
objection to sixth former participating in street brawls, "Drummond looked at him with
open eyes" in obvious surprise (Wodehouse 34). Drummond barely paused to listen, "
'Come on,' said Drummond, beginning to run to the scene of action. Sheen paused for a
moment irresolutely. Then he walked rapidly in the opposite direction" (34). This
incident marks the turning point of the narrative because following it, Sheen, who is
initially domestic and passive, is dishonoured actively by his fellow students for
"funking." Faced with accusations by his fellow students and with his own sense of
inadequacy, Sheen feels the need to be like Drummond.
No amount of argument could wipe away the truth. He had been afraid, and had
shown it. And he had shown it when, in a sense, he was representing the school,
when Wrykyn looked to him to help it keep its end up against the town. The more
he reflected, the more he saw how far reaching were the consequences of that
failure in the hour of need. He had disgraced himself. He had disgraced Seymour's.
He had disgraced the school. He was an outcast. (35, 36)
In his introduction to the public realm in the service of rectifying his disgrace, Sheen
encounters Revidus.10 While Sheen's did not emerge victorious from this encounter, "he
was feeling happier and more satisfied with himself than he had felt for years. He had
been beaten, but he had fought his best, and not given in" (49). If Sheen's encounter with
Revidus serves as an indicator of his emergence from the domestic domain, his encounter
with Peteiro completes this journey to a particular construction of masculinity a
masculinity that inherits the Empire by conquering domestic problems as a stepping-
stone. The narratives of the school and town run parallel to Sheen's, and as Sheen
establishes order in his effeminate (and therefore disordered) narrative, the victory of the
conservative candidate also reinforces political conservative order in town.
In the beginning, the reader is presented with two problems Sheen's slackness
and effeminacy and the town's rowdy-slack-disordered elements who are political
radicals (led by Albert Revidus). At the end of the story, both problems are solved -
Sheen, as we have seen, emerges victorious from his brand of slackness, and the town
remains unruffled after a temporary slackness caused by the political radicals. The
slackness is also reflected in the school sports, and as Allardyce points out, "The place
seems absolutely rotten. It's bad enough losing all our matches, or nearly all. Did you
hear that Ripton took thirty-seven points off is last term? And we only just managed to
beat Greenburgh by a try to nil" (11). The town, school sports, Sheen, Stanning -
slackness is the general problem that is solved in the text at different levels. Stanning is
10 "[Sheen's] heart was thumping furiously. He was in for it now, he felt. He had come down to town with
this very situation in his mind. A wild idea of doing something to restore his self-respect and his credit in
the eyes of the house had driven him to the High Street. But now that the crisis had actually arrived, he
would have given much to have been in his stuffy again." (47)
what Wodehouse calls, "a marked man.11"" To start with, he is the other choice presented
to Sheen, the implication being that Sheen can develop into a "Drummond figure" or a
Stanning is an important because he represents dishonour in stark opposition to
Dunstable's honour. It is Stanning who spearheads the general opposition to Sheen in
school. For instance, he motivates Seymourites to raid Sheen's study in the hopes that
Sheen's preparation for the Gotford will be set back. Stanning's complete disregard for
the team, his pure self-interest and the fact that he cuts school to smoke Turkish Cigars
makes him an undesirable alternative. Whereas the "Drummond figure" will lead Sheen
to the path of Empire, Stanning can only lead Sheen to privileging self-interest at the
expense of the team. Thus Drummond maintains a respectful silence on the question of
Sheen's funking and Stanning makes it a point to spread the news through the school and
proposes to "rag" Sheen's study. While Stanning is rejected, among other things, for his
cowardice in face of Peteiro, Drummond and Sheen both face Peteiro at Aldershot 12 in
successive years and both emerge victorious from the encounter. It is not a coincidence
that Drummond and Sheen are the ideals Wodehouse presents to the reader, at the cost of
1 "[Stanning] pursued an even course of life, always rigidly obeying the eleventh commandment, "thou
shalt not be found out". This kept him from collisions with the authorities; while a ready tongue and an
excellent knowledge of the art of boxing he was, after Drummond, the best Light-Weight in the place-
secured him at least tolerance at the hand of the school: and, as a matter of fact, though most of those who
knew him disliked him, and particularly those who, like Drummond, were what Clowes had called the Old
Brigade, he had, nevertheless, a tolerably large following. A first fifteen man, even in a bad year, can
generally find boys anxious to be seen about with him" (19).
12 Aldershot is the name of the public school championships, "the Mecca of the public school boxer."
Dunstable is not defeated in the same way as the others are while Sheen and
Drummond actively defeat the others in the interest of the "old principle," they do not
oppose Dunstable. Sheen needs Revidus, Stanning and Peteiro in opposition to fulfill his
victory march, where all the three characters present oppositional stances that function as
stepping stones for Sheen on his way to victory. Dunstable, who is from Wrykyn, is not
the villain Stanning is or a hero like Drummond. Dunstable does not introduce instability
into town politics like Revidus does; neither is he passive or a half-caste sent home to be
educated. However, Dunstable's self-absorption and refusal to stand for any ideological
position, except for what is suitable to him, makes for good humour, but also makes his
presence problematic. With his ambiguity, Dunstable represents the potential for disorder
in the text. Therefore, to achieve the logic of the masculine, athletic and honourable
Public School hero, who will ultimately lead the Empire, it is essential for Dunstable to
disappear. Accordingly, towards the end of the Wodehouse text, Dunstable who begins
the narrative in a position of the supremely articulate and dominant character has no
voice. After the incident where he takes over Sheen's boat, Dunstable is not mentioned
again in the narrative. Instead, Linton, who is more silent and who displays more loyalty
to the "old brigade" values, takes over from where Dunstable stops.
The "Old brigade" values are the same values Mangan associates with team sports
and links to Nation building and Empire. Mangan argues that team spirit was considered
essential for the Public School boy, and that team games exemplified the team-spirit and
dominance and deference. It was widely believed ... that [the inculcation of team
games] promoted not simply initiative and self-reliance but also loyalty and
obedience. It was, therefore a useful instrument of colonial purpose. At one and
the same time it helped create the confidence to lead and the compulsion to
Dunstable studiously avoids the principles of order, discipline, team spirit and obedience.
In short, he is neutral to the honour of the "old brigade" that the text ultimately upholds.
In this respect, though he is not Drummond's or Sheen's ally, he is not dishonourable like
Stanning. "Honour" and "dishonour" signify respectively an adherence to and an
opposition to the ideal of athletic masculinity, an ideal that culminates in leadership of
the nation and ultimately the empire. Morality and immorality are similarly divided, and
Dunstable's amorality is also his refusal to countenance either. His amorality helps
explain why Dunstable is not placed in opposition on Peteiro the way Sheen and
Drummond are, since it will disrupt the logic of Wodehouse's argument for order and
discipline. Sheen's disgust at his own cowardice leads him to recuperate his lost honour
by defeating Peteiro. Peteiro is not so much a character as means to achieve Sheen's
purpose and lend credence to the argument. After all, Peteiro does not speak; he is spoken
of. Wodehouse informs the reader of Peteiro's characteristics, all of which make a point
about his racial status. The adjectives used to describe Peteiro are "nigger," "savage," and
"slogger" (Wodehouse 99). Here, Peteiro stands for racial disorder, and Sheen's purpose
of establishing order is met with in his victory over Peteiro. On the other hand, Dunstable
is not invested in order and in recuperating lost honour and does not therefore need to
face Peteiro in order to define himself.
Significantly, in all the instances where Dunstable leads, the motivation is personal,
and not team honour. Even as he has the confidence to lead, Dunstable lacks the
commitment to follow. For instance, when Dunstable and Linton's boat sinks, Dunstable
proposes to take the other boat despite Linton's compunctions about that boat's owner, "
'But it belongs-what will the other fellow do?' 'I can't help his troubles,' said
Dunstable mildly, 'having enough of my own. Coming?"' (Wodehouse 80, 81). He is
undoubtedly masculine and assertive, but Dunstable's selfishness and lack of team spirit
are incompatible with the masculine ideal of the leader-in-training of the Nation and
Empire. Team spirit and athleticism are the traits of such a leader, and Dunstable
destabilizes this ideal not in being dishonourable, like Stanning, but by his refusal to
acknowledge the "old principle."
Dunstable is an uncomfortable fit in the entire scheme because of his reticence to
make the choice between the honourable Drummond and the slack Stanning. Dunstable is
a subversive presence because he is not dishonourable like Stanning, and also because
there are significant parallels between him and Drummond. He is problematic in a text
moving rapidly towards upholding the values of Clowes' "old brigade," which is why he
is absent in the final part of the book. The difficulty he presents is not the same as the
others (such as Peteiro, Revidus and Stanning), who are more easily defeated. Dunstable
is neither completely outside nor completely inside the bourgeois conservative paradigm
that the text upholds or he is both in and out. While defeating him would mean
defeating the parallels between him and Drummond, not defeating him would mean
upholding the value of self-interest. Besides, his ambiguity would not allow him to stand
for any fixed position at the end of the story where all the other positions are fixed and
absolute. Dunstable is a figure that slips through the interstices of the argument, namely
the "old brigade" values Wodehouse upholds. Inevitably, he has to be excluded to avert
the difficulty he presents, and one way of doing this is by privileging his erstwhile
Dunstable and Linton are friends they are always together, and in their
relationship, Dunstable has the dominant voice. He makes all the decisions between them
in the narrative till the boat incident, following which he does not make an appearance in
the story. The incident is important because at this point, Linton, who is otherwise
content to let Dunstable make the decisions despite his moral compunctions, decides to
make his own decisions in accordance with his conscience and gradually beings
participating in Sheen's victory. Dunstable and Linton represent one of the series of
choices available, and as the narrative moves towards containing Dunstable's voice,
Linton survives the demands of the text. Linton is a part of the ideal of masculinity that
the text purports to uphold and has the team spirit that Clowes and Allardyce
nostalgically long for, 'Where are the boys of the Old Brigade' sighed Clowes. 'I don't
know. I wish they were here,' said Allardyce" (12).
Dunstable is manifestly problematic in his refusal to fit into the ideal paradigm he
haunts the system by escaping both sets of discourses the honour of Sheen/ Drummond/
Linton and the dishonour of Stanning / Attell. It is necessary for the narrative to erase
Dunstable's presence in the later part of the book because he is too unstable and
disordered a factor in the Wodehousian argument, which supports Almond's "old
brigade." Dunstable's emphasis on self-interest at the expense of inconvenience to
another person is obvious in his introductory scene where he has no hesitation invading
Sheen's study for food. The following exchange takes place between Menzies, Linton
and Dunstable. Menzies says,
"Do either of you chaps know Sheen at all?" "I don't," said Linton, "not to speak
to." "You can't expect us to know all your shady friends," said Dunstable. "Why?"
He's got tea on this evening. If you knew him well enough, you might borrow
something from him. I met Herbert in the dinner-hour carrying in all sorts of things
to his study. Still, if you don't know him-" "Don't let a trifle of that sort stand in
the way," said Dunstable. "Which is his study?" "Come on, Linton," said
Dunstable. "Be a man, and lead the way. Go in as if he'd invited us. Ten to one
he'll think he did, if you don't spoil the thing by laughing." "What, invite ourselves
to tea?" asked Linton, beginning to grasp the idea. "That's it. Sheen's the sort of
ass who won't do a thing. Anyhow it's worth trying. Smith in our house got a tea
out of him that way last term. Coming, Menzies?" "Not much. I hope he kicks you
out." "Come on, then, Linton. If Menzies cares to chuck away a square meal, let
Dunstable and Linton follow this scene by actually making themselves comfortable in
Sheen's study. Sheen's reaction to Dunstable in this scene is passive and accepting,
typical of his behaviour prior to his transformation:
"Hope we are not late," said Dunstable. "You said somewhere about five. It's just
struck. Shall we start?" He stooped, and took the kettle from the stove. "Don't you
bother," he said to Sheen, who had watched this manoeuvre with an air of
amazement, "I'll do all the dirty work." "But-" began Sheen. "That's all right,"
said Dunstable soothingly. "I like it." The intellectual pressure of the affair was too
much for Sheen ... It was plain that there was a misunderstanding somewhere, but
he shrank from grappling with it. He did not want to hurt their feelings. It would be
awkward enough if they discovered their mistake for themselves. So he exerted
himself nervously to play the host, and the first twinge of remorse which Linton felt
came when Sheen pressed upon him a bag of biscuits, which, he knew, could not
have cost less than one and sixpence a pound. His heart warmed to one who could
do such a thing in style. Dunstable, apparently, was worried by no scruples. He
leaned back easily on his chair, and kept up a bright flow of conversation. (26)
The divide between Dunstable and Linton is evident in this conversation Linton feels a
sense of contrition that Dunstable unashamedly and unapologetically avoids. After the
rout in Sheen's study, Linton says to Dunstable, "It was rather a shame rushing him
like that. I shouldn't wonder if he is quite a good sort, when one gets to know him."
Dunstable replies, "He must be a rotter to let himself be rushed. By Jove, I should like to
see someone try that game on with me" (27). Here, by feeling the pricks of conscience,
Linton begins to exhibit the need for honour that Dunstable simply brushes away.
However, even though self-interest motivates Dunstable, his conclusions parallel
Drummond's these parallels make Dunstable's character subversive. So, even as the
tone of Dunstable's comment is unsympathetic, it anticipates Drummond's position in his
[Drummond's] conversation with Sheen:
Heavens! man, you must buck up a bit and keep awake, or you'll have an awful
time. Of course, those chaps were simply trying it on. I had an idea that it might be
that when I came in. why did you let them? Why didn't you scrag them? (27, 28)
Drummond and Dunstable both express similar sentiments, although Drummond is
sensitive to Sheen while Dunstable is not. In another parallel instance, both Drummond
and Dunstable convey similar sentiments following Sheen's funking. Drummond is
honourable in his reticence to tell on Sheen while Dunstable, in his absolute amorality,
does not care enough to condemn him. The "Old Brigade," with its burden of morality, is
bound to condemn Sheen for his action. Indeed, Sheen, who later initiates the process of
repairing the dishonour, condemns himself. Significantly, both Drummond and Dunstable
stop Linton from making investigations into Sheen's behaviour. While Drummond
refuses to divulge anything to Linton, Dunstable actively asks Linton not to pursue the
issue, "What's the good of troubling about a man like Sheen? He was never any good,
and this doesn't make him very much worse. Besides, he'll probably be sick enough on
his own account. I know I should, if I'd done it. And, anyway, we don't know that he did
do it" (38). Though Dunstable is not concerned about Sheen as he makes his point, his
amorality allows him to escape Drummond's (and Sheen's) moral righteousness.
Dunstable's reaction is directly contrary to Stanning's, who makes use of the moral
righteousness of the other students at school to spread rumors about Sheen. So Stanning
is as much prey to Drummond's morality, as are Sheen and Linton, if only to stand in
Drummond and later Sheen stand for the moral virtues that Welldon (headmaster of
Harrow from 1881 to 1895) celebrates in his essay "Training of a Gentleman;" virtues
which includes such qualities "...as promptitude, resource, honour, cooperation and
unslefishness" which "are the soul of English games" (Welldon 406). Dunstable's
reaction to Revidus in the tea incident at Cook's makes clear the disjuncture between his
behaviour and Welldon's desirable standard. Dunstable and Linton are in the process of
tea-ing at Cook's (the local tea shop) when Barry and McTodd come in to inform them
that Revidus has challenged them to a fight. Linton, Stanning and Barry are quick to react
and want to go fight immediately. At this point, Dunstable takes over the decision-
making and urges the others that there is no hurry.
"Wait a bit," he said. "No hurry. Let's finish tea at any rate. You'd better eat as
much as you can now Linton. You may have no teeth left to do it afterwards," he
added cheerfully .. "Look here, I'm going out," said Linton. "Come on,
Dunstable continued his meal without hurry.
"What's the excitement?" he said. "There's plenty of time. Dear old Albert's not
the sort of chap to go away when he's got us cornered here. The first principle of
warfare is to get a good feed before you start."
... "A quarter of an hour passed.
Dunstable looked at the others.
Perhaps we might be moving out now," he said, getting up. "Ready?"
... "You goin' out, Mr Dunstable?" inquired Seargent Cook.
"Yes. Good bye. You'll see that we are decently buried won't you?
The garrison made its sortie. (Wodehouse 32)
The qualities Welldon lists do not accord with Dunstable's cavalier attitude towards
fighting and upholding school honour. In the scene quoted above, he displays a complete
indifference to promptitudee." Though he does not completely question the honour
involved in fighting Revidus, he intends to do it at his convenience. This attitude stands
out in opposition to Drummond, who is prompt in his reaction to the fight, and moreover,
exhibits surprise when Sheen raises objections to joining in. As Drummond spies a row,
he reacts by identifying his team-mates, and then asks Sheen to join in with a sense of
urgency that Dunstable lacks, Why, its some of our chaps! There's a Seymour's cap.
Isn't that McTodd? And, great Scott! there's Barry. Come on, man!" (34).
The boat incident establishes Dunstable's character in direct opposition to the
"unselfishness" Welldon advocates. The same incident also defines the difference
between Linton and Dunstable in very definite terms Linton develops a sense of
contrition at his actions, and Dunstable does not appear again following this scene.
Linton, who is otherwise the dominated one in their relationship, becomes more vocal
following this incident this narrative runs parallel to the text's definite privileging of the
"old brigade" in the second half of the story because Linton's conscience is linked to
order and Dunstable's lack of it suggests disorder. These changes are apparent in the
scene where Dunstable and Linton emerge from the Blue Boar to find that their boat is
"There are more things in Heaven and Earth-" said Dunstable, wiping his hands.
"If you ask me, I should say an enemy hath done this. A boat doesn't sink on its
"Albert!" said Linton. "The blackguard must have followed us up and done it while
we were at tea."
"That's about it," said Dunstable. "And now-how about getting home?"
"I suppose we'd better walk. We shall be hours late for lock-up."
"You," said Dunstable, "may walk of you are fond of exercise and aren't in a hurry.
Personally, I'm going back by river."
"That looks like a good enough boat over there. Anyhow, we must make it do. We
must not be particular for once."
"But it belongs-what will the other fellow do?"
"I can't help his troubles," said Dunstable mildly, "having enough of my own.
While Linton goes along with Dunstable at this point, his "old brigade" morality prevents
him from ignoring the issue, and when Sheen confronts him, he makes the transition from
Dunstable to Sheen.
The two polarities of the text, namely order and disorder, are the patterns that the
argument constantly negotiates. In this process of negotiation, Wodehouse manages to
contain slackness for the most part. Of these polarities, Stanning does not adhere to order
because he is neither unselfish nor cooperative. On the other hand, Drummond and Sheen
fit the requirements of the disciplined public school boy in training to lead the Nation and
Empire. Dunstable is selfish and non-cooperative like Stanning, but is not slack in the
same sense. He also exhibits interesting parallels with Drummond, which make it
difficult to place him in either context. Dunstable's moral ambiguity is slack in a text that
actively stamps out slackness. The White Feather is interesting because of Dunstable's
ambiguity and subversive potential. While the text tries to present a simple and absolute
ideal of the nation, it is in fact an ideal that is challenged even within the text.
The practice of "championing" is crucial to the construction of this national
identity. Sheen champions his values of honourable masculinity in the public arena of
Aldershot, the mecca of the Public School boxer, no less. The confidence with which
Sheen defeats Peteiro at Aldershot is ultimately the performance of his masculinity in the
public sphere. Sheen's journey from submissiveness to the championship title is a
performance that requires the presence of the villains (Stanning, Revidus, Peteiro), the
heroes (Joe Bevan, Drummond) and supporters (Bruce, Linton). It is a performance that
relies on Sheen to establish the ideal citizen for a nation with an empire to control.
Dunstable's presence is a challenge to this notion of the ideal dominating citizen, who is,
at the same time, bound by the conditions of honour and the "old brigade" values strongly
enough to be led. Thus Sheen's performance cannot survive Dunstable's unsettlingly
slack presence because the latter does not respect the need for order and discipline, even
though he belongs to the dominant group. The White Feather needs him as much as it
needs Revidus, Stanning and Peteiro, as a position to be rejected in the course of Sheen's
performance, precisely because Dunstable is ambiguous. However, his ambiguity also
gives him the capacity to subvert the central logic of the text. As a result of this
ambiguity, Dunstable disturbs Wodehouse's argument for athleticism as a means of
recuperating the slack nation. While the bulk of the text is compelled to make the
argument for a strong and imperialistic nation, it cannot fit Dunstable into that argument
without having to fundamentally alter the meaning of honour and the team spirit, even the
ideal of the nation.
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--. The Rhetoric of Affirmative Resistance: Dissonant Identities from Carroll to
Derrida. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997
Bharati Kasibhatla was born in Raipur, Chattisgarh (then M. P.), India. She is a
resident of Bombay, where she completed her Bachelor's in English at Jai Hind College.
She went on to earn her Master's from the University of Bombay. Bharati has fond
memories of the 90's in the heart of that fantastic metropolis, when she walked everyday
to Churchgate from VT, and met some great people on the way. She has been fortunate to
continue the tradition of meeting people in Gainesville, though she bikes now.