One hundred years of “Just William” (@EasternRegional)

Original cover of Just William (1922). Source: Wikipedia.

Reader Elisabeth, from Clematis, recently informed us that this year marks the centenary of the publication of English author Richmal Crompton’s Just William.

This book of short stories was illustrated by Thomas Henry and published in May 1922. It was followed by 37 more William books, making a total of 385 short stories over nearly five decades. They sold over 12 million copies in the U.K. alone, and have been adapted to films, stage-plays and numerous radio and television series.

Elisabeth praises Crompton (1890-1969) as “the J.K. Rowling of her day”. Formerly an excellent and committed schoolteacher, Crompton switched to writing full-time after contracting poliomyelitis in 1923.

The protagonist of the William books is a mischievous and unruly 11-year-old schoolboy living in a village in Southern England. As Elisabeth describes it: “Being helpful was William’s aim in life. Not all the recipients of his help were grateful.”

William and his friends Ginger, Henry and Douglas call themselves the Outlaws. They are occasionally joined by the lisping Violet-Elisabeth (“I’ll thcream and thcream and thcream til I’m thick”). William’s chief rival in the village is Hubert, but Arabella also manages to disrupt the group’s adventures from time to time.

Interestingly, although the William books were published between 1922 and 1970, their characters do not age, despite each book being set in the era in which it was written. This allows readers to observe, through William’s eyes, some of the 20th century’s major events, including but not limited to the two World Wars and the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

In a similar way that the Shire in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings represents a place to be remembered in times of trial, William’s village may be seen as a microcosm of the larger world, with the boy and his mates being innocent onlookers.

Elisabeth explains: “The books are a satirical take on life in a ‘quiet’ English village, with its ostensibly ‘normal’ inhabitants and ‘ordinary’ activities. Hypocrisy and self-importance in the adult world are exposed through William’s exploits.”

It’s worth mentioning that the William books were originally created for adult readers. While Crompton was pleased by their success, she felt frustrated that her other novels and short stories didn’t receive the same recognition.

In Elisabeth’s words:

“The books were not written for children; the language is sophisticated and obviously for grown-ups. When it became clear that children had discovered the books, [Crompton] didn’t change her style or write down to her younger readers. I remember, as a twelve-year-old, asking my mother what ‘ejaculated’ meant. ‘Exclaimed dear, exclaimed!’ I wondered why she seemed embarrassed.”

Those interested in meeting William can check out some of Crompton’s eAudiobooks from Eastern Regional Libraries. These are narrated by Martin Jarvis, “the wizard of the talking book” and “one of Britain’s most distinguished and versatile actors” as described by The Daily Telegraph and BBC, respectively.

Once again, THANK YOU to Elisabeth who brings to our attention a brilliant author and her books.

Note: This article was originally titled “One hundred years of Just William” and published under the title “Marking a century” by Ranges Trader Star Mail, June 14, 2022, P.26. The mention of reader Elisabeth and the use of her words have received her approval.

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