“I am here to teach, not to trifle with hosiery.”
Arthur James Wentworth is a middle-aged, bumbling, fusty assistant master at the Burgrove Preparatory School for boys. Wentworth is the object of affectionate ridicule from both the boys in IIIa and also from other members of the staff. Wentworth possesses no sense of humour, and his vision of himself is far from how others see him. The book, The Papers of A.J. Wentworth is a compilation of humorous pieces that appeared in Punch magazine. Author H.F. Ellis created and developed the character of the schoolmaster through a series of magazine articles.
A great deal of the humour comes from Wentworth interactions with the boys. In a typical story, Wentworth tries to teach the boys, and they hijack lessons with nonsensical questions. Poor Wentworth inevitably swallows the bait. At one point Wentworth proceeds to try and teach the boys the Theorem of Pythagoras (an event he dreads), and he never gets much beyond introducing the formula. One boy, a ringleader named Mason asks if it is “likely” to find a right-hand triangle with a square on its hypotenuse, and the lesson rapidly spins out-of-control from that moment on. The boys of IIIa run rings of confusion around the hapless Wentworth. While we feel some sympathy for Wentworth, we also share the devilment of confusing him, and since most of the jokes sail over Wentworth’s head, no harm is done.
Another episode is a statement to the police explaining why Wentworth knocked a boy unconscious with a textbook. The incident, a mistake, is hilarious, and one of the best episodes in the book. Other episodes concern Wentworth’s military experiences during WWII, and some of Wentworth’s fellow teachers even supply an anecdote or two. This slim collection of tales is gently humourous, and while I didn’t roll on the ground laughing, I did find Wentworth’s misadventures pleasantly amusing. Some of the naughtiness caused me to daydream about my own juvenile misdeeds. There’s nothing too deep here, but Wentworth provides some good entertainment.