Space and Emotional Experience in Victorian and Edwardian English Public School Dormitories

  • Jane Hamlett
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions book series (Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions)


In the second half of the nineteenth century, boys at many English public schools lived apart from their teachers. This was typical in such institutions at the time, with most schools adopting the ‘house system’. While notionally under the control of housemasters, within these places pupils usually inhabited house rooms and open dormitories, which teachers seldom entered. This was a deliberate policy. Discussions of the open dormitory reveal that its spatial set-up — where boys were kept isolated from their masters but in very close proximity to their peers — was intended to have a distinct emotional effect. It was hoped that the judicious guidance of senior boys would set a good example to their juniors, contributing to their emotional education. Isolation, meanwhile, was supposed to encourage independence, creating self-governing individuals who were able to exercise self-control rather than being disciplined by the institution. The aim was the production of a moral system, in which the discipline of the self, body and emotions played an important part. This meant learning to control emotional expression, but also forming the right kind of attachments to others. The prefect system, in which a chosen group of senior boys were given the right to use physical discipline, and especially fagging, is notorious. However, it is important to remember that this had set cultural limits.


Public School Emotional Experience Corporal Punishment House System Personal Space 
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© Jane Hamlett 2015

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  • Jane Hamlett

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