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To Serve Them All My Days
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Buddy Reads > To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield *Spoiler thread* (September/October 2019)

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message 1: by Nigeyb (last edited Sep 20, 2019 11:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "I'm finding it's a bit difficult to discuss this book in any detail without spoilers, due to the episodic plot. Shall we have a separate spoiler thread?"

Yes we shall - and here it is

Do not read this thead unless you have already read To Serve Them All My Days - or you don't mind spoilers


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
I exclaimed towards the end when I PJ was reading Julia's letter in which she told him she was imminently about to die and that.....


Charles aka Clark was actually PH’s son and not Hiriam’s

A nice little twist in a book with more plot than a council allotment


message 3: by Nigeyb (last edited Sep 20, 2019 11:45PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
How credible did you find Chris's character arc?


From committed campaigner and parliamentary candidate to - ultimately - contented mother and teacher


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
Thank you for setting up this thread, Nigeyb. I never saw that twist coming about Charles being PJ's son at all, but then I felt I probably should have done.

Although some of the plot turns were predictable, I think RFD is good at throwing in things which you don't quite expect. For instance, I thought, "how predictable, Grace will marry Winterbourne" - then she turned round and fell for someone else instead. Then I thought her new husband would probably get killed, but no - although, with the war still going on at the end, there is uncertainty over all their futures.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "How credible did you find Chris's character arc?


From committed campaigner and parliamentary candidate to - ultimately - contented mother and teacher"


I didn't find it totally believable, but I suppose PJ follows a similar path, from young firebrand to more or less admitting he is now a Tory near the end. I found it a bit odd that someone with his political leanings would stick with this private school so doggedly in the first place, but I think the story carries it along so that you don't query it too much.

I'm also wondering what RFD's own political views were - maybe he moved to more conservative views as he grew older, like PJ? (I don't think Chris's views actually change, she just concentrates more on her family and job.)


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
Thanks Judy


Judy wrote: "I didn't find it totally believable, but I suppose PJ follows a similar path, from young firebrand to more or less admitting he is now a Tory near the end. I found it a bit odd that someone with his political leanings would stick with this private school so doggedly in the first place, but I think the story carries it along so that you don't query it too much. "

I found PJ's journey more credible. I could imagine that working at the school which had both rehabiltated him, and become his life's work, would slowly change his attitudes and beliefs.

In a sense he also went from being a Welsh man to being English - though this was never stated by RFD.

At the end, when Earnshaw turns up for an interview, similar to young PJ back in 1919, the reader realises the transition is complete.


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "I don't think Chris's views actually change, she just concentrates more on her family and job"

That's a very good point. In a sense she doesn't really change, she just accepts she can't change the world


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
Back to PJ, one of the boys, as an adult, even says that Boshie would not have been a good nickname as it was obvious he was never really that radical. I think that's probably right too.


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
To what extent would you like to have carried on reading more?


message 10: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
I was happy to end at that point, and thought the new teacher's arrival rounded it off well, but from a soapy viewpoint I would have liked to know about Chris's next baby!


message 11: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
Something I found rather shocking was when PJ catches Julia with the pupil, Keith, early on and does nothing about it except telling her not to do it again.

Trouble is, it's impossible to read this type of passage now without the knowledge in hindsight of all the abuse scandals which have been revealed over recent decades, and how many people in positions of authority have been let off in this type of situation.

Of course, it was written in a different era. But I was rather dismayed when Julia turns up again later on after this episode, and PJ embarks on a relationship with her and even considers having her back at the school to work with him!


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "I was happy to end at that point, and thought the new teacher's arrival rounded it off well, but from a soapy viewpoint I would have liked to know about Chris's next baby!"

It was a good point to end but, like you are suggesting, I could have spent a lot more time with these characters. Big questions still to be answered, not only about Chris's next baby, but also how much longer Rigby could go on for? How would Earnshaw settle in? And what would his nickname be?

And what about Sax and Grace? How would that all work out?

I could go on all day so will stop there.

Judy wrote: "Something I found rather shocking was when PJ catches Julia with the pupil, Keith, early on and does nothing about it except telling her not to do it again"

Sadly I think this would have been a pretty typical response back then. The plethora of abuse cases that have emerged recently from the 60s, 70s and 80s demonstrate how easy it was for this kind of thing to be ignored or swept under the carpet.

RFD goes to some lengths to justify Julia's conduct by way of her somewhat tragic backstory, which makes me wonder if he thought it was acceptable in this context. Some things have certainly changed for the better.


message 13: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "And what about Sax and Grace? How would that all work out?..."

Good question. We hadn't seen much of Sax until he suddenly appeared as the bridegroom-to-be, had we?

Grace and Winterbourne had me slightly wondering if RFD was a Hardy fan, because, in The Woodlanders, Grace breaks the heart of Giles Winterbourne, who is also her childhood friend/sweetheart. And of course this book is more or less set in Hardy country...


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
Those connections must surely be more than coincidence - so I am saying that RFD was a Hardy fan and would have been delighted that you had noticed the connection


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
And we've yet to mention either the Alcock era, or indeed PJ's early rivalry with Carter.

How convincing did you find Alcock? I've certainly come across people with a bit of Alcock in them. The emotionless bureaucrat.

Carter was more of a nuanced character. Willing to acknowledge some of his own shortcoming but, ultimately, another somewhat loathsome character.

I'd be interested to see how both were portrayed in the TV series.


message 16: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
Oops, I've just realised the Hardy Winterborne does not have a u in his name...


message 17: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "And we've yet to mention either the Alcock era, or indeed PJ's early rivalry with Carter.

How convincing did you find Alcock? I've certainly come across people with a bit of Alcock in them. The e..."


I did find him convincing, and infuriating - probably the most memorable character in the book, I'd say. I was a bit surprised that Carter became somewhat more likeable (though still in pursuit of the main chance) as the book went on.


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "I did find Alcock convincing, and infuriating - probably the most memorable character in the book, I'd say."

Certainly memorable - for all the wrong reasons

I didn't see his heart attack coming but, when it happened, it was all too plausible

Judy wrote: "I was a bit surprised that Carter became somewhat more likeable (though still in pursuit of the main chance) as the book went on"

Although PJ and Carter were very different, and got off on the wrong foot, they were both apparently good and diligent teachers concerned with the welfare of their pupils and the school.

I can quite understand why PJ was repelled by Carter though, and that profiteering school governor

Something which resonated with me was PJ's philosophy of teaching - that it should be about inspiring and not rote learning. Something which Carter and PJ appeared to disagree about.

I had two teachers who I was very inspired by and both would regularly go off on huge tangents but their enthusiasm and passion swept everyone along. Those teachers are worth their weight in gold. Something the modern education system fails to recognise in my experience as a parent with school age kids.


message 19: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "Something which resonated with me was PJ's philosophy of teaching - that it should be about inspiring and not rote learning. Something which Carter and PJ appeared to disagree about...."

I definitely agree, and I also had some inspiring teachers who would go off at tangents.

In Carter's defence, though (even though I was useless at science), he was clearly right that the school should put more resources into science and set up decent labs instead of just concentrating on classics - something PJ does recognise before too long.


message 20: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
After all the smoking running through the novel, I think it's probably inevitable that one of the characters, Howarth, does die from lung cancer, in one of the most heart-breaking passages. Of course, many of the boys have other and more immediate death threats in mind, with the war approaching.

When I was at boarding school in the 1970s the staff were absolutely obsessed with smoking, and constantly searching our lockers etc for cigarettes. Nevertheless, there was plenty of smoking behind the bike sheds! I was never really tempted, luckily for me.


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
I didn't realise you'd been to boarding school.


Did To Serve Them All My Days bring back any memories?

Did it ring true?

I was a 70s smoker. I felt there was almost an expectation that people smoked. It was everywhere. I started at age 14 and gave up age 21 (with a few lapses). Best decision I ever made. I could already notice a tightness of the chest. I'm now more interested in staying fit and healthy, with the odd beer and glass of wine my only real vice.

Your school were quite ahead of the game in terms of trying to stamp it out Judy. Was that motivated by health? Or just trying to maintain discipline?


message 22: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "I didn't realise you'd been to boarding school.


Did To Serve Them All My Days bring back any memories?

Did it ring true?..."


Although I was a boarder, it was a state grammar school which was mainly a day school and just had a small boarding house a few miles away, so not at all like the book. My husband went to a larger boys' boarding school in the same town (we did not know each other then!) and, from occasional visits to other pupils there, I think his school was probably more like the one in the book.


message 23: by Judy (last edited Sep 22, 2019 01:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "Your school were quite ahead of the game in terms of trying to stamp it out Judy. Was that motivated by health? Or just trying to maintain discipline?.."

I really don't know. Possibly a bit of both, and I expect they were also worried about people starting fires if they smoked in the bedrooms.

I should have added, well done in giving up so young.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Nigeyb wrote: "To what extent would you like to have carried on reading more?"

I have more in this thread to read, but I'll stop and answer this first. I would have been just as happy had the book ended when he became headmaster. A lot of the anecdotes felt repetitive and the ending felt rushed.


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
It would have made a good ending but, then again, if it had ended there, we'd never have met Ulrich Meyer who was a catalyst for their growing awareness of what was afoot elsewhere in Europe; or Chris's change after the loss of the baby (and then successfully giving birth, and getting pregnant again); or Howarth's very touching death; or the Driscol II escapade; or Grace marrying Sax; the return of Chad Boyer; Julia's death and the revelation about PJ's son; or the arrival of Earnshaw which also made for a perfect ending.

You may have guessed I could have happily gone on reading about these characters who, for me, had become old friends.


message 26: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Sep 23, 2019 06:53AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska) As to Julia revealing Charles' parenthood. She should have kept her mouth shut. That was reprehensible.

I think Delderfield did an extremely poor job of writing women. I also thought it a bit incongruous that David would have met 3 women in his life, all of whom he thought worth a marriage proposal.


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "As to Julia revealing Charles' parenthood. She should have kept her mouth shut. That was reprehensible."

Why do you say that Elizabeth?

I thought it was a plot great twist

If I had been PJ I'd have wanted to know - even belatedly

Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "I think Delderfield did an extremely poor job of writing women"

That's interesting. What did you think was poor?

Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "I also thought it a bit incongruous that David would have met 3 women in his life, all of whom he thought worth a marriage proposal"

There was a chronic shortage of eligible men around after WW1 given the huge death toll and the numbers maimed, blinded, suffering PST, or otherwise injured, so coming across three single women is not that surprising.

I'd agree that him finding them all worth marrying is slightly more unlikely but, then again, there are people who marry in excess of three times, even today, when there is not the same pressure to marry and so it's much easier to just have relationships without marriage.

I've only been married once but I asked someone else to marry me, and there were a couple of other girlfriends who I could have easily proposed to if the relationships had lasted longer.

Overall, and after typing that, I don't find it particularly surprising.


message 28: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Sep 23, 2019 08:36AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska) So you had a couple of other girlfriends. David didn't. And as to the fewer men, there was an overabundance of women. So the logic is that he would had numbers of women from whom to choose. But he just took the first one who came along, and then the 2nd, and then the 3rd. (And I am happily married to my 4th husband and have been for 30 years, so let's not go off on the multiple marriages bit.)

The women were all super-human characters. Sorry, I'm not buying it.

And as for Julia and Charles, why tell him? You want to know what comes afterward. Well, he shows a preference, because he's human and that's what happens. And it's not the same sort of preference he showed to a few others. How does it affect his relationship with his children with Chris? And, since Chris is so observant, do you think she notices? How does that make her feel? There is nothing positive that can come from this revelation and a lot of negative.


Elizabeth (Alaska) What I liked about this book is the feel that it is inter-linked stories, a format I am just as likely to pick up as a collection of stories that are just that - a collection. It is a series of anecdotes surrounding the main characters. In the other thread was mentioned this was a plot-driven novel. I tended to think it was a complete characterization of David Powlett-Jones. I didn't require that the named minor characters be fully fleshed.


Elizabeth (Alaska) When reading, I noted the last time David and Julia were together was the mention that Julia didn't use contraceptives. I anticipated a pregnancy and marriage, but when that didn't happen, I quickly forgot about it. And I scratched her off the list of characters to keep in mind.


Elizabeth (Alaska) What do you think about the wives wanting to produce sons? Are boy babies more important than girl babies?


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "There is nothing positive that can come from this revelation and a lot of negative"

The child has lost both parents

Chris is very adult and would understand

The big decision would be whether to tell the child. PJ seems to have concluded it's probably best not to but who knows how things might have played out. If I was the child I'd want to know even though it would mess with my head.

Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "What do you think about the wives wanting to produce sons? Are boy babies more important than girl babies?"

An old fashioned view but probably common at the time. And no.

Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "What I liked about this book is the feel that it is inter-linked stories, a format I am just as likely to pick up as a collection of stories that are just that - a collection"

I agree

Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "The women were all super-human characters. Sorry, I'm not buying it."

I'm not clear what you are saying here.

Perhaps it is somewhat improbable that he meets three women and feels strongly enough about all three that he proposes. That element of the story didn't feel improbable to me and I hadn't even considered it until you raised it.

Overall I thought the book had a lot of heart whilst also providing a great overview of British history and societal changes in the interwar years. I adored the characters and was really immersed in the story, so much so that I didn't want it to end. Sadly this was RFD's last book, otherwise I suspect he might have written another volume. The world can be a very cruel place sometimes.

Still I look forward to reading more of his work

Will you be delving back into his bibliography? Or was once enough?


Elizabeth (Alaska) Nigeyb wrote: "Will you be delving back into his bibliography? Or was once enough?"

In "his" thread we talked about A Horseman Riding By. I picked up 2 volumes when they were Kindle deals. They are a similar time period as the beginning of this, which is one I like. I expect to get to them, but eventually could be several years. I seem to have been quite happy picking up things via Kindle deals. And our annual library book sale (which is coming up in 2 weeks) seems to have filled my physical bookshelves.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Nigeyb wrote: "Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "The women were all super-human characters. Sorry, I'm not buying it."

I'm not clear what you are saying here.

Perhaps it is somewhat improbable that he meets three women and feels strongly enough about all three that he proposes. That element of the story didn't feel improbable to me and I hadn't even considered it until you raised it."


I thought the women were not human enough and that they were all of a type. They were all more worldly than David, including 19-year old Beth, and more self-aware at a younger age than I think is realistic.


message 35: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
I thought Julia wasn't sure whether to tell PJ or not, but as she was dying and didn't have any more time to think about it, she decided to tell him and leave it up to him whether he felt it right to tell their son.

This seems very understandable to me, and it leaves the way open for him to tell him at some time in the future if any circumstances change. I'm quite surprised he hadn't guessed, actually, as Julia seems to think he might have done.


message 36: by Judy (last edited Sep 23, 2019 11:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4205 comments Mod
On the three women, I thought after Beth's death he was wanting to marry again and to have a stepmother for Grace, so that was why he proposed to Julia so quickly. With Chris, the relationship grows more slowly and naturally.

I think many people only have very few relationships, all serious, so the fact that he only has three women in his life didn't worry me - but, out of the women in the book, I do agree that Beth and Grace don't really come alive as characters, although I think Chris is more believable. I'm not sure about Julia.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Julia had 2 other children, both girls, so they also were left without either parent.

Every time the novel left the school, I was disappointed. I liked the school parts very much, mostly the stories of the boys and what kinds of trouble they might find for themselves.


message 38: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "What I liked about this book is the feel that it is inter-linked stories, a format I am just as likely to pick up as a collection of stories that are just that - a collection. It is a series of anecdotes surrounding the main characters."
I liked that about it too. The characters are not shown in much detail, but if I think about the school as a character in its own right, it is very well drawn and detailed, with the human characters as aspects of it which help build the whole.

The school is self-contained to some extent, but Delderfield includes enough social history to show that it is not cut off from the outside world and that worked well for me. I can see why you found the bits away from the school less interesting and wanted to get back to it however, as it is very much the heart of the book.


message 39: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Sep 24, 2019 09:02AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska) Val wrote: "I think about the school as a character in its own right, it is very well drawn and detailed, with the human characters as aspects of it which help build the whole."

Thank you. I thought this as I was reading and then it slipped my mind.


Nigeyb | 8440 comments Mod
Very good point about the school being a character. Furthermore a character who inveigles their way into the heart of everyone who comes into contact with it.


Elizabeth (Alaska) cultural/language differences?

pick-a-back in the book, here we say piggy back

I can certainly see where/how we got piggy back.


message 42: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 538 comments In my experience we say piggy back here in England, and have never heard the expression pick-a-back here. But then I never went to a public school.


message 43: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments I think pick-a-back is archaic, but it was possible to work out the meaning.


message 45: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 538 comments Yes it was obvious what was meant.


message 46: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments The Oxford English Dictionary has pick pack and pickback from the C16th, with several variations. The pigs appear much later, as your link says. (It does look like a practical way to carry a half-grown pig.)


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