I do not remember when I read my first William novel, but it must have been years ago. I did not quite enjoy them the first time I read them because I felt that William was too rough and unruly. I definitely did not appreciate the way he threw stones at cats. I was fond of cats those days.
When I read the William stories once again a few years later, I was completely cured of my “fondness for cats.” Of course, I have nothing against the creatures, but I like them as far away from me as possible. And as for rough little boys, I understood them better. This time, William actually made me laugh. By the time I re-read the last William novel I had borrowed from the library, I was a huge fan of William.
But I continued to think that Richmal Crompton, the writer who created William Brown and his friends Henry, Ginger, and Douglas; his elder siblings Robert and Ethel; his parents and the various aunts and uncles who appeared in his life and disappeared from it; the little girls in his life ranging from the lisping Elizabeth to the adorable Joan; the irate farmer Jenks and the neighbors; Elizabeth’s mother Mrs. Botts and Miss Milton, Mrs. Monks, and the rest, was a man. I simplistically thought that only a man was capable of creating a rough character like William Brown.
I was pleasantly surprised when I came to know that the creator of William Brown was a charming woman, a woman who never got married and never had children. Yet her William books prove that she understood children better than any married woman with children. How brilliantly she depicted the world of an 11-year-old rebellious schoolboy who hated authority and just couldn’t comprehend the grownup world! Crompton’s William stories, gloriously devoid of the didactic element, utterly free of moralization, and totally lacking in sentiment, reflect the hypocrisy and foibles of the British society of that time, a society that William wants to avoid although he is forced to obey its rules.
Why am I so fond of William? To me, the William stories symbolize the eternal conflict between the ideal child of the adult world and the natural human child. The ideal child of the adult world is neat, clean, spotless, and polite. S/he is only seen and not heard. If ever s/he is heard, it is only while taking part in an elocution competition (in which s/he gets the first prize) or while politely answering the questions of an adult. S/he is adult-like in the way s/he pursues hobbies and interests. You never see the ideal child wasting his or her time in idle play. Instead, you see him/her reading books, playing chess, learning music or a sport, and so on. Always eager to please the adults in his/her life, h/she displays his/her knowledge, and gets their praise, approval, and applause.
On the other hand, the natural human child is curious and inquisitive. H/she asks too many questions, talks with his/her mouth full, and never gets good grades in school although he/she has excellent knowledge of life and human nature. This child prefers the company of peers and avoids adults. S/he gives ear splitting yells, sings loudly, rolls in the mud, jumps in puddles, gets filthy, and makes parents and elder siblings groan in despair. S/he is exceptionally fond of nature, takes long walks in the fields and lanes, interacts with animals, climbs trees, plays wild imaginary games, and comes home only when hungry. In brief, s/he loves to live life to the lees. In brief, s/he is William Brown, a child who can make adults shudder in horror and say in hushed voices, “This boy is going to end up in jail.”
Once someone teased me, “Hey Sonia, what if you get a son like William?” I said I wouldn’t mind. No child can be 100% like William Brown simply because William can exist only in books. But many little boys do have a William within. After all, Crompton wrote her William stories after observing her younger brother and nephews in action. Today, if a little boy behaves like William, the heavy hand of authority would descend on him and whisk him away to a rehabilitation center where he would be made fit for civilized life.
Sometimes, my little scribble does remind me of William. He has done incredible things such as lighting matches in my car, lighting a bonfire in the garden, knocking the gas cylinder down, chasing a live mouse all over the house along with the cat, blocking the snake’s hole so that “it will not be able to come out and bite us all,” getting incredibly filthy, turning his cycle into an airplane, a truck, a sugarcane juice making machine, and a dozen other things, pouring water on the chairs so that our butts would get wet when we sat on them, and a hundred other things I can’t remember right now. All this is not really good for an adult’s nerves, but I really do not mind. He is my type of boy, and we get along fine. And it amuses me a great deal when people look at him and exclaim, “Oh, what a sweet and quiet little boy!”