Alec Waugh (older brother of the more famous Evelyn) wrote this semi-autobiographical novel about a fictional British public school over a six week period when he was 17 years old and doing military training during World War I. It's a school story in the tradition of Tom Brown's Schooldays
, but updated for the pre-war generation. Unlike Tom Brown
, The Loom of Youth
contains several pointed criticisms of the public school system. It was controversial at the time for those criticisms, and also for the discussion of homosexual activity between schoolboys. That discussion was enough to get Waugh kicked out of his school's "old boy" alumni club after the book was published, but to a modern reader it's more in the vein of blink-and-you-miss-it (I did miss it - I was into the next chapter before I realized what they had been talking about).
The story is light on plot and heavy on cricket and rugby football. I will admit that the cricket and rugby went way over my American head. The story meanders a bit (Waugh tells us in the preface that he sent it chapter by chapter to his publisher father for proofreading and never did any revisions). The characters, however, are engaging and the story entertaining.
Waugh's protagonist struggles with ambivalence, enjoying his school days but recognizing the flawed system's inability to prepare him for life afterwards. As the characters draw closer to war, these concerns about educational quality become more pertinent. The schoolmasters urge on the boys, asking how they can expect to do well fighting in the trenches if they don't take football seriously enough. With the hindsight of knowing what history will bring, these situations are unsettling, but the characters (and probably the author as well, who had not yet been to the front when he wrote this) seem to have just a glimmer of what's in store for them and their generation. The mood of the novel is lighthearted overall, depicting a very particular place and time with a generation on the eve of war, but not yet colored much by it.