Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Gentlemen and Players

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Gentlemen and Players

A Novel

by Joanne Harris

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris X
Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2007, 448 pages

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The English School System
Established in medieval times, the original purpose of grammar schools was to educate select members of the young in the grammar of Latin and other useful topics.

In 1944 England established a tripartite education system which placed grammar schools at the top of the heap. Less gifted children (as defined by those who failed an entrance exam at the age of eleven) attended either secondary modern schools or technical schools. In the 1960s the Labour government tried to do away with the grammar school system by introducing comprehensive schools which taught all ability levels.

In response, some grammar schools moved to a fee paying system but retained their "grammar school" designation, and some managed to fly under the radar long enough to escape the Labour axe and survived into the Conservative Maggie Thatcher years; thus, in a few English counties, grammar schools still exist as an option within the state education system.

Some others (including Leeds Grammar School and the fictional St Oswald's) were never absorbed into the state school system and thus have been effectively private since their founding which, in the case of LGS was in 1552 when it was established to provide free, subsidized or fee-paying education, according to need.

Joanne Harris
was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire on July 3, 1964; her mother is French, her father English. She was educated at Wakefield Girls' High and Barnsley Sixth Form College, and then read Modern and Mediaeval Languages at Saint Catharine's College, Cambridge. After a number of heroic career failures (rock musician, herbalist, accountant) she succumbed to genetic pressure and became a French teacher for 12 years at Leeds Grammar School, and later taught French Literature at Sheffield University.

Her first novel, The Evil Seed, was published in 1989, although she strongly advises against reading it. Since then she has written Sleep, Pale Sister (1993); Chocolat (1999); Blackberry Wine (2000); Five Quarters of the Orange (2001), Coastliners (2002), Holy Fools (2003), Jigs and Reels (2004), Gentlemen and Players (2006), and a cookbook-memoir My French Kitchen (2002). Her books have been published in 40 countries and have won a number of British and international awards.

She was awarded an honorary D.Lit (Doctor of Letters) by the University of Huddersfield in 2003 and also by the University of Sheffield in 2004.

According to her website her hobbies include "mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion of the system, although she also enjoys obfuscation, sleaze, rebellion, witchcraft, armed robbery, tea and biscuits. She is not above bribery and would not necessarily refuse an offer involving exotic travel, champagne or yellow diamonds from Graff. She plays bass guitar in a band first formed when she was 16, is currently studying Old Norse and lives with her husband Kevin and her daughter Anouchka, about 15 miles from the place she was born."

Coming Soon: The Lollipop Shoes (which sees a return of Vianne and her sister from Chocolat), to be published in the UK in June 2007. USA publication date unannounced.

This article is from the February 7, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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