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5 July 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 4:07am

A literary hothouse on the South Circular

The Dulwich College conveyor belt is still working.

By Jonathan Derbyshire

The historian David Cannadine made an excellent contribution to Radio 4’s A Point of View strand yesterday. “Stars of South London” was a paean to the south London suburb of Dulwich (where, in the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I reside) — in particular to P G Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler, two of the many literary luminaries to have been produced by Dulwich College, the venerable independent school on the South Circular.

Cannadine made a rather persuasive case for there being deep similarities between Wodehouse and Chandler, for all the obvious differences in their respective worldviews and in the atmosphere of their novels. He attributed these similarities to the influence on both men of their headmaster at Dulwich, Arthur Herman Gilkes, who, he said, “taught them to write… superb English prose”. And then there was also the fact that neither Wodehouse nor Chandler went on to university.

Nor, interestingly enough, did the former New Statesman literary editor V S Pritchett, an alumnus of Alleyn’s School, just up the road in East Dulwich. Cannadine didn’t mention Pritchett, though he did cite A E W Mason, Dennis Wheatley, C S Forrester, Graham Swift and Michael Ondaatje, who also went to Dulwich. That’s an impressive list and it doesn’t stop there. Next month, Jonathan Cape publishes C, the third novel by Tom McCarthy, who made his name with Remainder, an unlikely bestseller that owed more to the French nouveau roman than it did to Bertie Wooster or Philip Marlow, and who was also educated at Dulwich. It must be something they put in the water…

(You can read an essay McCarthy wrote on the genius of David Lynch for the NS here.)

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UPDATE: Thanks to Neeko in the comments for pointing out that V S Pritchett didn’t in fact attend Dulwich College, but went to the nearby Alleyn’s School. I’ve modified the post accordingly.

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