Vice Versa by F Anstey (1856-1934) uses comic fantasy to explore the changes in school life from one generation to another. The story tells of a pompous businessman, Paul Bultitude, who swaps bodies through the use of a talisman with his son Dick. This results in the father suffering at ‘Crichton House’ boarding school while Dick is able to enjoy his father’s much more comfortable life. The subtitle of the book – ‘A Lesson to Fathers’ – suggests that it is the parent, rather than the child, who must learn the lesson. C S Lewis, author of the Narnia books, described Vice Versa as ‘the only truthful school story in existence’, showing that fantasy can reflect real feelings. Anstey based ‘Crichton House’ on his own school in Surrey.
F Anstey was the pseudonym used by Thomas Anstey Guthrie. The pseudonym was intended to be ‘T Anstey’ but was misprinted and he let it stand. Vice Versa was his first book and was originally intended for adults before being adopted by child readers. He continued to write and, although never achieving the huge critical and commercial success of Vice Versa, several of his books were popular and he had a long career as a writer for the comic magazine Punch.
- Article by:
- M O Grenby
- Childhood and children's literature
Professor M O Grenby explores the relationship between fantasy and morality in 18th- and 19th-century children’s literature.