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Winslow Boy, The

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Patrick White (Patrick Victor Martindale White) Biography to David Wojahn Biography

a play by Terence Rattigan, first performed in 1946; it is based on the Archer-Shee case of 1908, which resulted from the expulsion from the Royal Naval Academy of a cadet accused of theft. Here, Ronnie Winslow is the naval cadet expelled from Osborne, on the grounds that he stole a five-shilling postal order. His father, Arthur, seeks the help of Sir Robert Morton, an eminent advocate and politician who, in a famous scene, contemptuously grills Ronnie, accuses him of being a forger, liar, and thief, and as Ronnie bursts into tears, concludes, ‘the boy is plainly innocent: I accept the brief’. The ensuing proceedings cost Arthur his health and much of his wealth; Ronnie's elder brother has to sacrifice his place at Oxford and his sister Catherine loses her fiancé; his mother thinks the price the family is paying ‘out of all proportion’; even Sir Robert would have become Lord Chief Justice, but for his commitment to the case; and when Ronnie is finally vindicated, the boy is out, watching a film. However, Rattigan clearly agrees with Catherine, a suffragette with radical sympathies, that ‘if ever the time comes that the House of Commons has so much on its mind that it can't find time to discuss a Ronnie Winslow and his bally postal order, this country will be a far poorer place than it is now’. She and Morton, whom she had dismissed as a reactionary opportunist, find common ground in a belief in democracy and the absolute right to justice of the individual: a conclusion with special weight just after the Second World War, when the play was originally staged.

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