H. F. Ellis,

The Papers of A.J. Wentworth, B.A.

Review posted to NetGalley, November 17, 2019

literary fiction, humor

Fictional memoirs of a hapless British schoolmaster.

Poor Wentworth! An instructor at Burgrove, a boys’ boarding school during the World War II era, A. J. Wentworth is so literal minded that he doesn’t realize when his colleagues and students make him the butt of jokes. The laughter that fills a room after a prank or a bit of teasing leave the hapless Wentworth puzzled.


“I can explain,” he says with injured dignity after every fiasco. From walking out of the headmaster’s office with a maidenhair fern in his arms to getting caught on a fishing line while looking for his umbrella, Wentworth defends himself by arguing “that the whole affair was perfectly natural really.”


His convoluted mishaps reminded me of the old proverb “For want of a nail the kingdom was lost.” Over and over, a physical or verbal stumble triggers a series of events that have Wentworth either threatening to resign or demanding that one of the other instructors be dismissed. “Wentworth! . . . Are you mad?” demands the headmaster, yet Wentworth—forgetful, accident-prone, oblivious Wentworth—forges on through one disaster after another in his openhearted way. For there isn’t a mean bone in Wentworth’s body; even when he has been wronged, his tormentors and rivals can earn his sympathy and friendship.


Through a decade or so, we follow Wentworth’s experiences at the school and his wartime service as an orderly officer, an ironic classification for the decidedly disorderly bumbler. It was a different world, a simpler and gentler time, before cell-phone cameras could capture every humiliation and spread it across the whole world via social media.


In these amusing stories pulled from Wentworth’s imaginary journal and letters and sometimes reflected on by his colleagues, H. F. Ellis has created a delightful book. I look forward to reading the next one in the series.