|The Austere Academy|
|Number in Series||
Book the Fifth
Top: Baudelaire children
Duncan and Isadora Quagmire being kidnapped into Count Olaf's car; a salmon bumper sticker foreshadows the next book
|Letter to the Editor||
In this book, the Baudelaires are sent to a boarding school where they are constantly reminded they will die, bullied, laughed for being orphans and having deceased parents, forced to live in an ugly shack, do tiring tests and exams, run far more laps than necessary, eat disgusting cafeteria food, listen to terrible violin recitals, and Sunny is forced to work as a secretary.
If you were looking for a story about cheerful youngsters spending a jolly time at boarding school, look elsewhere. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are intelligent and resourceful children, and you might expect that they would do very well at school. Don't. For the Baudelaires, school turns out to be another miserable episode in their unlucky lives.
Truth be told, within the chapters that make up this dreadful story, the children will face snapping crabs, strict punishments, dripping fungus, comprehensive exams, violin recitals, S.O.R.E., and the metric system.
It is my solemn duty to stay up all night researching and writing the history of these three hapless youngsters, but you may be more comfortable getting a good night's sleep, in this case, you should probably choose some other book.
With all due respect,
- For Beatrice,
- You will always be in my heart,
- in my mind,
- and in your grave.
Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are sent to a depressing and stressful boarding school called Prufrock Preparatory School. The buildings and classrooms resemble gravestones and their motto is "Memento Mori". They are forced to live in "The Orphan Shack," painted green with pink hearts to humiliate them, because they do not have a letter from their parents allowing them to live in the dormitories. They are forced to deal with several bad situations such as small, grimy living space; vicious crabs which live in the shack; odd tan fungus dripping from the ceiling of the shack; an annoying vice principal named Nero; and nasty children, most notably, Carmelita Spats who bullies the Baudelaires for being orphans and having to live in a shack. Because Sunny is too young to attend the school, she becomes the school secretary.
But they are able to overcome these and make friends with two other orphans, Isadora and Duncan Quagmire. Both keep notebooks on hand, as aspiring journalist Duncan likes to write down facts, and aspiring poet Isadora likes to write couplets. Isadora and Duncan are actually two members of a set of triplets; their brother Quigley died in the same fire that killed their parents. When the Baudelaires share their misfortunes with the triplets, the two reveal that they too stand to inherit a fortune, through the Quagmire Sapphires.
Count Olaf, disguised as "Coach Genghis", appears as the new gym coach. Selecting the Baudelaires specifically for what he says are special orphan tendencies, he makes Violet, Klaus, and Sunny run laps almost every night performing S.O.R.E. (Special Orphan Running Exercises), and is extremely nasty. The Baudelaires are so exhausted that they begin failing their classes. Nero informs them that if Violet and Klaus don't pass comprehensive tests and if Sunny is unable to staple with homemade staples, they will be expelled from school. He tells them that Coach Genghis is willing to homeschool them.
The Quagmires devise a plan to help the Baudelaires: Isadora will dress like Violet, Duncan will dress like Klaus, and a bag of flour will take Sunny's place during S.O.R.E. Meanwhile, the older Baudelaires can study from the Quagmire notebooks while creating staples for Sunny.
Violet and Klaus pass their tests and Sunny staples satisfactorily, but Genghis comes and says the Quagmires were impersonating the Baudelaires during S.O.R.E. which is the same as cheating. Nero gleefully expels them.
They manage to take off Coach Genghis's turban (as he refused to removal due to religious/cultural reasons), revealing Count Olaf's unibrow. Vice Principal Nero won't let them stay at the school even though Mr. Poe gets into an argument with him on the subject. Isadora and Duncan are kidnapped by the white-face women and are smuggled into a nearby car. Before the car drives away, the Quagmires try to tell the Baudelaires about something called "V.F.D."
- Adversity: a word which here means "trouble," and there are very few people in this world who have had the sort of troubling adversity that follows these three children wherever they go.
- Incredulously: a word which here means "not being able to believe it," and Sunny's "Aregg" is a word which here means "What? I can't believe it."
- Mandatory: Vice Principal Nero said, "Every night I give a violin recital for six hours, and attendance is mandatory. The word 'mandatory' means that if you don't show up, you have to buy me a large bag of candy and watch me eat it."
- Territorial: a word which here means the crabs are "unhappy to see small children in their living quarters."
- Gingerly: here means "avoiding territorial crabs"
- Impressionable age: here means "ten and eight years old, respectively"
- Similar experiences: a phrase which here means "having lost family members in terrible fires and lived in the Orphans Shack." regarding the Quagmires.
- Glaze over: here means "ache slightly out of boredom."
- Inevitable: a word which here means "a lifetime of horror and woe." regarding Violet almost marrying Count Olaf.
- Companionable comfort: a phrase which here means many things, all of them happy even though it is quite difficult to be happy while hearing a terrible sonata performed over and over by a man who cannot play the violin, while attending an atrocious boarding school with an evil man sitting nearby undoubtedly planning something dreadful.
- Austere: a word which here means "stern and severe"
- Bit his tongue: a phrase which here means that he simply kept quiet. He did not actually bite his tongue.
- Austere: a word which here means that Mr. Remora's stories were particularly boring, Mrs. Bass's obsession with the metric system was particularly irritating, and Nero's administrative demands were particularly difficult.
- Autopilot: a word which here means "measuring pencils without really thinking about them", regarding Klaus on autopilot.
- Waning: here means "dim, and making everything look extra-creepy"
- Taken a page out of Nero's book: a phrase which here means Coach Genghis "learned how to repeat things in a mocking way, in order to make fun of children."
- Wincing: a word which here means "frowning in pain, alarm, or distress."
- Diligence: here means "ability to take good notes in dark green and pitch-black notebooks"
- Symbolic: here means that the glowing circle felt like it stood for more than merely a track, and what it stood for was zero.
- Ruefully: a word which here means "while pointing at a rude, violent, and filthy little girl."
- Come hell or high water: an expression which here means "using a fork, a few teaspoons of creamed spinach, a small potato, a live crab, and noisy shoes"-she was going to invent a staple-making device.
- Stapled like mad: a phrase which here means "quickly and accurately."
- Exciting development in the race: a phrase which here means that the Baudelaires were gaining on Genghis.
- As Count Olaf drives away, Duncan Quagmire yells "V.F.D!" at the Baudelaires from the window.
References to the real world
- Main article: References and allusions in Lemony Snicket's works
- Vice Principal Nero is likely a reference to the Nero, a Roman Emperor whose reign is often associated with tyranny and greed. Emperor Nero allegedly "fiddled while Rome burned." Nero was also famous for forcing many of his subjects to sit through extended theatrical pieces created and performed by himself, which is reflected in Vice Principal Nero's awful violin recitals.
- Isadora and Duncan Quagmire's names are a reference to Isadora Duncan, inventor of American modern dance.
- Mrs. Bass and Mr. Remora share their names with types of fish, as did the former gym teacher Ms. Tench.
- Coach Genghis shares his name with Genghis Khan, a famous Mongolian chieftain.
- Prufrock may be a reference to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," a poem by T. S. Eliot.
- The book's cover is a reference to the classic novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.
- When Isadora mentions that she writes poetry, Sunny shrieks "Sappho," which is the name of a female Greek poet.
In the last picture of The Austere Academy, Duncan and Isadora can be seen frantically waving through the back window of Count Olaf's car. On the bumper is a sticker depicting a salmon, which refers to Café Salmonella.
Letter to the Editor
To My Kind Editor,
Please excuse this ridiculously fancy stationary. I am writing to you from 667 Dark Avenue, and this is the only paper available in the neighborhood. My investigation of the Baudelaire orphans' stay in this wealthy and woeful place is finally complete–I only pray that the manuscript will reach you.
Not next Tuesday, but the Tuesday after that, purchase a first-class, one-way ticket on the second-to-last train out of the city. Instead of boarding the train, wait until it departs and climb down to the tracks to retrieve the complete summary of my investigation, entitled THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR, as well as one of Jerome's neckties, a small photograph of Veblen Hall, a bottle of parsley soda, and the doorman's coat, so that Mr. Helquist can properly illustrate this terrible chapter in the Baudelaires' lives.
Remember, you are my last hope that the tales of the Baudelaire orphans can finally be told to the general public.
With all due respect,
- Count Olaf's disguise name in the book The Reptile Room which is Stephano was spelled incorrectly. Mr. Snicket spelled the name like this: Stefano.
Several editions of The Austere Academy have been published. Some of these include foreign editions or re-prints such as: The Austere Academy (UK), The Austere Academy (UK Paperback) and Piège au Collège.
The Austere Academy (UK)
This edition has the same content as in the original one. The main difference here is the cover, which is black, has different fonts and a forest green spine. Brett Helquist's illustration is also different. It shows Carmelita glaring at the children as they look for somewhere to sit. Beside her is a boy forced to eat without cutlery, one of Nero's punishments. The book is published by Egmont. On each of the UK versions, between the coloured spine and the black cover there are narrow images depicting a reference to each books content. The Austere Academy features a long, curling tape measure. This is repeated on the back cover.
The Austere Academy (UK Paperback)
This is a paperback version of The Austere Academy released in the UK by Egmont Books in 2010. It has Lemony Snicket written on the top with A Series of Unfortunate Events written below it in an eye shape.
The Austere Academy Or, Kidnapping!
The Austere Academy Or, Kidnapping! is an unreleased paperback re-release of The Austere Academy, designed to mimic Victorian penny dreadfuls. It originally had a release date of April 1, 2008, but was never published. It is unknown whether it will be released in the future. 
Piège au Collège
This French edition, published by Nathan Poche has a very different cover, Brett Helquist's illustration is not seen here, apart for a portrait of the Baudelaires. It is almost entirely black, with a white illustration of a violin or perhaps a cello.