In this book, the Baudelaires are sent to a depressing boarding school.
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", a Latin phrase which means "remember you will die".
The Baudelaires meet Vice Principal Nero who claims that an advanced computer system will keep Count Olaf away. He also reveals that without a letter from their parents or a guardian giving them permission to live in the dormitories, they are forced to live in the "Orphans Shack". The shack is small and disgusting, painted green and decorated with pink hearts to humiliate them, has vicious crabs and an odd tan fungus dripping from the ceiling. Nero refuses to make an exception for the Baudelaires to live in the dormitory where each student has a bowl of fresh fruit every Wednesday because Mr. Poe is technically not their guardian.
The Baudelaires are forced to deal with several bad situations, such as their horrible living space, Nero's mandatory six-hour violin recitals and condescending behavior, and nasty children. Most notably, Carmelita Spats bullies the Baudelaires for being orphans and having to live in a shack. Sunny is too young to attend school so she is forced to serve as the school's secretary. Violet's teacher is Mr. Remora who tells long and boring stories, while Klaus' teacher is Mrs. Bass, a woman who loves measuring things too much.
The Baudelaires meet and befriend two other orphans, Isadora and Duncan Quagmire, after being defended by them from Carmelita during one of her bullying sessions. Isadora and Duncan are actually two members of a set of triplets. Their brother Quigley died in the same fire that killed their parents. The Quagmire children keep notebooks on hand, as an aspiring journalist Duncan likes to write down facts and aspiring poet Isadora likes to write in couplets. 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," shows up and fills a role as the new gym coach. The Baudelaires wish for Genghis to take off his turban to reveal his unibrow, but Nero allows him to keep it on due to "religious reasons" and does not wish for Nero to violate his religious beliefs. To hide his eye tattoo, Genghis also refuses to remove his shoes because he claims his feet smell. He forces the Baudelaires to run laps almost every night for S.O.R.E. (Special Orphan Running Exercises) and is extremely nasty.
As a result of S.O.R.E., the Baudelaires begin sleeping in class and failing their classes due to exhaustion. 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. Poe arrives and is disappointed to hear the Baudelaires are cheating. Despite getting into an argument with Mr. Poe, Nero refuses to let the children stay at the school.
Poe asks Genghis to remove his running shoes for the Baudelaires, causing Count Olaf to flee. The Baudelaires, having trained in routine running, chase after Olaf remarkably well. Violet manages to take off his turban revealing the unibrow. Sunny manages to untie his shoes, revealing the tattoo.
Meanwhile, Isadora and Duncan are being kidnapped by the white-faced women and are smuggled into a nearby car. Isadora screams for Klaus' help, but one of the women bites Klaus' hand and shuts the car door. Before the car drives away, the Quagmires try to tell the Baudelaires about something called "V.F.D."
Lemony Snicket mentions that Count Olaf would eventually force the Quagmires into puppy costumes so he could sneak them onto an airplane without anyone noticing. The book ends with the Baudelaires weeping for their abducted friends while the adults argue.
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,
- Violet Baudelaire
- Klaus Baudelaire
- Sunny Baudelaire
- Count Olaf (as Coach Genghis)
- White-Faced Women (as cafeteria workers)
- Arthur Poe
- 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.
- Austere: a word which here means "stern and severe"
- 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.
- Bit his tongue: a phrase which here means that he simply kept quiet. He did not actually bite his tongue.
- 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."
- 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
- 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.
- Exciting development in the race: a phrase which here means that the Baudelaires were gaining on Genghis.
- Gingerly: here means "avoiding territorial crabs"
- Glaze over: here means "ache slightly out of boredom."
- Impressionable age: here means "ten and eight years old, respectively"
- Inevitable: a word which here means "a lifetime of horror and woe." regarding Violet almost marrying Count Olaf.
- 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."
- Ruefully: a word which here means "while pointing at a rude, violent, and filthy little girl."
- Similar experiences: a phrase which here means "having lost family members in terrible fires and lived in the Orphans Shack." regarding the Quagmires.
- Stapled like mad: a phrase which here means "quickly and accurately."
- 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."
- Territorial: a word which here means the crabs are "unhappy to see small children in their living quarters."
- Waning: here means "dim, and making everything look extra-creepy"
- Wincing: a word which here means "frowning in pain, alarm, or distress."
- 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. She was strangled to death in a freak accident in France when her long, flowing scarf became entangled in the wheel of the car in which she was riding.
- 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. The first edition of the novel included an illustration by George Cruikshank showing Oliver pleading for more food. Both stories are about orphans who are often treated poorly and unfairly.
- When Isadora mentions that she writes poetry, Sunny shrieks "Sappho," which is the name of a female Greek poet.
The Austere Academy has a 3.98/5 on Goodreads.com.
- This is the first book in the series where no one explicitly dies, although Ms. Tench may be dead as Vice Principal Nero says she "accidentally fell out of a third-story window a few days ago." In the first book, the Baudelaire parents die. In the second book, Uncle Monty dies. In the third book, Aunt Josephine dies. In the fourth book, Georgina Orwell dies.
- The UK cover came with a wrap band with these lines:
- "My dad says reading one of these books is better than chopping onions." -Amanda from Minnesota
- "It is quite flattering that you think I might be Louis Sachar, but unfortunately for me, I am not." - Lemony Snicket
- "I preferred The Littlest Elf." - Count Olaf
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 the content of each book. 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.