I'm reading The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett and one of the characters is described as follows:

"The headmaster, Alan Dunn – a tall, spare man, with a neat moustache, and the deflated air of an army colonel on furlough – tells Jim, rather unconvincingly, that the exhibition is a triumph."

I'm having trouble picturing this Alan Dunn. The dictionary says "deflated" means "feeling less confident and happy" and "on furlough" means "a ​period of ​time that a ​soldier is ​allowed to be ​absent, ​especially to ​return ​temporarily to ​their own ​town or ​country". But I don't understand why an army colonel allowed to be back home should feel unhappy. What kind of an image this description is trying to project? Can anybody explain the idea for me?

2 Answers 2


This is perhaps a slightly outdated usage - this book is set in the 50s and 60s in England, which would have some different attitudes towards military service and duty, particularly among senior officers. Our usual image of colonels and majors is people who are quite stuffy, strict and disciplined, and very committed to their work.

A colonel in the field is grand, powerful and deals with a lot of responsibility, and is where the action is. On furlough, he's just another person - he probably isn't unhappy exactly, but he's not in his element, and feels sidelined and unimportant.


The use of deflated in your passage is not related to unhappy.

In the military, officers are expected to conduct themselves in a certain way. This tends includes a posture which is rather stiff: straight back, stomach in, chest out, chin up, facing straight. Maybe you get the picture that the posture is pumped up.

The military also has many rules of conduct which some people find comforting since it's all spelled out, there's little left to nuance, and requires less thinking.

When a soldier/sailor is allowed on furlough it is basically their time off and they are allowed to wear civies, normal, non-military clothing. They are still expected to behave well, though more relaxed. This is in contrast to being on leave when they may still be required to wear military dress and behave as if they are on the job.

The author is trying to convey the feeling that Alan Dunn is more relaxed in the scene, and possibly he may feel out of place given the military rules of conduct are not set as boundaries.

This picture of Alan Dunn is further confirmed by the passage

tells Jim, rather unconvincingly

Colonels are never unconvincing, leaders always show confidence. Bear in mind, Alan Dunn, is a headmaster, the leader of a school, he is compared to a colonel, a military leader of soldiers. The author is also making an allusion to the stereotype that civilians are more relaxed and less intense than military personnel.

Tall spare man with a neat moustache

To picture Alan Dunn, you might want to think of Basil in Fawlty Towers.

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