Review: Jennings Goes to School by Anthony Buckeridge

Jennings Goes to School by Anthony Buckeridge‘You’ve heard of the Wizard of Oz, of course. Well, obviously, the opposite of wizard is ozard, isn’t it?’

Jennings conceded the point.

‘That shepherd’s pie we’ve just had was supersonic muck so it’s wizard, but this school jam’s ghastly so it’s ozard. Everything ghastly is ozard; being a new chap’s pretty ozard for a bit, but you’ll get used to it when you’ve been here as long as I have.’”

Jennings Goes to School, the first of the Jennings series, was published in 1950. At this point children’s books were still wholesome and pure, staying right away from difficult issues like divorce or sexuality. The Jennings books obeyed this rule even after the revolution in children’s literature that began in the 60s and is still continuing today. They are unusual in that few school stories were written to be deliberately humorous, and indeed the boys’ school story genre had long been in decline by the 50s. However, the Jennings books, like any really good series, succeed in rising above petty considerations of genre.

The character of John Christopher Timothy Jennings himself is precisely what is needed for a story of this sort. He is intelligent, impulsive and imaginative, and takes himself and his occupations incredibly seriously. He’s rarely much upset by getting into trouble, even in his early days at Linbury Court, and as Mr. Carter explains, is “like a cork in water … you can push him under, but the next moment he’s bobbing about on the top again.” A significant amount of the humour in the book comes from Jennings’ tendency to take things literally, and this continues throughout the series.

Darbishire (Charles Edwin Jeremy) is an excellent foil for Jennings. An earnest, cautious and bespectacled young man, he is more fearful of getting into scrapes than his friend, but is generally drawn into Jennings’ schemes with the result that he receives his fair share of trouble. He is given to quoting proverbs and, like his father, speaks in a “welter of glistening consonants”.

The rest of the boys at Linbury Court have few distinguishing features, especially this early in the series. Temple is top in Latin and prone to handing out threats of “bashings-up”. Atkinson, like Darbishire, is definitely a follower (and for some reason I always see him as terribly skinny), while Venables is a pleasant but undeniably generic boy. The others are mere ciphers in the background at this point and mostly appear to call Jennings or Darbishire “Mud” or laugh uproariously in Mr. Wilkins’ class.

The plot of Jennings Goes to School is fairly episodic in nature. Not that this matters, because each episode is hilarious. My own particular favourite is the one in which Mr. Wilkins ends up dangling down the side of the school on the end of a rope, though the episode of the Thing is almost as funny. The later books tend to contain more of a continuing narrative, though Jennings Goes to School still feels well structured, and any loose ends are nicely tied up.

The language and humour of Jennings Goes to School is highly popular with children, but also with adults.. Much of the book is written from Jennings’ perspective but enough is from Mr. Carter’s or Mr. Wilkins’ that we get a distinct impression of the adults’ view of the boys. I get the feeling that the book is probably written as much for adults as for children. This may, of course, be because I didn’t discover Jennings Goes to School until I was an adult so I have never read the book as a child. Certainly it seems that the book (and the later books in the series) are as enjoyable to adults as they are to children. Having said this, much of the humour is distinctly childish – for example, Mr. Wilkins’ frequent exclamations of “I – I – Corwumph!”

All in all, Jennings Goes to School is an excellent read for both children and adults; splendid if you need something light and not too challenging, and want a good laugh.

Review: The Glass Bird Girl by Esme Kerr

The Glass Bird Girl by Esme KerrIf we don’t get some results by the end of term we might decide you’re in the wrong job. I trust you’ve already pulled out of the play – the best servants remain invisible, and you weren’t sent to Knight’s Haddon to lark about onstage. I shall be telephoning your headmistress this week to keep myself informed.”

The Glass Bird Girl by Esme Kerr is a rather lovely book. It’s a contemporary school story with more than a hint of mystery, but it reads a bit like a story of an earlier period. This is partly the fault (or, some might say, the advantage) of the setting. The girls at Knight’s Haddon school are not permitted mobile phones, computers, tablets or any other device, and they wear a distinctly old-fashioned uniform. In addition, Edie has not been sent to the school for normal reasons, but to find out (as she puts it in her own mind) whether someone is stealing another girl’s pencils. One Prince Stolonov is afraid that his daughter Anastasia is being “horribly teased” and insists on importing a girl into the school to investigate the possibility. This, of course, leads Edie to discover the much deeper and darker mystery that is going on in the school.

Edie herself is a delightful character and it is undoubtedly she who makes this book. She’s not much good at standing up to people, never, one suspects, having had much chance to do so. Like Harry Potter, she is sent to school after having led a miserable life in her aunt’s house (the book opens with her cousins cooking and forcing her to eat her own pet fish). But shy and awkward as she may be, she has a strong streak of determination and courage which allows her to end the book with a triumphant flourish.

The other girls in the school are mostly a bit bland. Sally is pleasant, Phoebe unpleasant, and the rest somewhere in between. The only one who stands out is Anastasia, who is peculiar by any standards, though quite appealing. Interestingly for a book aimed at 9-12s, it’s the adults in the story who come across most clearly. First there is the ineffectual Aunt Sophia, then the slightly creepy Cousin Charles, who is both benefactor and boss, with the power to instantly withdraw the new, fragile security that school gives to Edie. There’s Miss Winifred, sweet but not altogether supportive, and Miss Mannering, who is rumoured to be going through the menopause. Finally and most importantly comes Miss Fotheringay, who fits the role of goddess very well. She is a little remote, has striking looks and seems to understand Edie in a way that no one else can. But even she is hiding her own secrets.

The plot is interesting and nicely managed, although it does rather jump from almost no action to very little else with only minimal build-up. But that’s quite typical of books aimed at this age group and is only to be expected from what is actually a shortish story. Most of the conflict for the reader comes not from the mystery surrounding what is happening to Anastasia’s belongings, but from the danger that Edie will be removed from Knight’s Haddon and not be able to solve the said mystery. Having said that, when the plot gets going it does so with a vengeance and no one could complain that the book is dull!

I’d thoroughly recommend The Glass Bird Girl for those who want a light, unchallenging read and who have enjoyed books such as the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton or the Chalet School series by Elinor Brent-Dyer. I read it on the recommendation of Robin Stevens (author of Murder Most Unladylike) and have not been disappointed.

Review: First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

First Term at Malory Towers, Enid BlytonMy school,” thought Darrell, and a little warm feeling came into her heart. “It’s fine. How lucky I am to be having Malory Towers as my school-home for so many years. I shall love it.”

First Term at Malory Towers is the story of Darrell Rivers’ first term at Malory Towers. It was written in 1946, around the time that Enid Blyton wrote some of her best-loved fiction. Darrell arrives at Malory Towers determined to work and play as hard as she can, but she finds that it’s not as easy as that, and soon she is losing her temper and getting into trouble as well as playing pranks and having fun.

My opinon is that Enid Blyton writes some of the most realistic school stories that there are. Her characters are spot on. They aren’t as complex as some other school story writers’ characters, for example Elinor Brent-Dyer’s, but they behave just as real people do. Darrell, the heroine, is a genuinely interesting creation. At first she seems like a normal, jolly schoolgirl, excited to be going away to school and eager to be popular. It isn’t until more than a quarter of the way into the book that we, along with the rest of the characters, learn that she has a violent temper. Shortly afterwards we’re given another surprise when we find that she’s courageous enough to own up to her own greatest failing and apologise unreservedly for it. This is something she struggles with throughout her school journey, and we are eventually privileged to see her overcome it.

The plot is unremarkable, but perhaps that in itself is remarkable. There are no avalanches, snowstorms, or floods (Elinor Brent-Dyer), no secret passages or spies (Dorita Fairlie-Bruce), no fires (Angela Brazil) or sudden rises to fame (Elsie Oxenham). Instead we see a relatively small prank (Gwendoline’s ducking of Mary-Lou) blown up into an enormously important incident which results in misery for Darrell and a huge improvement on the part of Mary-Lou, not to mention unfortunate results for Gwendoline herself, all because of that young lady’s desire for revenge. The other main piece of plot, which revolves around quiet Sally Hope, is equally interesting and brings more challenges for Darrell. Her temper once again comes to the fore, and this time she isn’t so eager to put herself forward to admit her mistake and struggles to do the right thing.

Enid Blyton’s language is undeniably simplistic, but is this necessarily a bad thing? It leads to a less interesting story and means that the reader is rarely challenged (one of my favourite things about Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School series was that it constantly made me run to the dictionary to find things out), but it also makes for a nice, easy, relaxing read. And yet there’s something about Enid Blyton’s use of language – she can really tell a story. It might not be challenging but it’s interesting and gripping, and younger readers in particular simply don’t want to put it down.

So, not complex, subtle or challenging, but holding an undeniable something, Enid Blyton’s First Term at Malory Towers is definitely worth another look.

Review: Murder Most Unladylike, by Robin Stevens

Murder Most Unladylike - Robin StevensIt was awfully fun too, creeping about behind the others’ backs and pretending to be ordinary when all the time we knew we were detectives on a secret mission to obtain information.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens takes place in the 1930s at Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong have set up a secret Detective Society. So far the most exciting thing they’ve detected has been The Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie (case closed). But that’s before Hazel discovers the body in the Gym – which then disappears!

Murder Most Unladylike might have only been published in 2014, but it is a classic school story nonetheless. Many of the elements are there: midnight feasts, pranks and pashes. But it’s also a classic murder mystery, with clues, red herrings and an ultimate, Agatha Christie style, showdown with the suspects at the end. The period detail isn’t overdone, but what there is is very convincing and makes the story and its setting feel completely authentic.

Our heroines, Daisy and Hazel, are beautifully drawn. Daisy appears, on the surface, to be the typical English schoolgirl, blonde, blue-eyed and obsessed with sport. Hazel, on the other hand, is stolid and unsporty but equally intelligent. Together they make the perfect detecting team and it’s hardly surprising that they get to the bottom of the mystery before the police do – particularly as they have an excellent head start!

The book starts briskly – the body has already come and gone by page 20, and things don’t slow down after that. Every chapter brings some new clue, suspect or twist in the plot. Having said that, the useful Suspect List which appears every so often helps the reader to keep track of what’s going on so there’s none of that getting lost in the details which can happen in the best of detective stories.

There are one or two more modern elements to Murder Most Unladylike, aside from the fact that there is a murder in a children’s book at all. There is the fact that the narrator is not just a foreigner but from ‘The Orient’. It’s rather interesting, because it gives an outsider’s view of the school and its traditions, as well, of course, as highlighting the low-level bullying that would undoubtedly have gone on. In addition, there is the romantic part of the plot and especially the mention of two girls ‘canoodling’ in the laundry cupboard. Very racy stuff for the 1930s!

Murder Most Unladylike is supposed to be for the 9-12s, but I can’t imagine anyone reading it and not enjoying it. It’s certainly a must for anyone who enjoys school stories of any kind. Buy it now, is my advice!

Review: Sara Gay – Model Girl

Sara Gay - Model GirlSara Gay – Model Girl was published, along with its three sequels, in 1961. In many ways it’s very different from most Girls’ Own fiction, though it also has its similarities. Of course, it was published towards the end of the Girls’ Own era and clearly takes into account the rapid changes in society at that time. In addition, the writer was a prolific romance writer (Janey Scott is a pseudonym for Roberta Leigh) who continues to produce books even today, and this has obviously influenced the writing of the Sara Gay stories. But the descriptions and dustjacket illustrations make it clear that Sara’s adventures are still aimed at a teenage audience and the purchaser can be sure that certain values will be a part of the story, just as they had been for decades previously.

The story of Sara Gay – Model Girl concerns the unfortunately named Sara Gay (surely no relation to Tom Gay of the Chalet School!), who has just won a beauty contest she entered as a joke and who is finally allowing herself to believe that she really could become a model, the career she has dreamed of for many years. There are, of course, many trials and tribulations along the way, but Sara remains cheerful throughout and the ending is almost pure Girls’ Own.

Sara Gay – Model Girl is, objectively speaking, fairly shallow and predictable, yet for me it holds an enormous charm. Of course, there’s the natural appeal of a young girl floating around in beautiful gowns, learning to make herself pretty and defeating her enemies in the process, but that isn’t the only reason I love the book.

Firstly, I actually enjoy the fact that appearance is all-important, that a love of clothes and an interest in make-up are unashamedly celebrated rather than condemned as shallow and vulgar:

“She wants me to wear pretty clothes and go to lots of parties with loads of men.”
“But that’s what everyone wants.”
“Well, I don’t. I hate parties and clothes bore me. I expect that sounds crazy to you, but I can’t help it. My idea of a wonderful time is to live on a farm and ride and fish and help look after the animals. What I’d really like to do is be a vet.”
Sara stared at Marion in astonishment. How could any girl not love beautiful clothes?

I must confess to being more on Marion’s side of the argument than Sara’s, but even so it’s pleasant to see such a different idea embraced. Even more shocking, perhaps, is the fact that bras and bikinis are not only freely mentioned but even worn (or not worn) by the glamorous but honourable heroine, thus placing them very firmly in the Approved camp. Even a question regarding a teacher’s boyfriend is quite clearly a slightly euphemistic way of calling him her lover.

Yet, despite all this, traditional values are still espoused and highly important. Nasty girl Nina gets her comeuppance, losing even the friendship of debutante Diana, who in fact turns out to be a thoroughly nice person. The secondary heroine, Marion, has a nice character arc during which we find out the reasons for her unpleasantness and see her coming to an understanding with her mother and a place of far greater peace.

Family values are a central motif of the story, with Sara’s lower-middle-class but wholesome family contrasted against the opulence and unpleasant, stifled atmosphere of Marion’s upbringing. Sara thoroughly disapproves of Marion’s dishonesty, although her moral dilemma surrounds Marion’s boyfriend rather than, for example, cheating in an exam or deceiving a mistress. Still, she says quite clearly and firmly – as would any Girls’ Own heroine – that it is not she, but Marion, who should be ashamed of her family.

Sara Gay – Model Girl isn’t the subtlest or most thought provoking of reads, but it is fun, light and wholesome, containing most of the traditional Girls’ Own values and many of its tropes while bringing a fresh and (for the time) modern feel to the story – there’s even the lightest hint of romance to come at the end, which although not unknown is rare enough to be fun. Sara herself is a charming character, never grumpy but somehow still real. I recommend it for a very enjoyable read.

 

For further reading on the Sara Gay books, there is a very interesting essay here which can be downloaded in pdf format. It focusses on the portrayal of a young girl growing up in the world of fashion.

A Trio of Terrors

There are a very few Girls’ Own stories which really ought to become classics. Most are in that middle range of poor-but-okay to really-pretty-good. And there is a handful that ought to have been consigned to the wastepaper bin before they even reached an editor’s desk. Today I intend to poke fun at three of these books.

Patricia, Prefect by Ethel TalbotPatricia, Prefect by Ethel Talbot

Patricia, Prefect is painfully mawkish, with much embracing, a little kissing and some romantic and meaningful dancing. The eponymous Patricia is a model prefect at the beginning of the book, clearly a product of Chad’s school’s brainwashing ways. She and the school in general are almost cruel to new girl Veronica in their efforts to force her to conform, and it’s not hard to imagine other girls going through the same misery before knuckling down. Patricia becomes torn between the way she knows, from her time at Chad’s, things ought to be and the feeling that these ways cause too much pain to be right.

As a plot it’s quite promising, and the book does have some interesting and revealing moments. Sadly the excessive sentimentality (a failing to which Ethel Talbot was much prone) means any reader should keep a bucket to hand, for it will surely be needed.

The ending is worst of all – I won’t give it away to any readers who haven’t read the book, as it’s unusual for the genre. However, the last words of the story give an idea of the breathless, high sentimentality that can be expected throughout the book:

“It was the memory of Pat, standing as she had stood, alone, against the opinion of the prefects’ room; standing for what was right so far as she knew it to be right; standing for Veronica, in spite of all her faults, just because she was outside – a memory of Pat fighting like a fearless untrained warrior for her cause.”

Judy, Patrol Leader by Dorothea MooreJudy, Patrol Leader by Dorothea Moore

Judy, Patrol Leader reads rather like a long advertisement for the Guides and is filled with wholly implausible adventures. On page 26 Judy spots a cat burglar breaking into her new school, and by page 29 she has locked him into the school pantry. Forbidden to speak of this adventure, she remains undaunted, and by page 45 is rescuing two girls who have been caught by the tide (explaining as she does so, “I know about knots; I’m a Guide.”). Ten pages later she is forgiven by those who had disliked her and a new Guide company is proposed. In the meantime, her domestic efforts have inspired her uncle’s landlady to turn over a new leaf.

A little later she saves a baby who is having fits, although two pages later a portion of the cliff descends upon the house, trapping Judy and the two children. Cheerfully, she dries the baby, feeds the children and puts them to bed, then proceeds to whistle a Guide tune which allows the rescuers to know that she is alive. Her first words upon rescue are “Please tell Billy’s father that the baby came out of her fit. One up for the Child Nurse Badge!” After this, of course, the school can no longer resist the starting of a Guide company. Even the snag of finding a campsite is overcome by Judy’s rescuing of the local landowner from drowning in a pond. Later on she and her best friend find a hoard of long-lost treasure belonging to Judy’s uncle and uncover a band of smugglers during the same adventure.

Certainly there isn’t a dull moment, but mad escapade on top of impossible adventure is not a good setting for character development, and there is barely any plot besides these continuous thrills. It’s good for a laugh but not much else.

The Hoax of a Lifetime, by J. Radford-EvansThe Hoax of a Lifetime by J. Radford-Evans

The Hoax of a Lifetime is the first in a series which, thankfully, only reached a total of three books. It has been suggested by the authors of The Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories that the heroine (Brenda Dickson) was designed to replace Bessie Bunter as a popular periodical heroine – periodicals where were Brenda began and should have remained.

A single sentence of the book’s blurb reads “’The Hoax of a Lifetime’ introduces ‘The Spider,’ a mysterious duchess, the girl with a red-hot poker, the ‘Love Your Neighbour’ Club and the newcomer who plans to tear through the school like a tornado.” Which pretty much sums up the entire book, although it doesn’t make plain the level of thrill and violence which ensues. The most memorable scene for me was one in which a girl is forced out of a high window by a fourth-former wielding a red-hot poker. This young woman, happily, is dealt retribution with a cricket bat.

The heroine, Brenda, is of course a splendid type. When at the end of the story a friend complains (with complete justification) that the punishment was not severe enough for the villains, Brenda heroically points out that “Miss Muggins didn’t know about that red-hot poker nightmare. I made the kids promise not to tell. It wouldn’t have done any good, Dorothy, you know that.”

Not for the faint-hearted, this is, if possible, even less realistic than Judy, Patrol Leader, though probably better for laughs if that’s what you’re after. Don’t expect realistic characters, complex plots or convincing dialogue. Violence and the highest of high-jinks are what you will get.

Mary-Dorothy Devine – Interview with a Heroine

Mary-Dorothy Devine, Elsie OxenhamFollowing on from my very successful chat with Madge Bettany, today I’ll be talking to Mary Dorothy Devine, featured in Elsie Oxenham’s Abbey Girls books, about what makes her – and of course her books – tick.

 

 

 

 

Mary-Dorothy, could you start by telling us a little about what led you to writing in the first place, please?

Oh, I’d love to. As a matter of fact, I think I’d really been a writer all along, but that wish was crushed by my father – not that he meant to do it, of course, but he was such a brilliant man himself and he didn’t want to me to end up disappointed and saddened. And of course he really did think my stuff was rubbish.

And what sort of writing method do you use? Plotter or pantser? Research before or after?

Plotter or what? That’s certainly a term I’ve never heard before! I think I understand what you mean, though, and the truth is that I rarely plot a book really thoroughly before writing it. I usually have some idea of what will happen, but beyond that, no. I feel that I’m simply a loudspeaker – the characters have their own lives and they speak through me. I just write down what they do and say. As for research, I feel that I’m doing that all the time. There’s rarely a time when there aren’t girls in this house somewhere, so I’ve always got young people around me. You see, I didn’t start writing my things down again until I met Joy and Jen.

I’ve heard a bit about that. Can you tell me how it was from your point of view?

Magic. Quite simply, it was magic. As though a part of me that had been shrivelled and wasted just grew buds and came alive. Like spring arriving after you think winter has become eternal. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world.

But things weren’t always perfect between you and the Abbey girls, were they?

(pauses) No, that’s true. I’ve thought a lot about that, and I’d really rather not discuss it now. All I’ll say is that it was at least as much my fault as theirs – I had unrealistic expectations of them and that never makes for a good or a true friendship.

Of course. In that case, could you perhaps tell us a little bit about your life now?

Well, as you know, I’m Joy’s secretary. But that doesn’t take up all my time by any means. I spend plenty of time writing – and correcting, and I can tell you that that is not by any means such a joy! Apart from that, I like to spend plenty of time with anyone who happens to be visiting. Joy is so hospitable and such a delightful hostess; there’s almost always someone or other here, and most of them are old friends. It’s marvellous to talk to them and to hear stories about the girls before I ever knew them.

And I believe that you’ve been able to help a few other people yourself.

(looks a little embarrassed) Oh, I don’t know about that. I mean – yes, I do try to help people. I feel that it’s the least I can do, really, when Joy and Jen helped me so tremendously when I was just a shell, a shadow of a person. It took me a little while to realise it, but once I did, I simply had to go on and think and learn so that I could help others.

That’s good to hear. So what has been your greatest challenge in life?

Bringing up Biddy; there’s no doubt about that. I wasn’t so very much older than she was, and I simply had no idea about life at all. I really wasn’t a fit person to be in charge of a fifteen year old girl. Fortunately I was rescued before I could make a real mess of things.

Now, finally, could you tell us a bit about what you see for yourself in the future? Is there a husband on the horizon?

Certainly not! I doubt I’ll ever get married; not at my time of life. In any case, I’m quite happy as I am. I believe that for many people marriage does what folk dancing and the Abbey girls and – well, just living here and having this life – have done for me. I don’t need a husband; my life is full already and more happy than I could possibly have imagined.

And after that I don’t think there’s really much more I can say. Thank you so much for talking to me today, Mary Dorothy.

Thank you.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a little bit more about Mary Dorothy Devine today. Watch this space for more interviews with heroines!

Review: JP of the Fifth by Margaret Griffiths

JP of the Fifth, Margaret Griffiths

JP of the Fifth was written by Margaret Griffiths and published in 1937, during what might be called the heyday of the school story, and it is an excellent example of that genre. Like all the best school stories it is filled with adventure and excitement, appealing characters and almost no lessons. Published as a very satisfying fat hardback with thick pages, it is a handsome book to own and is beautifully illustrated by Terye Hamilton, whose sensitive drawings only add to the feeling of the book.

The story begins with the meeting of the two Joans (one of whom is conveniently called Pat) on the train to school. They switch identities so that Pat can fail a scholarship on Joan’s behalf (Joan being too intelligent to do so for herself) in order that Joan may go and live away from her hideous stepmother, and here begins all the confusion. The exchange turns out to be fortunate, for otherwise the plot against sweet, gentle Joan might have succeeded and she be defrauded of her rightful inheritance.

J.P. of the Fifth revolves around Pat, who is known as J.P. for her trademark judicial expression. It is Pat who suggests the change of identies, Pat who keeps Joan up to the mark throughout, Pat who suffers the greatest pain of guilt, Pat who is kidnapped (twice) in mistake for Joan. Fortunately she is well up to all of these challenges. Her heroic character leads her to leap to Joan’s defence in the first place (despite her father’s warning just minutes before that “you cannot champion the cause of every lame dog you meet”. Her determination to do her best for Joan leads her to continue the deception as long as she is able, and her inherent honesty and integrity lead her to confess bravely when the time comes. Finally, her tremendous courage and strength of character enable her to survive two kidnaps, one involving a bang on the head and the other a dose of chloroform and a fall into a canal, arriving back at school quite as chipper as she left it. It seems that her only flaw, and one that is common to many Girls’ Own characters, is impulsiveness and lack of forethought. Pat is a little too perfect for realism, but she is still an appealing character.

The minor characters are equally engaging, occasionally more so. Joan herself (known as Goldie, for her hair) is sweet and clever but rather colourless. Daisy Acland (Dimples), on the other hand, is my personal favourite. Also impulsive and heroic, but much younger, she is instrumental in the apprehending of the criminals and solving of the mystery. She also has an excellent turn of phrase:

“Now J.P. is an English gentlewoman. She knows what’s done.”

”What do you mean, you impudent little creature?” blazed Julie. “English? I’m as English as you are.”

”You may be English,” replied Daisy superbly, “but you are not what I call a gentlewoman.”

Then there is Miss Hammond, who adequately fills the role of Goddess in this particular story – she is beautiful and intelligent; she suspects the identity swap long before anyone else does, and tempers justice with mercy perfectly. The schoolgirl villains, Julie and Molly, are an interesting pair. Julie gets more page time but is, in the end, redeemed by her extreme repentance, whereas Molly tries to push all the blame onto Julie and quietly vanishes. Kate O’Halloran, who seems to be the ringleader of the adult villains, is also nicely portrayed. She is tall and dignified, intelligent and quick-thinking, and it seems that her plan might really have worked if it hadn’t been for the confusion between the two girls. Certainly she creates a very plausible menace throughout the story, and one that is in no way lessened when she appears in person.

The writing is perfectly adequate to the tale and Margaret Griffiths creates a lively, exciting atmosphere and has a delightfully gentle sense of humour. There are a few things that jar strangely, though. She has a slightly irritating habit of putting information in dialogue where it doesn’t quite work – there is a (peculiarly well-spoken) tramp who describes a plot to one of its originators quite unnecessarily. Not to mention the fact that the girls appear not to think it necessary to mention the first attempted kidnapping, nor the fact that they have seen one of Joan’s supposedly disappeared guardians near the school. I can’t help feeling that the whole adventure would have been a lot more realistic but also a lot duller if they had done the proper thing!

This is one of my favourite Girls’ Own stories and I think my love for it comes from the wonderfully portrayed characters. Even the heroine is thoroughly likeable despite her perfection, and the others are quite delightful. I’d recommend this one to anyone who wants a good thrilling read of a book that’s a perfect example of its genre.

The Sexiest Mistresses at the Chalet School

Today we have a post from a highly esteemed guest – those of you who like to read Girls’ Own fanfiction will surely be familiar with Finn’s Brothers in Arms and Tea and Militancy. She has also just started her own wonderful blog, Outskirts of the Twenties. Finn joins us today to guide us through the tricky process of selecting a mistress from those available at the Chalet School.

 

When Abi asked me to compile a list of the sexiest Chalet School mistresses, I thought, that should be easy. After all, Nell Wilson is one of the most attractive women in fiction, isn’t she? But then I got to thinking about it and realised that, while my own idea of sexy is someone with a wicked tongue (steady on at the back!) and a steely determination, that might not appeal to everyone. Therefore, dear reader, I have changed my brief (oh, do be quiet)! Instead of a top ten list, I have devised a pick-your-own set of sexy attributes, and have classified our mistresses accordingly. Without further ado, here are my suggestions!

Beauty

Beauty is a conventional, though highly subjective form of sexiness; it is also not a great deal of use in refining our search for sexy CS mistresses, since so very many of them are amazingly attractive, with elusive beauty and clear complexions, not to mention their terribly trig outfits.

But there are a few that stand out in their appearance. Con Stewart is a fiery-Beautytressed siren, and tall with it; Biddy O’Ryan with her tumbling black locks and petite Irish beauty, is another stunner; Grizel Cochrane, small, curly-haired and fair, is described as very good-looking, though I suspect some of her beauty is lost from her face, given how miserable she seems to be much of the time.

See also:

Kathie Ferrars – petite, fresh, young (see also Unavailability, below)

Hilda Annersley – check out those eyes! (see also The Dominatrix Effect, below)

Gillian Linton – quietly pretty, prettily quiet (see also Wholesome Health, below)

Madge Bettany/Russell – elusive, elfin, climbs trees, what’s not to like? (see also CookeryThe Dominatrix Effect, below)

Everyone else, really, apart from Nell Wilson. And even she’s pretty damned hot (speaking entirely subjectively, of course).

Sarcasm

It may be the lowest form of wit, but sarcasm is a sign of a sense of humour, and a GSOH is one of the sexiest traits around (look in any Personals column and Sarcasmyou’ll see I’m right). Furthermore, it can be an immensely useful teaching aid (I am minded of a friend of mine who, in his first piano lesson with a very eminent teacher, played through his piece and, after he finished, had the following sympathetic remark: “Darling, I’m so sorry about your disability.” “What disability?” sez he. “Well,” sez, the Eminent Personage, “your left foot seems to be entirely useless!”). Anyway, there is very little as sexy as watching the person you fancy doing their job well, so here is my sarcastic selection.

Nell Wilson is the greatest proponent of the fine art of sarcasm in the Chalet School novels, but Grizel Cochrane comes a close second (though perhaps with rather less of  genuine sense of humour than Nell). Pam Slater is also known to be rather cutting, what with her references to back-street slums and being a tartar in lessons.

See also:

Mollie Maynard – known to be scathing about Joey’s bad mathematics (see also Wholesome Health, below)

Ivy Stephens – she may have taught juniors, but she still had a tongue on her. (Tongue! Filthy!)

Matron Lloyd – a sharp tongue and a starched uniform, nothing more need be said (see Starched Uniforms, below).

Frenchness

Because there’s nothing that says “sexy” like a real French accent, especially Frenchnessuttered with those low tones favoured by the Chalet School. And if Allo, Allo is anything to go by, you never know WHAT they might be wearing underneath those trig tweeds!

Jeanne de Lachennais is the first really sexy French CS mistress, but Julie Berné wins points for being a genuine Parisienne (we ALL know what they get up to in Paris! Phwoar!)

See also:

Simone Lecoutier – she had “gifted French fingers” – golly! (see also Cookery, below)

Thérèse Lepattre – she utters ejaculations in French. Filthy! (see also The Dominatrix Effect, below)

Wholesome health

Wholesome healthNow, this might be an unusual selection, but there are some people that go for wholesome as a sexy characteristic in a woman. I don’t know whether it is the underlying suggestion of the domestic bliss to come, the rosy glow (not sweat, dear, never sweat!) that comes from a woman whose energies are focused entirely on healthy, strenuous exercise, or the delight that one gets from corrupting such innocent purity, but it seems to have done it for lots of the chaps in the series and, as such, deserves to be counted.

Hilary Burn merits a mention on this list, as there is nothing more robustly
healthy than a games mistress, and all that anatomical training she did will have been more concerned with muscle groups, digestion and the respiratory tract than with the reproductive system. Also in this group are Mollie Maynard, the English rose of the Tyrol days, who went home to look after her mother, and Ivy Norman, the Kindergarten sweetheart who didn’t like big girls.

See also:

Biddy O’Ryan – despite her Irish wildness, she panicked when her hat blew away (God forbid a man should see her hair!) (see alsoBeauty, above)

Gillian Linton – the artist chap she married wanted to paint her like one of his French girls (see also Frenchness, above.)

Unavailability

UnavailabilityAs we all know, nothing is as guaranteed to spark attraction than knowing someone is off limits. Nancy Wilmot and Kathie Ferrars are the obvious couple in this category; their predecessors in the Tyrol days, Nell Wilson and Con Stewart, are also valid entrants.

See also:

Hilda Annersley – any woman who gets herself the nickname “The Abbess” is flying high in the skies of unavailability (see also The Dominatrix Effect, below)

Any CS mistress who is married. By the end of the series, that’s quite a lot. Take your pick.

Cookery

A handy skill as regards domestic bliss – the way to a person’s heart, and all that – but this category has an extra sexy edge to it: food and sex go together like strawberries and cream, chocolates and champagne, chilli sauce and…no, wait, let’s leave chillis out of the bedroom.

DIGITAL CAMERAIn this category: Anna Mieders, a woman who can bring a banquet to bed, and whip up a mean breakfast the morning after. Also Matron Lloyd – there are more uses for jam than simply spreading it on toast.

See also:

Madge Bettany/Russell – a woman with a gift for sweets and desserts. (see also Beauty, above, The Dominatrix Effect, below)

Simone Lecoutier – she has her own cookbook – what couldn’t she knock up? (see also Frenchness, above)

Karen and Anna – not technically mistresses, but I’ll stretch a point if they’ll bring some of their famous featherbeds of whipped cream.

Starched Uniforms

UniformsOne for the connoisseur, but uniforms have been known to drive people wild with lust. Matron Lloyd is the obvious choice for this category, but special kudos must also go to Gertrude Rider for having such a filthy surname.

See also:

Margot Venables – mother of six, so she must have had something going for her.

Barbara Henschell – ooh, Matron!

Gwynneth Gowland – so good, they named her twice.

Special exclusions from this category:

Matron Webb, for having a voice like the whistle on a steam train.

Matron Besley – Nurse! The screens!

The Dominatrix Effect

Another category for the specialist. Teachers are attractive simply by their authoritative role, and headmistresses are mistresses with added authority, and canes. Steady on.

DominatrixThe obvious candidate is, naturally, Hilda Annersley, a woman able to reduce a child to tears with a mere glance of her grey eyes. EBD never tells us what went on in those “sessions with the headmistress”, but I’m fairly sure Colonel Black didn’t keep coming round just to advise her on blackout regulations.

See also:

Madge Bettany – something must have kept Tristan Denny coming round at all sorts of unearthly hours to “talk about the madrigal society” (see also BeautyCookery, above)

Thérèse Lepattre – thigh-high boots and a French accent – oh, wait, is that my imagination? (see also Frenchness, above)

Mabel Bubb – a “strict disciplinarian” who wanted to whitewash the windows. I think we all know why…

So there we have it – my listings for the sexiest mistresses in the Chalet School series. I hope that by narrowing down your favourite traits you can pick out your own sexy CS mistress. As for me, I’m off to the Auberge with Nell Wilson, but before I go, there’s just time for my:

Special Category

No list of sexy CS anything would be complete without a mention of Joey Maynard. It is suggested that pregnancy is a very attractive trait in a woman – something to do with the appeal of obvious fecundity – and Joey was certainly pregnant enough times to draw attention to herself, wanted or unwanted. And the number of pregnancies does suggest that she and Jack Maynard spent a fair old amount of time in the bedroom. Goodness knows how they fitted it into the day. Perhaps she had all the San doctors on a rota – actually, that might explain the very varied colouring of her offspring. Whatever her secret, it could well be that Joey Maynard was the Sexiest Chalet School Mistress of all!

 

Once again, don’t forget to take a trip over to Finn’s blog, Outskirts of the Twenties!

Whyteleafe: A School with a difference

"Haven't you any money at all?" asked Thomas.

“Haven’t you any money at all?” asked Thomas.

Enid Blyton’s Naughtiest Girl books are not Girls’ Own in the traditional sense, for the school includes boys as well as girls. Having said that, they fit many of the Girls’ Own traditions and tropes, and for such “simple” books (as they have often been called) are surprisingly interesting, as well as simply jolly good stories.

The majority of Girls’ Own schools are fairly similar to one another. They feature medium sized schools of between fifty and two hundred girls, run along traditional lines which are more or less still in use today. Misdemeanours are punished by lines, order marks or of course incarceration in the San. Rules are many, varied and unchangeable, not to mention frequently broken, and activities for each part of the day are carefully prescribed and controlled.

With the Naughtiest Girl books, though, Enid Blyton broke a mould which was later to be smashed to smithereens by Mabel Esther Allan. Whyteleafe is perhaps the only one of her three best-known schools which could have dealt with such a problem as naughty, spoiled, selfish Elizabeth Allen. The change in Elizabeth’s character is nicely dealt with and feels emotionally realistic, and some at least of the secondary and minor characters are appealing. But it’s the setting that really makes the Naughtiest Girl books so fascinating

The school is what is often described as “progressive”. The children make the rules, but they are also responsible for enforcing them as well as for sorting out other problems the children might have with one another or with school arrangements. This happens in weekly Meetings led by a Jury of Monitors and two Judges, William and Rita. The latter two are presented almost as God and Goddess in their own small realm (there are many Goddesses in Girls’ Own literature, and Rita is typical of them).

As previously mentioned, Whyteleafe School is also co-educational. This was almost certainly a practical measure on Enid Blyton’s part, since the stories were originally published in Sunny Stories, aimed at both boys and girls. Even so, it’s original for a school story of its time. Even more impressive is the fact that the school, while containing both boys and male masters, is run by two women, Miss Belle and Miss Best. Women and girls have equal power with men and boys, and often the balance of power in fact seems to lie with the females of the school – a hugely empowering message at a time when there was still great discrimination against women.

On the other side of the argument, one must wonder what parents and relations made of their children being made to give up all their money to be donated to a school pot and divided among the pupils. One can see the appeal of this socialism in action and the theoretical fairness of it, but surely it’s not realistic that either children or parents would not resent it.

It has been suggested that Whyteleafe was if not actually modelled on, then at least influenced by, A. S. Neill’s famous progressive school Summerhill. Summerhill, run almost entirely by the students, seems to have been enough of a success that it is still going in more or less the same form today. Whyteleafe is not so radical in its outlook – it seems unlikely that Miss Belle and Miss Best would have permitted the school to banish all rules (as happens periodically at Summerhill, only for them to be soon reinstated when chaos palls). Classes are compulsory at Whyteleafe, unlike Summerhill, although at times a higher level of tolerance of misbehaviour is shown than in many Girls’ Own books. For example, when on her first night Elizabeth claims she has a guinea-pig with a face like Miss Thomas’s she is neither “sat on” nor punished, though disapproval is shown by her classmates.

Of course there are some similarities with other more traditional Girls’ Own schools. Whyteleafe may be more tolerant in some ways, but its pupils do not hesitate to administer their rules as strictly as any other schools. Some of these, as in all fictional (and indeed real) schools, seem entirely unnecessary – such as that which states that no one except a monitor may have more than six items on her dressing table. This rules is so strictly enforced that three photographs of Elizabeth’s are confiscated on her first night, which seems rather harsh even as a result of the rudeness she exhibited on that occasion.

“Harry was very pleased and thumped Elizabeth on the back.”

One of Whyteleafe’s greatest similarities to most Girls’ Own school is the way in which pupils’ better qualities are drawn out and lauded. This is something which many Girls’ Own schools claim to do, although Enid Blyton was particularly keen on it. Courage in particular is highly valued – a very Girls’ Own virtue. The delight of the entire school when Elizabeth bravely stands up and declares her intention of staying at school is huge and heartwarming, as it is when it is discovered in The Naughtiest Girl is a Monitor that it was she who rescued a small boy from drowning.

But while values may be similar in all schools and stories, that doesn’t stop Whyteleafe from being one of the most original and forward-looking schools in the entire Girls’ Own genre. Enid Blyton is often condemned for her traditional values and simple writing, yet simple writing frequently makes for a good rollicking story. As for traditional – Whyteleafe shows that she was entirely capable of breaking all the moulds she wanted to when she felt it appropriate. There is no doubt that Whyteleafe is, even today, a school with a difference.

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