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.

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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.