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.

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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!

Who would you marry?

Lovers?Have you had a crush on one hero for years, or have you always wondered which Girls’ Own hero was The One for you? Take this quiz now to predict your wedded bliss!

 

 

1. We all know that looks aren’t important, but they still count for something… What does your ideal man look like?

a) Bearded with twinkling blue eyes.

b) You don’t care too much about looks.

c) Big and blonde.

d) Tall, broad and pleasant.

e) Slim and dark.

 

2. But he’s not the only one who’s important. What kind of person are you?

a) Fairly similar to him, though not in every particular.

b) Eager and lively, with appealing looks.

c) Intelligent, womanly and full of common sense.

d) A child at heart.

e) Passionate, loving and a bit of a dreamer.

 

3. What kind of job would he have?

a) Something solitary and outdoorsy, perhaps working with animals.

b) A doctor.

c) Very important in his own area of expertise.

d) Something interesting and adventurous

e) He’s an artist to his fingertips, utterly devoted to what he does best.

 

4. How many children would you like to have?

a) I haven’t even thought about it!

b) Just one or two, most likely – certainly not too many.

c) I like a large family but not too enormous.

d) The more the merrier!

e) One’s plenty for me, thanks.

 

5. And how much time would you spend with your husband?

a) I’d like to work with him.

b) What do you mean? The average amount, I should think!

c) I don’t mind him working long hours, though I’d rather he spent more time with me.

d) I’d really rather spend a lot of time with my friends.

e) I’ll see him any time I want to! Except when I’m working, of course.

 

6. What’s his personality like?Husband or brother?

a) Gentle and caring.

b) Very kind, but also heroic.

c) He’s a man and he knows what he wants!

d) Awfully jolly and a frightfully good sort.

e) Eccentric and a bit obsessive, but adores you.

 

7. Finally, what would you say should be his outstanding quality?

a) Intelligence.

b) Heroism.

c) Authority.

d) Goodness.

e) Passion.

 

How did you score?

Mostly As: Kester Bellever (Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School). Congratulations on your excellent taste! Kester is kind and considerate, and a highly intelligent man with whom you’ll never find yourself bored.

Last Term for Helen, by Margaret BiggsMostly Bs: Peter Gilmour (Dorita Fairlie-Bruce’s Dimsie). You’ll be very happy with Peter. He may not have the best looks in the world, but he more than makes up for that with his caring ways and heroic nature.

Mostly Cs: Jem Russell (Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School). You’re the kind of person who wants to be with a real man who knows his own mind and isn’t afraid to go his own way in life. He’ll be verysuccessful and an excellent husband.

Mostly Ds: Kenneth Marchwood (Elsie Oxenham’s Abbey Girls). You might not spend as much time with Ken as you’d like, but when you do he’s not only your husband but your best friend. You will have a long and very jolly life with him.

Mostly Es: Sebastian Scott (Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells). Life will never be dull with Sebastian! He’s eccentric and sometimes unforgiving, but he loves you with all of his passionate heart, and that will make you feel like the happiest woman alive.

 

Review: Girls of the Hamlet Club, by Elsie J. Oxenham

“But to some of us it means the question all have to decide sooner or later, whether they’ll just have a good time and please themselves and get all they can and care for nothing else, or whether they’ll put more important things first, and – and care about other people, and try to do great things in the world.”

 

 

First published in 1914, Girls of the Hamlet Club has never been easy for collectors to find, with the result that many Elsie J. Oxenham fans, including myself, have never owned a copy until the book was recently republished by the Elsie J. Oxenham Society. This thick, sturdy paperback is beautifully produced, from the glorious coloured illustrations, each with its own plate, down to the choice of font, which is clear and easy to read but with a distinctly old fashioned feel, which brings a pleasurable period feel to the experience of reading the book.

The book’s heroine is Cicely Hobart, a lively, confident, fourteen-year-old, who starts the Hamlet Club as a way of rebelling against the unpleasant snobbery of her new school in Wycombe. The girls soon discover the charms of folk dancing as a means of entertaining themselves and they practise diligently and devise a folk themed entertainment for Cicely’s grandparents. Their real challenge, however, comes when the rich town girls find themselves in an impossible situation and the Hamlet Club must decide how much they really want to heal the huge divide in the school.

Any book worth reading covers many different themes, and Girls of the Hamlet Club is no exception. Snobbery is, of course, a major topic, as are tolerance, forgiveness and self sacrifice. But for me the over-arching theme, which includes and surpasses all of these, is that of choices. By the time the first hundred pages are over, Cicely has had to make two significant, life-changing choices: The first is, of course, to stay at Whiteleafe so that she can be near her grandparents, and it’s not an easy decision for her to make, for they have not treated her now-dead mother well and Cicely feels no loyalty towards them. The second is made when, on her first day at her new school, she determines to support and defend Dorothy Darley, who is thought by most of the school to be a cheat, although Dorothy herself denies the charge. Shortly afterwards, and perhaps most momentously, she declines the offer of the leaders of the school to become a member of their clubs because of their resolve to exclude the poorer members of the school from their society, simply because of their lack of money.

Other choices abound throughout the book. Before Cicely makes her own first decision, we hear the story of Margia Lane’s self-sacrifice. Subsequently, each member of the Hamlet Club has to make the choice that she will abide by the rule ‘to be friendly to everybody – everybody’, which of course includes the rich ‘Townies’. Then comes Cicely’s decision to keep her own affluent background quiet, and later one of the Townies, Madeline, has to decide whether to try to befriend the Hamlets or not. Then, finally, comes the greatest choice of all: most of the cast of the school play succumb to measles and the Hamlet Club, knowing that they could easily provide an evening’s entertainment to replace the play, must decide whether to give up their precious secret for the sake of the school.

Elsie Oxenham was at the peak of her powers at the time of writing Girls of the Hamlet Club, and her plotting and characterisation are excellent. Cicely is a delightful character – just bossy and noble enough to be less than perfect, but still lively, charming and kind. The secondary characters are equally appealing, particularly Miriam, Marguerite and Georgie. Dorothy Darley, while falsely accused, is no drooping damsel but rebellious and selfish, admitting herself that she can be nasty on occasion. On the other side, Hilary Carter, the imposing leader of the Townies, is actually rather a pleasant girl if one overlooks her prejudice against the scholarship girls, and she certainly eats her words quite graciously at the end of the book. There’s not a single character who is too good to be true, nor one who is too bad.

There is never a dull moment in Girls of the Hamlet Club – the chapters are short and the story fast moving, but Elsie Oxenham takes time to pause and savour the beauty of an October morning, or a warm scene beside a fire in the winter, and her descriptions of folk dancing, both hidden away in Darley’s Barn and the more elaborate entertainment devised for Cicely’s grandparents and the school, are enchanting. It’s a real gem in the Girls’ Own genre and I, for one, am grateful to the Elsie J. Oxenham Society for reprinting it so that fans can enjoy the book once more.

Find Your Inner Heroine!

You might be a Joey-hater and a Dimsie-lover; perhaps you find Darrell excruciating and Jen delightful, but have you ever wondered which of them you most resemble? Discover your inner heroine today by answering these simple questions!

 

 

 

1. We’re often told that appearance isn’t important, but it’s worth thinking about. Are you…

a) Blessed with big brown eyes?

b) Black-haired, and you look jolly nice in your new school uniform?

c) Pale, thin, and fragile looking?

d) Yellow-haired with very blue eyes?

 

2. You’ve just arrived at your new school, uniform crisp, nightcase neatly packed and tuck-box full. How are you feeling?

a) Is it going to be like the stories? Is it? Is it?

b) A little warm feeling comes into your heart and you are glad the school is going to be your home for the next few years.

c) You want to do everything and be friends with everyone!

d) You’re looking forward to everything most frightfully, though you have to be brave too, as it’s your first time away from home.

 

3. There’s never a huge amount of free time at school, but when it does come along, how do you like to spend it?

a) In launching crusades against whatever kind of silliness is currently rife in the school.

b) In playing tennis and lacrosse as frequently as you’re allowed, or in perpetrating silly pranks.

c) Oh, you’ll do anything really – read, write, sing, dance, play games, climb mountains, rescue people – so long as there are plenty of friends to enjoy it with you.

d) In learning folk dancing and playing cricket – if only you could decide which you prefer!

 

4. What is your attitude towards the crush, or Grande Passion?

a) Unhealthy nonsense! Launch a society against it immediately.

b) Actually, you don’t really understand the question…

c) You’re profoundly uncomfortable with any kind of sentimentality and think it’s all a lot of rot.

d) You haven’t really thought about it. The fact that you and your best friend refer to one another as husband and wife is irrelevant.

 

5. You find out that someone is planning to cheat in a school exam. What do you do?

a) Cheating of any kind is a terrible sin and a crusade must be launched against it immediately.

b) Catch the cheat in the act in the middle of the night and physically attack her.

c) What tosh! No decent schoolgirl would do something like that.

d) Exams? What do you mean, exams?

 

6. So what do you feel that the future holds for you?

a) Marriage, a herb garden and a rather restrained two children.

b) Going to university and then becoming a writer.

c) Eleven children (plus wards) and a string of best-selling books.

d) Marrying a Title and producing eight children.

 

7. Most real heroines marry eventually. What is your dream man like?

a) A sensitive, gentle, war-wounded doctor.

b) Man? Gosh!

c) A solid lump of comfort (and a doctor).

d) Jolly, semi-invisible and titled.

 

8. And how, briefly, would you describe your own character?

a) Apparently cheeky but actually simply endearing, with a habit of launching crusades.

b) A frightfully jolly schoolgirl with a talent for writing.

c) A sensitive, highly-strung dreamer, a natural leader and eternal schoolgirl.

d) Jolly, yet also a fount of wisdom and a strong motherly instinct.

 

Now, add up how many As, Bs, Cs and Ds you scored, and check the results below to discover your inner heroine…

 

Mostly As – Dimsie Maitland (Dorita Fairlie Bruce)

‘Well!’ exclaimed Erica in a shocked voice, ‘I’ve always known you had plenty of cool cheek, Dimsie Maitland, but I never thought the day would come when I’d see you advising Miss Yorke as to who should be moved up and who shouldn’t. You’ll certainly be expelled one of these days!’ (Dimsie Moves Up)

Your youthful charm and habit of addressing even the headmistress as though she is a contemporary and equal carries you through many sticky situations. You are prepared to indulge in mischief so long as it isn’t deceitful in any way, and you have a heroic streak which can lead you into some unfortunate and dangerous situations.

 

Mostly Bs – Darrell Rivers (Enid Blyton)

The girls stared at Darrell, who shook back her black curls and gazed with clear eyes at Katherine. Why, they hadn’t needed to have a meeting at all! They hadn’t needed to judge Darrell and set her to make amends. She had judged herself and made amends herself. The girls looked at her with admiration and Mary-Lou could hardly keep still. What a wonderful person Darrell was, she thought! (First Term at Malory Towers)

You are intelligent, courageous and honest, but you also have a hot temper which you struggle to control. You throw yourself into school activities with enthusiasm and, while you don’t always get everything right, you learn from your mistakes and are a popular member of your form.

 

Mostly Cs – Joey Bettany (Elinor Brent-Dyer)

To make matters worse, Miss Maynard, the mathematics mistress, had brought back for Joey a copy of The Appalachian Nursery Song-Book, and Joey had sung them in season and out of season, till even the donor of the gift was beginning to regret that she had ever brought it. (Jo of the Chalet School)

Delicate and highly-strung, your impulsive behaviour continually gets you into trouble. You are a natural leader and your friendliness and liveliness means that you are well-liked throughout your school career. With a highly-developed imagination and a habit of acting without thinking, you are inclined to end up in more scrapes than you need to.

 

Mostly Ds – Jen Robins (Elsie Oxenham)

“She’s the only girl in a family of brothers, and they call her Jen at home. She won’t be dancing; you need to learn the dances, and Jen is so very new. But I shouldn’t wonder if she becomes a dancer quite soon; she’s made for it, and she’s light on her feet. Perhaps cricket will claim her, however; it’s too soon to say.” (Schooldays at the Abbey)

You’re a tomboy with a love of mischief and adventure, but you also have a deep love of beauty and the quiet, contemplative atmosphere of the Abbey ruins draws you strongly. You love making new discoveries, and this can sometimes lead you into unfortunate situations, but you are able to learn and grow through all your difficulties.