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 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 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 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.