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gertrude

February 2018

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Girl's Own Annual

Girlsown-ish Roundup

wethreeschool

We Three at School, Kathlyn Rhodes
Elinor M Brent-Dyer
The Maids of La Rochelle
Janie of La Rochelle
The Chalet School in Exile

We Three at School
The three of the title are sisters Cherry, Rosemary and Miranda Lucas, daughters of a famous novelist and his rather fragile wife. They’ve been well educated, but at home, until their forceful aunt insists that they go to school, to have the corners knocked off them and learn to be like other girls. Out of school ‘adventures’ (near drownings, kidnapping, broken legs in the snow) take up as much of the book as lessons and games do. Much of the plot is taken up by our heroines being persecuted by some spiteful, jealous girls (accusations of theft and cheating, what else?) apart from which the Lucas sisters have a jolly good time at school. The illustrations by E E Brier are very charming and the book is well written.

Although I’ve read all the Chalet School books (many of which will never get a re-read), I’ve missed La Rochelle completely. Most of my Chalet books I’ve found very cheaply but I’ve never seen a La Rochelle at a boot sale or even in a SHBS. Maids is the third book in the series, published in1924, the year before The School at the Chalet. What a book! Four deaths in the first chapter to explain how the three Temple girls come to be alone in the world and almost penniless. Some ‘girls’. The youngest, Janie, is fifteen, her sister Anne is twenty and Elizabeth twenty four, yet they seem to think of themselves as children still, without ‘Daddy’ to look after them. They move to an old house, La Rochelle, on Guernsey, in order to live cheaply.

Maids does have a plot of sorts; it tells a story about three sisters and their start in life as they grow up. In contrast, Janie is nothing but a chronicle of births, marriages and deaths. The book starts with Janie’s lovely wedding. She and Julian behave more naturally and realistically with each other than her sisters did with their fiancés. Julian buys La Rochelle so Janie returns to her former home. There follows a confusing account of various Willoughbys, Athertons and Raphaels (all large families), their links with the former Temple girls and with each other. The best you can say for this is that it’s essential reading if you hope to understand the introduction of some of the characters into the Chalet books later on. After reading these two I just had to re-read The Chalet School in Exile, which many people think the best book in the whole series. The school is driven out of Austria by the Nazis and re-establishes itself on Guernsey. How I made any sense of all the Ozannes, Lucys and Chesters before reading at least some La Rochelle, I’ve no idea.

EBD Rules
Anyone who has lived in France will speak a mixture of English, French and franglais. They will be good at sewing and have a knack of making their clothes look more elegant than other people’s.

As soon as a young doctor arrives on the scene, you know that one of the female characters will marry him. To marry a doctor is the ultimate achievement in EBD’s world.

People never speak ‘French’ but always ‘rapid French’.

Peasant children are not suitable companions for gently reared girls. This applies in Maids to Janie and the De Garis child and years later to Joey not wanting her children to go to a village school.

Any exposure to cold and/or wet leads inevitably to at best a severe head cold, at worst to pneumonia or rheumatic fever.

Women are the weaker sex and should be sedated and put to bed after the least shock or excitement. Men soldier on. There’s a good example in Janie where her husband Julian nearly gets blown up in a gas explosion at his office. He takes this calmly, whereas if it had happened to Janie, the doctor would have been called and a week in bed prescribed.

Loyal retainers are essential for survival and are physically tougher than ladies. In Maids, Javotte, the girls’ former French nurse, comes over from France because she had a vision of Elizabeth needing her. She then devotes herself 24/7 to nursing and before returning home, spring cleans the house from top to bottom. She’s seventy! In Janie, about eight years later, she’s back again, looking after Elizabeth’s children and any others who may be about.

The importance of discipline. The consequences of disobedience are always dire. Boys should be punished by a good hiding. I can’t think of an example of a girl receiving corporal punishment but there may be one.

Housekeeping. Furniture is old but good. China is ‘pretty’, pottery bright. There are always ‘low bookcases’. Walls are often painted a cheerful yellow. Maids keep everything clean. When the Temple girls first arrive on Guernsey they do their own housekeeping but as soon as they marry they require an army of servants, in case they should get tired.

Inconsistencies, or EBD-isms as they are known. In Maids, the double wedding at the end of the book is to take place at ten o’clock. Two pages later, it’s ten and people are still getting ready. Janie is so ill on her first journey to Guernsey that Elizabeth thinks she’ll die. She’s supposed to have inherited this tendency to sea sickness from her mother. Later, she makes several sea voyages with no problem. In Maids, after she’s had scarlet fever, she grows a lot and says to the doctor that she doesn’t want to be the short one of the family. He assures her she won’t be. At the time of her marriage, she’s 5’2.

The influence of Elsie J Oxenham. In Maids, Pauline is given ‘one of Miss Oxenham’s entrancing school stories’. There is folk dancing in Janie. EBD so admired EJO that she even borrowed the names of some of her characters; Rosamund and Maidie, for example.

You may well wonder why I bother reading books I seem to enjoy mocking. Rather surprisingly for books which contain so many accounts of illnesses and death, they are a comfort read. In Chalet-land, whatever happens there is always someone to look after you. It’s a wonderful community, which doesn’t allow anyone to suffer alone and so gives a great sense of security. Elinor Brent-Dyer came from a humble and troubled background and she created a world she would have liked to inhabit. No wonder girls have been reading the Chalet School books since the 1920s.

csexile

Comments

Giggled my way through the list of rules. One wonders what the effects of "high bookcases" might have been? Perhaps to encourage an over-dependency on literature which might lead to febrile imaginations and an increased susceptibility to getting wet? That would quickly have been fatal in the well-bred, no doubt.
Ha ha!

(Anonymous)

I need to visit again so that I can read books five and six (I think it's the first four I have read):-)
Wee sister
Only 58 to go!
I always think the "low bookcases" sound very attractive (actually, her rooms in general do), but I have far too many books for low bookcases to be the slightest bit practical!
True for most of her readers, I should think.
I can’t think of an example of a girl receiving corporal punishment but there may be one.

I can't think of one in the La Rochelle series, but Richenda (in the eponymous Chalet School book) has had her hands caned in the past for going into her father's room of Chinese porcelain. Of course he is a Bad Father, until converted, so this is probably Unreasonable Behaviour; when the CS staff and prefects yearn for a cane and the right to use it, this is a Joke.

She and Julian behave more naturally and realistically with each other than her sisters did with their fiancés.

That wouldn't be difficult! I love the La Rochelle series, but the love scenes in Maids make me cringe even more than EBD's other romantic efforts!
Poor Richenda! OTOH I rather itch to give Margot a slap, several times.

With you on the cringeing! I was surprised that Peter calls Anne 'Anne girl' all the time, just like Gilbert in AOGG.
EBD had probably read the Anne books, as she refers to them in Judy the Guide. I wonder whether it was conscious or unconscious homage.
I didn't know that, as I haven't read Judy the Guide. Probably unconscious, I'd say. It gets rather repetetive!
Brilliant Barbara! Have a weakness for the Rhodes book myself, and you've inspired me to have a go at reading the La Rochelles in order at last! Did you buy the GGBP reprints?
Not very original views, you must admit.

I bought the two books privately; they're 1950s reprints.

(Anonymous)

EBD

More rules:
A hero (doctor) will have clear-cut features though he may not be classically handsome. And a heroine is likely - if not ravishingly beautiful - to have an elusive prettiness, or failing that, a certain distinction.
A *real* heroine (Jo) with have ink up to her elbows which will emphasise her likeness to Jo March.
Any exciting games/activities at parties or Staff Evenings (sheets and pillowcase parties) will have been 'borrowed' from the books of Mrs George de Horne Vaizey. And sometimes from Charlotte M Yonge. (Not that I can criticise because CMY's books are a fruitful source of research for my own Victorian mysteries - along with those of Mrs Henry Wood!)

Re: EBD

Ha ha, all true. I love Mrs Vaizey and CMY and I like spotting the references/borrowings in the CS books.