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Archive for the ‘Elinor M. Brent-Dyer’ Category

I really wish I’d started 2018 with a fantastic book.  Something fun or inspiring or even with just a hint of literary merit.  But I didn’t.  I started it with The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer.

When the subject of boarding school books comes up, it is impossible to escape the Chalet School books.  I’d spent years hearing about them and decided it was finally time to try the series for myself.  Starting with The School at the Chalet in 1925, more than 60 books were published in the series.  I can’t believe a sequel to this book was ever published, never mind 60-odd of them, but I suppose that tells you all you need to know about the bleak, meritless state of children’s publishing in the UK at the time.  It’s especially shocking when you consider how many fantastic books – energetic, complex, and natural books that brought pleasure to adults as well as children – were being written for children of the same age in America.  I kept reading hoping that suddenly a plot would emerge, or something approximating characterization, or even just a glimpse of vaguely competent writing.  Nope.  She makes Enid Blyton look like a master artist.

A brief summary before I continue explaining why the book is so bad: knowing that the income from the money inherited from their parents will not support twenty-four-year old Madge Bettany and her twelve-year old sister Joey in England, Madge decides to start a small girls’ school on a lake in the Austrian Tyrol.  Not only will her meager income stretch farther there but the school will also (hopefully) prove profitable.  So off they go with no qualifications or experience to bother them!  Before long the school is a booming success with girls from England, France, America, Italy and Austria all attending, both as boarders and day girls.  And that’s the book basically.  They do absolutely nothing even remotely noteworthy.  They quarrel and make up.  The English girls are abominably rude to adults, to the horror of the well-brought up Austrian girls.  A birthday party is held for the headmistress (Madge).  And so on and so on.  At the end, there are two dramatic rescues, neither of which is at all dramatic simply because you need a story structure to create tension before you can make a dramatic scenario at all satisfying.  Without any structure, you have no drama and, crucially, no satisfaction.

My greatest (only) moment of pleasure reading this when came when one of the Austrian girls explained that English schools neglect academics and only seem to focus on healthy living.  The Chalet School is determined to remain English in this way; lessons – or even a vague interest in learning – play absolutely zero role in this book.  That’s normal enough in British books from this period but so out of step with the world as it was.  Think of classic North American girls’ books of the time – like Daddy Long Legs or Anne of Green Gables – and their heroines’ focus on getting a university education.  In comparison, the Chalet School girls spend half their day sewing.

I’ve never been near a library that owned this (my copy had to be brought in from a town 7 hours away) and that makes me rather proud.  What excellent librarians I’ve had all these years who knew not to spend money on this book!  It is the epitome of worthless drivel, combining poor writing with content of no redeeming value – except for possibly making its young readers aware of the Tyrol.  Just buy them a picture book instead.

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