Dimsie Goes to School by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

Dimsie Goes to School cover

Dimsie Goes to School by the Scottish author Dorita Fairlie Bruce was first published in 1920 with the story taking place in 1919. It was originally titled The Senior Prefect. My copy was published in 1932.

It begins with the ten year old Daphne Isabel Maitland better known as Dimsie travelling by train from her west of Scotland home to her new boarding school at Westover, a coastal town in the south of England. She’s accompanied by her older cousin Daphne who is a prefect at the school.

There’s a bit of a mystery as to what has happened to Dimsie’s mother as she has disappeared and only communicates with her soldier husband through solicitors, but Dimsie is unaware of this. There’s a new headmistress at the school and many of the girls are upset by the change, especially when she cuts their hockey practice time by half, reasoning that they don’t do at all well in their exams. However she starts lessons in domestic science which hadn’t been taught there before. This is a good idea given that it’s just after World War 1 when the lack of servants became such a problem for middle-class households.

Although the war has ended it’s still very much part of the book as air-raids and coastal trenches are mentioned as well as shell-shock, and Dimsie’s father is a colonel in the army.

There’s talk of spies, counterfeit money, a strike and even a problem with burglars in the neighbourhood and rumours fly around, aided and abetted by Nita, a nasty piece of work who takes aim at Daphne with a view to getting her sacked as a prefect. The characters of the two Maitland girls shine through it all though with Dimsie in particular becoming popular with just about everyone, the addition of some well written Scots dialect was enjoyed by me anyway.

I found it interesting that it was written in 1919 and that first marking of armistice day is described as ‘the rejoicings’. That struck me as being really strange as today more than one hundred years later it’s always a very sober affair. I think a lot of people in 1919 who had lost family members in the war would not have felt much like celebrating and in a girls’ school there would have been girls who had lost fathers and brothers in the war.

Whatever, this was a really entertaining read and I think it was better than any by Angela Brazil that I’ve read and she was the most popular writer of school stories, but maybe that was just because she wrote so many of them.

Prefects at Springdale by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

 According to Queeney cover

I think I had been looking at Angela Brazil books when this author’s name popped up. I had never heard of her, but was interested to see that her books are mainly set in Scotland. Although Dorita Fairlie Bruce was born in Spain – hence her nickname Dorita – her name was actually Dorothy, she was really Scottish and apparently second only to Angela Brazil in popularity where school stories were concerned. Her books are set in Scotland, I recognised the area as being Ayrshire, the other side of the River Clyde from where I was brought up and quite a bit south. At one point some of the girls go on a jaunt with Dimsie to Arran which is a place I’ve always wanted to visit and intended to do it this year – but we all know what happened to that plan.

I don’t think it was just the setting that led me to enjoy Prefects at Springdale, which was first published in 1936, more than any Angela Brazil books that I’ve read. Somehow the schoolgirls seemed more authentic to me. Unfortunately the books can be quite expensive, there are seven books in this Springdale series and I inadvertently started off with the sixth one. Well, I was amazed to find this book in a pile at an antiques centre, the books are usually really expensive but obviously the seller didn’t rate this author highly as it was priced at £5, I snapped it up.

Anne is preparing to go back to Springdale School, packing her trunk when her sister Peggy tells her that she has received a letter from Diane, also known as Dimsie, a Springdale old girl who is now 23. She’s going to be working there as a temporary games-mistress until a permanent replacement can be found. Peggy is worried about Dimsie and wants Anne to look out for her. It’s going to be a bit of an awkward situation all round as some of the younger girls had rather idolised Dimsie when she was a senior girl.

This was a great read which seemed quite before its time with one of the girls being keen to become an archaeologist and another one being determined to train as a museum curator and luckily they both get a chance to get some hands on experience. There’s a bit of an adventure and a smidgen of romance and this one was an enjoyable trip back in time and place. I also like the rather stylish 1930s design of the book cover.

When I opened this book I discovered that a previous owner had left a wee cache of bits cut out from pop magazines, from the 1970s. I suspect that she wasn’t allowed to stick posters on her bedroom walls so made do with small ‘photos’ cut out. She was a fan of Gilbert O’Sullivan, Rod Stewart, Slade and two mystery chaps that I don’t recognise. I’ll try to take a photo of them and add it here later, maybe someone can enlighten me.

Whose posters did you put on your bedroom wall? I was devoted to Marc Bolan and T.Rex. I’m not even sure if teenage girls still do things like that nowadays.

The Mystery of the Moated Grange by Angela Brazil

The Mystery of the Moated Grange cover

The Mystery of the Moated Grange by Angela Brazil was published in 1942 and World War 2 does feature in it as the tale opens with the Bevan family enjoying a last hour together before Captain Bevan goes off to rejoin his regiment. Captain Bevan had had a week long leave but he had to spend so much time in London with solicitors that the time had gone so quickly. The upshot of that is that he has inherited an estate from an elderly uncle – if the uncle’s estranged son doesn’t turn up to claim it. It’s thought that the son must be dead.

Maenan Grange is a moated property in rural Herefordshire and it has just been rented out to a boarding school which has been evacuated to the safety of the countryside. The two Bevan girls are enrolled at the school while Mrs Bevan becomes a sort of custodian of the house. It’s an awkward situation for Mrs Bevan and the teachers who really don’t want the owner of the property looking over their shoulders. The older son of the family is sent to a nearby boarding school for boys.

The Bevan children are very impressed with their new home, but they know there’s some sort of mystery surrounding it as they overheard their father saying something was a gamble. The Bevan sisters, Marian and Hilda find it difficult to make friends with the schoolgirls, Marian is particularly aware of her status as the daughter of the owner of the grange, and is a bit stand-offish with the other girls for that reason.

The possibility of the grange being haunted and a hint of lost treasure make this one seem like a cross between an Angela Brazil and an Enid Blyton, but it’s an entertaining light read for pandemic times.

If you fancy having a read at an old-fashioned school story have a look here at the Angela Brazil books available free from Project Gutenberg. This book isn’t available free as it’s one of her later books. She had a very long career which began in 1899 and ended in 1946, she died in 1947.

Joan’s Best Chum by Angela Brazil

Joan's Best Chum cover

Joan’s Best Chum by Angela Brazil was first published way back in 1926 although my copy has that Book Production War Economy Standard logo on it.

The main characters in this book have all been more or less abandoned by the adults in their lives, albeit not by choice as Joan’s parents are dead and Ursula her older sister has taken on the job of bringing Joan and Rex their brother up, supposedly aided by Uncle Robert who is a local solicitor and turns out to be of no help at all. Ursula realises that if she wants to train as a secretary she will have to ask Ursula to stay at her school as a boarder, rather than a day girl as she is now. Rex has just begun to train in Uncle Robert’s firm of solicitors.

When Mollie ends up joining Allandale School as a boarder too she becomes firm friends with Joan, they have lots in common. Mollie’s mother is dead and her father seems only interested in visiting casinos abroad so he might as well be dead for all the interest he takes in Mollie.

This book is about young women who fight to maintain their dignity and independence in very difficult circumstances which are made worse by the actions of a duplicitous man. It’s interesting because it isn’t all set in the school environment and is a bit of an advert for the YWCA and the YMCA which I was surprised to learn had first been set up way back in 1855 in London for the women and 1844 for men.

I’ve only read a few of Angela Brazil’s books but it seems that she was keen to show lots of aspects of life outside what would be the rather rarefied atmosphere of many boarding schools.