Redheads at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Redheads at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was first published in 1964, but my copy is a very recent reprint by Girls Gone By.  This one is a bit of a departure from the usual Chalet School series as it’s more of a thriller than boarding school story.

It begins with Flavia and her step-father travelling on a train on the way to the Chalet School. Flavia has red hair and most people call her Copper for that reason, but her step-father explains she must use her real name at school and she has been enrolled under her original surname, instead of her step-father’s surname.

Flavia’s step-father is a policeman and one of his investigations has led to the hanging of a member of a vicious gang. The other gang members have sworn to get their own back on him, Flavia’s life is in danger, but to begin with she doesn’t know that.  The headmistress has been given all the information though.

From almost the beginning it’s obvious that there are nefarious characters hot on the track of Flavia, they know that they’re looking for a girl with red hair, but there are several such lucky girls at the school. Inevitably the wrong girl is nabbed! But of course all ends well eventually.

I enjoy these Girls Gone By reprints, there’s usually a short story at the end by a contemporary Girls Gone By writer.  In this case it’s  An Inspector Calls by Lisa Townsend. There’s also a few pages about the publishing history, notes on the text, and at the very beginning there’s a bit by Ruth Jolly about the apparently fairly regular appearance of girls with red hair attending The Chalet School,  there are more of them than would be expected in society. She also mentions other characters with red hair in literature, and that old chestnut that redheads are supposed to have a fiery temper, which of course had me rolling my eyes as a redhead myself, or as my mother described me – a strawberry blonde.

I almost feel a blogpost coming on about walking in a person’s shoes, because unless you have red hair you have no idea what it’s like! It is the only prejudice which is quite happily allowed nowadays, and features in TV adverts, where derogatory comments about skin colour definitely aren’t tolerated.

 

Christmas reads

Throughout the year I’ve been collecting Christmas and winter themed books, with a view to reading them throughout December, in an attempt to get myself into a festive mood. Last year was fairly dismal, my own fault as I didn’t even bother to put up a tree.

Christmas/Winter Themed  Books

1. A Christmas Card by Paul Theroux

2. The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

3. Christmas Term at Vernley by Margaret Biggs

4. Murder in the Falling Snow – classic crime short stories (D. Sayers, G. Mitchell, R.A.Freeman, J. Symons, G.K. Chesterton. A.C Doyle, E. Wallace and others.)

5. A Country Christmas by Miss Read

6. Excitement at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent Dyer

Probable re-reads are:

7. Christmas at High Rising by Angela Thirkell

8. A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of Stories for Winter and nights by the fire, for review. It’s a new one from the British Library Women Writers series.

The Feud in the Fifth Remove by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

The Feud in the Fifth Remove by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was first published in 1932  but it has been reprinted by Girls Gone By Books more recently. At just 112 pages it’s a quick read, but still very enjoyable.

It begins at the start of a Christmas term at the Abbey School which has a fair few girls with unusual names, even for the 1930s – Philathea and Salathiel are new to me. But it’s Brenda, the new girl who causes trouble.

Brenda is an only child and has been utterly spoiled by her parents, but particularly her mother.  The results are that Brenda is a complete snob and it isn’t long before she’s sussed out and graded all the girls according to how much money she thinks their fathers will earn. Despite having  an eclectic mixture of backgrounds the pupils get on well together in general, but Brenda believes that those girls in the higher echelons, by her standards, shouldn’t have to consort with the girls who come from a ‘trade’ background, and she’s daft enough to try to get the other girls to join in with her and freeze out what Brenda regards as the poorer pupils.

It transpires that Brenda isn’t only a snob but she’s a liar and cheat too, and when she starts being rude to her mother even her mother has to accept that she has brought up a thoroughly unpleasant daughter. Brenda won’t even accept that the school’s prefects have a right to tell her what to do and she decides to run a campaign to get rid of them.

This book is like a handbook of how to conduct your life if you want to be an upstanding member of society. Just don’t do as Brenda does. I found it entertaining though and as ever I enjoyed being in the company of the characters.

 

Jo of the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Jo of the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was first published in 1926 and it’s the second book in the very large Chalet School series, 58 books long in fact.

There are over thirty girls at The Chalet School now and Jo’s sister Miss Bettany is the rather young headmistress. There’s a lot going on in this book as it’s set in the winter term, an exciting time in the Austrian Tyrol with plenty of entertainments for the schoolgirls to get involved in. It’s not so great for the locals though as it’s a lean time for them economically. This results in the school getting a Saint Bernard’s pup, the only one saved from a litter.

The ‘school baby’ also arrives, Robin’s mother has died and as her father has to travel for work Robin is placed in the care of the school, she quickly becomes a favourite.

Miss Bettany launches a campaign against slang, just about none of which we would call slang nowadays. Jo is so annoyed about that and she decides to start speaking as they did in Shakespeare’s time. That’s a bit of a hoot, but otherwise there’s a lot of jeapordy for Jo as she gets ill a few times and has accidents.

I read some of the Chalet School books when I was about ten years old, and I remembered that I felt so cosmopolitan because of the smatterings of French and German in them, but I’ve been enjoying reading them recently for the charm of a bygone age, and sometimes they just hit the spot when things are grim in real life, as they were earlier in the month with the death of our friend Eric.

The Head Girl of the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

The Head Girl of the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was first published in 1928 and it seems to be the fourth book in the boarding school series.

In this one Grizel has been made the head girl and she’s conflicted about it, as are some of the staff and pupils. Grizel has rather an impetuous and stubborn character which has got her into trouble in the past. She’s going to find it difficult to remember that she should be a good role model for the rest of the school.

In fact before she even reaches the school for the new term she has a bit of a brainstorm and goes off on her own on a personal sightseeing trip, telling nobody of her plans. Miss Maynard, the maths teacher who is accompanying Grizel with a few other girls is frantic and the careful plans made by the others have to be abandoned to chase after Grizel.

Has the head teacher made a big mistake in putting her faith in Grizel? To make matters worse one of the other pupils Deira had been expecting to be chosen as head girl and she’s livid that Grizel was chosen, she’s determined to cause trouble.

I have no idea how many Chalet School books I read as a youngster, but I’m enjoying re-visiting them, they’re comfort reads for me and I like that eventually all will be well.

I am a bit intrigued by the author’s choice of name for her main character though. Grizel is a Scottish name which is definitely not common because it just doesn’t sound nice, it’s a bit too much like grizzle which is how it is pronounced and that always makes me think of grumpy babies. I had a friend who had a very elderly aunt called Grizel but otherwise I’ve only heard of it being used by J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan fame in his Tommy and Grizel book which was published in 1900. I very much doubt if the name features in any of those baby name books that are so popular nowadays.

Gerry Goes to School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Gerry Goes to School cover

Gerry Goes to School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer which was first published in 1922 is the very first book that the author had published, so it isn’t one of her famous Chalet School books. It’s an entertaining read although obviously from a rooky writer. It’s the first book in the La Rochelle series.

Geraldine (Gerry) is an orphan as her parents were killed in an accident, and since then she has been brought up by very staid and strict great-aunts. They’re distant cousins of the Trevennor family and when the great-aunts have to go abroad for 18 months they arrange to have Geraldine staying with that family. They already have ten children (I think) so one more won’t make much difference!

Geraldine had never been to school before as her great-aunts had arranged for her to be taught at home by a governess. The whole experience is going to be a huge culture shock for Gerry as she’s soon nicknamed by the Trevennor children. Gerry has never heard any slang words, but she soon picks them up, it’s just as well that her great-aunts are miles away in Madeira! Of course Gerry goes from being a quiet wee thing to blossoming within the school and Trevennor family atmospheres.

This was a good read although an early book by Brent-Dyer. My copy is a re-print by Girls Gone By Books and although their books are paperbacks they’re beautifully produced and have lots of extra information on the author and the publishing history, plus a short story by Helen Barber is included at the end of the book. This was a comfort read for me and I’ll definitely be reading more of the series, if I can get a hold of them.