Hands up who went to boarding school??
Was it good/bad/indifferent/life-changing/character building...
I'd love to know because to my mum's horror, and thanks to Mallory Towers, it was all I ever wanted to do and of course, I suspect like the majority, I didn't.
This isn't really Nostalgia Week, but it was all that talk in comments last week, and a reminder about Girls Gone By Publishers that started me off again. Mention of Monica Edwards and suddenly I had to revisit Punchbowl Farm. Flush in the Paypal account after a bit of a pre-Christmas eBay clear out I ordered a couple of titles from GGBP , but now I have to wait for them to arrive, and I always want that to be yesterday. So it was off to the GGB shelf where I find precisely six books, three Chalet Schools in the vain attempt to become a fan, but sadly about fifty years too late, and then these...
It was all of eight years ago (can you believe it) that I wrote about Girls Gone By Publishers on here having read The Girls of St Brides two years before that in 2004...
'Written in 1923, The Girls of St Bride's by Dorita Fairlie Bruce was a gloriously politically incorrect book by present day standards which made for a fascinating social insight if you could get yourself beyond the nostalgic wallow of the boarding school on the remote Scottish island reached by steamer. For example there is a "cripple" in a wheelchair who is lonely and isolated within the school and disliked for being selfish by many of the other girls. All this must be read in the context of 1923 to be fully appreciated but it makes these books far more than just a simple journey back in time...'
In a flurry of enthusiasm I had bought two more in the series not realising that one book would feed the urge sufficiently and it would be ten years before I wanted to read another one. Yet suddenly the reading planets align and last week I plunged into Nancy at St Bride's.
Nancy Caird is a bit of a feisty 'kid' and her aunt, ex-St Bride's Head Girl Elizabeth Hawthown, singles out poor Christine Maclean to keep her out of trouble as the schoolgirls gather on Greenock Pier awaiting the steamer that will take them out to their school on the Scottish island of Inchmore.
I want to go already.
Christine is Captain of School...
'...tall and yellow-haired and looked the personification of a health mind in a healthy body. Her face seemed to glow with cheery good nature, but the strong chin and sensitive mouth showed a character in which there was something more than sweet temper.'
There will be plenty more descriptions like this and plenty of 1920's derring do for girls.
If the boarding school in fiction is the sufficient-unto-itself isolated community, then how much more so is St Bride's located as it is on a remote island. Surrounded by sea, the potential for adventure, mischief and danger is intensified and utilised to the full by Dorita Fairlie Bruce, as are the opportunites for girls to achieve in spheres where elsewhere they may not. St Bride's girls swim like fishes and play cricket like demons, as well as sailing and canoeing around the coast of the island.
As you might expect there are very few men to spoil the party and if they are present it is in menial roles as gardeners or handymen and nor are there any married women. Though written in 1933, Nancy at St Bride's is set in the early 1920s where spinster teachers prevail, in this retrospective of life for Nancy and before she appears in That Boarding School Girl where it is known that she has left St Bride's under a bit of a dark cloud. Which brings me neatly back to Greenock Pier where cunning Elizabeth Hawthorn knows she is handing over a great deal more than one fiesty 'kid' , and the boat has hardly set sail before Nancy, the unruly, dare-devil tomboy, proceeds to shake the Fourth up into a state of advanced disobedience and mayhem before she is done.
Yes, perhaps it does all read as a little tame these days, whilst other elements, given the 21st century penchant for 'elf and safety, might cause a sharp intake of breath. When thirteen-year old Nancy, with little regard for her punishment of detention on the premises, hops into a canoe and paddles herself around the coast of the island to watch the girls of St Bride's compete in a rowing competition (did I say they all row like an accomplished Oxford Eight as well) words like Risk Assessment, and buoyancy aids come to mind.
Yet I enjoyed it all enormously.
The intense female friendships of the girl's school genre are perhaps looked on less favourably than those of boys, but I'll bet some of us can recall the misery of the best friend going off with someone else, and the lengths you might go to to win them back. And nor was Dorita Fairlie Bruce's boarding school of the 1920s necessarily for the wealthy, there are plenty of daughters of missionaries and little if any evidence of a social class divide. The girls are prepared for leadership too; the prefect system giving the senior girls the responsibilities for discipline and some firm, yet motherly caring of the younger girls, though where they might find the opportunities to exercise this in the outside world when they move on who can know.
So enamoured was I with Nancy that I immediately opened That Boarding School Girl sadly realising, after about twenty pages or so, that I was over it and it might be another ten years before I feel the need again, but it was lovely while it lasted and now I eagerly await a return to Punchbowl Farm.
It could all go horribly wrong of course.
I re-read Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild recently and realise I should have left it happily settled in my childhood imagination, it just didn't work for me as a grown-up, there were gaping holes all over the place.
But what about boarding school...did you go...
Od did you read Mallory Towers or Chalet School and want to go..
And returning to childhood reading, is it as fraught with hazards as I so often discover.