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 Post subject: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 16 Sep 2010, 11:34 
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I was just thinking about how people's perceptions of EBD and the Chalet School books differ. For example, it is thought that EBD is very conservatively religious, however the CS books are very ecumenical and she was interested in spiritualist matters. Her politics too are considered by the board to be fairly conservative yet she was one of the few writers (not even just children's writers!) to mention the concentration camps when only the socialist press were writing about them in early WWII. Other posters have mentioned that they think EBD had a sheltered, naive outlook on life, yet we know she was involved with a theatrical crowd and seems to have met a lot of people and often travelled to London. It's fascinating how this information sometimes doesn't mesh, and I thought it would be interesting to explore further. Of course, nobody's perception or opinion is wrong.

What do you think about EBD and the CS? Do you find that your own experience affects your ideas of EBD?


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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 16 Sep 2010, 15:18 
I know very little about her life, but am always fascinated by the idea of her running with a sophisticated/raffish/'knocking about fairly broadly' theatre crowd, when I simply don't see that influence at all in the CS, where you get a more or less conformist bourgeois set of attitudes, despite the cosmopolitanism and ecumenism.

Was she simply censoring herself for a children's audience? You don't even get, though, the mildly non-conformist characters you get in EB, like Carlotta the wild circus girl, or Tammylan, the 'wild man' who shows up in the Cherry-Tree farm books - Mrs Pertwee, Miss Leigh and the Beatniks are beyond the pale. The 'good' adults she portrays are pretty much solidly devoted to their families and/or thoroughly respectable professions and pastimes, and eccentricities are only relatively minor issues of manner, like Plato's English or Joey's breezy refusal to grow up, and even those two are a respected and well-known composer and author.

For the purposes of comparison, from what one can gather of AF's life, she was a little-travelled, devoutly Catholic Conservative - she described herself as 'middle-aged, narrow-minded, anti-progressive AND PROUD OF IT'! - but her books seem to me to give more latitude to different ways of being than EBD's, which I would see as much more anxiously conformist and concerned with consensus and respectability...?


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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 16 Sep 2010, 17:05 
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It’s always interesting how perceptions of someone can be totally different depending on time and place: I’ve read things written by people at the Russian and Spanish courts in the late 19th century which describe Queen Victoria as being dangerously liberal, which isn’t at all how she’s usually seen in Britain but which I suppose she was compared to the Romanovs and the Bourbons. (Is it really obvious that I’m a historian?) Bearing in mind how different the society EBD grew up in was to the society of today, she had a very impressively broad outlook on religion and different nationalities. Even in 2010 I know people who won’t attend services of different religious denominations, and who don’t have anything like the interest in different cultures that EBD shows in the early books – although I think there was a bit of a general backlash against internationalism after the Second World War. & Exile is amazing: for a children’s book to have tackled those issues, especially so early on in the war, was something very special.

Having said which, there are things in the books which do seem to suggest a rather narrow outlook – the comments about village schools, the idea that working-class people only have good manners if they’ve learned them in domestic service, the emphasis on Catholicism and Protestantism (maybe even just Catholicism and Anglicanism) and the strong criticism of agnosticism and even just lack of interest in practising religion. Also, she does seem rather out of touch in some of the later books, e.g. over the university entrance procedure.

Maybe her own childhood made her concerned with “respectability”, especially as she was generally writing about people higher up the social scale than she was? People who aren’t secure in their own social position generally worry about it far more than those who are, and she first of all had to cope with keeping up appearances when her father ran off with another woman and then had to settle into a more upmarket area than the one she was used to when her mother remarried. The lack of “Bohemian” types is interesting, though, especially as she was involved with a theatrical crowd herself. It seems strange that it should’ve been because of her editors or because she was writing children’s books because it doesn’t seem to’ve caused an issue for Noel Streatfeild or Enid Blyton, but I can’t think of another explanation. Or maybe she what she really wanted was to be a perfect headmistress like Hilda and or have the whole domestic set-up like Joey and the books were her way of doing that?

Sorry for the essay :lol: . Brilliant topic for a discussion :D .

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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 16 Sep 2010, 20:53 
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Hm, very interesting question. It's very easy to see an author through his or her books, as it were, and in many ways that makes sense, because authors do put a part of themselves into whatever they write.

In some ways, reading the CS books, you'd think EBD was very staid and conservative. But then there's all those near-fatal accidents and being rescued by handsome doctors... makes me wonder whether it was a bit of wish-fulfillment of hers - maybe a bit like a children's version of Mills & Boon! And then, of course, there's always the stable home to return to, with strong family relationships and loving, loyal friends. Again, maybe the sort of life EBD might have liked to have.

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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 16 Sep 2010, 21:38 
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During my time spent studying for my literature degree we were always warned against doing author led readings! However, I do think that much of the Chalet School series comes across as some sort of wish fulfilment- after all that's what attracted me in the first place, I wanted to go there.
I think author led readings were felt both to diminish the text and undermine the skill of the writer.
The way so many of the leading male figures i.e Jem and Jack seem to melt into the same person- both authoritarian, silent treatment of 'bad' children etc do point to a certain desire to be looked after by EBD.

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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 16 Sep 2010, 22:17 
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Cosimo's Jackal wrote:
but her books seem to me to give more latitude to different ways of being than EBD's, which I would see as much more anxiously conformist and concerned with consensus and respectability...?

I can't see that in EBD - when I consider how she wrote about the Germans as not being the same thing as the Nazis during a time when that was so against the flow of what people were thinking I am always amazed at how she was able to do that.

Somebody anxiously conformist could surely not have shown the courage of her convictions in that way?

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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 16 Sep 2010, 22:43 
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I find that my view of EBD differs depending on the era of the books, and I suspect that, like many people, that she was more liberal as a young woman than she was as an older woman. Many of her opinions in the earlier books, around religion, education and gender, are ahead of her time; but by the end of the series, the world has moved on rather a lot and she hasn't been able to move with it, and her once liberal views have become "old-fashioned".

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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 17 Sep 2010, 08:27 
cestina wrote:
Cosimo's Jackal wrote:
but her books seem to me to give more latitude to different ways of being than EBD's, which I would see as much more anxiously conformist and concerned with consensus and respectability...?

I can't see that in EBD - when I consider how she wrote about the Germans as not being the same thing as the Nazis during a time when that was so against the flow of what people were thinking I am always amazed at how she was able to do that.

Somebody anxiously conformist could surely not have shown the courage of her convictions in that way?


I have no idea whatsoever how EBD felt about Germans as distinct from Nazis in her real life, and I don't think we can determine that from the CS alone - I'm not sure she would have been able to continue the series, given the large numbers of sympathetic Germans and Austrians in the Tyrol books, if she had gone with a more conventional anti-German approach. Not to suggest it wasn't a laudable view for her time.

But what I'm talking about is less a set of attitudes in themselves than the way in which the books set a certain set of positions up as gospel and enforce them as everyone's - so, for instance, even with the German/Nazi issue, when in real life you would have had a range of disagreements about it (after all, it's wartime, people's homes are being bombed and their family members killed, and they would inevitably be exposed to blanket anti-German feeling away from the CS), no one is allowed to have reservations - Lavender and Verity are both brought into line, and everyone else is presented as thinking exactly alike on it, to the point where (I think in Lavender) anyone who decides not to sign the Peace league doc is described as 'standing apart from us', which I really don't care for. Likewise religion - the ecumenism is laudable, of course, but again, EBD presents the entire school and all right-minded adults and children as being extremely devout in exactly the same kind of 'childlike faith' - anyone who isn't (Ruey, Naomi etc) is quickly bludgeoned into line, and we are asked to believe that the entire school gets into a froth of excitement at the idea of having their own chapels.

I think EBD is a bit obsessed with conformity - or maybe I mean consensus, except that implies people have argued it out before agreeing on a compromise! All right-minded people are seen to agree on all matters. You expect schoolgirls to be pack rats - and an isolated institution to promote conformity - to an extent, but it can get a bit Borg-like at times for me. And the whole fantasy domestic set-up, and everything being as 'trig' and 'dainty' as possible - and even breezy Joey's horror at beatniks - always feel to me difficult to reconcile with an author who ran with a Bohemian crowd! Not that anyone's expecting cokeheads in a school story, but there really isn't any latitude for other ways of thinking at all, even compared to other GO authors.


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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 17 Sep 2010, 13:52 
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This really doesn't fit in with EBD herself though, as described by Helen McClelland who knew her very well!* She herself was fairly bohemian throughout the entirety of her life: knitting her own bizarre clothes without a pattern, calling herself outlandish names in music school, extreme disorganisation, leaving her pupils alone while she went off to write poetry, etc. Even with an element of wish fulfillment, it's not difficult to go out and buy clothes if you really wanted to "conform". Possibly the outlandishness is a reaction to a childhood of always having to be "respectable"?

I always wonder what say the publishing co. had in her books - the Swiss years were written in the very conservative 1950s after all. We know from the publisher-led newsletters that she often asked the readers to decide what should happen in future books towards the end (viz. Mary-Lou being voted as the best old girl to make a reappearance in Challenge) and numerous competitions where the members wrote book synopses). They must have influenced EBD's writing.

*Behind the Chalet School (EBD's biography by H McC)


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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 17 Sep 2010, 15:17 
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From what Helen McClelland says, EBD was nothing like a "good" CS girl or mistress. She was fairly disorganised, dressed rather untidily rather than being smart/trig, spoke more like Matron Webb than Madge or Hilda and was plain rather than (as all good CS girls are, at least in the Swiss years :lol: ) pretty. &, as Mia said, she called herself by exotic-sounding names: it's hard to imagine Mary-Lou informing everyone at Oxford that she wanted to be known as Patricia Maraquita :roll: . & we get the impression that she'd like to have married and had children but that sadly it never happened for her.

I'd prefer to think that the publishers influenced her, because it makes me sad :cry: to think that she yearned to be something she wasn't and to have the sort of life that she didn't, but I can't make up my mind about it at all ... :? .

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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 17 Sep 2010, 22:44 
Mia wrote:
This really doesn't fit in with EBD herself though, as described by Helen McClelland who knew her very well!* She herself was fairly bohemian throughout the entirety of her life: knitting her own bizarre clothes without a pattern, calling herself outlandish names in music school, extreme disorganisation, leaving her pupils alone while she went off to write poetry, etc.


That's what I mean - her own life sounds much more raffish than you'd expect from the CS books. She sounds far more like Mrs Pertwee than Hilda - yet Mrs Pertwee is cruelly caricatured, written as utterly ridiculous and laughed at by the entire CS staff and girls, whose judgement EBD always expects us to take as sound - was she mocking herself in Mrs P?. And if we see Joey (as well as Hilda) as a kind of fantasy/wish-fulfilment version of herself, it's noticeable that as well as marriage, a family, and a flourishing writing career, Joey - far from being a bohemian, arty type - has a highly prestigious social position as San Head's wife, and sister-in-law of the great Sir Jem, and a raft of well-behaved children at public school and/or headed to Oxbridge. Interesting that the fantasy is so solidly respectable...?


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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 17 Sep 2010, 23:04 
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Maybe those "respectable" characters had the values and behaviours that EBD had internalised, even if they weren't the ones she herself lived? I'm not sure if "internalised" is right, and I definitely don't mean that she was a hypocrite, but presumably many of those values would have been pushed on her, by her family, her teachers, society at large - and unless she consciously recognised that, they may have come out through her writing subconsciously. Or even consciously, if others are right and she was being told by her publishers to write in a certain, conservative, way. But I would have thought, if she was being pressured against her will, the thing to do would have been to exclude the things that she disagreed with, rather than include them for the sake of the story.

Of course, there's always the chance that she was a hypocrite - her life was hers, and not for other people! I'm wary of just relying of Helen McClelland's views of her alone, not because I think that she's wrong so much as that every biographer puts their own spin on things and has their own biases.

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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 18 Sep 2010, 13:04 
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I wonder if she felt that being unconventional herself was something that hadn't necessarily brought her happiness, and although she was prepared to put up with the consequences, she was afraid to advocate going off the "straight and narrow" to young people?

I'm thinking in terms of people who, say, have their children christened although they aren't believers themselves, or of people I've met who are vegetarian for ethical reasons but were worried about "foisting their views" on their children by bringing them up the same way. Which is completely illogical and drives me mad - everyone imposes ideals on their children, surely better your own than other people's?! - but I think there is also an element of social pressure: not wanting to cause the child to stand out or get picked on.

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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 18 Sep 2010, 22:05 
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She seems to put quite a lot of herself into the earlier books. The girls get very involved in country dancing and Guiding, which are both things she was involved in herself, and (although we don't see it) Joey converts to Catholicism as she did herself, and "Briesau" and "Armiford" are both places which were important to her in real life. That isn't there in the later books: the location issue couldn't be helped, because she wanted to move the school back to the Alps at a time when the political situation ruled Austria out, but I don't get much sense of her own interests in the later books, except maybe in Jane.

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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 19 Sep 2010, 13:48 
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Alison H wrote:
but I don't get much sense of her own interests in the later books, except maybe in Jane.

Thats a good point. Jane with her 'darlings' would have been pulverised in, say a Malory Towers book, but she's written about in a very affirmative, even affection way in Jane. I also like the fact that EBD speaks positively of the cinema as a medium; too many GO books cast cinema actors as shallow, false people, who are bad influences on the young.


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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 21 Sep 2010, 23:14 
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Although in School at, EBD certainly disparages cinema, what with the Juliet/Grizel scheme and all.

I'm realizing I know absolutely NOTHING about EBD's life...and I'm wondering if I want to fill that gap or proceed with my blissful ignorance. I've gotten much more critical of the books themselves after hanging around here, and I'm hesitant to rock the boat any more!


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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 22 Sep 2010, 22:06 
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Pado wrote:
Although in School at, EBD certainly disparages cinema, what with the Juliet/Grizel scheme and all.


It's funny, but that scene reads a lot like scenes in modern books, where the sleazy movie director convinces some girls to be filmed against their parents' wishes and the film turns out to be... sleazy, shall we say. Not that I think that's what EBD was going for!

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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 23 Sep 2010, 02:07 
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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 23 Sep 2010, 14:14 
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Pado wrote:
Although in School at, EBD certainly disparages cinema, what with the Juliet/Grizel scheme and all.
From her critical comment in JaneEBD seemed to accept cinema as a viable medium as long as was only used to broadcast 'scenes of a wholesome nature.'


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 Post subject: Re: Fan perception of EBD and the Chalet School
PostPosted: 24 Sep 2010, 22:53 
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I think when most authors write they put something of themselves in it and not just events but their ideas and beliefs or just themselves. EBD had a scene where Matey has torn shreds off Joey with her first book and Joey is cuddling it like it's her baby and can't let it go initially. I don't necessarily think she believed in being trig and dainty etc, a lot will be written to suit an audience or publishers, but I do think it'll be the little scenes, or the characters who insist on writing themselves where you catch glimpses of EBD's beliefs and ideas.

I know though, I do feel like I 'know' writers from what they've written, when in actual fact I probably don't; which is why sometimes I think it's better off not meeting your favourite writers in case you are disappointed. I met someone who met Roald Dahl in real life as a child, who said he seemed really uncomfortable around kids, which I wouldn't have thought from his books at all.

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