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 Post subject: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2017, 19:58 
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Hi everyone. :D As discussed in the thread in the School Noticeboard, I plan to start a proper discussion thread every week for the books, starting with School At and going through each book in the series. I'll do a brief synopsis and a run-down of major events in the book, and everyone can discuss away. :D So, getting right down to it...

The book that started it all. :D First published in 1925, the series opens with twenty-four year old Madge Bettany deciding to take the fate of herself and her frail young sister Joey into her own hands by starting up a school on the shores of the Tiernsee, in the Austrian Tyrol. Adventures abound follow as the school establishes itself, including:
The introduction of the Marani and Mensch families, who go on to play pivotal roles in the series
Simone developing an obsession with Joey
The establishment of the prefect system
Juliet’s arrival and rebellion against CS authority, and subsequent abandonment by the dastardly Carricks
Several run-ins with Frau Berlin
Madge’s birthday
A ramble on the Mondscheinspitze which turns into a night spent in a hut due to a change in weather conditions
Pranks by the Juniors
Grizel’s near-fatal expedition up the Tiernjoch
The train crash in which a certain Russell, James Russell, first appears

So, thoughts on the first book in the series? Do you think the rapid growth of the school was realistic? What do you think of Gisela as the first Head Girl, the other prefects, and how they handle the situations that require them to show their authority? Thoughts on Juliet and Grizel, who could be considered this book’s ‘problem’ girls? Did you enjoy the pranks that were played? We see a lot of Chalet traditions/clichés established in this book, such as Jo dashing off to someone’s rescue, Madge’s birthday celebrations, the school magazine, a ramble that goes awry due to adverse weather, an unmarried doctor conveniently showing up during a crisis…which is your personal favourite?

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2017, 20:51 
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Thank you for doing this, Aquabird!

I really like both Juliet and Grizel as characters. I think Grizel's more interesting in the long run because poor old Juliet gets foisted off onto wet Donal rather quickly! But I like her storyline in this book (in fact, I wrote one of my first pieces of CS fanfic about her).

Grizel, of course, remains a 'problem' for an impressively large portion of the series! I think she's a really well drawn character though, and in this book I think we see the best and worst of her. We get to see her gregariousness, and her enthusiasm, and all of that - and also her wildness.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2017, 22:10 
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It's interesting that there are two problem pupils right at the start - Grizel and Juliet, both having uncaring parents. What surprised me on a re-read is how little there is of Juliet before her reformation. We are told that she is a bad influence and she is the one who urges some of them to disobey Madge over the filming and that's it. The next thing is the Carricks disappear and Juliet is so grateful that she becomes a different girl overnight. Not so Grizel who is difficult on and off until she sails for New Zealand in her thirties.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2017, 00:32 
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I am not a great fan of either Grizel or Juliet. I can never understand why there is such a fuss about Juliet. She never compares to the likes of Gisela.

However Juliet did have to overcome difficulties in relation to her family whilst Gisela had nothing like this to deal with. Juliet was also left alone whilst Gisela always had a loving family.

Gisela was an exceptional head girl who had to define the role. Once she had done this, her successors were then able to copy. Probably the most important aspect waa setting the standards of discipline and the extent of the involvement of the prefects in keeping this discipline.

I do think Madge's own personality, charm , good looks and class had a lot to do with the early rapid growth of the school.

The parents of Frieda, Gisela and the others were not looking for girls to be educated to great academic standards. What they wanted were classy, polite, well mannered daughters who would be good wives and mothers and run a household well. What better role model than Madge?

She also had Herr Marani and Herr Mensch cooing over her. Could it have been that to some of the fathers she was a magnet?

(edited to improve grammar )


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2017, 08:45 
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I agree - I think Madge is the star of the show. It took a lot of guts to set the school up in the first place, and then, as Audrey said, it was her personal charm that attracted more pupils.

I think Gisela did brilliantly, especially considering what a culture shock the CS must have been to everyone when it was first set up. I feel as if we see the problems caused by Juliet more in terms of how Gisela handled them than in terms of what Juliet actually did.

During a Facebook discussion on boarding schools recently, it occurred to me that it was quite ironic that Madge set up her own boarding school because she was so determined that she didn't want to be separated from Joey. Just a random thought!

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2017, 15:56 
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Madge clearly thinks about teaching right from the off as per her conversation with Dick:
"Even if I got a post in a school in England it would mean school fees for Jo"

She doesn't appear to have any qualifications for teaching - after all she has been a mother to Jo since the age of 12. Is this just the idea that any fool can teach? Or just an extension of the Victorian governess role where manners, a little bit of reading, some basic maths and a the teaching of scripture are all that's required?

I wonder how many pupils she envisaged at the beginning? She certainly seems surprised when more than expected turn up on the first day - especially as two are quite young. But some of the older girls would have to have younger girls in their classes, or maybe this didn't matter as they were not learning in their first language.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2017, 17:15 
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It always strikes me as unrealistic when this troop of girls appears on the first morning, and the setting tests to group them, but the book quickly settles into a routine and it feels as if the school has been there forever. The characters aren't quite 'set' yet, especially of the younger girls - Margia, Amy and Simone start out nothing like they end up (don't even try to parse that grammar, sorry, but Miss Annersley isn't here yet). But Gisela is a star from the beginning, and I love the way that she and the older girls set the tone for the rest of the series, really.
But I still can't believe even bookworm Jo enjoying Quentin Durward at the age of twelve!


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2017, 17:32 
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Carrie A wrote:
Madge clearly thinks about teaching right from the off as per her conversation with Dick:
"Even if I got a post in a school in England it would mean school fees for Jo"

She doesn't appear to have any qualifications for teaching - after all she has been a mother to Jo since the age of 12. Is this just the idea that any fool can teach? Or just an extension of the Victorian governess role where manners, a little bit of reading, some basic maths and a the teaching of scripture are all that's required?
Not at all - she wouldn't have needed qualifications to teach in England at all at that date, whether in a private or a state sector school. OK, qualified teachers were preferred for the more technical subjects, and their numbers were increasing all the time, but I had at least one unqualified teacher at primary school, and she was excellent, because she was (a) a natural teacher and (b) very experienced by then.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2017, 18:00 
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LucyP wrote:
But I still can't believe even bookworm Jo enjoying Quentin Durward at the age of twelve!

I read Quentin Durward when I was about 12 though it may well have been in an abridged version - many of the classics were abridged for younger readers.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2017, 18:27 
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I think Madge struck lucky in that there was evidently a gap in the market at the Tiernsee - a number of local families, beginning with the Mensches and Maranis, who had daughters and who were for whatever reason not satisfied with the educational options already available.

But she also showed very good business sense in showing herself willing to adapt to local customs and conditions - chaperonage, for example, which would have been a non-issue back in Taverton.

So much of the early success of the CS came by word of mouth, it could have been a very different story if the Mensches and Maranis hadn't liked the way the school was developing, regardless of whether they liked Madge personally.

Madge did recognise her limitations, and she added a qualified maths teacher to the staff within a few weeks.

I think it was after the Second World War that new teachers in state schools were required to be qualified. But those who were already teaching could keep on until they retired. Teachers entering the profession who had a degree in their subject weren't also required to have a teaching qualification. And I don't think there was any requirement for teachers in private schools to be qualified. Caveat emptor, in that case.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 12 Jan 2017, 14:16 
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The role of Madge, and the introduction of the delightful Austrian girls, are key for me in getting the series off to a winning start. I love Gisela as a character, and I think I am as intrigued as the English pupils are to know how it came about that Bette had such an excellent command of English (including slang!) from the outset. Strong characters can usually carry the weakest or most predictable of plot lines - though I would draw the line at the later, curdling episode when Robin's rendition of the Red Sarafan brings Jo back to life!

Having visited the Achensee a few times, the very real descriptions of the area lend further credibility to the book. As you know that many of the settings really do exist, it is possible to overlook the more fanciful events. In Madge's day, many things would have been possible - without the accursed existence of Health &Safety regulations, Risk Assessments, exam factory syndrome, OFSTED, et al!


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 12 Jan 2017, 16:47 
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I think what set School at apart from other school stories of the time, in addition to the Tiernsee and family atmosphere, was the way the Austrian girls strove to make the CS a "real English school" -- based on what they'd read in English school stories! Says she, whose knowledge of such exotic institutions is likewise based on stories that may or may not have been "tosh." (Q: How common would it have been for Austrian papas to supply their daughters with such literature, apparently before Madge even appeared on the scene?)

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 12 Jan 2017, 20:40 
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Even if Herr Mensch and Herr Marani thought that Angela Brazil books were wonderfully edifying, I'm not sure that bookshops in Innsbruck would have stocked a huge range of them :lol: . Or how likely it is that the Austrian girls would have spoken such good English, or that Joey would have spoken fluent German based on one holiday spent in Tyrol five years earlier. But never mind :lol: .

I think my favourite part of the book is how excited Grizel is at seeing new and different places. I'd love to have been able to see Europe in the days before there were Starbucks and McDonald's and signs in English everywhere! Not that I don't like Starbucks and McDonald's :lol:, but that feeling of being somewhere totally new and different's a lot harder to find these days.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 13 Jan 2017, 14:50 
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I really liked Grizel in this book, and felt it was a shame that Juliet and the Robin ousted her in subsequent books from her close position to Madge and Joey. She was in it with them from the start, had a difficult family set up, and I felt she should have been as much an unofficially adopted member of the Bettany clan as the other two.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 13 Jan 2017, 15:02 
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This is one of my favourite books of the series and bizarrely I always associate it with aromatic crispy duck because that is what I was eating when I first read it!

I came to the Chalet School more or less as an adult having found the books in the library of the school I work at. I do think the rate at which the school grew is unrealistic, however it could be (as Madge says?) they did just make a lucky pitch.

I don't find it odd that an unqualified person could set up a school, private schools don't necessarily have to employ qualified teachers, and Free Schools can also be staffed by non qualified people. I have worked in a state school which has also employed non qualified staff. The girls aren't expected to sit for public exams in the early years of the school, so the lack of qualifications isn't such an issue as it might be nowadays.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 13 Jan 2017, 15:22 
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I think it was quite common at the time for people like Madge and Miss Browne, fairly genteel women who for whatever reason found themselves without means of financial support, to set up schools. The sort of school that EBD herself went to sounds like it was one of them. How Simone and Juliet got into university is a bit of a mystery :roll:, but people like Gisela and Bernhilda weren't planning to do any exams or even to apply for jobs.

It's interesting that Joey and Grizel have previously gone to "a big high school", and, IIRC, Bernhilda and Frieda also went to a big "public" school. They don't really talk much about the contrast between the two. I can imagine Frieda hating being at a big school, and maybe Grizel enjoying being a big fish in a small pond much more than just being one of many. I think Jo's the one who might actually have preferred a bigger school, had the CS not been run by Madge.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 13 Jan 2017, 20:41 
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One of my favourites too. I think setting it in a real place even though the readers didn't know it was real, gives it an edge. Like the Ann of Green Gables set on Prince Edward Island, it blurred for me fact and fiction in an almost magical way. If you go to Pertisau you do feel as if there might be a parallel universe there where it really did happen.
And so clever to plant the seeds of so many future story lines, characters and plots. Although I do think the Yorkshire suitor line, on the strength of an hour or so in a train is very far fetched!


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 13 Jan 2017, 23:47 
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Before I read them, I always thought there were three "special" books in the series - School At, Exile and Highland Twins (because of Jack's near death). I thought the first two mentioned came fully up to expectations, especially Exile, but possibly not Highland Twins.

I always remember my feeling of joy when I first came across School At.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 14 Jan 2017, 06:03 
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I can see Madge originally thinking of a school much like the Angela Brazil ones - 20 or 30 students, mostly between the ages of about 11 and 17, with basic academics, healthy exercise, and some genteel accomplishments. Then she lucks out by making a few good connections with local families who for some reason want their daughters to have an English education, and who then refer relatives and connections. Not to mention random vacationing people who decide to drop their kids off at a newly established school and leave the country.

For the first few years (until Madge leaves), the school is about half locals plus their relatives and connections, a quarter people associated with Taverton and the Bettanys, and a quarter random people who happened to be in the area and dropped of their kids (and their connections). After that, the San picks up, and they start getting daughters or other relatives of patients. By the time of Lintons, the school has a prospectus, and is presumably advertising.

If Madge hadn't made that initial connection with the locals and was depending on out-of-town girls, and the San hadn't opened, I think the school would have grown much more slowly, and would probably have stayed at the couple of dozen students she had initially pictured.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 14 Jan 2017, 18:46 
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Alison H wrote:
I think my favourite part of the book is how excited Grizel is at seeing new and different places. I'd love to have been able to see Europe in the days before there were Starbucks and McDonald's and signs in English everywhere! Not that I don't like Starbucks and McDonald's :lol:, but that feeling of being somewhere totally new and different's a lot harder to find these days.


All is not lost! Certainly if you stick to the villages in southern Germany and Austria, I really don't think all that much has changed in nearly a century. There are still the painted houses, family owned shops and the feeling that you've gone back in time. When I'm in Oberaudorf I half expect to see a crocodile of Chalet School pupils come round the corner at any moment. (That's when I'm not expecting to see Steve McQueen roar across the countryside on his bike, or the von Trapp family appear over the brow of a hill.) Even a lot of the towns are still very traditional. I'm really envious too, at how many of the old traditions are still going strong. (Did EBD ever mention Almabtrieb - bringing the cows down from the high pastures for the winter?)


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