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 Post subject: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 06 Feb 2017, 22:23 
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Ah, what better antidote to a crappy Monday at work than a dose of CS? :D This week's book is Chalet #5: The Rivals of the Chalet School, published in 1929. Fiona Mc has also very kindly volunteered to start discussion threads on the fill-in books to go alongside these canon book threads, so look out for those starting up!

The main plot of Rivals concerns the CS's dealings with St Scholastika's, a newly-opened school at Buchau on the other side of the Tiernsee, the feud that divides them and the near-tragedy that eventually (almost) reconciles them. The book covers the winter term following the end of Head Girl, and there are no more gaps in the series until after Jo Returns. Mary Burnett takes over from Grizel Cochrane as Head Girl, and the Quartette, now in the Fifth, are sub-prefects. Notable events in this book include:

Miss Browne, also known as The Fawn, the headmistress of St Scholastika's, gets off to an immediate bad start with the CS crowd when she attempts to poach Jo from the CS for her own school.
Two new mistresses arrive at the CS: Miss Stewart, replacing Miss Carthew as history mistress, and Mlle de Lachenais, who goes on to become one of the longest-serving members of staff.
The Seniors use a morning walk to have a nosey at the new school as they walk past, and are left seething when they overhear the Saints looking down their noses at them.
The Middles, led by Margia Stevens, declare war on the new school, and borrow Jo's Elsie books and read up on the Ku-Klux-Klan, looking for ideas for their feud.
On a walk shortly after, the Middles meet the Saints and spread themselves out across the path, forcing the Saints to walk on sodden grass, soaking their feet. They also covertly trade insults with each other in French. The incident prompts the Fawn to complain to Mademoiselle, word of which gets back to the Middles and does nothing to improve the situation.
The Seniors, out on a walk with hockey sticks, encounter the Saints once again and build some bridges with them, although school captain Elaine Gilling continues to look down her nose at the Chaletians. Miss Maynard also discovers that the St Scholastika's matron is an old friend, Gertrude Rider, and advises her to get the Saints wearing nailed boots on the icy terrain.
The Seniors and Middles, on yet another walk, head off to Geisalm and the Dripping Rock, and end up stranded with about half of the Saints when the path cracks in two, leaving the Fawn and the other half of the Saints on the other side. A long walk up to the alm of Mechthau and then down to the Tiern Pass follows, during which some more friendly overtures are made between the schools, but Elaine continues to annoy people, particularly Mary Burnett.
Elaine and the vast majority of the Saints, smarting from the stiffness of the long walk, decide to completely cut the Chalet girls, and take the opportunity to do so when they are invited to a Sunday Protestant service at the Chalet taken by Mr Eastley, a chaplain whose dying wife is in the San.
Upon discovering the the CS has Guides when they themselves don't, the bitter Saints have a row among themselves, resulting in the Fawn docking them of the chance to skate that day.
Maureen Donovan and certain others decide to disobey, and sneak out onto the (unbeknownst to them) dangerous ice nearby to skate. Jo and Frieda skate across the lake to warn them, resulting in Jo and Maureen falling through the ice when it breaks. They are rescued by Gottfried Mensch, who carries them (on his skates!) to St Scholastika's. Maureen develops rheumatic fever, and Jo pleuro-pneumonia.
Jo nearly dies from her illness, but is saved by the arrival of the Robin, who brings her back from the pearly gates with a rendition of The Red Sarafan.
Six weeks later, Jo is back at the Chalet, and Grizel sends a letter announcing that she is coming back to the CS for the last couple of weeks of term as her lessons in Florence have finished for Christmas. She intends to bring with her a new friend, Gerry Challoner.
The Middles prank the Seniors by sewing up and hiding sundry belongings, and the Quartette get revenge by powdering cornflour in the hair of several Middles, tying together the bedclothes of some of the others, and putting powder in their baths to make the water fizz (a trick which had been played earlier in the series on Bette Rincini in School At).
Elaine earns herself yet another black mark when she argues with Mary and Jo about where the church collection money should go, and shakes off the Robin when she gets involved.
Chicken pox strikes at both schools, and Grizel and Gerry arrive right in the middle of it. Those Middles who have already had it are sent out on a walk and get involved in another bust-up and snow fight with the Saints, stirred up by Elaine.
Jo receives a letter from Elisaveta, and Madge one from King Carol, informing them that they have received anonymous letters from someone at the Tiernsee. They are eventually traced to the snobbish Vera Smithers of St Scholastika's. The Fawn expels her, and Elaine is punished for coming up with the idea in the first place, and also for all the trouble she has stirred up during the term.

Thoughts on this book? Do you think EBD does a good job of showing both sides of the feud, or does she favour one side over another? I never actually realised until doing my skim-read just how many of the alterations between the schools are either instigated by, or encouraged by, the St Scholastika's school captain/head girl Elaine Gilling; do you think the feud would have grown as bad as it did without her involvement? Do you think Mary Burnett could have done anything more to defuse the situation? What did you think of the falling through the ice and Jo brought back from the brink of death by the Robin chapters? Do you think the anonymous letters idea was a good way of wrapping up the book? Share your thoughts below!

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 06 Feb 2017, 22:45 
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I think EBD's fairer in this than she is in Feud. Both the narrative and Madge make it clear that there's fault on both sides. Unfortunately, as with Eustacia, I don't think anyone comes out of it very well. Mary shouldn't have had a public argument with Elaine, and Joey was criticising Miss Browne to her friends before the term had even started properly. And surely Con Stewart, however new she was to her job, should have managed to tell the girls to get into single file rather than forcing the St S's girls off the path :roll:.

It's nice that Grizel's palled up with Gerry Challoner, and a shame that that's never followed up on. I wish Elisaveta had managed to find a new friend too: she sounds so lonely when she writes to ask why no-one's answering her letters.

How many times has Joey nearly died by this point? I think this is the point at which it all gets too much and starts to annoy me! Why did she have to go anyway? Surely the Austrian girls were all far more experienced skaters - why didn't Mary tell Marie or Sophie to go instead? I like the conversation between Jem and Dick, though: there are very few conversations between two men anywhere in the series. No comment on Jo being brought back from the jaws of death by Robin's singing!

I don't think I'd ever realised just how much of the trouble was caused by Elaine. BTW, does anyone else really want to know what was the mucky book Vera Smithers got caught "sullying her mind" with :lol:? I've always wondered that!

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 06 Feb 2017, 23:20 
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No shortage of possibilities - among the books published the year before Rivals are Lady Chatterley, Belle de Jour and The Well of Loneliness.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 07 Feb 2017, 03:31 
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I think there is fault on both sides, but as kids would say, "They started it!"

We're definitely meant to see Miss Browne as a weak headmistress. The poaching attempts, dislike of Guides, contempt towards foreigners, tendency to over confide in her Head Girl, her phone call to Mlle (and in later books, a fear of water, tendency to micromanage her prefects, and being engaged in a lawsuit).

The Scholastica's side is more aggressively nasty without cause - they start out assuming the CS is inferior because it's foreign, are more aggressive in starting things, and Elaine is a consistently bad influence on the other girls. However, the CS girls do pick up the feud quickly and with great enthusiasm.

Coming from a North American background, the girls wanting to emulate the KKK was really shocking to me. It's like reading a post-WWII kids' book where the kids casually decide to play Nazis vs Jews, but all want to be the Nazis.

Mary is generally fairly weak as a Head Girl, although she does get thrown some fairly difficult problems (the feud, and Eustacia the following term). It would be hard for her to solve the problem, but she could have pushed harder for her fellow prefects to behave better as a starting point. Joey, as someone said upthread, isn't particularly helpful, as she gossips about Miss Browne before the schools even meet, and over-reacts when Elaine isn't as adoring as she should be towards the Robin.

One thing I do like is that the feud doesn't immediately end after the skating accident and illnesses - it calms down a bit, and then flares up again.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 07 Feb 2017, 14:53 
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I think both Rivals and Eustacia are much more realistic, in terms of human interaction, than the later series - although obviously the plot of Rivals is brilliantly insane! I have to say it's one of my favourite books in the series.

Both sides are at fault in the feud, although the 'Saints' are clearly worse - partly EBD bias, but I like that it partly stems from a 'British/English is best' mindset - which I think was probably a popular mindset at the time, so I like the fact that EBD is critical of it - for example, having characters who are European who are good at hockey.

The Ku Klux Klan scenes are bizarre. I'm sure EBD was not thinking of them as a white supremacist organisation, but what was she thinking????

Alison H wrote:
And surely Con Stewart, however new she was to her job, should have managed to tell the girls to get into single file rather than forcing the St S's girls off the path :roll:.


I actually find this really believable - things that seem obvious do slip your mind when you're new to a job.

Alison H wrote:
BTW, does anyone else really want to know what was the mucky book Vera Smithers got caught "sullying her mind" with :lol:? I've always wondered that!


YES!

JayB wrote:
No shortage of possibilities - among the books published the year before Rivals are Lady Chatterley, Belle de Jour and The Well of Loneliness.

Although, if Lady Chatterley is as boring as the other DH Lawrence books I've read, it's hard to imagine Vera slogging through it for a few naughty scenes!


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 07 Feb 2017, 18:12 
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Loryat wrote:
Although, if Lady Chatterley is as boring as the other DH Lawrence books I've read, it's hard to imagine Vera slogging through it for a few naughty scenes!


Perhaps the book just fell open at the right places! That does seem to happen :wink:


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 07 Feb 2017, 18:26 
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And surely Con Stewart, however new she was to her job, should have managed to tell the girls to get into single file rather than forcing the St S's girls off the path

I think Margia was partly at fault there. She was Head of the Middles, shouldn't she have said something to Miss Stewart? Mary Lou, the only other girl ever to have been Head of the Middles that I recall, would have been telling the girls to fall into single file herself.

The Saints might still have got their feet wet, but at least they wouldn't have had a grievance against the CS.

I do think the feud would have been less likely to get off the ground if either Madge or Hilda had been Head. I think Madge would have been more likely to try a personal approach to Miss Browne, and either of them might have told their girls fairly sharply that whatever the Saints might do, they were expected to uphold certain standards of behaviour.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 08 Feb 2017, 05:03 
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The letter was anonymous, and he, thinking it to be a poor joke on the part of some of her former school-fellows, sent it back to Mrs. Russell, reminding her that such a thing, had it fallen into other hands than his own, might have brought great discredit on the school.


I never really understood this part. Is the king saying that had other people read the letter they would not sent their daughters to the school? Was there such a massive influx of Belsornian girls going to the Chalet School after the princess went there that it would matter so much?

It just sounds like making a massive mountain out of a molehill.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 08 Feb 2017, 14:51 
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I figure it meant that if people knew that a CS girl was so dishonourable as to be writing anonymous letters to stir up trouble, the school's reputation would be damaged and no one would want to send their daughters there (or would withdraw their daughters to keep them away from bad influences).

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 08 Feb 2017, 15:09 
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Considering how much Madge's early success was due to word of mouth recommendations, I think it was something she needed to worry about.

And it wouldn't just be Belsornians - wasn't the doctor who initially recommended the Chalet School for Elisaveta English?

I expect King Carol was fairly p'ed off as well, thinking that someone at the CS was abusing the friendship that had been allowed to develop between Veta and the CS girls, and he and Veta were being dragged into some unpleasant schoolgirl row.

There's no particular sign of Robin's super-delicacy in this book, is there? There's concern about her turning up at St Scholastica's without permission, and about her having got cold on the way, but no more so than there would be for any other girl. And she's not noticeably traumatised by seeing Joey on her near-deathbed. Yet next term Joey being delayed by a snowstorm is enough almost to send her into a terminal decline!


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 08 Feb 2017, 16:27 
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Rivals is one of my least favourite books, and analysing why, I realised that not only do I dislike the characters of Elaine and Vera, but I dislike their names - a silly thing to influence one, I know, but there it is. But I have to say that I absolutely love the scene of Robin singing Jo back to life, unlike the rest of you! I must be more sentimental than I thought....


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 08 Feb 2017, 21:50 
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Liked this book when I was younger and read it a number of times. I thought it was a good story. I didn't pick up any of the more subtle points though. I did like the reaction of Dick to Joey's illness and didn't see anything wrong with Robin singing Joey back to life. Exactly what would have happened my younger self thought!


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 09 Feb 2017, 00:47 
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jennifer wrote:
I figure it meant that if people knew that a CS girl was so dishonourable as to be writing anonymous letters to stir up trouble, the school's reputation would be damaged and no one would want to send their daughters there (or would withdraw their daughters to keep them away from bad influences).


Thanks for explaining. I guess a small private school would be more open to those type of problems.

Quote:
The Middles prank the Seniors by sewing up and hiding sundry belongings, and the Quartette get revenge by powdering cornflour in the hair of several Middles, tying together the bedclothes of some of the others, and putting powder in their baths to make the water fizz


OK, it's downright silly what they did, but how come the sub prefects don't get punished for this other than having to wash another girl's hair? Madge does point out that they are meant to set an example but other than public embarrassment, nothing happens to them.

Cheers,
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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 09 Feb 2017, 14:22 
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LucyP wrote:
Rivals is one of my least favourite books, and analysing why, I realised that not only do I dislike the characters of Elaine and Vera, but I dislike their names - a silly thing to influence one, I know, but there it is. But I have to say that I absolutely love the scene of Robin singing Jo back to life, unlike the rest of you! I must be more sentimental than I thought....


No, I love it too! The melodrama is excellent :D


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 09 Feb 2017, 15:07 
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Another thing that puzzles me. We're told that Vera Smithers is a snob who "adores" Elaine because she is the daughter of a baronet, and wants to make friends with Marie and Joey because Marie is the daughter of a count and Joey knows "heaps of nice people". Marie, fair enough, but who are all these "nice people" - which by Vera's definition would be well-connected people, preferably with titles - whom Joey's supposed to know? There's Elisaveta, but nearly all the CS girls know her, and she's one person, not "heaps". Does Joey have a load of aristocratic friends back in Cornwall whom we're never told about?

Or, as I suspect, did EBD just have to shoehorn Joey in there because she couldn't bear to suggest that anyone was more interested in Marie (or any other character) than in Joey :banghead:?

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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 10 Feb 2017, 00:49 
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Alison H wrote:
Another thing that puzzles me. We're told that Vera Smithers is a snob who "adores" Elaine because she is the daughter of a baronet, and wants to make friends with Marie and Joey because Marie is the daughter of a count and Joey knows "heaps of nice people". Marie, fair enough, but who are all these "nice people" - which by Vera's definition would be well-connected people, preferably with titles - whom Joey's supposed to know? There's Elisaveta, but nearly all the CS girls know her, and she's one person, not "heaps". Does Joey have a load of aristocratic friends back in Cornwall whom we're never told about?

Or, as I suspect, did EBD just have to shoehorn Joey in there because she couldn't bear to suggest that anyone was more interested in Marie (or any other character) than in Joey :banghead:?


I took this as an example of Joey's "charm" rather than her aristocratic connections. In practice, Joey probably did know all the people of importance in the local area (whoever they might be). There's certainly suggestions in the books (for example, Jem knows the British Consul happens to be visiting the area in "Exile") that holiday visitors to the area were likely to include British visitors who made contact (in whatever way) with the small British community in the area (Joey meets the O'Hara family, for instance). People who could afford to travel abroad weren't likely to be working class and were likely to be "connected".


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 10 Feb 2017, 04:37 
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I love how even nowadays the term "nice" is used to mean "well connected" when frequently the well connected people are anything but nice.

Would Jo even have known of the existence of the O'Haras or the British Consul or other such outside people at the age of 15/16?

I took it to mean purely that she knew all the "nice" people in relation to the school and was best friends with Elisaveta. In effect Marie, Paula and some of the other Austrian girls probably knew far more "nice" people. ☺


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 10 Feb 2017, 14:32 
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I suppose Jo knows the most 'nice people' out of the British girls - she is related by marriage to Jem, which was probably a bit of a catch, and at that point isn't she still going to be Elisaveta's lady in waiting?

ETA - the thing that annoys me is that Vera's a snob, and clearly nouveau riche. Because the 'real' rich aren't snobs, of course.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 10 Feb 2017, 20:18 
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Loryat wrote:
ETA - the thing that annoys me is that Vera's a snob, and clearly nouveau riche. Because the 'real' rich aren't snobs, of course.


Nouveaux riches are a very great deal more likely to be snobbish than those whose wealth is inherited! Although that's a totally sweeping statement, too! Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of truth in it.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: The Rivals of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 10 Feb 2017, 20:51 
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I still don't get why Joey was supposed to appeal to her. But I think EBD was keen to have Joey involved in everything. I'd have liked to see someone else get the dramatic storyline for once. Not that I wish a near-fatal illness on Marie or Frieda or Simone or anyone else :lol:, but how many times does Joey nearly die in the first few books?

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