This one took ages
Anyway, this week's discussion thread is the twelfth book in the series, Jo Returns to the Chalet School,
first published in 1936. This book covers the winter term following Jo's departure from the CS as a pupil. Louise Redfield is now Head Girl, and sundry established characters such as Anne Seymour, Paula von Rothenfels, Margia Stevens and Elsie Carr have been made prefects. Jo comes down to visit the school and ends up remaining there most of the term when there is an outbreak of illness at Die Rosen, preventing her from returning. She decides to use the time to write her first book, as well as helping a new girl who arrives at the CS in unusual circumstances. This is also Mademoiselle Lepâttre's last term as headmistress, as a serious illness means she never returns to the school again.
At the beginning of term assembly, the girls are surprised and delighted when Jo pays them a visit to wish them a good term. Mademoiselle also posits the idea of the girls using their Hobbies time this term to make toys and clothes for the poor children of Vater Stefan's parish in Innsbruck.
Jo extends her stay at the school from overnight to a few days, with the result that she is still there when it emerges that Peggy and Rix, just arrived at the Sonnalpe from Ireland with their parents and siblings, have caught measles, and Die Rosen will have to be quarantined.
After arguing in vain with Madge to be allowed to return home, Jo agrees to stay at the CS for the duration of the quarantine. She settles down to writing her first proper book; a school story for Robin and Daisy. She names the heroine Malvina Featherstone, the best friend Flavia Meredith, and the villainess Rosetta Fernandez. With a working title of 'Malvina Wins Through', she sets to work.
Five days later, Jo has completed seven chapters, and has become a trial to live with as she becomes wrapped up in her writing, paying little attention to what is said to her, and losing both sleep and her appetite. At this point, Matey intervenes and demands to read what Jo has done so far.
After reading it, Matey trenchantly tells Jo that Malvina is a plaster saint and Rosetta too evil to be true, but that she can see Flavia and the head-girl as real characters. She advises Jo to keep her characters as real as possible, and that she should tear up the manuscript and begin again. She confiscates Jo's writing materials for the weekend and sends her out for a walk to the Post to get some fresh air. As she walks, Jo realises Matey is right, and resolves to only work in the mornings, and a little in the evenings, from now on.
When she arrives at the Post, Jo encounters an English girl of fourteen, who blandly informs her that she has run away from her elderly guardian and his sister at Garmisch and has come up to the Tiernsee on her own. Jo, knowing how worried they will be, orders her to send a cable to them at once, then takes her back to the school. On the way, the girl informs Jo that her full name is Hildegard Mariana Sophonisba Heriot, after her mother and great-aunts, but that she has called herself Polly since she was little.
When they arrive at the school, Mademoiselle, after dragging the full story from Polly, sends a cable of her own to the girl's guardians, and sends her off to St Clare's for the present until she has heard from them.
Polly's guardian, Mr Wilmot, arrives at the school two days later, and after an interview with Mademoiselle and a deeply penitent Polly, it is arranged that the latter will be enrolled at the CS.
Jo returns from a weekend staying with Frieda, and after hearing the latest news about Polly from Matey, she reads over her written chapters with a fresh eye and realises how bad they are. She takes them down to the incinerator and burns them.
The next day, she starts again with a new heroine, this time named Cecily, and sets the book at a day school. She bases the science mistress on Miss Wilson, and draws upon several pranks from previous Chalet annals, such as Evadne blowing up the science lab.
After a while, Jo makes the discovery that she has mixed up two of the prefects in her tale, and must rewrite either one early chapter or five later ones. Cursing herself for not making out lists at the beginning, she settles down to it, and finds it so fascinating that she does a roll for the whole school, including staff, and then put ticks next to the people who have appeared so far. [Oh, the irony!]
After rewriting the offending chapter, Jo hits a wall in terms of inspiration and goes down to Abendessen in a bad temper. After snapping at Corney Flower, she pays the staffroom a visit, where Miss Stewart advises her to give the book a rest for a day or two before going back to it. Jo takes her advice and decides to type up what she has done so far instead. By the time she has, the writer’s block has cleared and she goes ahead swimmingly until she has only two chapters to go.
Meanwhile, the staff discuss what to do about Polly, whose prior education was run on mid-Victorian lines and so she is, consequently, about fifty years behind the times in her work. Miss Annersley proposes that they get Jo to coach her in history, geography, essay-writing and German, as she will have to stay at the school for another month due to the fact that David and Bride have now begun with the measles in the last week of quarantine. Jo agrees to help.
With some qualms, Jo takes Polly for a lesson in history and German, and is relieved to find it goes well. At Mittagessen, Miss Denny presses her to take three other girls for German coaching three afternoons a week. When Jo rings up the Sonnalpe to tell Madge, she is informed that Rix, now over his measles, has been playing with a neighbouring boy over the fence and contracted whooping cough from him, meaning Jo will have to remain at the school for even longer. Resigned, she goes back to Cecily
and finishes it.
One evening at Hobbies, Polly, who has taken up painting, borrows a book of Herr Laubach’s to copy a design, not knowing that the girls are not allowed to touch it. She falls and crumples some of the pages while taking it back, and Herr Laubach catches her and Gillian Linton with it. After seeing her work and hearing about the Hobbies club, he goes to see the other girls at work, and asks Jo to cut some puzzles for his invalided wife. Jo agrees and also begins to visit her, and brings Jeanne le Cadoulec down to show her how to weave lace to sell.
Polly, inspired by the doings described in the many school stories she has read, spots the alarm bell which has been installed to rouse everyone in Briesau in the event of another flood or fire, and decides it would be a good joke to ring it in the middle of the night and cause some excitement, not knowing that it would rouse not only the school, but the whole valley.
The next day, Polly owns up, and is told by Mademoiselle and Jo how thoughtless and silly she has been, and how she has upset a good many people by having them turn out of bed in the middle of the night, including Stacie whose back has been hurting again. After Polly has been dealt with, Jo reads back over Cecily
and firmly removes any pranks that she feels might inspire young readers to try and copy them.
Mademoiselle and Miss Stewart fall ill at the same time, and Miss Annersley and Jo are forced to take on their classes between them. Dick and Mollie arrive to say goodbye to Jo, as they are returning to Indi, and are leaving Jackie behind at the Sonnalpe, as Mollie is pregnant again, due in April. They give Jo a typewriter as a birthday and Christmas gift.
During prep one evening, Alixe von Elsen sneaks outside during her piano practice to let off a balloon near the ventilator leading into the prep room, not knowing that Jo is taking the prep instead of Anne Seymour. Jo guesses what has happened and send Alixe off to Matron for the full wet feet treatment, and metes out repetition to Alixe’s partners in-crime.
Half-term approaches, and Mademoiselle, though up and about, is still far from well. Miss Stewart, still very ill with laryngitis, is resisting being sent home as she doesn’t want to put the extra pressure on the school with her absence. Jo, with some prompting from Madge, offers to stay for the rest of the term so that Miss Stewart can be sent home without any worries. Mademoiselle takes her up on it, and offers to have Robin down for half-term, to Jo’s delight.
Half-term arrives, and it begins to snow heavily. The staff invite the remaining girls at the school to a sheets and pillowcases party. Everyone joins in enthusiastically, although there is a minor upset when the Robin, dressed as an angel, finds the enamel on her halo has stuck to her hair and has to be cut out of it.
The next day the snow has stopped, and the girls and staff decide to build statues in the snow. That evening, after darkness has fallen, Jockel, who works on the school grounds, encounters them unexpectedly and receives a terrible fright, believing them to be devils. The girls rush to see, and Jo even runs right outside with no coat on, much to Miss Annersley’s horror.
Just as the girls return for the second half of the term, Mademoiselle collapses and is rushed up to the Sonnalpe for an emergency operation. The elder girls are told, and everyone sits up to wait for news. They are eventually told that the operation has been a success, but Mademoiselle is still very weak.
To cheer the girls up after their fright, Miss Annersley doles out the parts for the Christmas play. Meanwhile, Jo is finally allowed to visit Die Rosen, where she is shocked at the changes in her nieces and nephews, especially Peggy, who had been seriously ill for a few days. She recounts a tale to Madge about a Dommy Sci lesson where Joyce Linton had mixed up the saffron and sulphur tins, with disastrous results.
Several letters arrive for Jo while she is at the Sonnalpe, including from Marie, who is to be married after Christmas. The final letter she opens is from the publisher she has sent Cecily to, saying that they have accepted it. She vows to send the money to Vater Stefan for the poor children in his parish. The school, the Sonnalpe colony and Mr Lannis and Mr Flower also send gifts and money to help him.
The term ends with the Christmas play, which Vater Stefan attends, and Jo has the idea that they should also put on a performance after Christmas for the children in his parish, much to his joy.
So, what do you think of this term? Do you enjoy Jo’s attempts at writing her first book? What do you think of Polly and her escapades? This is the last term with Mademoiselle Lepâttre in the driving seat, what did you think of her dramatic exit? Post your thoughts below!