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 Post subject: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 18 Sep 2017, 22:32 
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This week’s discussion thread is Mary-Lou of the Chalet School, first published in 1956 and covering the winter term following Kenya. This book focuses on Mary-Lou Trelawney, now fifteen and in the Fifth form, and her dealings with troublesome new girl Jessica Wayne. Extreme weather causes a food shortage on the Platz, and a piece of disobedience from Emerence Hope almost ends in tragedy for Mary-Lou.

(Note: I only have this book in paperback, and according to the NCC website there are major cuts to it which I can see for myself in the text, so if I’ve missed anything important in the notable events below, please flag it up.)

Mary-Lou arrives back at school for the new term a week late, owing to the sudden illness and death of Gran. Having finished her unpacking, she heads down to the Senior common room and finds a new girl there, wearing a black frown. Mary-Lou attempts to talk to her, but aside from giving her name – Jessica Wayne – the new girl rebuffs her so hard that Mary-Lou gives it up.
The rest of the form arrives and welcomes Mary-Lou back, and when the bell for Kaffee rings, Jessica refuses to join them, despite Mary-Lou’s best efforts. Eventually she has to give it up and join the rest in the Speisesaal, where they inform her amongst other things that Betsy Lucy is the new Head Girl, with Katharine Gordon as Games Prefect. Mary-Lou notes there are less prefects than usual and wonders about it.
Jean Ackroyd, one of the new prefects, goes to fetch Jessica to the meal, but returns without her, furious. Towards the end of the meal, Matron brings in Jessica and demands she eat a full meal without any more fuss.
Up in the dormitory after Kaffee, Mary-Lou asks the rest why Jessica is being left alone, and they assure her that she has been in the same bad mood ever since joining them at Paris, and has rebuffed every effort they have made to try and include her. They also tell her that she is the new dormitory prefect for Cornflower.
At prep, Miss O’Ryan comes in to tell Mary-Lou that she is the form prefect, and later on Mary-Lou notices that Jessica has no idea what to do with her synthetic maps. She comes over to give her some help, and Jessica is able to go on with the work after ten minutes or so.
After Abendessen, the Gang and Mary-Lou exchange news, the biggest piece of which is that St Mildred’s has moved from Unter die Kiefern up to the Platz, to a chalet between the main school and the Elisehütte. The two establishments will now be sharing staff for subjects, which includes the return of Miss Wilson to the main school for science.
On her first Saturday back, Mary-Lou decides that, as she is now a Senior, she will swap her usual Kenwigses for a single pigtail, which makes her look more grownup. Her change of hairstyle starts an immediate craze in VB for others to do the same.
Jo appears to welcome Mary-Lou back and invite her over for the afternoon. When Mary-Lou turns up, Jo asks her to take on a charge: Jessica. She explains that Jessica’s mother was widowed early and remarried two years ago to a man who had a daughter of his own, Rosamund, who is unable to walk due to a spinal problem. Jessica’s mother had to devote some time to Rosamund, and Jessica had to go from a day girl to a weekly boarder at her school because the new house was too far away, and so on top of jealousy of Rosamund she feels unwanted at home. She has been sent to the CS on the recommendation of Katt Gordon’s Aunt Luce after her last school requested that she be removed because of her bad behaviour, and Jo is afraid that she will meet the same fate at the CS if someone doesn’t take her in hand. Mary-Lou reluctantly agrees, and Jo hints that one reason she can’t take on Jessica herself is because she is pregnant again.
The next day, Mary-Lou observes Jessica and wonders how she can get at her. She suddenly hits upon the similarity between Jessica and Rosamund and her own relationship with Verity, and decides to use it as a starting point. During the walk the next morning, she contrives to mention it during a conversation, and succeeds in getting Jessica’s attention. At Prayers, the Head announces that there will be an expedition to the Rhineland that weekend, but that any bad behaviour will result in the girl in question missing the trip.
Later that morning, VB has a singing lesson with Plato, who hands them a song with a difficult passage that the entire form stumbles over. He hauls them up to the front one by one and makes them sing the troublesome phrase, but when it is Jessica’s turn, she omits to tell him that she is tone deaf and sings the passage so poorly that he rages at her. She immediately rages back at him, and the Head walks in on them. When Jessica refuses to apologise for her rudeness, she is sent to the study, and Mary-Lou, spotting that she is nearly blinded by tears, asks to escort her, to which the Head agrees.
In the study, Jessica dissolves into a storm of tears and Mary-Lou comforts her. Jessica confides in her about her tone deafness, and when the Head arrives, she sends her off with Matey to lie down as she is worn out from her crying. Mary-Lou returns to the study after Mittagessen and explains to the Head what happened and that Jessica is tone deaf, and begs her not to exclude Jessica from the Rhineland trip. The Head agrees to take everything into consideration, but insists that Jessica must apologise to Plato in front of the whole form, much to Mary-Lou’s dismay.
Plato is summoned to receive Jessica’s apology in front of VB, who studiously look at their textbooks to try and not make it any worse for her. Jessica apologises, and is stunned when Plato in turn apologises for losing his temper.
The prefects hold a meeting to discuss what to do for their Saturday evening entertainment, but are at a loss for ideas. Sybil Russell enters with a batch of essays, and when applied to for information on parties that were held back in Tyrol, she suggests a sheets and pillowcases party. The prefects are delighted with the idea.
Matron agrees to supply the sheets and pillowcases for the party, and before going to the Head to ask permission the prefects work out the details. Betsy proposes that they ask if Sybil can join them as a hostess as thanks for helping them out, and everyone agrees.
A deputation is sent to the Head, and when they return they announce that the idea has been given the green light, and also that Sybil is one of three girls who will be promoted to sub prefect on the Monday. There had been five or six girls in the running of which she was one, and the Head had decided to wait a couple of weeks to see who fitted the bill best before choosing, accounting for the shortage of prefects Mary-Lou had noticed at the beginning of term.
After relating all this to the prefects, Betsy goes to investigate a disturbance coming from the Middles’ common room, and is told by Maeve Bettany that she has just had a telegram announcing the birth of a seventh Bettany, Theresa Daphne.
The school heads off for the first part of their expedition to Zurich, before the Seniors and Senior Middles head on to Schaffhausen to see the Falls of Rhine.
The prefects hold their sheets and pillowcases party the following weekend, and Mary-Lou wins a prize for offering help to so many people that her own costume is very much pushed to the background. The next day, she resolves to tackle Jessica properly.
On a ramble to the Auberge, Mary-Lou gets Jessica alone and tells her all about the fate of the Murray-Cameron expedition (see Three Go) and how her mother and Verity’s father met and got married. Jessica in turn tells of her own situation, and Mary-Lou points out that she is being silly for thinking that she is being pushed away, when Rosamund is tied to her bed or invalid chair all day and will never get better. Jessica feels ashamed of her behaviour, and admits that she feels much better for having confided in someone.
November arrives with roaring winds and pouring rain, bringing down the telegraph poles and causing landslides on the railway line and the motor road and turning the mountain road into a torrent of water, imprisoning everyone on the Platz. Matron, following an interview with Karen in the kitchen, informs the staff that they are running low on certain supplies. The railway line remains cut off for ten days, by which point strict rationing has been imposed on the school and across the Platz.
Miss Annersley informs the prefects that, as Jo is ‘busy’ and Madge is preoccupied with moving from the Round House to a house nearer the San in Wales, there will be no Christmas play that year, with only a carol concert instead. The prefects are disappointed with this, until a delegation from St Mildred’s arrives to invite them to participate in the pantomime the following term instead, to everyone’s delight.
One morning Mary-Lou spots a notice on the noticeboard for a St Nicholas celebration that evening, causing great excitement among the girls. Jack Maynard dresses up as St Nicholas, with the staff as either angels or demons, and the girls are led off to their various Houses and chased by the demons. Mary-Lou escapes by climbing up onto a cupboard, but becomes stuck and has to be rescued after everyone else has returned to Hall. The evening ends with everyone receiving a small gift and a glorious Abendessen.
The snow begins, and everyone goes out for skiing and tobogganing. Miss O’Ryan warns the girls not to go right up to the top of the hill, as a pine has come down and been buried in the snow. Emerence is disgruntled on hearing this, as she wants to toboggan down from the very top. Margot pleads with her to let it go, but in vain.
Emerence waits until Miss O’Ryan is distracted, then climbs right to the top of the hill. Margot follows, but resists Emerence’s taunts and chooses not to go down on the toboggan with her. Mary-Lou spots them at the top of the hill and begins to run towards them, shouting to them to come down at once. Emerence begins to toboggan down, but it catches on the hidden pine tree and launches her out, right into Mary-Lou who crashes in turn into a pine tree. When Vi and Biddy reach her, she is still, grey and to all appearances dead.
Mary-Lou lies unconscious for five days with concussion and a severely bruised spine, but finally rouses and ends any fear of delirium or serious damage to her back. Jo, who has been standing vigil in place of Mrs Carey who is ill with flu and can’t come out to Switzerland, is led off and dosed as she has been under great strain.
Having satisfied himself about Mary-Lou, Jack heads over to the school and first interviews Emerence, who has a broken collarbone and sprained ankle, and has cried herself into a fever over guilt at what happened. He reassures her about Mary-Lou and tells her to stop crying. He then goes to see Margot, and commends her for not giving in to her devil and getting on the toboggan with Emerence. She asks if she ought to stop being so pally with Emerence, but he tells her no, and that she ought to stand by her especially now that she’s in trouble.
Mary-Lou makes startling progress, and is soon allowed visitors. She asks for Barbara, Vi, Betsy and Katharine first. Barbara and Vi tell her about Emerence, and she asks Betsy to ask the Head if Emerence can visit her before term ends. The Head agrees, and Emerence is brought over the next day. Mary-Lou reassures her that she is going on all right and they can put the incident behind them, which spurs Emerence out of the last of her misery. Finally, Jessica comes to visit, and confides that she has already begun writing to Rosamund, and intends to really make amends when she goes home for the holidays.

So, thoughts on this winter term entry? What do you think of Jessica, and Jo’s idea of setting Mary-Lou onto her? Thoughts on the Great Famine and St Nicholas subplots? What about the tobogganing accident and its aftermath?

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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 19 Sep 2017, 01:17 
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Overall, I think this is a great book with lots packed into it. It must be one if the best of the Swiss books and it was one of my favourites of the whole series when I used to read it when young.

Jo put quite a lot onto ML's shoulders asking her to sort Jessica out. Not sure if confidentiality could have been breached.

I feel so sorry for Jessica. The worst thing her mother could have done was send her to boarding school and so make her feel really rejected.

I have got to say ML was just 'wow' in this book . I don't care if she is OTT bossy, she just cares so much. After the accident she so obviously is suffering and terrified but she doesn't show it. She deals with Emerence so kindly too and I like how Jack also deals with Emerence and Margot.

Loved the bit about the hairstyles and also the effect ML's accident had on Vi, Hilary and Lesley.
An excellent book.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 19 Sep 2017, 02:25 
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I'm not a great MaryLou fan but this isn't one of my favourites books as it was one of the first half dozen or so books I read along with Exile, Wrong and Jo at , so it was just too confusing! and that's stuck in my head .


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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 19 Sep 2017, 12:19 
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I think this is definitely one of the better books. Although the 'new girl with a bad history' trope gets very formulaic later in the series, Jessica's background and behaviour are interesting, and I like how Rosemary's illness is counterpointed by Mary-Lou's accident.

I really like the little details in this, like the craze for single plaits and ponytails that swept the class. It's exactly the sort of thing that happens with that age group - they're like sheep!

I did wonder if the school would have had freezers by then, so there would have been less issues about running short, and also why they weren't better prepared anyway. Even nowadays, poor weather can leave areas cut off - a friend lives near Kandersteg and they had dreadful floods in 2011 that took the road out, with the only way in or out by helicopter


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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 19 Sep 2017, 13:39 
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I like the start of the book - having Mary-Lou show up after classes have begun and getting caught up. It's a change from the usual start of term routines. And I like the hair subplot, as it seems very natural.

The Welsen re-organization sort of fizzles out and doesn't have much impact. I think EBD may have been figuring out how to bring it closer to the main school, story-wise, but the prominence of the finishing branch gradually gradually tapers off in spite of it.

This, I think, is the first book where Mary-Lou specifically has a problem girl dumped on her, and is told that she has to handle it because she's special and no-one else can. One one hand, the fact that Mary-Lou has a beloved step-sister gives her a way to approach Jessica. However, Joey telling Jessica's life story in all its gory details to her classmate is ethically kind of dodgy, and it also is part of the "Mary-Lou is special and can do/get-away with things others can't" situation.

It's nice to see Margot fighting with her 'devil' and winning for once, but I feel so sorry for her when she's left for five days without a single parental visit afterwards.

I do wonder about some of the adults in this book, though. Joey spilling Jessica's life story to Mary-Lou, Jessica's mother and stepfather exiling her to a boarding school in another country, and Mr Denny losing it over out of tune singing.

For Jessica's family, it strikes me as a situation where a little bit of understanding would have gone a long way. Maybe let her do the longer commute to school and see if she can manage it, and give her some special time alone with her mother. She goes from being the centre of her mother's world to, from her perspective, a distant third, with everyone else's needs being more important. They move to a new home, she's sent away during the week, and her mother is busy taking care of her new daughter. It's not surprising she reacts badly.

And Mr Denny has been teaching choir at the school for about 20 years at this point - he should be aware that some people can't carry a tune, and not single out a new student for humiliation in front of the class.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 19 Sep 2017, 13:53 
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That music lesson is my idea of utter hell. Aural tests for the ABRSM exams when I learnt the flute were humiliating enough, but being dragged up to the front amd made to sing in front of the whole.class with the teacher raging at me is the stuff of nightmares.

I quite like this book, there's a lot of stuff in it with the Jessica plot, the Great Famine, the Rhineland trip, St Nicholas evening, and the accident. Mary-Lou is very bossy but she does mean well, and I like how she is determined no new girl should be left out in the cold. I feel sorry for her when Jo guilt-trips her into taking on Jessica - why was that bit necessary? Mary-Lou's the kind of girl who'd have sorted her out off her own bat anyway, there was no need to bring Jo into it.

I did like the prefects giving Sybil due recognition for saving their Evening, but those chapters seemed to be particularly hacked in my PB, so not sure how much of the detail I missed.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 20 Sep 2017, 02:54 
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Couple of issues with this book:

Joey apparently gets her information about Jessica's background from Katherine Gordon's Aunt Luce. But when does Joey even MEET Aunt Luce? In Wrong when the whole mess with Katherine goes down, she's in Canada. She doesn't return for at least a year, and then it's straight to Switzerland.

So did Aunt Luce pay a visit to the school in Switzerland (which might be possible as she seems to love travelling round looking for good pubs :-) ) and become very intimate good friends with Joey within that time?

And she must be good enough friends with Joey to pass on the entire family background including the information she thinks Jessica's mother married Mr Sefton because she felt sorry for Rosamund.

I know it's a plot device because if Aunt Luce told the school then the 'school' would not tell ML. And she needed a way to get ML into the picture and understand why Jessica is the way she is. But how about the long lost aunts and cousins in England writing to Joey instead?

And the whole sisters by marriage thing is absurd. Because EBD made such a big deal of it with ML and Verity, she has to keep it up with Jessica. But in later books Jessica refers to Rosamund as her 'sister' so clearly some editor along the line just gave up and mentally screamed "they are sisters!" :D

And the "look at the apostles" lecture ML delivers is cringey. It's the sort of thing the well meaning Sunday School teacher tells children and you grimace-smile and hope it's over soon. Would two teenagers really talk about stuff like that?

And why oh why doesn't Doris visit her own daughter after she recovers from the flu? ML is knocked out and thinks for a few horrible days that she is paralysed and her own mother doesn't visit her. Weeks later and she still hasn't visited. Yes, EBD wanted to put Joey front and centre but it's very cruel to sideline the real mother so much and make it seem like she doesn't care.

But despite the above, I like this book. You can see the beginning of ML's ascension to CS sainthood but she's still fairly normal here and does some crazy stuff that gets her in trouble.

And she has a benign good influence over the rest of the school and her Gang. Which is occasionally sheeplike (everyone changed their hair? really?) but very realistic as well.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 20 Sep 2017, 08:19 
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This book is one of my favourites of the Swiss years, despite my coming to it relatively late on.

I love the fact that ML is so nonplussed about everything when she gats back to school late, and that the rest of the gang haven't been very MLish in her absence. And most of the sub plots work really well.

The one frustrating thing is that ML didn't need to know all of that backstory from Joey, she had already worked out that there was something wrong with Jessica, and she was already trying to do something about it. It would have worked better IMO for Jessica to provide all those details herself at somepoint a little bit further on in the story. Maybe in a step by step fashion, rather than one large info dump as Joey does. By hey ho! It doesn't impact my enjoyment of the book.

I'd like to think that Doris did vist ML as soon as she was medically fit to do so, EBD just didn't bother to tell us about it, as the story had moved on...


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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 20 Sep 2017, 18:15 
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Joyce wrote:

And the "look at the apostles" lecture ML delivers is cringey. It's the sort of thing the well meaning Sunday School teacher tells children and you grimace-smile and hope it's over soon. Would two teenagers really talk about stuff like that?
.


This was a bit OTT but EBD was a very religious person and I think she found it hard to separate her own religious views from those of her characters. Because Mary-Lou was one of the most favoured characters, she was always going to be "extra" religious as EBD saw this as a plus.

This book was written in the mid 1950s when EBD was 60 and living in a time when religion was part of life in a way it is not now. I was born at the end of 1953. My parents were not great Churchgoers but my mother said prayers with my sister and I each evening and we were sent to Sunday School each week for eight years. Some of the Sunday School teachers were...teenage girls!

EBD was still Protestant in the mid 1920s when she started writing the CS series. She changed to RC in the early 1930s which was a very unusual thing to do at that time. It's interesting that Joey and Jack were both originally Protestant but as EBD changes to RC so do they. Joey changes her religion to RC as EBD did but we are told later on that Jack was a "cradle Catholic". He wasn't. EBD obviously wanted Joey to be the same as herself religous wise.

I think it does say somewhere when ML talks about religion (could have been Trials if not here) that she did not like talking about private matters but wanted to get her point across. It was a different era.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 20 Sep 2017, 23:13 
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Mary-Lou says at the beginning of the book that Gran was looking forward to seeing Grandpa and Mary-Lou's father again, so I imagine religion was and its meaningfulness were on her mind quite a lot. It doesn't surprise me that it comes out with Jessica.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 21 Sep 2017, 01:27 
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Audrey25 wrote:
I think it does say somewhere when ML talks about religion (could have been Trials if not here) that she did not like talking about private matters but wanted to get her point across. It was a different era.


ML says she made a big effort (presumably to overcome her shyness) to make the comments to Jessica. And later in Trials, she does the same thing. And I think we are meant to admire the fact her desire to help has overcome her embarrassment at talking about these deeper issues.

But I wonder if it would have been better for ML to talk to Jessica about her own relationship wth Verity and Doris. That is the thing that really ties her to Jessica and gives her insight the other girls don't have.

I grew up in a very religious household and am used to associating with much older people constantly talking about their faith etc. My first Sunday School teacher (sadly decreased now) would have been the same era as EBD and very like her, but even she would stop short of 'look at what the apostles were like.'

Quote:
And Mr Denny has been teaching choir at the school for about 20 years at this point - he should be aware that some people can't carry a tune, and not single out a new student for humiliation in front of the class.


The male teachers at the CS are pretty useless though - the art teacher is forever losing it, chucking tantrums and reducing girls to tears.

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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 21 Sep 2017, 03:58 
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Yes, Joyce, the religion aspect does seem very intense. I wonder if EBD talked about it a lot in her own everyday life or has she only got ML doing this as part of the story?


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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 21 Sep 2017, 10:31 
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I think having ML constantly talking about religion is how EBD wanted girls to be - especially a favourite like ML. As noted she does the same with Naomi later, and there is her line 'I will lift up my eyes to the hills' in New Mistress. It seems more apparent in the later books, when EBD was not in contact with girls of this age. Jo does not do this in her schooldays.
I wish we could have had more info about the sheets and pillowcases party. Note that ML, like Jo gets the prize for being 'most helpful.'


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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 21 Sep 2017, 12:52 
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I have a vague feeling that someone, perhaps ML, also said the 'I will lift up my eyes to the hills' line in The CS and Barbara.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 21 Sep 2017, 12:55 
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I think you are right Terrygo it was Barbara


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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 21 Sep 2017, 17:37 
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EBD manages to convey Tom Gay's deep religious faith without any of the heavy handedness we get from Mary Lou. I really like Tom's suggestion that they all pray together for Julie when she has appendicitis and don't find that at all cringy.

I think this must have been among the first CS books I read, when I was still working out who everyone was. The Swiss setting and the expeditions were new to me, and reading again just now, I think EBD handles the Zurich-Schaffhausen trip well. The narrative moves along quite briskly, with everyone contributing her impressions, and EBD's descriptions of the Falls is attractive. The one time it all grinds to a halt is when Biddy chimes in with the history. She's supposed to have such a vivid way of describing things, but we never see much evidence of it.

I have sympathy for Jessica's situation, but I don't warm to her as a character, because we never really get to know anything else about her, other than that she can't sing. And Rosamund turns into Beth March eventually.

And what happened to the custom of always having a mistress sitting in on Mr Denny's lessons? They were still doing that in Three Go, weren't they? I suppose the answer is just that EBD wanted to write the scene in that way and she couldn't have if there'd been a mistress present from the start.


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 Post subject: Re: Books: Mary-Lou of the Chalet School
PostPosted: 21 Sep 2017, 23:49 
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I never figured out what could be a possible reason for Amanda books to rename the title from “Mary Lou of the Chalet School” to “Mary Lou at the Chalet School”.


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