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 Post subject: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 27 Mar 2018, 11:05 
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Over the last year or so we have, courtesy of Aquabird, been led through discussions of each of the books in the CS series in turn. Thank you so much for all your hard work, Aquabird! This thread now wants to look at the series as a whole.

A separate thread has recently been started on religion in the series, so please keep religious matters out of this one, and discuss them there.

Religion aside, therefore, please use this thread to bring out anything that the series as a whole seems to show...several aspects that seem to bring themselves forward for discussion are:

    The development of the school from a small 7-pupil affair to an internationally recognised two- or even 3-centre establishment, if you count St Mildred's.
    The view of events from both sides - ie staff and girls, which was unusual in school stories of the era
    Moral codes - as distinct from religion per se - eg Eustacia not understanding sneaking, or Tom's views on 'gentlemanly' behaviour
    Opinions on family values ... and perhaps 'Family' - as in MBR - values
    Romance and courtship
    Career choices, and what was envisaged for girls once they were done with school
    Internationalism
    Trilingualism

I'm sure you can pick out other themes; no doubt I have missed something glaring! But this should start you off,

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Last edited by abbeybufo on 27 Mar 2018, 11:20, edited 2 times in total.
adding suggestions to list


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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 27 Mar 2018, 11:16 
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An excellent selection Ruth but I should like to add one more, mainly because I think it has had a profound influence on me right through my life, leading to various career choices, amongst other things, and I don't think it quite fits under any of those headings.

As the child of immigrant parents, who fled from Hitler and all his works, the tolerance and internationalism, for want of a better word, that shines through all the early books, and in fact is to be found even into Switzerland, provided a huge part of the magic of the Chalet School series, and is why I keep reading them until today.

Sadly that acceptance of "difference" does slip away later in the series but it was the earlier books that I was reading in my very formative years and "Exile" remains a key book in my life although I may only have dimly understood its importance when I first read it.

And that aside - any series that also brings in foreign languages in abundance, is balm to my soul!

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 27 Mar 2018, 11:23 
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Have added Internationalism and Trilingualism to the list - but the list is meant as a spur, it isn't restrictive; other than keeping religion to the thread already started - do, everyone, feel free to start a discussion on any aspect that you think is relevant to the whole series.

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 27 Mar 2018, 18:28 
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I mentioned this in the Prefects thread, but the most noticeable thing that struck me on doing a full series read-through (this is the first time I've done one), was how Jack Lambert seems to fade out in the last six or seven books. She's basically the main focus from Leader right through to Jane, and then suddenly she starts taking a back seat to one book wonders Copper, Adrienne, Erica, Jocelyn, Evelyn, the two Sams and Althea. Was there a poor reception to Jane when it came out that caused EBD to sit back and reconsider her overall approach? Did she feel that Jack specifically wasn't working out as a main character? Did she just suddenly have a burst of inspiration for new girls that didn't fit with Jack in the narrative? I'm intrigued. :)

I also found Jo a lot less annoying as a Senior than usual, so she must be growing on me. She's always struck me as tetchy and irritable from about Eustacia until Jo Returns, where I start liking her again, but she didn't seem so bad this time around. Her obsession with the Robin remains irritating, though.

My overall impression of the series remains more or less the same: the books are great (with one or two exceptions) up until Theodora, after which there's a noticeable drop in quality and, apart from the odd moment, the series never really recovers. Mary-Lou was such a strong character that nobody was able to satisfactorily fill the void she left, and the constant focus from that point onwards on the Maynards and what a super awesome family unit they are starts annoying me, especially as there's no Madge and Jem around to balance them out. The stories get increasingly sillier and more repetitive, plotlines evaporate into thin air, and there's a definite going-through-the-motions vibe about the last handful of entries. But considering EBD had churned out 50+ books about the same universe by that point, often to the tune of two or three a year, it's unsurprising that she'd run out of steam eventually - in fact I think it's impressive that the series remains so good for as long as it does. IMO she starts out a strong writer who doesn't even hit her peak until a dozen or so books in (Exile), and then her peak period lasts right through the war and only starts declining a little after Three Go, before the big drop after Theodora.

I'd actually quite like to make a graph charting this rise and fall in quality now. What has this project done to me?! :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 27 Mar 2018, 19:11 
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Throughout the first half of the series, there are "reboots". OK, the first one was forced on EBD by the Anschluss, but, much as most of us love the Tyrol era books, I think it probably did the series good. Then there was the gap between Rosalie and Three Go - again, possibly due to external circumstances, with the need to leave the war years behind - and the move to St Briavel's in the following book. Then there was the move to Switzerland, and, at the same time, the move to having a book for every single term, plus some books in the holidays.

Even then, I think the books are quite good as far as Theodora, but there's a definite drop in quality after that. I wonder if some sort of reboot could have helped. I don't know how she could have justified yet another move, but maybe missing a few terms could have helped. Or bringing Madge and Jem back. Jack first appears when she's 10: so does Mary-Lou, but she doesn't really take over until she's about 14, and, when she's Head Girl, the focus is as much on the triplets as it is on her. If Jack had stayed at the centre of things until she was 18, that would have been over 20 books. Ugh!! Maybe EBD intended for her to take centre stage again a bit later on?

I also think that there's far more focus on individual characters in the later books - first Mary-Lou, then Len, then Jack. Yes, Jo is the main character early on, but people like Grizel, Gisela, Frieda and the Quintette play far more of a part than people like Vi and Lesley do.

And finally :lol:, I can't think of any other series where real life barges into a fictional world in the way that the war barges into Chalet School land.

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 27 Mar 2018, 21:55 
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For comparison, excluding family holiday books, we have 11 books with Joey as a student, 20 with Mary-Lou as a student, and 30 with the triplets. No wonder I get bored of triplet story-lines.

In addition to the quality, there's also a gradual trend in increasing conservatism. The Chalet school in Tyrol is in many ways very progressive, and very open and flexible - it's strongly integrated into the community, local girls attend, the students go shopping and visit friends and listen to local music and hang out by the lake. Old girls live in the neighbourhood and stop by for visits. The international/ecumenical aspects are very progressive, and the attitude regarding Austrian/Germans vs Nazis incredibly nuanced for children's literature of the time,
while the attitude towards Gypsies (Roma) is progressive even by modern standards.

By the end of the series, the school is very isolated, physically and mentally. The students are kept very much to school property, except on official, supervised walks. There is no integration with the community - no local students, even their charitable work is directed at the Tyrol. We don't even see them go shopping. And Joey is making snarky judgemental comments about dirty beatniks on the train.

Even romance - compare Jem's engagement to Madge, where he cheerfully takes on Joey and the Robin, and is fine with Madge continuing to manage the school, and even Joey and Jack's years of friendship before engagement (and Joey's writing), with Reg's determination to lock Len in to an engagement as soon as possible (or Neil's offer to take care of Grizel). Or religion - compare Joey's easy switching between Catholic and Protestant services with Mary-Lou's bafflement at meeting someone non religious (and need to convert them).

Other things ossify as well. The series covers about 30 years in story space and 47 years in writing, and at the end girls are still putting their hair up when they turn eighteen (in earphones, no less!), and going from 'not talking about boys' (or dating) to engaged in one step.

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 28 Mar 2018, 19:57 
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The way EBD brings in interesting characters; gives them a book to themselves and then they disappear. I know this has been discussed before, but Elisaveta is probably my favourite character, but yet you never hear much more about her except for snippets in the Swiss books. Did she move to Switzerland in the end?

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 28 Mar 2018, 20:26 
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I think Elisaveta and her children did eventually live in Switzerland. She must surely be one of the characters who developed most during the course of the series - from the very sheltered princess to a woman able to bring up a family and stand on her own feet.

I would most like to have known what happened to Heather in the La Rochelle books as well as knowing who David Russell and Rix Bettany married (this was EBD's world so they would have married!). I have a feeling she maybe had Mary Lou and Vi Lucy lined up for them but I don't think this was the right route for ML.

Turning to Jack is it possible that she was sidelined because EBD no longer had the energy or writing skills to develop another main character? Even Len was never developed in the same way as Joey and Mary Lou. She was a passive character who remained unchanged.

EBD was at the top of her writing game with schoolgirl Joey and even the young Mrs Maynard. ML was such a stong character she could have written herself - maybe the reason she escaped the Platz. If this was the case what a drop it must have been for EBD when she had to develop characters who did not develop themselves.

It could have been as others are saying she had realised how nasty Jack was. The EBD of old might have been able to change her (although she never managed to change Margot) but EBD nearing the end of her life might just have found it easier to leave Jack alone and concentrate on skimming the surface with a stream of new characters.

Regarding the hair up, I do know a couple of girls who did this in the late 1960s but EBD was just not moving with the times. Was it Helen Dore Boylston who got in a young adviser to help her with young people's chat?


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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 28 Mar 2018, 20:41 
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Elisaveta moved to Arosa, a ski-ing area in the Graubünden (which EBD calls the Grisons, its French name). She had a very sweet chat with Jack Maynard in which she talked about her concerns over bringing up boys without a father's influence, and Jack reassured her that she was doing a brilliant job, and he suggested she move to the Platz but she never did. Probably for the best - it sounded like a very boring place to live!

What makes the later books seem out of touch to me isn't just the hair etc, it's the way everyone walks into university or other training courses without doing any exams! OK, I don't want descriptions of exam questions, but Enid Blyton finds plenty of exam storylines, e.g. Alicia being ill in the middle of the School Certificate exams, and even Lorna Hill mentions that Fiona did better in her exams than Veronica did. It gets beyond silly when Jack asks Roger Richardson if he's "put his name down" for university! It was more realistic in the British years, when Miss Bubb was fussing about trying to boost results. Everything seems so detached in the Swiss years, along with the lack of locals at the school and links with the local community: it's like they're in a little bubble of their own. In Tyrol, they're very much part of the world around them.

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 29 Mar 2018, 03:56 
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The problem with the university stuff is that by the end the CS is a school that emphasizes health and a well balanced life, with study hours strictly limited, *and* a fully trilingual immersion experience, *and* a school that does public exams, performs well, and has a 100% success rate of students getting into their preferred school or training program. That just doesn't work. If exam results and Oxford acceptances are the priority, hard study is going to be needed and some students will still fail. If the emphasis is on health and balance, high exam results and Oxford aren't going to be on the schedule for most students. And the trilingual part will result in most students falling behind, at least for a year or two and possibly permanently, unless they start the school at a young age.

One theme that goes through the series is families that are often non-nuclear, flexible and generally very welcoming. There's the Bettany siblings to start, Mlle Lepattre educating her relatives, Madge taking in Robin and Juliet, and later the Bettany and Venables kids. The school adopts Biddy, Ernest Howell looks asks the school to care for Gwensi, Joey takes in the MacDonald twins, the Lamberts take in Jacynth. The Trelawnys, Careys and Barrasses form a family unit, which is later absorbed into the Maynards. Nina is taken in by distant relatives who do their best by her. Cornelia Flower takes in the Pertwees. The Gardiners, de Chaumontels and Everetts form a household at the Platz. The Maynards take in the Richardsons, Erica, Marie-Claire and Adrienne. And there's the parade of aunts and the occasional grandparents looking after girls when their parents are abroad, sometimes for years on end.

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 29 Mar 2018, 06:02 
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In all of the CS years, the only student who I can remember wanting to study out of hours (apart from the young ML helped by Clem) is Betsy who as head girl was wanting to study on a Saturday afternoon just before exams. This is maybe not realistic either because there would have been girls desperate to do well, not for any great reason but just to get the prizes.

It seems that EBD was being pulled two ways over this - to have academically successful pupils but without any real effort.

Would her original readers have cared though that EBD was not going about exams/universities the right way? I never even noticed and I was only a bit younger than the triplets at the time of the last book.

I read the CS series because - for most of the time - it was cosy with glamorous settings where good generally triumphed over evil. I could not have cared less if EBD did not have it right about unis.

I read the series to get away from reality; not because it was reality.


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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 04 Apr 2018, 21:23 
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Quote:
the most noticeable thing that struck me on doing a full series read-through was how Jack Lambert seems to fade out in the last six or seven books.

I noticed that about Jack for the first time in this read-through, too. I think there were signs in the last couple of books that EBD was intending to bring her back with a kind of makeover, with the explanation that she was now a senior and thus had matured. But I think once you take a way the unlikeable parts of her character, there's nothing left that's particularly interesting.

The point about families is an interesting one. EBD's own family was far from conventional; I wonder how much she was influenced by that in her writing. Absent fathers, long lost relatives, newly discovered families are popular themes in fiction of course, but they had particular resonance for EBD.

Then she goes to the other extreme with the Maynards, which is perhaps the fantasy family she'd have liked to have.

The older sister-younger sister dynamic is one she kept returning to - Jean and Oonagh in Jean of Storms, the Temple sisters, Madge and Jo, Jo and Robin.

ETA: Perhaps David Russell could have married Natalie Mensch, as Jo suggested way back when they were babies? (It occurred to me the other day that Gisela could have been a grandmother by the end of the series. As could some of the other girls who married young - any of them who had a daughter born before the Anschluss, in fact.)


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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 04 Apr 2018, 22:16 
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I'd like to have seen Madge and Jem with a grandchild, as a much nicer way of rounding off the series than pushing Len into an engagement. CS girls usually produce babies after a year or so of marriage. I was going to say that EBD just didn't like Sybil, but there was no mention of Bride or Primula having children either, or any mention at all of Josette's wedding, so maybe she'd just given up on keeping up with them all. I still think it would have been a better way of rounding things off, though!

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 04 Apr 2018, 23:01 
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I could see Bride not being in a hurry to start a family, but wanting to have some time to enjoy married life first. But then she said it would be a good while before she and her fiance could get married, so perhaps by that time she would be ready to have children.

Primula I think would be more likely to have children fairly quickly. She's not career minded, and a family and a home is what she wants. And isn't it suggested that her in-laws are reasonably financially secure? So there won't be any money worries.


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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 05 Apr 2018, 04:45 
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I imagine it got hard to keep up with old-girl updates as EBD got older, and the series got longer. For Daisy we see the wedding, and get kid updates, for Peggy we hear of the wedding, and get some kid updates (we don't get the name of her second child). For Primula and Bride we get names and occupations of their fiances, but for Josette and Sybil we don't eve get that!

It's a shame, because I really like those who is doing what asides during the series.

For Jack, I agree that she was starting to come back as a mature senior - we see bits of that when she's approached by Jocelyn in Prefects. But there'd have to be fairly major personality change. Mischievous and impulsive could be matured out of, vindictive and jealous is a lot harder. EJO does something similar when she removes the Marchwood twins from the continent for several years, and is able to return them as relatively normal girls, rather than the willful monsters they had been before.

One thing I miss in the later part of the series is the sense of connectedness of the early books. In the Tyrol days we have the Bettany trio and their various family members, plus the local girls whose families intermarry and are related in various ways. In England we still have some of that, plus the La Rochelle gang, and the add-ins from various other tie-ins books, and later the Trelawnys, Careys and Barrases. It gives a feeling of community, and with the students having lives that are connected outside of the school grounds.

But the clan slowly drops out of sight. The Bettany family is left back in England, Robin is shipped to Canada. The Russells are eventually shipped off to Australia. The La Rochelle girls age out of the school. And there isn't anything much to replace them, except Joey and her ever increasing family. We don't even see very many sets of sisters at the school, compared to earlier days.

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 05 Apr 2018, 08:10 
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There aren't even many "friends from home". I like the fact that Ricki Fry's old friend Sue Mason joins her at the school, but that's unusual. In Lorna Hill and Enid Blyton books, friends from home, and cousins, usually go to the same boarding school, which seems to make sense - assuming they'd be from similar financial backgrounds so money wouldn't be an issue. It's like when someone moves into Coronation Street or Albert Square or Emmerdale - they make friends with the existing characters and don't seem to have any friends from their previous existences :lol:.

A lot of old girls come back to teach, but we rarely see old friends Nancy and Hilary together, even though Hilary lives nearby, and I think EBD completely forgot that Peggy Burnett was Rosalie Dene's cousin.

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 05 Apr 2018, 16:11 
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jennifer wrote:
One thing I miss in the later part of the series is the sense of connectedness of the early books. In the Tyrol days we have the Bettany trio and their various family members, plus the local girls whose families intermarry and are related in various ways. In England we still have some of that, plus the La Rochelle gang, and the add-ins from various other tie-ins books, and later the Trelawnys, Careys and Barrases. It gives a feeling of community, and with the students having lives that are connected outside of the school grounds.

But the clan slowly drops out of sight. The Bettany family is left back in England, Robin is shipped to Canada. The Russells are eventually shipped off to Australia. The La Rochelle girls age out of the school. And there isn't anything much to replace them, except Joey and her ever increasing family. We don't even see very many sets of sisters at the school, compared to earlier days.


Perhaps that's why there are so many long-lost relative storylines toward the line? EBD is trying to bring in outsiders and strengthen a sense of community, and create plots for books.

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 05 Apr 2018, 16:34 
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I know I say this over and over, sorry :lol:, but I don't understand why she didn't make Ailie, Janice and Judy the central characters in the last few books. They're an existing gang, and the reader's known their parents and their siblings for their years :D. I suppose she tried to make a link by saying that Jack Lambert was Gay's niece, and having her being friends with Frieda's daughter, but they're never as well integrated into the CS world as the other three are.

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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 05 Apr 2018, 23:05 
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Alison H wrote:
I know I say this over and over, sorry :lol:, but I don't understand why she didn't make Ailie, Janice and Judy the central characters in the last few books. They're an existing gang, and the reader's known their parents and their siblings for their years :D. I suppose she tried to make a link by saying that Jack Lambert was Gay's niece, and having her being friends with Frieda's daughter, but they're never as well integrated into the CS world as the other three are.


This may be for the same reasons we see the reappearance of people who have been very minor characters in the early books (ie Winnie Silksworth and Irma Ancokzky).

If you use people with a lot of history, you have to make the history and the current story fit. If you use minor characters with little history, you don't have to be as careful.

So Jack has a minor connection to the CS but there's no need to remember a lot of history whereas Ailie/Janice/Judy have long personal AND family histories that would need to be taken into account.


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 Post subject: Re: The Chalet Series - an overview discussion
PostPosted: 05 Apr 2018, 23:23 
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Well, Ailie's age gets EBDed anyway!

With Mary Lou, EBD successfully introduced a completely new young character and built a strong group around her with a mix of girls from known families, such as Vi, and new characters, such as Doris Hill and Ruth Barnes. Then we followed them up through the school, with some members dropping out and some joining from time to time.

Similarly all the way back through the school's history, EBD wrote about groups of girls. One or other of a group might feature more strongly at one time or another, but they were all characters in their own right. Even Jo's Quartette - Jo was the heroine, and by far the strongest character, but Frieda, Simone and Marie all had their own distinctive personalities and were very far from being sheep.

With Jack, on the other hand, even though some of her gang, such as Wanda and Gretchen (who presumably have a family connection in some complicated way via Bernhilda and Kurt) do come from old School families, they are complete nonentities. (With apologies to Hilda for that horribly convoluted sentence.) None of them could carry a storyline on her own.


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