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 Post subject: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 24 Jul 2018, 06:55 
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The Lost Staircase, published in 1946, is one of three books that features girls who later attend the Chalet School. In it, we have the story of Jesanne Gellibrand, the last of the Gellibrand family, who is summoned to the ancestral home, the Dragon House in Wales, by her relative, Sir Ambrose.

There's a whole ton of history of the Dragon house and its various owners which I've mostly left out of the summary.

We start with a history of the Dragon House, built during the reign of Henry VII, and the Gellibrand family which founded it, with particular attention to the Civil War. At the present time, the family is much depleted. Sir Ambrose is the current owner; his heirs and close relations have died for reasons including hunting accident, duel, killed in battle, grief, double pneumonia after getting wet, childbirth, influenza, falling tree, riding accident, drowning, and general frailty. He has finally given in to his lawyer's urging, and summoned his last heir home, a distant cousin in New Zealand. That cousin, however, has also died, leaving an orphaned daughter, cared for by her maternal aunt. Sir Ambrose sends for that heir, Jesanne, threatening legal action to claim the child to force her aunt to send her ward to England.

Fourteen year old Jesanne arrives at the Dragon House in the company of an Alsatian puppy, the gift the woman she had travelled with. She is already resentful of the man who tore her away from her home and aunt. She meets her imposing relative with determination, and they quickly clash when Sir Ambrose, disliking the name Jesanne, proposes to call her "Jessie", which she vigorously refuses. Sir Ambrose is determined to make Jesanne forget about her aunt and mother, and fully become a Gellibrand, but is impressed by her strength of will.

The next morning things go more smoothly. Jesanne gets a tour of the property, and some of the history. Sir Ambrose has hired a governess for Jesanne, which she really doesn't want, but he explains that there's not a good day school nearby, and convinces her to try it. Later that day, she gets a tour of the house itself, and hears of the Lost Staircase. The first staircase in the building was recorded in documents, but no-one knows where it was, or what happened to it.

Jesanne settles into her new home. She and Ambrose share a love of riding and dogs, which helps. They make plans for Jesanne to continue her 'cello lessons and Latin, both of which she enjoys, but she accepts that she can't do science with a governess.

The governess, Miss Mercier, arrives, and quickly tries to take control of the situation. She wants to sleep next to Jesanne, hates and fears dogs (and tries to banish the puppy to the kitchen), objects to Jesanne having dinner with Sir Ambrose, evening walks, morning rides, and hearty breakfasts, and demands early bed and evening needlework. Schoolwork is also a problem; Miss Mercier is used to teaching girls who were educated solely at home, and is not equipped to handle a girl who has been at a good school and educated by modern methods.

Sir Ambrose backs Jesanne on the major issues (Latin, 'cello, working hours, bedroom, dog), but Miss Mercier retaliates with petty persecution, trying to bend Jesanne to her will. This includes tactics like taking away her storybooks as punishment and not permitting her to do Latin until all other work is finished (and then trying to get Sir Ambrose to cancel the lessons claiming Jesanne is overworked). Sir Ambrose pushes back, and cancels German lessons. In addition, he arranges for the governess to stay in a cottage on the property, so she can be away from the dogs she fears.

Sir Ambrose gives Jesanne an allowance, to help her learn to manage money. He also tells her that the estate agent's niece, Lois Bennett will be coming to stay with her aunt and uncle while her parents are in Burma, and will share lessons with Jesanne.

Christmas vacation comes, and Jesanne is introduces to a series of Dragon House Christmas traditions and The Ritual. She is also given the family history (The Journall) to read. Jesanne misses her aunt and father particularly at Christmas. Christmas day involves presents, the most notable of which is a small cottage at the gates of the house, given to Jesanne for her own use.

Later that day, Lois arrives, feeling rather homesick, but she cheers up as the two girls explore the cottage, and try some baking, serving tea to Sir Ambrose. The day ends with distributing Christmas gifts to the servants. The next day, the girls enjoy the cottage and discuss the Lost Staircase, and plan to search for clues in The Journall. They find one; two pages appear to be glued together. Sir Ambrose makes arrangements to have an expert come and look at it. The pleasant holiday is interrupted when Sir Ambrose has a fall in town and breaks his leg. Jesanne is worried, but reassured by Lois's aunt and uncle, the Jennings. The adults, though, know that Ambrose is elderly and the accident could be a problem. He recovers well, however.

Lessons start back up, and go more smoothly; Lois is good company, and Miss Mercier is less annoying. Sir Ambrose tells them that the governess is going to be married that summer, to an old friend. They find an recently unstuck page that mentions the staircase, and they figure out that the staircase was outside the house. The girls are distracted the next day at lessons, and are even more excited when the kitten, Tommy, manages to fall into the ivy on the wall of the house. Jesanne climbs down to rescue him, but falls when Miss Mercier calls her. She is injured, but alive, and the cat manages to fall into the remnants of the old staircase.

In the meantime, the get the results from the stuck pages, which contain more about the staircase and family history. They send men in to the staircase to explore, and find various interesting items, including treasures hidden during the civil war.

The book ends with Jesanne's aunt Anne arriving to stay with them, to Jesanne's delight.

----

In the CS: Jesanne and Lois join the Chalet school about three years later, after Sir Ambrose's death. The Dragon House is given to the National Trust, with the provision that Jesanne and her heirs be allowed to live there. After two terms at the CS, the girls leave to go to New Zealand to deal with issues regarding Jesanne's father's property, and are not mentioned again.

-----

Did anyone else feel like they had wandered into an EJO book while reading this? Other than that, what do you think of Jesanne and Sir Ambrose's relationship? Do you think it reasonable for Jesanne to have settled into life at the Dragon House so quickly? And did you enjoy the digressions into family history and Rituals, or find them confusing and/or tedious?

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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 24 Jul 2018, 20:31 
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I do always enjoy this book, which i always think of as approaching Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse - yes, it's fantasy, it's romantic, it's quite unrealistic (the body count is EMBD at her most ruthless, frankly), but it's a wonderfully escapist read, and I wish I'd had a copy of it as a child.

I can't say I much like Miss Mercier, who is something of a petty tyrant, but I do feel a bit sorry for her about the dogs!


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 26 Jul 2018, 06:26 
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I enjoyed this one. To me it certainly feels like it’s set in a much earlier time than it’s actually supposed to be which is a definite positive for me as I love old stuff (hence the early CS are my favourites!) :D

Would it have been realistic to have brought a teenage girl halfway around the world because she was the long lost heir to a fortune?

It’s a shame that we don’t hear of Jeanne and Lois after they leave the CS. I’d like to think of them settled in NZ with Dragon House perhaps left to the National Trust


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 30 Jul 2018, 04:39 
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I like Jesanne and Lois a lot, and wish we had seen more of them in the main series. Jesanne in particular is a nice combination of a strong will and a reasonable temperament.

I do think that Jesanne and Sir Ambrose's friendship came about surprisingly quickly. He threatened legal action, ripped her away from her home and the only relative she knew, then, on first meeting her, told her he hated her name and tried to rename her, and then stuck her with an unpleasant governess. And he was determined to make her forget about New Zealand and her life there to become fully Gellibrand. I think it would take more than a day or two and a history lecture for Jesanne to forgive him.

Of all the EBD I've read, this reminds me the most of an EJO book, with the secret passages, convoluted family history and weird rituals.

One thing I wonder about - would Jesanne really be able to turn the Dragon House over the the National Trust under the agreement that she and her heirs could continue to live there indefinitely? That seems like the best of both worlds. She gets out of the death duties and the cost of maintaining a large property, but without having to actually move.

Also, how likely was Sir Ambrose's legal threat? It's said that her father died without a will, but would Ambrose really be able to sue to take her away from her current home and guardian, based on the fact that she's a distant relative and he has a property to leave her?

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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 30 Jul 2018, 07:36 
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I quite enjoy this book, especially the Christmas rituals, but, yes, it does feel more EJO than EBD. I wonder if she ever considered going back and writing about the Gellibrands during the Civil War, or another historical period - she wrote Elizabeth the Gallant, and EJO and Antonia Forest both also wrote about their characters' ancestors.

I'm a member of the National Trust, and I think a lot of other CBB-ers probably are too :D , and I've certainly visited properties which still have private wings, or at least had private wings when the properties were first handed over. It does seem like a bit of a swizz, as Joey would say, from a tax viewpoint, but it's obviously allowed.

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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 31 Jul 2018, 17:09 
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It's not quite as 'all on the estate owner's side' as it sounds, though:
Quote:
During the 1930s many of the large country estates in Britain were fragmenting and being sold off. In the years of the great depression many families could not afford the upkeep of a large estate and the 'old fashioned' houses were often impractical to run without an army of staff. Inheritance tax (death duty) for the rich was at 40% and therefore many families were forced to sell off part of their estate to meet this bill. Concerns were raised that the stately homes and country houses with their formal gardens and landscaped grounds that were such a typical aspect of the British countryside would be lost. The National Trust responded by undertaking what was essentially a change in direction and began the acquisition of these country estates. It was enabled to do so by the National Trust Act 1937 (and further legislation) which meant that a family donating their property to the Trust did not have to pay death duties but under the NT Country Houses Scheme could continue to live in the property rent free for two generations and thereafter at a market rent. In return the property would be, in part at least, opened to the public. As mentioned above the NT would need to meet the substantial costs of upkeep for any property they took on in this way and hence have tended to be very selective, normally requiring properties to include an estate capable of generating a significant income or to come with a large endowment towards maintenance.
(National Trust website here.)
So living there free wouldn't extend beyond two generations and there's no guarantee that the Trust would accept the Dragon House, especially as it's so remote.

However, I do think this book is more or les a fantasy - it certainly has a number of unrealistic episodes - so no doubt the NT did accept it. Maybe Jesanne and Lois did get the careers they wanted, too, instead of having to look after the house...


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 31 Jul 2018, 19:57 
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I have had this book for a few years now but to my shame have never read it. The same for Monica Turns Up Trumps.

Regarding death duties etc didn't the Devonshires have quite a struggle to hold onto Chatsworth in the 1950s?

The original heir, Billy, died in 1944 and then his father, then the duke, died in 1950 and so the younger son, Andrew, inheritated taking on an enormous amount of death duties. Just another few months and it would have been okay.

The duke's death was quite unexpected as he was only 55. He was an alcoholic though; a disease from which Andrew also suffered.

Andrew's wife was Debbo Mitford and she also played a huge role in turning around Chatsworth. I think it was the 1970s before the last of the debts were paid and that after much land and paintings were sold.


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 31 Jul 2018, 21:23 
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Yes - they kept Chatsworth and Bolton Abbey, but handed Hardwick Hall over to the National Trust - one of my favourite NT estates :D .

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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 02 Aug 2018, 02:27 
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I have never been to Hardwick or Bolton Abbey but love Chatsworth. I think they still also have an estate in Ireland too - Lismore? Fred Astaire's sister, Adele, lived there for a while. She was married to the second son of one of the duke's. Maybe Debbo's uncle-in-law or he could have been the previous generation.


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 05 Aug 2018, 15:06 
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Debo did turn the state around, probably based on her passion for hens and other poultry, but it was Andrew who did all the deals with the government, and who turned the entire estate into a trust.

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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 05 Aug 2018, 22:06 
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I've not read this but big dogs, distant relatives living abroad, cellos, history and double pneumonia? Sounds like peak EBD.

ETA: has anyone read a book called Creed Country by Jenny Overton? I'm getting Creed Country vibes after reading the plot summary. It's quite similar to Antonia Forest in tone, and there's a lot of stuff about Catholicism, sectarianism and the English Civil War (the hero is the son of a C of E vicar, and the heroine is from a big Catholic family who remind me of the Marlows).


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 05 Aug 2018, 22:58 
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One of my very favourite books, Lotte - and yes, I do feel that it has echoes of Antonia Forest in tone. I've also got the sequel, The Nightwatch Winter. That isn't so strong, for my money, but Creed Country should be much better known.

I suppose the biggest difference between Creed Country and The Lost Staircase is probably that the former is more character-driven and the latter more action-based. Not that Creed Country lacks action, but it does feel more introspective to me - and darker. Children's books had come a long way between 1946 and 1968 - I love both books, but I think you might find The Lost Staircase a little old-fashioned if you ever do read it (it's just been republished by Girls Gone By, I gather, so there should be some reasonably-priced copies out there).


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 05 Aug 2018, 23:35 
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I'm another fan of Creed Country and Nightwatch winter
I re-read both about once a year. Wish she'd written more! Her others -
Ship from Simnel Street and Thirteen days of Christmas are very different,


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 06 Aug 2018, 12:48 
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Noreen wrote:
One of my very favourite books, Lotte - and yes, I do feel that it has echoes of Antonia Forest in tone. I've also got the sequel, The Nightwatch Winter. That isn't so strong, for my money, but Creed Country should be much better known.

I suppose the biggest difference between Creed Country and The Lost Staircase is probably that the former is more character-driven and the latter more action-based. Not that Creed Country lacks action, but it does feel more introspective to me - and darker. Children's books had come a long way between 1946 and 1968 - I love both books, but I think you might find The Lost Staircase a little old-fashioned if you ever do read it (it's just been republished by Girls Gone By, I gather, so there should be some reasonably-priced copies out there).

Great, someone else who likes Creed Country! I read an extract from it in a compilation called Rebel Rebel (which also had the bit from Autumn Term where Nicola stops the train), the bit where Monica climbs the tower, and it sounded interesting so I bought the book. What's the sequel like? Does it have Stephen and the Wentworths in it?

And yes, it is mainly about stuff that happened in the past with the odd bit of action from the present day, as opposed to EBD books which always have some kind of shenanigans in them and people getting injured. I really like what I've read about Jesanne in the encyclopaedias, although the many Gellibrands and how they died are hard to keep track of (I know, horrible sentence is horrible!) She sounds very likeable.

I like dogs now but I used to be terrified of them, especially big ones, so I have some sympathy for the governess!


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 06 Aug 2018, 13:03 
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Sequel is more about the younger Wentworths - Veronica, Monica, Simon, and it's partly school-based with an Easter Play, partly adventure in the snow, not the historical stuff in Creed Country, but it's also a great read.


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 06 Aug 2018, 13:38 
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Itr pairs nicely as a winter book with another 1960s title I seem to remember that we both like, ivohenry - The Grange at High Force by Philip Turner, which I'm just re-reading...


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 06 Aug 2018, 20:41 
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Yes! Another series I re-read most years, though don't always do the historical ones.

Actually, in this heat it would be nice to read a contrasting wintry book so maybe I'll get one of them out!


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 08 Sep 2018, 21:58 
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I enjoyed this; it did, though, make me think of Little Lord Fauntleroy with the crotchety elder guardian won over by their ward. :)

I liked Jessane refusing a ‘short’ and insisting on her full name. I wonder how Jo would have reacted if Theodora had said she didn’t want to be Ted, but was willing to take the offer of a fresh start?

The fantasy elements were charming, even if I had to reread the Ritual and Journall a few times to understand what was happening.

I’m sorry that we didn’t hear more of them at the CS, too.


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 Post subject: Re: The Lost Staircase
PostPosted: 09 Sep 2018, 07:45 
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Nyota wrote:
I’m sorry that we didn’t hear more of them at the CS, too.
I think most people do like Jesanne (and Lois, come to that) but I suppose we were never likely to get that much more of them because of their being seniors when they join the school - EMBD always seems to me to be interested in teenagers but likely take a more prolonged interest in characters that she's introduced at a relatively young age.


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