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 Post subject: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 09:54 
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My name is Steffan, and I have never read the Chalet School series before. I'm going to correct that fault, and as I read, I'll comment here.

Book 1 - The School at the Chalet

Chapter 1 - Madge Decides

Well, this is wonderful.

I love that we open with the future headteacher deciding to establish a school. Most school stories I've read start by focusing on the pupils - this feels very different. This feels like a story about a school more than most.

There are signs, of course, that this book is over 90 years old - and the story's all the stronger for it. I get the impression that, as with many school stories, this is a book about escapism - what if you could attend this magical school in an exotic location? It doesn't hurt the story at all that we're also looking at a romanticised period of the 1920s.

Madge is a great character so far. Eccentric, determined, and fun. In a way, this feels like quite a modern concept - I can easily imagine a TV show for teenagers where the concept is, "young woman in her 20s sets up a school".

I'm finding Dick hard to read, because the culture's so different. If this were a modern book, I'd be thinking of him as a classic case of nominative determinism. Outwardly, he's incredibly unsupportive.

And yet ... though he complains and finds fault at every turn, he doesn't actually stand in Madge's way at all. Though he frames his concerns negatively, he still makes clear that he'll make himself available to help her out if the project fails.

I laughed when Dick accused Joey of reading too much. I suppose that's the 1925 equivalent of complaining that your sister spends too much time on her iPad.

So, one chapter down, and I'm so invested already. Good luck Madge!


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 10:17 
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stalungrad wrote:
I laughed when Dick accused Joey of reading too much. I suppose that's the 1925 equivalent of complaining that your sister spends too much time on her iPad.


My mother use to complain my brother and I read too much when we were kids and her friends used to look at her like "How is that even an issue?"

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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 11:08 
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Joyce wrote:
My mother use to complain my brother and I read too much when we were kids and her friends used to look at her like "How is that even an issue?"


That's funny.

Looking back, I grew up with so many different types of storytelling (books, comics, TV, video games) that no single one seemed overwhelming to my parents. I reckon I'd have been accused of too much reading for sure if I'd grown up in the 1920s.


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 11:40 
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When I consider how many people remarked how brave I was to think of relocating for six months of each year to the Czech Republic, your comment about Madge has made me realise how truly brave she was...

If I was considered "brave" (and you could actually see them thinking "foolhardy") in 1998, at the stately age of 56, what on earth did people make of Madge's enterprise?

You can see why Dick had what we would describe today as "issues" with it (horrid word) but to be fair to him, he does render practical assistance in the initial setting up. I imagine he came in for a fair amount of criticism from the few relatives the Bettanys had, along the lines of how could he possibly allow this to happen.

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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 12:19 
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stalungrad wrote:
I love that we open with the future headteacher deciding to establish a school. Most school stories I've read start by focusing on the pupils - this feels very different. This feels like a story about a school more than most.
It really is - and as with many good narratives you get enough detail about that environment that you're there too, as you read, and can even go and stay there in your imagination.

And yes, I'd agree that 'modern' is exactly how we're meant to think of Madge. She's certainly a contrast to the majority of headmistresses in girls' fiction at that point - they tend to be stately and more conventional.


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 13:37 
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Lucky you stalungrad to be starting on the Chalet School series!


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 14:37 
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cestina wrote:
If I was considered "brave" (and you could actually see them thinking "foolhardy") in 1998, at the stately age of 56, what on earth did people make of Madge's enterprise?

You can see why Dick had what we would describe today as "issues" with it (horrid word) but to be fair to him, he does render practical assistance in the initial setting up. I imagine he came in for a fair amount of criticism from the few relatives the Bettanys had, along the lines of how could he possibly allow this to happen.


That's a really good point. When Madge says, "You needn't worry about us!" and Dick replies with "I'm the only man there is in the family", it feels to my modern eyes like he's being sexist ...

... but it's a different time, and it hadn't occurred to me that their friends and relatives might consider Dick himself irresponsible for "allowing" Madge to go ahead with her enterprise.

Noreen wrote:
And yes, I'd agree that 'modern' is exactly how we're meant to think of Madge. She's certainly a contrast to the majority of headmistresses in girls' fiction at that point - they tend to be stately and more conventional.


Something it brings to mind for me is the casting of Matt Smith as Doctor Who in 2009. A lot of people felt he wasn't old enough to play the character, that he'd lack the authority. And here's Madge, 80 years earlier and 5 years younger, proposing to become a headmistress!

Mel wrote:
Lucky you stalungrad to be starting on the Chalet School series!


And I can't tell you how lovely it is to be checking out these books with you lot for company. I think I'll really enjoy discussing these books chapter by chapter. Feels like watching a soap opera!


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 16:16 
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Chapter 2 - Grizel

Wow, what a powerful turn. I think I'm starting to see why people love these books so much.

The attention to detail on family dynamics really sets these books apart from books I've read in the same genre. In the case of both the Bettanys and the Cochranes, families are complicated in this book.

Just two paragraphs into this chapter, I already feel so much for Grizel. To lose her mother, and for her father to make it so clear he's not interested in parenting - and to then gain a stepmother who wasn't told Grizel existed until after she'd married the child's father. I'm going to quote the sentence that broke my heart:

Quote:
By slow degrees the wilful, high-spirited child gradually became a frightened, nervous creature, who did as she was bidden with a painful readiness.


We find out that Mr Cochrane married his second wife partly so he could have Grizel under his own roof - so it seems especially awful that he didn't mention Grizel to his new partner.

Something that didn't occur to me is how long it would take to travel in 1925. It'll take Grizel a week to make it all the way to Innsbruck.

I'm fascinated by Grizel's friends' shock when Grizel openly tells them that her stepmother is only kind to Grizel in public. Were things really so different back in the '20s? When I was Grizel's age, my friends and I were very open about our childish concerns with our families. Was that really so taboo back then?


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 18:59 
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I think that "washing your dirty linen in public" was seen as very vulgar in the 1920s. People of all social classes were keen to keep up appearances. It's even pointed out that the neighbours might have talked if Grizel had been sent away under other circumstances, rather than with Madge who was an old family friend, and that Mrs Cochrane hadn't wanted to risk that. A younger child would probably have discussed things with her friends, but by 14 I think Grizel would have been aware that her family problems were to be kept behind closed doors.

IIRC, we're told that people are wondering about Grizel's "loss of spirits", and Madge seemed to have sussed that all wasn't well at the Cochrane house, but I suppose that actually saying so would have been considered inappropriate. Doesn't Rosalie say something like "I didn't think Grizel Cochrane was like that"? She seems more shocked that Grizel's spoken out than she does by Mrs C's behaviour. Poor Grizel :( .

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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 19:47 
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Alison H wrote:
I think that "washing your dirty linen in public" was seen as very vulgar in the 1920s. People of all social classes were keen to keep up appearances. It's even pointed out that the neighbours might have talked if Grizel had been sent away under other circumstances, rather than with Madge who was an old family friend, and that Mrs Cochrane hadn't wanted to risk that. A younger child would probably have discussed things with her friends, but by 14 I think Grizel would have been aware that her family problems were to be kept behind closed doors.

IIRC, we're told that people are wondering about Grizel's "loss of spirits", and Madge seemed to have sussed that all wasn't well at the Cochrane house, but I suppose that actually saying so would have been considered inappropriate. Doesn't Rosalie say something like "I didn't think Grizel Cochrane was like that"? She seems more shocked that Grizel's spoken out than she does by Mrs C's behaviour. Poor Grizel :( .


I am delighted by your incredible memory for detail! Yes, you're right all those things are mentioned.

I can really see why, in this kind of society, there'd have been huge appetite for books like this - that promise to take you away from your difficult home life, to a school full of adventure and friends.

And actually, maybe things haven't changed all that much - that's exactly the promise made in the Harry Potter series too.


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 19:55 
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stalungrad wrote:
Alison H wrote:
I think that "washing your dirty linen in public" was seen as very vulgar in the 1920s. People of all social classes were keen to keep up appearances. It's even pointed out that the neighbours might have talked if Grizel had been sent away under other circumstances, rather than with Madge who was an old family friend, and that Mrs Cochrane hadn't wanted to risk that. A younger child would probably have discussed things with her friends, but by 14 I think Grizel would have been aware that her family problems were to be kept behind closed doors.

IIRC, we're told that people are wondering about Grizel's "loss of spirits", and Madge seemed to have sussed that all wasn't well at the Cochrane house, but I suppose that actually saying so would have been considered inappropriate. Doesn't Rosalie say something like "I didn't think Grizel Cochrane was like that"? She seems more shocked that Grizel's spoken out than she does by Mrs C's behaviour. Poor Grizel :( .


I am delighted by your incredible memory for detail! Yes, you're right all those things are mentioned.

I can really see why, in this kind of society, there'd have been huge appetite for books like this - that promise to take you away from your difficult home life, to a school full of adventure and friends.

And actually, maybe things haven't changed all that much - that's exactly the promise made in the Harry Potter series too.


It's nice to see your responses to the story. But if you're reading an Armada edition of School At, I expect you know that the abridgements, updating of words etc, are quite extensive throughout the book, and in numerous others to a varying extent. A notable example in the first chapter is when Madge suggests starting a school in Ireland, and Dick replies that they may find themselves burnt out one morning so it's a bad idea.

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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 21:31 
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Great to have you aboard Steffan, and it's always nice to see another male fan of the Chalet School books. I read most of these in my early teens and have come back to them nearly 50 years on. It's interesting to read your reaction to the characters and events. I think that the excitement of the new experiences of going away to live in a school in the Alps is beautifully described and I often re-read a chapter or two of The School at the Chalet in order to recapture that. The books are a great social document as well as good stories and I hope you'll see why there are so many enthusiasts nearly a century after the first book appeared.


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 22:01 
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Katharine wrote:
It's nice to see your responses to the story. But if you're reading an Armada edition of School At, I expect you know that the abridgements, updating of words etc, are quite extensive throughout the book, and in numerous others to a varying extent. A notable example in the first chapter is when Madge suggests starting a school in Ireland, and Dick replies that they may find themselves burnt out one morning so it's a bad idea.


I didn't know that at all! Interesting.

The version I'm reading did not have the Ireland reference. It's a 1978 edition if that helps.

I don't suppose the changes are too drastic, ate they? No alternate ending where the school's invaded by aliens or anything?

Gottfried wrote:
Great to have you aboard Steffan, and it's always nice to see another male fan of the Chalet School books. I read most of these in my early teens and have come back to them nearly 50 years on. It's interesting to read your reaction to the characters and events. I think that the excitement of the new experiences of going away to live in a school in the Alps is beautifully described and I often re-read a chapter or two of The School at the Chalet in order to recapture that. The books are a great social document as well as good stories and I hope you'll see why there are so many enthusiasts nearly a century after the first book appeared.


I was talking to my mother about gender and books the other day. I've inherited my mother's collector gene, and my big obsession at the moment is collecting every book in the Point Horror series. They were the books that really gripped me as a teenager.

Reading them now, fifteen years later or so, it strikes me that the protagonist of nearly every book in the series is female. Most are shy, bookish girls with an interest in horror, a couple of close friends (but certainly not part of the coolest gang), and an unrequited crush.

I do remember that I was one of only two boys in my school reading these books, but it never dawned on me that the series was specifically aimed at girls. It's so obvious to me now that the protagonist is always a stand-in for the reader. But, gender aside, I strongly identified with these characters.


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 23:50 
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Gender aside, so did I with the CS books but if my 1960s scouse schoolmates knew I was reading stories about a boarding school for girls, they would have regarded me with deep suspicion!
Btw, I am far from being an expert like many of the regulars on the CBB but the edits in the paperbacks don't significantly affect the storylines. There are one or two which have sections cut but unless you're a purist, you won't find that your life becomes unbearable if you don't have the hardback editions. That said, I am going to buy some of the new Girls Gone By editions of those books which I still have to read. They are not prohibitively expensive, although you have to see what's coming up and buy it when it's available.


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 31 Oct 2016, 10:45 
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Gottfried wrote:
Btw, I am far from being an expert like many of the regulars on the CBB but the edits in the paperbacks don't significantly affect the storylines. There are one or two which have sections cut but unless you're a purist, you won't find that your life becomes unbearable if you don't have the hardback editions. That said, I am going to buy some of the new Girls Gone By editions of those books which I still have to read. They are not prohibitively expensive, although you have to see what's coming up and buy it when it's available.


No, the cuts are normally not that big a deal other than to add some 'flavour.' But the ones when whole chapters are missing are really worth while getting hold of.

I ended up concentrating on buying the 'proper' versions of the ones with massive cuts and used this list as my guide: http://www.chaletschool.org.uk/cuts-in- ... backs.html

Cheers,
Joyce

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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 31 Oct 2016, 19:39 
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Chapter 3 - The Joys of Paris

I love the subtle but devastating commentary on class that runs through this story so far. Madge responds pleasantly to a man on the train, "instead of snubbing the good-hearted little man's advances with frosty good breeding". What a sentence!

The man later offers the travellers some gooseberries, and Grizel expects a snub, as it's what her stepmother would've done. The contrast between Madge Bettany and Mrs Cochrane is really important, isn't it?

I had a good feeling I'd love these books, but I am really taken aback by the quality of the writing, and especially by the incredible attention to detail when it comes to character studies. I suppose I was expecting Enid Blytonesque characterisation, but even the unseen Mr Cochrane contains surprising layers. He could easily be a two-dimensional distant father, but here we learn that he's saddened by the fact that he means so little to his daughter, which motivates him to give Madge some extra money to treat Grizel to additional tourism. Really economically written.

I'd already read a couple of posts here where people said the Chalet School books sparked a real interest in Europe, and it's really not difficult to see why. I've been trying to think of the right adjective to describe the way this chapter depicts Paris, and I think I've settled on tantalising. Details and vocabulary is thrown at us that's surely more than one would expect the target audience to be familiar with. Sitting here in 2016, I keep wanting to look everything up online, from the French Revolution to La Bohême, and I can only imagine how much of a tease this would've been without internet access.

The author clearly has incredibly enthusiasm for Paris, and that's what she conveys. Not lengthy dry visual descriptions, or a quick list of the activities the characters undertook, but this fast-paced montage of all sorts of different delights.

I love the indulgence of it all, too. There's no conflict at all in this chapter - no twists and turns for the characters. Just a detailed account of their lovely time in France. I'm really falling in love with this book now.


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 31 Oct 2016, 19:40 
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Joyce wrote:
No, the cuts are normally not that big a deal other than to add some 'flavour.' But the ones when whole chapters are missing are really worth while getting hold of.

I ended up concentrating on buying the 'proper' versions of the ones with massive cuts and used this list as my guide: http://www.chaletschool.org.uk/cuts-in- ... backs.html


Thanks Joyce!

Ah, it's sad that my copy will be missing entire chapters. Ah, well. I understand what makes some versions of these books so rare now.


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 31 Oct 2016, 20:58 
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stalungrad wrote:
I love the indulgence of it all, too. There's no conflict at all in this chapter - no twists and turns for the characters. Just a detailed account of their lovely time in France. I'm really falling in love with this book now.


One of the things which the thirteen-year old me liked, without necessarily recognising it as such, was that quite a lot of this and later books are about being somewhere new and having a good time, rather than solving problems or dealing with distress. That came over very strongly when I started to re-read the books about five years ago. Being whisked away from everyday life in England? Travelling for several days and then walking up to the door of a big chalet on a beautiful lake in the Austrian Alps, where you will not only live but go to school? Having new friends from several countries? How cool is that? No plot twists required for quite a long time, thanks!
Four weeks ago, I was standing on the lakeside path of the Tiernsee/Achensee and thinking, I'm not sure whether I'm more pleased because I'm on holiday in this beautiful place or because I finally got to come and visit Auntie Madge too. [I decided in the end that I was double pleased.]


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 31 Oct 2016, 21:03 
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stalungrad wrote:
Ah, it's sad that my copy will be missing entire chapters. Ah, well. I understand what makes some versions of these books so rare now.
Though there are quite a lot of hardbacks of the first twelve books out there, especially on the internet, some at well under £10. The first twelve have always been popular, they had larger print runs than many of the later books, and of course they've (obviously) been around longest of the series.

If you eventually fancy the challenge, try addall.com or abebooks.co.uk, for example, or if you're an e-bay fan you'll find some there, too.

I know what you mean about the Paris interlude being a fast-paced selection of delights - some of it's not tourist stuff, either, like Joey talking about the dog pulling a milk cart, or the Punch & Judy show. And from pre-internet days I have a postcard of Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides tucked between the relevant pages of mine...it always reminds me of a gigantic sewing box!


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 Post subject: Re: First Reading #1 - The School at the Chalet
PostPosted: 31 Oct 2016, 21:11 
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Noreen wrote:
I know what you mean about the Paris interlude being a fast-paced selection of delights - some of it's not tourist stuff, either, like Joey talking about the dog pulling a milk cart, or the Punch & Judy show.


That's very true.

The thing I relate to most so far is that Grizel is first and foremost interested in people. When I visited Hungary a few years ago, I didn't want to visit the big iconic buildings until I'd checked out the newsagents, to get a feel for everyday life.

This chapter isn't just paying lip service to the joys of discovering a new place - it really takes in everything there is to offer. The Yorkshireman on the train is every bit as important as the opera.


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