Um, Miss Blyton? I think you’re working too hard on your chapter titles. I don’t want you to strain something there.
We have a brief description of the dormitory, where the girls all have different-coloured eiderdowns on their bed, and the sound of the ocean can be heard from the window. And, luxury of luxuries, the wash basins have cold and hot water! (No mention is made of actual bathrooms. Do students at boarding schools not bathe? BECAUSE THESE GIRLS SWIM IN SALT WATER! Is this where that stereotype about the British having terrible hygiene comes from?
Then there’s this amazing piece of writing:
The girls were busy unpacking their small bags. Darrell opened hers. She shook out her night-dress. She took her face-flannel, her tooth-brush and paste.
Dear Miss Blyton, I really do think it would have been okay to have a longer sentence in the middle there.
On the other hand, repetition is supposed to be a useful tool for children learning to read, so maybe Enid knew what she was doing. Kind of awkward, though.
Gwendoline is still experiencing culture shock:
One of the girls looked at her watch. ‘Get into bed, everyone!’ she ordered. She was a tall, dark girl, quiet in her manner. Everyone but Gwendoline scrambled into bed. Gwendoline was still brushing out her fine golden hair. She was counting as she brushed it.
‘Fifty-four, fifty-five, fifty-six
‘Hey, you new girl—what’s your name—get into bed!’ ordered the tall dark girl again.
‘I’ve got to brush my hair a hundred times each night,’ protested Gwendoline. ‘Now I’ve forgotten what number I got to!’
‘Shut up and get into bed, Gwendoline Mary,’ said Alicia, who was next to Gwendoline. ‘Katherine is the head of our dormy. You’ve got to do what she says.’
Gwendoline starts to cry, and Alicia threatens to spank her with a hairbrush. Occasionally people claim that there are actual spankings in Blyton’s school series, but for the record, there are only ever threats. (There’s one exception, in this very book, but it’s debatable whether it’s a “spanking”. More like an outright assault. No hairbrushes are involved, anyway.)
There was silence in the room. Sally Hope gave a little sigh. Darrell wondered if she was asleep. The curtains between her bed and Sally’s were pulled back. No, Sally was not asleep. She lay with her eyes wide open. There were no tears in them, but her face looked sad.
‘Perhaps she’s homesick,’ thought Darrell, and thought of her home too. But she was too sensible to be silly about it, and too excited to be at Malory Towers to miss her home. After all, she had badly wanted to come, and here she was— and she meant to be very happy and have a lot of fun.
I really like Darrell, and I like her attitude, and the way this foreshadows that prioritising fun is going to be a problem for Darrell soon — but Sally is a million times more interesting as a character.
Gwendoline was the only one who tried to keep awake. What had Mother said to her? ‘You’ll feel dreadful tonight, I know, darling, but be brave, won’t you?’
So Gwendoline was determined to lie awake and feel dreadful. But her eyes wouldn’t keep open! They shut and soon Gwendoline was as fast asleep as the others. And at home her mother was dabbing her eyes, and saying, ‘Poor little Gwen! I shouldn’t have sent her away from me! 1 feel she’s awake and crying her heart out!’
But Gwendoline was giving little contented snores, dreaming happily of how she would queen it over the girls here, be top of her form, and best at all games.
Gwen and her mother really are terribly annoying in their perpetually-victimised-drama-queen roles, and I’ve met and disliked women like that in real life too. But I’m not convinced that Gwen’s dreams of success, however self-serving and unrealistic, make her a bad person.
Morning comes — no insomniacs in this dorm, apparently! — and Darrell is “proud to put on her brown tunic with its brown-orange belt, just like all the other girls wore. She brushed her hair back and put in two slides to keep it tidy.”
This raises the question, so why do we have all these years and years of covers depicting Darrell with very short hair?
Alicia has very short hair — as Gwen is about to point out:
Gwendoline left her hair loose over her shoulders.
‘You can’t have it like that,’ said Alicia. ‘Not in school, Gwendoline!’
‘I’ve always had it like this,’ said Gwendoline, an obstinate look coming over her pretty, silly little face.
‘Well, it looks awful,’ said Alicia.
‘It does not!’ said Gwendoline. ‘You only say that because your hair is short and coarse.’
In fairness, loose hair was always a big no-no when I was at school. I doubt head lice are much of a problem at Malory Towers — Matron would never stand for it — but this is a pretty common rule. (Which I just typed as “rool”, because apparently it’s past time for lunch around here! #sugarlow)
Alicia is unfazed by Gwen’s hair critique:
Alicia winked at Katherine, who was coming up. ‘Better let dear Gwendoline show offher long, fine-as-silk hair, don’t you think so?’ she said, in a bland voice. ‘Miss Potts might be delighted to see it like that.’
‘My governess, Miss Winter, always liked it like this,’ said Gwendoline, looking pleased.
‘Oh—haven’t you been to a school before? Have you just had a governess?’ asked Alicia. ‘That explains a lot.’
Spoilt AND unsocialised! And completely lacking in sarcasm-detection!
‘Ready, Darrell? That’s the breakfast gong. Tuck your sheet in well. That’s right. Gwendoline, fold up your nighty. Look at Sally—there’s a new girl for you! Everything done to time, nobody’s got to chivvy her round!’
Sally gave a little smile. She hardly said a word. She did not seem in the least shy, but she was so quiet and self- possessed that Darrell could hardly believe she was a new girl. She always seemed to know exactly what to do.
SALLY, YOU GUYS! *hearts in eyes*
Also, here we have a rare instance of Alicia saying something nice to Gwen. I think that’s the first time so far.
In the dining hall we meet another significant teacher:
‘That’s Mam’zelle Dupont,’ whispered Alicia. ‘We’ve got two French mistresses at Malory Towers. One’s fat and jolly and the other’s thin and sour. We’ve got the fat and jolly one this term. They’ve both got simply awful tempers, so I hope you’re pretty good at French.’
Blyton and weight is fascinating. Stay tuned.
Mam’zelle Dupont was short, fat and round. She wore her hair in a little bun on top. Her eyes, black and beady, were never still. She wore a black frock that fitted her perfectly, and well-fitting black shoes on her tiny feet.
She was short-sighted but she would not wear glasses. She had instead a pair of long-handled glasses, called lorgnettes, which she wore dangling on a long black ribbon. These she used when she wanted to see anything at close quarters, holding them to her eyes with her hand.
I could swear there’s a future book that describes Mam’zelle has having large, flat feet, but I might be confusing her with Mam’zelle Rougier, or the Mam’zelle from St Clare’s. There’s a certain amount of interchangeability.
But I really like this character sketch. She’s French, so naturally she’s chic and vain, but it’s nice that the teacher who’s specifically described as fat also seems to be well-dressed and attractive. Though I’m not sure about “beady” eyes, and I spent much of my childhood wondering why so many white people in books had black eyes, when in real life it seemed like only black people and Asians had eyes that dark.
It’s traditional in each book that the new girls visit the headmistress, and she gives them a speech is is repeated or recalled word for word through the whole series. Miss Grayling: not actually that spontaneous.
Miss Grayling asked them their names, and spoke a few words to each girl. Then she addresed them all solemnly.
‘One day you will leave school and go out into the world as young women. You should take with you eager minds, kind hearts, and a will to help. You should take with you a good understanding of many things, and a willingness to accept responsibility and show yourselves as women to be loved and trusted. All these things you will be able to learn at Malory Towers—if you will. I do not count as our successes those who have won scholarships and passed exams, though these are good things to do. I count as our successes those who learn to be good-hearted and kind, sensible and trustable, good, sound women the world can lean on. Our failures are those who do not learn these things in the years they are here.’
This is a pretty admirable goal for a school, but I find myself curious about the “few words” Grayling speaks to each girl. “Hey, nice brown and orange outfit! Ooh, Gwendoline, I like your hair!”
Then Miss Grayling spoke again, in a lighter tone. ‘You will all get a tremendous lot out of your time at Malory Towers. See that you give a lot back!’
‘Oh!’ said Darrell, surprised and pleased, quite forgetting that she had thought she wouldn’t be able to speak a word, “that’s exactly what my father said to me when he said goodbye, Miss Grayling!’
‘Did he?’ said Miss Grayling, looking with smiling eyes at the eager little girl. ‘Well, as you have parents who think in that way, I imagine you will be one of the lucky ones, and will find that the things I have been speaking of will be easy to learn. Perhaps one day Malory Towers will be proud of you.’
SPOILERS: Malory Towers will be proud of Darrell.
I like the fairly blatant way the text goes, HEY, DARRELL IS GONNA DO PRETTY WELL HERE! HER PARENTS ARE SENSIBLE TYPES WHO DON’T FUSS WHEN THEY ABANDON HER TO STRANGERS! ALSO SHE HAS THE ADVANTAGE OF PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE IN FORMAL EDUCATION!
Whatever they might do, in the years to come at Malory Towers, each girl wanted, at that moment, to do her best. Whether or not that wish would last, depended on the girl.
EVERYTHING EVER IS GWEN’S FAULT, OKAY?
(In fairness, Gwen’s father is a fairly sensible sort, and tries quite hard to rein in her sillier tendencies. Of course these are encouraged by his wife and Gwen’s governess, because women are irrational and don’t know what’s good for them, and Miss Winter is of a lower social class than the Laceys, and you know what those people are like!
But at the same time, there’s a certain amount of deliberate alienation going on, as Gwen’s mother takes sides with her against her father. It becomes really, tragically obvious in the final book, at Gwen’s cost. She doesn’t really come from a functional family by any means — Gwen is like if Lydia Bennett was an only child. In 1946. At a boarding school. That’s not going to end well.)
(Spoilers: Gwen doesn’t elope with anyone. It’s not that kind of series.)