First Term at Malory Towers – chapters 13 and 14

Chapter 13: Half-Term at Last!

For some reason, every time I think of HALF-TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERM, I’m reminded of this comic.  I’m sorry, I can’t help it.

The girls became very excited at the beginning of half-term week. Many of them would see their parents on the Saturday—and Miss Remmington, the games-mistress, had suddenly decided to have a small edition of the Swimming Sports for the benefit of the parents.

I presume the other teachers were all like, “Thanks, Remmington, couldn’t you have thought of that, like, at the beginning of the term?  Are we not busy enough?  If there’s one thing that teenagers are good at, it’s last-minute organisation!”

Darrell’s pretty excited by HALF-TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRM, but first she’s in for a shock.  This is one of those schools where students’ class rankings are routinely read out for all to hear, as if that’s not deeply humiliating and potentially demotivating … and Darrell’s doing kind of badly.  Like, Mary-Lou-and-Gwen-type-badly.

Darrell goes off to see Miss Potts, to let her know that her parents are paying good money for this education, and they expect the school to produce the goods ask what happened.

‘Let me see—what were you? Quite a long way down,’ said Miss Potts, pulling the list to her and looking at it. ‘Yes, that’s right. I was surprised and disappointed, Darrell. You did so well in the first two weeks.’

‘But Miss Potts,’ said Darrell, and then stopped. She didn’t know quite how to say what she wanted to say. She wanted to say that she had much better brains than at least half the form, so why was she so low? But somehow that sounded conceited.

Here’s the first edition’s illustration of this scene:

Miss Potts, man. She’s so great.

How fierce is Miss Potts, eh?

However Miss Potts, who was very quick-minded, saw her difficulty. ‘You have come to ask me how it is you are nearer the bottom than the top when you could so easily be among the top ones?’ she said. ‘Well, I’ll tell you, Darrell. There are people like Alicia, who can play the fool in class and waste their time and everyone else’s, and yet still come out well in their work. And there are people like you, who can also play the fool and waste their time—but unfortunately it affects their work and they slide down to the bottom. Do you understand?’


This whole scene is pretty key to the series and Darrell’s character, so I’m just going to type it all out:

Darrell flushed very red and looked as if she could sink through the floor. She nodded.

‘Yes, thank you,’ she said in a small voice. She looked at Miss Potts out of her clear brown eyes. ‘I wouldn’t have been so silly if I’d known it was going to affect my place in the form,’ she said. ‘I—I just thought as I had good brains and a good memory I’d be all right, anyhow. Daddy and Mother will be disappointed.’

‘They probably will,’ said Miss Potts, taking up her pencil again. ‘I shouldn’t copy Alicia and Betty too much if I were you, Darrell. You will be a finer character if you go along on your own, than if you copy other people. You see, what you do, you do whole-heartedly—so if you play the fool, naturally other things will suffer. Alicia is able to do two or three things quite well at one and the same time. That certainly has its points—but the best people in this world are the whole-hearted ones, if they can only make for the right things.’

‘I see,’ said Darrell. ‘Like my father. He’s whole-hearted. He’s a surgeon and he just goes in for giving back people their health and happiness with all this heart—so he’s marvellous.’

‘Exactly,’ said Miss Potts. ‘But if he split himself up, so to speak, and dabbled in half a dozen things, he would probably not be nearly such a remarkable surgeon. And when you choose something worth while like doctoring—or teaching— or writing or painting, it is best to be whole-hearted about it. It doesn’t so much matter for a second rate or third-rate person. But if you happen to have the makings of a first-rate person and you mean to choose a first-rate job when you grow up, then you must learn to be whole-hearted when you are young.’

Darrell didn’t like to ask Miss Potts if she thought she had the makings of a first-rate person in her, but she couldn’t help hoping that she had. She went away rather subdued. What a pity she hadn’t been whole-hearted over her work and got up to the top, instead of being whole-hearted over playing the fool with Alicia and Betty, and sliding down towards the bottom.

Note that Miss Potts isn’t wholly thrilled with Alicia as a person either.  SO THERE.  #TEAMPOTTY

I’m also a little charmed that Blyton — because surely she’s speaking through Miss Potts here — regards teaching and the creative professions as deserving the same respect as medicine.


How small she would make Miss Winter feel, when she talked of her lessons and how wonderful she was at everything!

Wow, Gwen.  Wow.

Sadly, Mary-Lou’s mother can’t make it, so she’s stuck with Gwen, and Gwen’s ego for the day.  BUT WAIT, A WILD DARRELL APPEARS!

Darrell’s all, “Hey, Mary-Lou, you should totes spend the day with me and my family.”  And Mary-Lou’s like, “I’d love to!  But how will I tell Gwen?”

‘I think you’re a bit hard on her,’ she remarked, in her forthright Scots voice.

“Forthright” is such an odd adjective in this context.  Yes, Jean is outspoken and honest, but is her voice outspoken and honest?

‘Well, it’s all for her good,’ said Darrell. ‘If I can make her have a little courage, she’ll thank me for it. I said those things purposely, to shame her into going to Gwendoline and asking her.’

‘You’ve shamed her all right, but not in the way that will make her pluck up her courage.’ said Jean. ‘You’ve given her the kind of shame that puts people into despair!’

You know, I really haven’t given Jean enough appreciation in these posts.  Let’s change that.  JEAN, YOU GUYS.  SHE’S PRETTY EXCELLENT.  She turns up, says sensible and often funny things, and then leaves.  Like Irene, only her hat is being Scottish, not a genius.

Meanwhile, Mary-Lou’s developing a full-blown anxiety disorder, not at all helped by Gwen:

‘Fancy Darrell having the cheek to ask you, after I’d asked you!’ she said. ‘I’m glad you had the decency to refuse, Mary-Lou. You’d surely not want to go off with a girl like that, who thinks you’re such a poor worm?’

‘No.’ said Mary-Lou, and couldn’t say any more. If only she could have said yes, boldly, right out! But she couldn’t.

I SYMPATHISE, MARY-LOU.  My therapist sent me away last week with instructions to be mindful of situations where my first instinct is to do my best impression of a welcome mat.  It’s surprisingly hard!  And that’s just being aware of the instinct, not actually doing anything to assert myself!

HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALF-TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERM arrives at last, and Darrell is in high spirits.  She’s even singing!  She’s in such a good mood that she impulsively invites Sally to join her for the day.

‘I’d rather not, thank you,’ said Sally, in a stiff little voice, and went on up the cliff without another word.


All this rejection is getting a bit awkward for Darrell because her mother is particularly keen to meet her friends, and it’s starting to look like Darrell doesn’t actually have any.  Finally, she invites Emily — you remember Emilly?  She’s really into sewing — and Emily happily accepts.  This is lucky, because after that, there was only Violet, and that would first involve remembering her existence.  Which, obviously, Blyton doesn’t.

Chapter 14: A Really Lovely Day


Things the narrative notes about Darrell’s parents:

  • their car is “plain and black”
  • Darrell’s father drives it himself
  • Darrell’s mother is “pretty, amusing and sensible”

That last comes from Emily, who is almost forgotten in Darrell’s excitement at seeing her parents.  Mrs Rivers doesn’t quite know what to make of Emily, who’s a lot quieter than she expected of one of Darrell’s close friends.

She did not know that as yet Darrell had no definite friend.


I also like Emily’s take on Mr Rivers:

…and as for [Darrell’s] father, well, any one would trust him at sight, thought Emily, gazing at his determined, good-looking face with its big dark eyes and intensly black eyebrows, just like Darrell’s but bigger and shaggier.

Mr Rivers was based on Blyton’s second husband, remember, so this is an especially sweet tribute to the man.

BY WAY OF CONTRAST, of course, we have Gwen’s mother and governess.  (Gwen’s father has chosen to absent himself from proceedings, because it’s not like Gwen could do with a stronger and stricter presence in her life, right?)

She saw Gwendoline with two women—one obviously her mother, with bright golden hair like Gwendoline’s and a rather babyish, empty face. The other must be Miss Winter, the governess, thought Darrell. What an awful person!

Poor Miss Winter was not really awful. She was plain and poor and always eager to agree with everyone. She adored Gwendoline because she was pretty and graceful, and did not seem to see the selfishness and spoilt ways of the silly little girl.

I feel like everything about Miss Winter’s life can be summed up in that one sentence — she has few resources of her own, but as long as she’s agreeable to the Laceys, she has security and an income. It’s not a good position at all.

Speaking of bad positions, Mary-Lou is stuck listening to Gwen’s OUTRAGEOUS WEB OF LIES:

‘I’m almost the best at tennis in our form,’ she heard Gwendoline say. ‘I shouldn’t be surprised if I’m put into a match-team, Mother!’

‘Oh, darling—how clever you are!’ said Mrs. Lacey, fondly. Mary-Lou stared at Gwendoline in surprise. Why, everyone knew Gwendoline was a real muff at all games!

‘And Mam’zelle is very pleased with my French,’ went on Gwendoline. ‘I believe I might be top in that. She says I have a splendid accent.’

Miss Winter glowed. ‘Oh, Gwen darling! Isn’t that lovely now? I did my best with you, of course, but I was always afraid it was rather a poor best, because I’ve never been to France.’

Mary-Lou longed to say that Gwendoline was always bottom in the French class, but she did not dare to. How could Gwendoline stuff her people up with such a lot of lies? And how could they believe them?

‘Are you going to go in for the swimming-match this afternoon?’ asked Mrs. Lacey, looking fondly at Gwendoline, who today had her shining golden hair loose down her back, and looked, so her mother thought, like a real angel.

‘No, I thought I wouldn’t, Mother,’ said Gwendoline. ‘It’s best to give the others a chance. After all, I’ve done well at so many things.’

SO GREAT.  SO GREAT.  I guess the class rankings aren’t put on display for the parents.

But it’s okay, because Gwen has a Darrell-shaped comeuppance!

Then Darrell spoilt it all! She passed by with her mother and father, and Mrs. Lacey was struck by her good looks and happy smile.

‘There’s a nice girl, dear!’ she said to Gwendoline. ‘Is she one of your friends? Let us speak to her.’

‘Oh no, she’s not a friend of mine,’ began Gwendoline, but Mary-Lou, delighted at this praise of Darrell, was calling to her. ‘Darrell! Darrell! Mrs. Lacey wants to speak to you.’

Darrell went over to Mrs. Lacey and was introduced by a glowering Gwendoline. ‘And are you going to go in for the swimming-sports?’ asked Mrs. Lacey, graciously. ‘I hear dear Gwendoline is not, bless her.’

‘Gwendoline! Oh, she can’t swim a stroke!’ said Darrell. ‘We always yell at her because she takes five minutes putting one toe into the water. Don’t we, Gwendoline?’

This was all said in good humour and fun—but Gwendoline could willingly have pushed Darrell over the cliff at that moment! She went very red.

Mrs. Lacey really thought that Darrell was joking. She laughed the tinkling laugh which she thought was so pretty. ‘I suppose if Gwendoline entered she’d beat you all!’ she said. ‘As she does at tennis—and lessons, I suppose.’

Darrell looked in astonishment at Gwendoline, who was glaring at her, crimson in the face. ‘Gwendoline’s been stuffing you up, I expect!’ she said with a laugh, and went off to join her own party.

‘What a very outspoken, blunt sort of girl,’ said Miss Winter, puzzled and worried.


It turns out that not even Mary-Lou can be bullied into saying that Gwen is great at sport.  I like to picture her looking around wildly, going, “LOOK OVER THERE!” and jumping in the pool to escape.  Though actually she just remembers an urgent appointment with Mam’zelle.

BACK TO THE MYSTERY OF SALLY.  Mrs Rivers spots her and wants a word, as she has a message for her from Mrs Hope.  But Sally pretends not to hear Darrell call, and hides in the bushes. Only not really:

She plunged down into a path that led through some bushes in the drive and disappeared.

Darrell’s invitation to Emily backfires, as she and Mrs Rivers bond over embroidery, which Darrell can’t stand.  Ooops.  But we move on to one of Blyton’s characteristic food descriptions:

Cold chicken and pickles—pickles! There was never a pickle to be seen at school. Little cardboard containers full of fresh salad and mayonnaise sauce. Delicious! Jam-tarts and slabs of chocolate ice-cream. What a lunch!

And, naturally, ginger beer to wash it down.  I must be hungry, because that sounds to me like the perfect meal.  PICKLES.

Then they go back to the school for the swimming, and more hilarious Gwen shenanigans:

The swimming-sports were exciting. Mrs. Rivers was delighted with Darrell’s strong swimming, graceful diving, and fearlessness. She was one of the best of the small girls. Some of the big girls were extremely clever in their diving, especially Marilyn, the sixth-form games-captain. Everyone cheered her as she did a graceful swallow-dive from the topmost board.

‘And can you do all these things, darling?’ Darrell heard

Mrs. Lacey ask Gwendoline. Gwendoline, who was near Darrell and a few others, looked round warily, wishing her mother wouldn’t ask such awkward questions in public.

‘Well—not quite all,’ she said, and Miss Winter patted her fondly on the shoulder.

But all this is secondary to the important matter of Sally: What The Hell Is Up With Her?

‘Mother! There’s Sally Hope again!’ said Darrell suddenly, catching sight of Sally’s head in the distance. ‘I’ll get her in a minute. By the way, you never told me how that mistake about Sally’s baby sister happened—the one you said she had got, and hasn’t.’

‘But Darrell dear—she has got a baby sister!’ said her mother in surprise. ‘I’ve seen her!’

‘Well—whatever does Sally mean!’ said Darrell. ‘I really must get her and find out!’


First Term at Malory Towers – chapters 11 and 12

I was totally going to start doing the “two chapters at once” thing a while back, but then I hit a really long chapter or something.  Who knows?  Anyway!

Chapter 11: The Spider Affair

We left Gwendoline plotting to bring about the downfall of her enemies by (a) feigning friendship with Mary-Lou whilst (b) torturing her and (c) letting Darrell and Alicia take the blame for said torture.

Draco Malfoy got nothing on Gwendoline Mary Lacey.

It’s a hot afternoon and no one’s very keen on the lesson, least of all Mam’zelle Dupont.  (She’s plump, so she doesn’t deal well with heat — and I totally sympathise, so there’s no eyerolling at Blyton’s stereotypes from me here!)

Finally, following a mix-up with her grammar books, Mary-Lou finds the spider.

Mary-Lou stuffed her English grammar into the back of her desk and pulled out the French one. The spider, feeling itself dislodged by the book, ran out in a fright. It ran almost up to Mary-Lou before she saw it. She let the desk-lid drop with a terrific bang and gave a heart-rending scream.

I realise that by saying this I’m destroying all kinds of Australian stereotypes, but I TOTALLY SYMPATHISE, MARY-LOU.  Once I went to school with an odd lump in my shoe, and when I got home it turned out to be a dead huntsman spider.  I STILL HAVE CHILLS.

Mam’zelle is less sympathetic, what with how the first form haven’t exactly been models of propriety over the last few weeks.  Though you’d think she’d know that Mary-Lou wouldn’t say boo to a goose.

So Mam’zelle goes searching through the desk, and naturally the spider is initially terrified but then comes out charging.  Right up Mam’zelle’s arm.

Mam’zelle stared at the enormous thing as if she really could not believe her eyes. She gave a shriek even louder than Mary-Lou had given! She too was scared of spiders, and here was a giant specimen running over her person!


‘Ah, where is it, the monster? Girls, girls, can you see it?’ wailed Mam’zelle.

‘It’s here,’ said wicked Alicia and ran a light finger down Mam’zelle’s spine.


Miss Potts, taking the second form in the next room — interesting how in this school the teachers move around, rather than the students, as we’d expect from a modern school — and hears the noise.

‘Girls!’ she said, but her voice went unheard. ‘GIRLS!’ Irene suddenly saw her and started to nudge everyone. ‘Look out here’s Potty,’ she hissed.

The girls flowed back from Mam’zelle as if they were water!

I like that water comparison; less keen on the entirely unnecessary exclamation mark.

The conversation between Miss Potts and Mam’zelle is long, but hilarious, so I’m going to reproduce all of it:

‘Mam’zelle, really!’ said Miss Potts, almost forgetting the rule the staff had of never finding fault with one another before the girls. ‘ I simply cannot think what happens to this class when you take it!’

Mam’zelle blinked at Miss Potts. ‘It was a spider,’ she explained, looking up and down herself. ‘Ah, Miss Potts, but a MONSTER of a spider. It ran up my arm and disappeared. Ah-h-h-h-h! I seem to feel it everywhere.’

‘A spider won’t hurt you,’ said Miss Potts, coldly and unfeelingly. ‘Would you like to go and recover yourself, Mam’zelle, and let me deal with the first form?’

‘Ah non!’ said Mam’zelle, indignantly. ‘The class, it is good—the girls, they came to help me to get this monster of a spider. So big it was, Miss Potts!’

Miss Potts looked so disbelieving that Mam’zelle exaggerated the size of the spider, and held out her hands to show Miss Potts that it was at least as big as fair-sized frog.

In addition to being really funny, this is something we don’t often get to see in Blyton’s novels: a conversation between two adults who have forgotten there are children present.

The girls are as entertained as I am:

The girls had enjoyed everything immensely. What a French lesson! Gwendoline had enjoyed it too, especially as she was the cause of it, though nobody knew that, of course. She sat demurely in her desk, watching the two mistresses closely.


And then suddenly she felt something running up her leg! She looked down. It was the spider! It had left Mam’zelle a long time ago, and had secreted itself under a desk, afraid of all the trampling feet around. Now, when peace seemed restored, the spider wanted to seek a better hiding-place. It ran over Gwendoline’s shoe, up her stocking and above her knee. She gave a piercing scream.

There are certain scenes which are always illustrated, no matter the edition.  Here’s Gwendoline’s comeuppance as it looked in 1963:

And here’s the illustration by Stanley Lloyd in the first edition, way back in 1946:

Note that Lloyd has captured Gwendoline’s long hair in its plaits, and also Mam’zelle’s lorgnettes.

Sadly no illustration can capture Miss Potts’ rage:

‘Gwendoline! Go out of the room! How dare you squeal like that! No, don’t tell me you’ve seen the spider. I’m tired of the spider. I’m ashamed of you all!’

Gwendoline shook herself violently, not daring to scream again, but filled with the utmost horror at the thought of the spider creeping over her.

‘It was the spider!’ she began. ‘It…’

‘GWENDOLINE! What did I tell you! I will NOT hear another word of the wretched spider!’ said Miss Potts, raising her voice angrily. ‘Go out of the room. The whole class can go to bed one hour earlier tonight as a punishment for this shameful behaviour, and you, Gwendoline, can go two hours earlier!’


Naturally, none of this is Gwen’s fault.  How dare the spider go for her!  On the other hand, that just makes it EVEN MORE LIKELY it was all Darrell and Alicia’s fault!

Also, check out this super-English sentence:

Now she had got to have double punishment.

Gwen sidles back into the classroom, but Mam’zelle, now rather embarrassed by her behaviour, sends her right out again!

Mary-Lou: 0, Gwen: 0, spider: 1

Chapter 12: Sharp Words

Suffice to say, Spidergate is popular.  Mam’zelle Rougier takes the opportunity to defy one of Blyton’s favourite stereotypes:

To think that a Frenchwoman should be so foolish!’ she said. ‘Now I do not mind spiders or earwigs or moths or even snakes! Mam’zelle Dupont should be ashamed to make such an exhibition of herself!’

I’m pretty sure this makes Mam’zelle Rougier the only one of Blyton’s various French characters who isn’t terrified of creepy-crawlies.

The first form, naturally, found the whole incident hilarious:

‘Jolly clever spider! said Irene. ‘It knew the only three people in the form that would be scared of it. I take my hat off to that spider.’

Irene’s very much a secondary character, but all through the series she gets some really amazing lines.

Gwen, in the guise of sympathy, ‘innocently’ suggests that someone put the spider in Mary-Lou’s desk.  Until then, everyone had assumed it had just … wandered in.  As spiders do.

‘It was a dirty trick to put it into poor Mary-Lou’s desk,’ said Jean. ‘She can’t help being scared of things, I suppose, and she almost jumped out of her skin when she saw it. I should have thought any joker in our form would have been decent enough to have popped it into, say, Alicia’s desk!’

I like Jean’s grudging concession that Mary-Lou’s fear might be involuntary.

‘Not if it happened to be Alicia who popped it in!’ said a sly voice. ‘You do so love playing tricks, don’t you, Alicia?  You and Darrell were in the first-form room before afternoon school. And I’m sure we all remember you saying you’d like to put a spider down Mary-Lou’s neck!’

It was Gwendoline speaking.


‘Well, I didn’t do it,’ she said. ‘Nor did Darrell. Sorry to disappoint you, darling Gwendoline Mary, but we just didn’t. If it was anyone, I should think it was you!’

‘Mary-Lou is my friend,’ said Gwendoline. I wouldn’t do that to her.’

‘Well, if you’d almost drown her one week, I should think you could quite well bring yourself to put a spider in her desk the next week,’ said Darrell.


Gwen’s attempts to push the issue are stymied by the entire class chanting, “SHUT UP, GWENDOLINE!” until she goes away.  Twelve year olds.  So great.

Gwen feels “vicious”, we are told, and she attempts to suggest to Miss Potts that Darrell and Alicia were behind the incident.  This … doesn’t go well.

Miss Potts looked up. ‘Are you trying to sneak?’ she said. ‘Or in more polite language, to tell tales? Because if so, don’t try it on me. At the boarding school I went to, Gwendoline, we had a very good punishment for sneaks. All the girls in the sneak’s dormy gave her one good spank with the back of a hair-brush. You may have a lot of interesting things to tell me but it’s no use expecting me to listen. I wonder if the girls here have the same punishment for sneaks. I must ask them.’

I think this is another source of the idea that Blyton’s school stories feature teacher-sanctioned spankings.

Also, Miss Potts is still the greatest.  Not for the spanking thing, but she speaks to and about the students like they’re actually people.

Gwen’s less pleased.  Her mother and governess would be horrified if they knew what a terrible, awful school Malory Towers was, but she senses that Miss Potts and her father might be kindred spirits.

A week passes, taken up largely with swimming and Darrell’s attempts to match Betty and Alicia in their feats of diving.  Sadly for Darrell, though she’s fearless like the good little Gryffindor she is, she’s just … not as good.

And Mary-Lou’s having a bad time of it.  Her clothes are dropped in a puddle, her new tennis racket has its strings cut.

‘My new racket!’ she said. ‘Look, Gwendoline, who would think a new racket could go like that?’

‘It couldn’t,’ said Gwendoline, pretending to examine it very closely. ‘These strings have been cut, Mary-Lou. Someone’s been playing a dirty trick on you. What a shame.’


Then the buttons are cut from Mary-Lou’s best Sunday dress.  Gwen is as supportive as ever:

So, making a great show of it, Gwendoline sewed on the six blue buttons one night. The first-formers stared at her in surprise. They knew she never mended anything if she could help it.

‘How did those buttons come off?’ asked Jean.

‘That’s what I’d like to know,’ said Gwendoline smugly.

‘Six buttons, all ripped off! I’m putting them on for Mary- Lou, because I’m so sorry that anyone should play her such a dirty trick. And I’d like to know who cut the strings of her tennis racket, too.’

For the first time the class starts to wonder about the mysterious destruction of Mary-Lou’s property.  Someone must be doing it, but even though some of her pencils turned up in Alicia’s desk, no one but Gwen thinks she was responsible.  Alicia likes to be upfront about her bullying.

Meanwhile, half-term is approaching, that magical weekend where parents visit the school and bring an outsider’s perspective to the events of the term.  And this revives a suplot we haven’t heard from in a while:

‘Is your mother coming, Sally?’ asked Mary-Lou.

‘No,’ said Sally. ‘She lives too far away.’

Then Darrell, well-intentioned, curious Darrell, remembers that her mother mentioned having met Sally’s mum … and her baby sister.

‘Oh, Sally, I expect your mother won’t come because of the baby,’ she said.

Sally went stiff. She stared at Darrell as if she couldn’t believe her ears. Her face went quite white, and when she spoke she sounded as if she were choking.

‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ she said. ‘What baby? We haven’t a baby! My mother won’t be coming because it’s so far, I tell you!’

Darrell was puzzled. ‘But Sally—don’t be silly—my mother said in a letter that she had seen your baby sister— she’s three months old, she said.’

‘I haven’t got a baby sister!’ said Sally, in a low, queer voice. ‘I’m the only one. Mother and I have been everything to each other, because Daddy has had to be away such a lot. I haven’t got a baby sister!’

I think this is actually the only mention of Sally’s father in the entire series.  If not for the baby sister, I would have assumed Mrs Hope was widowed.

(There are a lot of single parent families in Blyton’s books, but they all involve good middle class Englishmen who marry girls from circuses.  Then the wives can’t adjust to their new lives, so they take their babies and run away.  Then, conveniently, they die a few years later, leaving their adolescent children to be raised by the father.  Usually with the help of a strict but kindly paternal grandmother.)

(One semi-exception is Barney in the R-mysteries — yes, his mother was a circus performer, but his father, when he finds him, turns out to be a reputable stage actor, and the kindly paternal grandmother is a bit on the bohemian side herself.)

Anyway, everyone’s kind of WTF? at Sally’s outburst:

‘ All right,’ said Darrell, uneasily. ‘ You ought to know, I suppose. Anway, I expect you’d like a sister. It’s nice having one.’

‘I should hate a sister,’ said Sally. ‘I wouldn’t share my mother with anyone!’

She walked out of the room, her face as wooden as ever. The girls were really puzzled. ‘She’s a funny one,’ said Irene. ‘Hardly ever says anything—all closed up, somehow. But sometimes those closed-up people burst open suddenly— and then, look out!’


Later, Darrell tries to make it up to Sally:

‘I’m sorry I made that mistake about your having a sister,’ she said to Sally. ‘I’ve written to tell Mother you said you hadn’t one. She must have mistaken what your mother said.”

Sally stood still and glared at Darrell as if she suddenly hated her. ‘What do you want to go interfering for?’ she burst out. ‘Leave me and my family alone! Little busybody, always sticking your nose into other people’s affairs!’

Darrell’s temper flares again, but for now her assault is merely verbal:

‘Oh, don’t be so silly!’ flared back Darrell, really exasperated now. ‘Anyone would think there was a deep, dark mystery, the way you go on! Anyway, I’ll just see what my mother says when she next writes to me—and I’ll tell you.’

‘I don’t want to know. I won’t know!’ said Sally, and she put out her hands as if she was fending Darrell off. ‘I hate you, Darrell Rivers—you with your mother who comes to see you off, and sends you things and writes you long letters and comes to see you! And you boast about that to me; you do it all on purpose. You’re mean, mean, mean!’

You can probably guess what’s going on with Sally, right?  But I love this bit, because while Blyton’s not exactly known as an observer of human psychology, I think she gets Sally exactly right here — that childishness that comes from fear and jealousy.

Darrell was utterly taken about. What in the wide world did Sally mean? She watched the girl go out of the room, and sank down on to a form, completely bewildered.


First Term at Malory Towers – Chapter 10: A Queer Friendship

Ahem: “Hur, hur, that looks like an innuendo.”

Sorry, had to be done.

The chapter begins with a sensual description of swimming in a cold pool on a hot day.  I hear you Enid.  Even though it’s freezing right now and the thought of immersing myself in icy water is … unpleasant.

Darrell loved to have a game of tennis and then sprint down to the pool to bathe. Oh, the delicious coolness of the water then! She couldn’t understand how Gwendoline or Mary-Lou could possibly shrink from getting in. But they insisted that the hotter the day, the colder the water felt, and they didn’t like it.

Darrell sings the praises of the icy cold plunge, and finishes by calling Mary-Lou and Gwen cowards.

Neither Mary-Lou nor Gwendoline liked being called cowards.


Mary-Lou resents, rightly, being lumped in a category with Gwen merely because they share a common distaste.  Also, her wooing is becoming more like stalking:

She tried her hardest to make Darrell pleased with her by running after her more than ever, even to tidying her locker in the common room, which exasperated Darrell because Mary-Lou always altered her arrangement of things.

‘ What’s happened to my sweets? I know I put them in the front here. And where’s my writing-pad? Blow, and I’m in such a hurry, too!’

And out would come every single thing in the locker, higgledy-piggledy on the floor! Mary-Lou would look on mournfully.

‘Oh—I tidied them all so nicely for you,’ she would say.

‘Well, don’t!’ Darrell would order. ‘Why don’t you go and bother with somebody else’s things? You always seem to make a bee-line for mine. You seem to have got a craze for tidying things and putting them away. You go and do Alicia’s—they’re much untidier than mine! Just leave mine alone!’

“I only do it to help you,’ Mary-Lou would murmur.

Yeah, Mary-Lou, no.  Step away from the personal possessions!

Alicia doesn’t appreciate Mary-Lou’s unsolicited tidying any more than Darrell does, and is even less tactful about it, if that’s possible.

‘Can’t you see when you’re a nuisance?’ she said. ‘Can’t you see we don’t want a little ninny like you always flapping round us? Look at that photograph! Smashed to bits just because you started messing around.’

Yep.  It’s possible.

Unfortunately, Darrell and Alicia are driving Mary-Lou right into the arms of Gwendoline.

‘Hallo! Crying again! Whatever’s up now?’ asked Gwendoline, who was always interested in other people’s rows, though never sympathetic.

I just love that, “Hallo!  Crying again!”  It reminds me of that bit in Harry Potter, when Harry wakes up from a nightmare and Sean’s all, “Somebody attacking you again, Harry?”

Gwen is just fascinated to learn that Mary-Lou is having problems with Alicia and Darrell, and is deeply sympathetic, and even manages to get in a few digs at Betty!

As she spoke, a perfectly wonderful idea came into Gwendoline’s head. She stopped and thought a moment, her eyes shining. In one moment she saw how she could get even with Alicia and Darrell, yes, and give that stupid little Mary-Lou a few bad moments too.

It’s a little known fact that the word “frenemy” was created especially to describe Gwendoline Mary Lacey.

To Mary-Lou’s intense surprise she suddenly slipped her arm through the younger girl’s.

‘You be friends with me,’ she said, in a honeyed voice. ‘I shan’t treat you like Darrell does, and Alicia. I haven’t a wicked tongue like Alicia, or scornful eyes like Darrell. Why don’t you make friends with me? I shouldn’t jeer at you for any little kindnesses, I can tell you.’

Gwen is about as plausible as a snake, but Mary-Lou has low self-esteem and is desperate for a friend.  Still, her self-preservation instinct is not entirely atrophied:

She took her arm away from Gwendoline’s. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I can’t be friends with you, Gwendoline. You were very cruel to me that day in the pool. I’ve had dreams about it ever since.’

Imagine if Gwen was a guy being called out for cruel and bullying behaviour towards a girl he was now trying to ask out.  What would he say next?  I’m guessing the “It was just a joke” defence would come out.


‘It was just a joke.’


Mary-Lou is trapped.  She doesn’t want to be friends with Gwen, but she doesn’t know how to assert herself.  So she gives in:

‘Well,’ she said, hesitatingly, ‘well—if you really didn’t mean to hurt me, that time in the pool, Gwendoline, I’ll be friends. But I’m not going to talk against Darrell or Alicia.’

Gwendoline gave her arm a squeeze, bestowed another honeyed smile on the perplexed Mary-Lou and walked off to think out her suddenly conceived plan in peace.

Gwen’s plan is to play tricks on Mary-Lou, figuring that Alicia and Darrell will be blamed for them, as they’ve made no secret of their annoyance with Mary-Lou.  And Gwen genuinely believes that Darrell and Alicia would be that overtly cruel, even though their meanness is generally verbal and to one’s face rather than elaborate pranks designed to scare people.

She couldn’t even see that she was doing a mean thing. She called it ‘giving them all a lesson!’

I like this.  It’s plausible.  Most people don’t set out thinking, “Hah, I’m going to do the wrong thing!”  Rationalisations are go!

In fact, a similar plotline appears in the second season of Dance Academy — I really must do a post sometime about how Dance Academy combines boarding school and stage school tropes in one glorious Australian setting — when a girl destroys her pointe shoes and those of her “friend”, leaving the girl with undamaged shoes to take the blame.  But Grace doesn’t bother with rationalisations beyond the fact that her father ignores her and she’s jealous of the other students.  She’s quite upfront about being manipulative, which is refreshing compared with Gwen, but had her bordering on cartoon villainy by the end of the season.

Anyway, Gwen’s plans for Mary-Lou are about as sophisticated as breaking pointe shoes, only presumably less expensive:

She would pop a black-beetle into Mary-Lou’s desk—or a few worms—or even a mouse if she could get hold of it. But no—Gwendoline quickly ruled out mice because she was so scared of them herself. She didn’t much like black-beetles or worms either, but she could manage to scoop those up into a match-box or something.

She could do that. And she could remove Mary-Lou’s favourite pencils and hide them in Alicia’s locker. That would be a cunning thing to do! She might put one or two of Mary- Lou’s books in Darrell’s locker too. And how sympathetic she would be with Mary-Lou when she found out these tricks!

Gwen takes herself off to the garden in search of a worm, where Scottish Jean is dry and Scottish at her.  Giving up on worms, Gwen finds a spider, and even more impressively, manages to catch it.  (*shudder*)

She led the conversation round to spiders that evening. ‘I got my head caught in a web in the shed today,’ she said. ‘Oooh, it did feel horrid. I don’t like spiders.’

‘My brother Sam once had a tame spider,’ began Alicia, who could always be relied on to produce a bit of family history of any moment. ‘It lived under a fern in our green¬house, and it came out every evening for a drink of water, when Mother watered the ferns.’

There really ought to be some kind of Alicia’s Brothers Drinking Game.

Mary-Lou, to no one’s surprise, is afraid of spiders.  Alicia plays right into Gwen’s hands:

Terrified of this, scared of that—what a life you lead, Mary-Lou. I’ve a good mind to catch a large spider and put it down your neck!’

I don’t like to ask how, but Gwen manages to keep her spider alive until Monday.

Gwendoline’s chance came, and she took it. She was told to go and fetch something from her common room, ten minutes before afternoon school. She tore there to get it, then raced to the first-form classroom with the cardboard box. She opened it and let the great, long-legged spider run into the desk. It ran to a dark corner and crouched there, quite still.

Gwendoline hurried away, certain that no one had seen her. Two minutes later Darrell and Alicia strolled in to fill the flower-vases with water. Ah, luck was with Gwendoline just then!


First Term at Malory Towers – Chapter 9: Alicia in Trouble

Where were we?  Ah yes, Darrell has been forced to apologise for smacking Gwen; Mary-Lou has become the founder and pope of the Church of Darrell; Gwen has gone off in a huff; and Alicia has water in her ears.

The affair at the Pool had a good many results. First, it made Mary-Lou follow Darrell about like a dog that has found its master and doesn’t mean to leave it! She was always there to fetch and carry for Darrell. She tidied her desk for her. She even tidied the drawers in her dressing-table, and offered to make her bed each day.

Unfortunate dog metaphor is a bit unfortunate, given we’re dealing with a school for girls, but hey, 1946, remember?

Darrell, like a good Blyton heroine, is uncomfortable at this attention and tries to tell Mary-Lou to bug off and have a bit of self-respect.  Not in so many words, but that’s the subtext.  But Blyton is quite sympathetic to Mary-Lou:

But it didn’t in the least matter what Darrell said, Mary- Lou persisted in adoring her, and being on the watch for anything she could do. Darrell found chocolates put inside her desk. She found a little vase of flowers always on her dressing-table. But it irritated her and made her cross. She could not see Mary-Lou’s mind reaching-out for a friendship that might help her. Mary-Lou was so weak. She needed someone strong, and to her Darrell was the finest girl she had ever met.

The funny thing is, Mary-Lou is about as weak as Neville Longbottom.  It’s just that she has no self-confidence and is a bit young for her age.

Well, somewhat.  Flowers and chocolates, bless:  she’s pitching woo at Darrell Rivers.

So that’s Darrell and Mary-Lou.  What’s Gwen up to?

Another result of the Pool affair was that Gwendoline really did feel bitter towards Darrell now. She had never in her life been slapped by anyone, and she couldn’t forget it. Not even her mother had slapped her! It would have been very much better for spoilt, selfish Gwendoline if a few smacks had come her way when she was small. But they hadn’t and now the four or five slaps she had received from Darrell seemed to her, not a sudden flash of temper, soon to be forgotten, but a great insult somehow to be avenged.

‘And one day I’ll pay her back, see if I don’t!’ thought Gwendoline to herself. ‘I don’t care how long I wait.’

Scheming like a Disney villain, apparently!

I’d be curious to see if any of the current editions have removed the lines about Gwen needing to be smacked as a child.  They didn’t stand out to me as a kid, because I was occasionally smacked myself (and suffered no ill effects — but then, my mother also smoked through her pregnancy, and I came out fine, so I’m pretty sure my family just exists to undermine sensible parenting advice) but they seem like the sort of thing that would attract outraged headlines these days.

The third result of the Pool affair was that Alicia really did go deaf through swimming under water so long.

Le sigh.

On the upside, French is being taken by Mme Rougier, who’s less gullible than Mme Dupont and has no sense of humour whatsoever.

I mean, that’s the upside for me, not Alicia.

A quick sketch of Mam’zelle Rougier:

She was rarely in a good humour, as her thin lips, always tightly pressed together, showed. It was funny, Alicia thought, how bad-tempered people nearly always had thin lips.

Embarrassing fact: for years I thought that was a flat truth, not a rather harsh generalisation.  I mean, not that I stopped to give it any serious thought, but … yeah, well, then there was the time I had an epic girlcrush on Captain Janeway, and Kate Mulgrew has very thin lips, and suddenly I had to reconsider a few things!

Mam’zelle Rougier had a soft voice, which, however could become extremely loud when she was angry. Then it became raucous, like a rook’s, and the girls hated it.

I like the comparison to a rook.  Poor birds are always being overshadowed by crows and ravens.

Mme Rougier assumes, not unreasonably, that Alicia’s deafness is another attempt at a joke.

‘Alicia,’ she said, patting the little bun at the back of her head, ‘you are a funny girl and you do funny things, nest ce pas? But I also, I am funny and I do funny things. I would like you to write out for me in French, fifty times in your best handwriting, “I must not be deaf in Mam’zelle Rougier’s class.'”

Fifty lines becomes a hundred, and then Betty gets a hundred for trying to help Alicia out, and finally a note is passed:

‘You’ve got to write out a hundred lines for M. For goodness’ sake don’t say you can’t hear anything else, or you’ll get a thousand! She’s in a real paddy!’

“In a paddy” is slang I’ve never encountered elsewhere, but I rather like it.  And I appreciate how Betty takes the time to punctuate “for goodness’ sake” correctly.  Lots of twelve year olds wouldn’t bother!

Alicia makes it through French, but Mme Rougier lets Miss Potts know what’s happened.

‘You thought—or pretended you were deaf the other day,’ said Miss Potts, unfeelingly. ‘How in the world am I supposed to know when you are and when you aren’t, Alicia?’

Miss Potts: the very soul of common sense.  She has Alicia move to a desk in the front row.  Personally I don’t understand why that hadn’t happened already, because can you imagine teaching a class with Betty and Alicia sitting together?

Anyway, all the movement makes Alicia’s ears pop, and her hearing returns.  Miss Potts finds this all rather convenient.  Darrell finds it hilarious:

‘Oh, Alicia, I know it’s unkind of me to laugh,’ said Darrell, ‘but honestly it’s funny! First you pretend to be deaf, and pull Mam’zelle’s leg well. Then you really do get deaf, and nobody believes it! It’s just like that fable of the shepherd boy who called “wolf wolf!” when there wasn’t a wolf, and then when there really was, and he called for help, nobody came because nobody believed him!’

‘I thought you were my friend,’ said Alicia, stiffly. ‘I don’t like being preached at.’

Oh, grow up, Alicia.

(Odd side effect of reading these books at a young age: as an adult, it’s a real shock to look at these characters and realise that they’re adolescent children.  It’s like that moment when you look back and go, “Hang on, most of the Babysitter’s Club were thirteen.  What kind of parent lets thirteen year olds babysit their kids?  How could Stacey and Claudia afford all those amazing clothes?”)

Darrell sucks up by offering to write half of Alicia’s lines for her.

Mam’zelle Rougier was presented with one hundred lines that evening, half of them rather badly written and the other half quite nicely written. ‘Strange that a child should write so badly on one side of the paper and so well on the other!’ said Mam’zelle wonderingly. But fortunately for Alicia Mam’zelle got no further than wondering about it!

The next chapter is called “A Queer Friendship”.  Sadly it doesn’t involve Mary-Lou stepping up her courtship of Darrell with a romantic candlelight dinner.

First Term at Malory Towers – Chapter 7: Darrell–And Gwendoline

Where did we leave off?  Oh yeah, Gwen made an overtly bullying move towards Mary-Lou, causing Darrell to lose her temper and slap Gwen four whole times!

To the modern reader, what Darrell does is wrong because physical punishment is generally considered inappropriate and bullying.  In the 1940s it was mostly inappropriate because punishing Gwen was not Darrell’s job, and the issue of the slapping itself is a second one.  This seems obvious, but I do think it’s important to point out, because one does see contemporary reviewers becoming really angry that there’s no Very Special Moral about Not Slapping People.

TL;DR, Darrell hulks out sometimes.

HULK SMASH! (From The Avengers)
What I love about the internet is that I googled “hulk smash gif tumblr”, and this was my first result.

Katherine — she’s the head of the dorm, remember her?  You might not, because she’s not remotely obnoxious — calls a first-form meeting!  A FIRST-FORM MEETING!  That’s North Tower only, because apparently no one from the other towers — or even other forms — were present for this incident.  I mean, so I assume, because you’d think one of those “almost grown-up” sixth formers would have had something to say if the first formers started drowning and slapping each other.

Gwendoline had gone up to her dormy, to get some cold cream for her red-streaked legs. They didn’t need cold cream, of course—but she meant to make as much fuss as she could! She had always been jealous of Darrell, and she was jolly glad she had got something against her. Coming up and apologizing like that—she didn’t mean a word of it, Gwendoline was sure!

Portrait of Gwen in four sentences.

The general consensus in the form is that Darrell needs to apologise for slapping Gwen, and, as a secondary but important consideration, she should apologise to Katherine for cheeking her.

Mary-Lou’s post-traumatic girl-crush wars with her shyness:

Mary-Lou was firmly convinced that Darrell was a heroine. She had suffered such agonies under the water, and had really and truly thought she was drowning—and then along had come strong, angry Darrell. How could Katherine judge her anyhow but kindly? Mary-Lou didn’t dare to say any more, but she sat with a worried, anxious look on her face, wishing she could speak up for Darrell bravely and fearlessly. But she couldn’t.

The consensus is that if Darrell won’t apologise to Gwen — and Alicia, for one, is fairly cynical about it (‘How I should hate to have to say I was sorry for anything to darling Gwendoline Mary!’) — they’ll send her to Coventry, which is an old-fashioned way of saying they’ll give her the silent treatment and exclude her from the social interaction of the class.  Which is a pretty common bullying technique among adolescent girls, but hey, different era.  Right?

Luckily Darrell chooses that moment to make an entrance:

…the door opened and Darrell herself walked in. She looked surprised to see the girls sitting about, silent and serious. Katherine opened her mouth to speak to her, astonished to see Darrell looking so calm.

But before she could say a word, Darrell walked right up to her. ‘Katherine, I’m most awfully sorry I spoke to you like that. I can’t think how I could. I was in such a temper, I suppose.’

Don’t laugh, but as a child who also had a terrible temper, I basically learned how to apologise from Darrell Rivers.  I mean, now my therapist says I apologise too much and need to practice asserting myself, so maybe I took it a bit too far into Mary-Lou territory.  But I do think this is the source of my great love for characters who know they’re in the wrong and admit it.

‘That’s an awful fault of mine,’ said Darrell, rubbing her nose as she always did when she felt ashamed of herself. ‘My temper, I mean. I’ve always had it. I get it from Daddy, but he keeps his temper for something worth while—I mean he only loses it when there’s some really big reason. I don’t. I go and lose it for silly little things. I’m awful, Katherine! But honestly I had made up my mind when I came to Malory Towers that I wouldn’t lose it any more.’

The girls, who had looked coldly at Darrell when she had marched into the room, now regarded her with warm liking. Here was a person who had a fault, and who said so, and was sorry about it, and didn’t attempt to excuse herself. Who could help warming to a person like that?

Okay, but I’m retching just a little.  Things I hate:  using third person omniscient to tell us how great the main character is.

(Physical description watch!  Darrell’s “black curls” are mentioned!)

Mary-Lou is virtually melting, until Darrell goes and puts her foot in it again:

‘Of course,’ went on Darrell, ‘I still think that Gwendoline did a beastly thing to Mary-Lou—and I think it’s a pity too that Mary-Lou doesn’t pull herself together so that spiteful people like Gwendoline can’t tease her.’

Mary-Lou crumpled up. Oh! Darrell thought her feeble and weak and frightened. And she was too. She knew she was. She knew that a strong person like Darrell could never really like a stupid person like Mary-Lou. But how she wished she would!

Oh, honey, you just need some self-confidence.  And a girl-crush on a person who doesn’t think you’re a bit pathetic.

Gwendoline opened the door and came in, looking like a martyr. She had undone her hair so that it lay in a golden sheet over her shoulders again. She evidently fancied herself as an ill-used angel or something of the kind.

She heard the last few words Darrell spoke, and flushed red. ‘Spiteful people like Gwendoline can’t tease her!’ That was what she heard.

‘Oh—Gwendoline. The next time you want to give anyone a nasty fright, choose someone able to stand up to you,’ said Katherine, her voice sounding rather hard. ‘And please tell Mary-Lou you’re sorry you were such a beast. You gave her an awful fright. Darrell has apologized to you, and you can jolly well do your bit, now!’

‘Oh—so Darrell said she apologized to me, did she?’ said Gwendoline. ‘Well, I don’t call it an apology!’

‘You fibber!’ said Darrell, in amazement. She swung round to the girls. ‘I did.’ she said. ‘You can believe which you like, me or Gwendoline. But I did apologize—straightaway too.’

Katherine glanced from Darrell’s hot face to Gwendoline’s sneering one. ‘We believe you,’ she said, quietly. Her voice hardened again. ‘And now, Gwendoline, in front of us all, please, so that we can hear—what have you got to say to Mary-Lou?’

Gwendoline was forced to say she was sorry. She stammered and stuttered, so little did she want to say the words, but, with everyone’s eyes on her, she had to. She had never said she was sorry for anything before in her life, and she didn’t like it. She hated Darrell at that moment—yes, and she hated that silly Mary-Lou too!

GWEN, WHY YOU GOTTA MAKE THINGS SO AWKWARD FOR EVERYONE?  She’s the reason newbies are told to LURK MOAR before they start participating in forums!

Irene, who shares my feelings about AWKWARD SOCIAL ENCOUNTERS, flees to a music room.  Escapism, baby!  That’s the stuff!  The others sit around and dissect the events of the last two chapters, and agree that Darrell >> Gwendoline.  And I gotta agree — it’s a real shame that Gwen has never been taught how to admit when she’s in the wrong, even to herself, and that she’s apparently never encountered, say, positive social modelling through novels.  But I know which one I’d prefer to share close quarters with for most of the year.

Gwen sets out to write an angry letter to her mother about Beastly Darrell and Those Terrible Girls.  Katherine, faintly amused, says fine, she will also write to Gwen’s mother.  Predictably, Gwen storms off in a sulk.

To end the chapter on a lighter note, Alicia finds herself in a bit of a quandary.  Right before the slapping incident, she swam the length of the pool underwater.  Now…

‘I told you. I can’t seem to get the water out of my ears,’ said Alicia. ‘They feel blocked. I say—I do hope I shan’t be deaf tommorrow! I did go deaf once before when I swam under water for ages!’

‘Oh, Alicia! How funny it would be if you really did go deaf tommorrow in Mam’zelle’s class!’ said Darrell, heartlessly. ‘Oh, dear. I can’t imagine what would happen!’

‘Well, I can!’ said Alicia. ‘Let’s hope my ears get right before the morning!’

First Term at Malory Towers – Chapter 7: Darrell Loses Her Temper

After the “deafness” incident, Alicia gets “a good scolding and extra prep” from Miss Potts:

‘If Alicia shows any further signs of deafness, send her to me,’ said Miss Potts, coldly. ‘I can always cure it at once.’

She walked off. Mam’zelle began to breathe quickly. ‘The bad girl, Alicia—She has pulled my foot,’ said Mam’zelle, who sometimes got a little mixed! ‘She has hoodie-winked me! Never again will I believe her, the bad girl.’

Foreigners — SO HILARIOUS, am I right?

Meanwhile, Darrell’s fawning gets her promoted to full gang membership, with Mary-Lou taking her place as hanger-onerer.

Gwendoline was jealous of the way Alicia and Betty, recognized leaders in the first form, had made friends with Darrell. After all, Darrell was as new as she herself was. And she, Gwendoline, was much prettier, and had, she was sure, much more charm of manner.

She took Sally Hope into her confidence. ‘I don’t like the way Darrell Rivers pushes herself forward all the time, do you?’ she said to Sally. ‘Thinking she’s so marvellous! Chumming up with Alicia and Betty. Not that I would if they asked me.’

Sally didn’t look very interested, but Gwendoline didn’t mind. She went on grumbling about Darrell. ‘She thinks she’s got such good brains, she thinks she plays such a marvellous game of tennis, she thinks she’s so good at swimming! I’ve a good mind to show her that I’m twice as good as she is!’

‘Well, why don’t you?’ said Sally, bored. ‘Instead of showing everyone you’re twice as bad!’

Sorry, I just realised that Sally is Mai from Avatar.  NO WONDER I LOVE HER!

As far as we know, Sally is not a goth knife-throwing ninja. Alas.

Gwen would quite like to be Azula, but sadly isn’t actually a prodigy.  And I have to say, I wouldn’t rate her chances at military conquest:

‘All right,’ said Gwendoline grandly. ‘I will just show you, Sally. I haven’t really tried before, because it didn’t seem w orth it. I didn’t want to come to Malory Towers, and Mother didn’t want me to either. It was Daddy that made me come. I did marvellously with my governess. Miss Winter, and I could do marvellously now, if only I thought it was worth while!’

Alicia came up and heard this curious speech. She laughed loudly.

‘You can’t play tennis, you can’t swim, you squeal when your toe touches the cold water, you don’t even know all your twelve times table, baby! And then you talk of it not being worth while to show what you can do! You can’t do a thing and never will, whilst you have such a wonderful opinion of yourself!’

Much as I have my standard Alicia-side-eye in place, I like that Gwen’s flaw here is not that she’s good at stuff, but that she doesn’t care to improve.

(Question: did anyone actually learn their twelve times tables?  I didn’t!  For me, 12 x X = (10 x X) + (2 x X).  LOOK, IT GETS ME THE RIGHT ANSWER, OKAY?)

So here’s where Gwen becomes actually horrible.  She hates swimming, right?  Well:

There was only one person worse than she was, and that was poor Mary-Lou. No one teased Mary-Lou too much. It was too like teasing a small, bewildered kitten. Gwendoline saw her floundering about near her, and because she knew Mary-Lou was even more afraid of the pool than she was, she felt a sense of power.

She waded over to Mary-Lou, jumped on her suddenly and got her under the water. Mary-Lou had no time to scream. She opened her mouth and the water poured in. She began to struggle desperately. Gwendoline, feeling the struggles, spitefully held her under longer than she had intended to.


Darrell takes a strong stance against drowning classmates.  She rescues Mary-Lou and threatens to treat Gwen the same way she just treated Mary-Lou.  Gwen beats a hasty escape, and then:

‘I’m not going to duck you. you little coward!’ she cried. ‘But I am going to show you what happens to people like you!’

There came the sound of four stinging slaps and Gwendoline squealed with pain. Darrell’s hand was strong and hard, and she had slapped with all her might, anywhere she could reach as Gwendoline hastily tried to drag herself out of the water. The slaps sounded like pistol-shots.

Much as everyone probably secretly wanted to see someone slap Gwendoline, no one is impressed.  Especially not when Darrell, angry at being told off by dorm-head Katherine, looses a verbal volley as well:

Still blazing, Darrell rounded on Katherine. ‘Some-body’s got to teach that cowardly Gwendoline, haven’t they?’

‘Yes. But not you,’ said Katherine, coolly. ‘You put yourself in the wrong, slapping about like that. I’m ashamed of you!’

‘And I’m ashamed of vow!’ burst out Darrell, much to everyone’s amazement. ‘If I were head-girl of the first form I’d jolly well see that girls like Gwendoline learnt to swim and dive and everything, and left people like Mary-Lou alone. See?’

No one had seen Darrell in a temper before. They stared. ‘Get out of the pool,’ ordered Katherine. ‘Go on, get out. It’s a good thing no mistress saw you doing that.’


Everything that follows is important, so Imma just gonna do a whole lot of typing:

Hateful Gwendoline! Horrid Katherine! Beastly Malory Towers!

But before she reached the top of the cliff and came to the little gate that led into the grounds of Malory Towers, Darrell’s anger had all gone. She was dismayed. How could she have acted like that? And she had absolutely meant always to keep her temper now. and never let that white-hot flame of rage flare up as it used to do when she was smaller.

Very much subdued, Darrell went back to the school, dried herself and changed. She had been publicly scolded by Katherine. Nobody had backed her up at all, not even Alicia. She had shouted at the head-girl of her form. She had behaved just as badly to Gwendoline as Gwendoline had behaved to Mary-Lou—except that it must have been sheer cruelty that made Gwendoline almost drown Mary-Lou, and it was anger, not cruelty, that made her slap Gwendoline so hard. Still—anger was cruel, so maybe she was just as bad as Gwendoline.

She felt sorry she had slapped Gwendoline now. That was the worst of having such a hot temper. You did things all in a hurry, without thinking, and then, when your temper had gone, you were terribly ashamed, and couldn’t manage to feel better until you had gone to say were sorry to the person you had hurt, and whom you still disliked heartily.

Darrell heard somebody sniffling in the changing-room. She looked to see who it was. It was Gwendoline, dole-fully examining the brilliant red streaks down her thighs. That was where Darrell had slapped her. Gwendoline sniffed loudly.

‘I shall write and tell Mother,’ she thought. If only she could see those red streaks—why, you can see all Darrell’s fingers in this one!’

Darrell came up behind her and made her jump. ‘Gwendoline! I’m sorry I did that. I really am. I was just so awfully angry I couldn’t stop myself.’

Gwendoline was neither generous nor gracious enough to accept such a natural apology. She drew herself up and looked at Darrell as if she smelt nasty.

‘I should hope you are sorry!’ she said contemptuously. ‘ I shall write and tell my mother. If she thought girls at Malory Towers would behave like you do, she’d never have sent me here!’

And that’s where the chapter ends.

I have lots of feelings about this, and they’re all kind of mixed up, being the feelings I had when I was nine, and the feelings I have now.  So let’s sort them all out with the aid of … Young!Liz!

“Hello, younger self.”

“Are you my future?”

“Yep!  Check out this great hair we’re going to have!”

“…I’m going to get fat?”

“I feel that ‘plump’ is a more accurate way to describe my state of well-padded overweightness.  Anyway, you’re wearing leggings as pants.”

“…That’s bad?  They’re comfortable!  Look, I’m wearing this cool shirt with shoulder pads, too!”

“And an Alice band and a ponytail!”


“Okay, so you need to stop thinking of fatness in pejorative terms, and I need to stop judging people on ultimately harmless fashion choices.  Anyway, younger self, I wanted to talk to you about Malory Towers.”

“Oh, I love Malory Towers!  I wish I was a student there!”

“I know you do, honey.  Let’s talk about that time Darrell slapped Gwendoline.”

“Wasn’t that amazing?  I mean, no, it was terrible!  She shouldn’t have done it!  But it made me like her better, because I have a horrible temper as well.”

“Me too!  Remember that time we told our brother he ruined our life?”

*happy mutual memories*

“On the other hand, Younger!Liz, we never slapped one of our classmates.”

“Um, we kind of did, Older!Liz.  Remember that time in third grade when we thought our best friend Martha had gone to class without us?  So we thought it would be a really fine, grown-up sort of gesture to hit her with our school hat?”

“Oh God, yes.  And she cried, and we realised right away what a horrible thing we’d done, so we cried–”

“And then those older girls tried to comfort us, and we went them away because we were a bad person!”

“I didn’t want to remember that, Younger!Liz.  Thanks a lot.”

“I know!   It’s terrible!  But that’s how Darrell felt.  Only she had a proper reason to be angry.  And she apologised instead of crying.”

“I don’t like the way she just expects Gwen to accept her apology.”

“But, Older!Liz, isn’t that what people do?  I mean, you have to accept apologies.  If they’re real.  How do you know when an apology isn’t real?”

“Trust me, kid, you’ll know.  But how does Gwen know it’s a real apology?  She’s never been around people her own age before!”

“You’re confusing me, Older!Liz.  I don’t think you’re reading the story right.”

“I’m definitely applying a twenty-first century ideology to a mid-twentieth century novel.  Can we at least agree that the way Gwendoline treated Mary-Lou was entirely uncool?”

“It was very wrong.  Wow, I can’t wait until I know how to use ‘ideology’ in a sentence properly!  Do you have a flying car?”

“No, but I have a computer that fits in my pocket and is also a phone.”

“I’m going to grow up to be a millionaire!”

“Um, yeah.  Sure.”

Okay, so it turns out my younger self isn’t all that helpful.

First Term at Malory Towers – chapters 6: Alicia’s Little Joke

Okay, I’m only doing one chapter here because a lot happens in the next one, and also I got about five hours’ sleep last night, and concentrating isn’t really happening.  STAY TUNED.

I don’t, for the record, hate Alicia.  She’s a charismatic character, and the text isn’t always on her side.  And, at times, she’s genuinely funny.

I just don’t love the way she targets her pranks at Mam’zelle, Wacky Foreigner, or teachers who can’t fight back.  People talk a lot about the Weasley twins as bullies, but while some of their pranks go too far, generally they’re targeted at either their peers, or adult authority figures who are generally so humourless as to be ridiculous, or who have enough sense of humour to appreciate the absurdity, even as they’re taking house points.

Not so with Alicia!  To be honest there comes a point where I don’t understand why Mam’zelle Dupont hasn’t had a nervous breakdown, or at least gone off with Mam’zelle Rougier and the St Clare’s French teacher and formed an Angry Frenchwomen Union.


Darrell had good brains and she had been taught how to use them. She soon found that she could easily do the work of her class, and in such things as composition was ahead of most of the others. She felt pleased.

‘I thought I’d have to work much much harder than at my old school,’ she thought to herself.  ‘But I shan’t! It’s only maths I’m not so good at. I wish I was as good as Irene at maths. She does things in her head that I can’t even do on paper.’

So, after the first week or two, Darrell relaxed a little, and did not worry herself too much about her work. She began to enjoy amusing the class a little, just as Alicia did.

You can imagine Miss Potts’ joy at this development.  DARRELL, YOU ARE SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS.

Meanwhile, the money Darrell’s parents are spending on this education: KIND OF POINTLESS, I GUESS.

Betty Hill went much further than Alicia. Darrell sometimes wondered if there was anything she would stop at. There were two mistresses that Betty and Alicia played up to. One was Mam’zelle Dupont, the other was a quiet, gentle mistress who took needlework, and sometimes took prep, time at night. Miss Davies never seemed to realize that Alicia and Betty could play tricks on her. Mam’zelle did realize it, but was taken in all the same.

So basically these girls are sociopaths.  Then we get a highly amusing story about a time Alicia managed to torture Mam’zelle AND a mouse AT THE SAME TIME!

Darrell, being a good lackey, encourages Alicia to perform some kind of hilarious prank.  Alicia draws inspiration from her brothers:

‘Roger pretended to be deaf,’ said Alicia. ‘And everything old Toggles asked him he pretended to hear wrong. When Toggles said “Johns, sit still in your chair!” Roger said “Give you a cheer, sir? Certainly! Hip, hip, hip, hurrah!”‘

See, just pretending to have blocked ears, that’s kind of eh.  Impromptu wordplay?  That, I can get behind.  Usual Alicia-related caveats applying.

Mam’zelle. all unsuspicious of this deep-laid plot, entered the first-form classroom smiling brightly the next morning. It was a beautiful summer day. She had had two letters from home, giving her the news that she had a new little nephew. She had on a new brooch, and had washed her hair the night before. She was feeling in a very good temper.

She beamed round at the class. ‘Ah, my dear girls!” she said. ‘We are going to do some very very good French today, n’est ce pas? We are going to be better than the second form! Even Gwendoline will be able to say her verbs to me without one, single, mistake!’

It’s not specifically mentioned, but I can only assume that this is Monday morning.  Because damn, Mamzelle’s day is about to go downhill!

For starters, her expectations of Gwendoline are way too high.

Gwendoline looked doubtful. Since she had been at Malory Towers her opinion of her governess at home had gone down. Miss Winter didn’t seem to have taught her half the things she ought to have known! On the other hand, thought Gwendoline, she had raved over her hair and blue eyes, she had praised the sweetness of Gwendoline’s temper, and said how graceful she was in all she did. That kind of thing was most enjoyable to a person like Gwendoline. But a little more learning would have been very useful to her at Malory Towers.

I’m not actually convinced of the sweetness of Gwendoline’s temper, but I’m going to assume Miss Winter was well-paid for saying so.

Luckily for Gwen, Alicia’s cue comes up.

‘Alicia! What is wrong with you?’ cried Mam’zelle. ‘Can you not hear?’

‘What do I fear? Why, nothing, Mam’zelle,’ said Alicia, looking slightly surprised. Somebody giggled and then smothered it quickly.

‘Mam’zelle said “Can you not hear?”‘ repeated Betty in a loud voice to Alicia.

‘Beer?’ said Alicia, more astonished, apparently, then ever.

I really do love that whole exchange.  IT GOES ON!

‘Tell me, have you a cold?”

‘No, I’ve no gold, only a ten-shilling note,’ answered Alicia, much to Mam’zelle’s mystification.

‘Mam’zelle said COLD not GOLD,’ explained Darrell at the top of her voice.

‘You know—COLD, the opposite of HOT,” went on Betty, helpfully. ‘Have you a COLD?’

‘HAVE YOU A COLD?’ roared the class, coming in like a well-trained chorus.

‘Oh, COLD! Why don’t you speak clearly, then I should hear you,” said Alica. ‘Yes—I’ve had a cold, of course.’

‘Ah—then it has affected your poor ears.’ said Mam’zelle.

‘How long ago was this cold. Alicia?”

Darrell repeated this question at the top of her voice, followed by Betty.

‘Oh—when did I have it? About two years ago,’ said Alicia.

Sadly, though, Malory Towers’ classrooms aren’t soundproofed, and Miss Potts, taking maths in the room next door, is unmoved by Alicia’s affliction and punishment is threatened.

First Term at Malory Towers – chapters 4 and 5

These chapters are so short, I’m going to take them two at a time from now on.

Chapter 4: Miss Potts’ Form

All the school met each morning for prayers.

I’m pretty sure this is the only time that’s mentioned, and it’s the only hint that Malory Towers is anything other than a secular school.

Darrell is amazed that her class is so big it contains 25 or 30 girls!  Contemporary school teachers, this is your queue to laugh/sigh.

We catch a glimpse of the other French mistress, Mam’zelle Rougier:

She was skinny, tall and bony. Her hair too was done up in a little bun, but at the back instead of on top. Darrell thought she looked bad-tempered.

In the classroom, Gwen commits yet another faux pas:

‘Bags I [a desk] by the window!’ said a fat girl and plumped herself down there.

‘Bags I one too,’ said Gwendoline. But the fat girl stared in surprise.

‘You’re new aren’t you? Well, you can’t choose your own seat, then. New girls have to take the desks left over when the old girls have chosen the ones they want.’


Darrell hangs back like the good social conformist she is, and gets a seat with Alicia and Alicia’s BFF/partner-in-crime, Betty.  Betty is from West Tower.  I’m pretty sure there’s a line in a future book about the school’s firm refusal to transfer her to North Tower, on the grounds that the school would fall into anarchy.  Anyway, this is the only cross-house friendship we see.

Betty and Alicia are kind of the Fred and George Weasley of the series, only less funny.

Miss Potts lays down the law:

‘Last term there were one or two girls who seemed to like to be bottom every week,’ she said. ‘Leave that place to the new girls, please, and go up a few places! I never expect much of new girls their first term – but I shall expect quite a lot of you.”

A few girls went red. Miss Potts went on talking. ‘I don’t really think I’ve any brainless girls this term,’ she said, “though I don’t know much about the new girls, of course. If you are brainless and near the bottom, we shan’t blame you, of course—but if you’ve got good brains and are down at the bottom, I shall have a lot to say.’

If Professor McGonagall was the head of Hufflepuff instead of Gryffindor, she’d be Miss Potts.

To modern eyes it seems strange that students as young as twelve are being ranked like this, and weekly.  When I was at school, rankings like that didn’t appear until the second semester of year 12, when they were linked to university placements.  (If anyone cares, I was in the top five for all my subjects except maths.  And that’s genuinely impressive, since I had surgery and missed a long stretch of school!  But I think I was, like, third from the bottom in maths, and that was in a cohort of a couple of hundred.  GO TEAM ALGEBRAICALLY CHALLENGED!)

Miss Potts is predictably unimpressed with Gwendoline’s hair, which spills all over her desk as she grapples with some maths problems.  She has to plait it … or get her mother to have it cut short in the school holidays.

“AS IF!” says Gwen.

Well, actually she thinks, “As if Mother would dream of cutting off her beautiful fine sheet of hair.”  But wouldn’t the series be great if Gwen was actually Cher Horowitz?  (SPOILERS!  A spoilt, superficial but basically good-natured American girl does come to Malory Towers in the third book!  Sadly, she learns an important lesson about Being More English, and at no point is accused of being a virgin who can’t drive.)

Among Gwen’s many failings, she can’t plait.

This was another thing that puzzled me as a kid, because for the longest time I couldn’t plait either.  My mum was raised by her dad, so certain feminine skills like plaiting and braiding just passed her by.  In the end, I sat down with my Barbie one Saturday morning and taught myself how to make a plait.  And that was only because the other girls at school would come in with very elaborate braids, and I wanted to learn how to do that.  (I never did figure out braiding!)

Gwen’s basically home-schooled, and her education didn’t include hairstyles.  Seems a bit rough to judge her on that, but then, I save most of my judgement for her mother and governess, who seem to have been so busy weeping over the imminent separation that they didn’t tell Gwen that a neat ponytail will suffice for school.

Meanwhile, Darrell is attempting to befriend Sally:

Sally Hope was sitting on the grass alone, no expression at all on her closed-up face. Darrell went over to her. ‘What do you think of Malory Towers?’ she said. ‘I think it’s fine.’

Sally looked up primly. ‘It’s not bad,’ she said.

‘Were you sorry to leave your other school?’ asked Darrell. ‘I wanted to come to Malory, of course, but I hated leaving all my friends. Didn’t you hate leaving all your friends too?’

‘I don’t think I had any, really,’ said Sally, considering. Darrell thought that was queer. It was hard to get anything out of Sally. She was polite and answered questions, but she didn’t ask any in return.

“Ambiguity” isn’t something one really associates with Enid Blyton’s writing, but I’m always intrigued by Sally’s declaration that she had no friends at her old school.  Is she saying she was a complete loner who despised human company?  Or, perhaps, did she have a circle of friends, but they all drifted away when she entered what’s obviously a difficult phase of her life, and now she wonders whether they were truly friends at all?

Darrell plaits Gwen’s hair for her, and gets NO THANKS WHATSOEVER in return.  Oh, Gwen, social skills aren’t actually beneath you.

Chapter 5:  The First Week Goes By 

We belatedly meet some more of Darrell’s schoolmates, including Mary-Lou, the class scaredycat:

Mary-Lou was a scared mouse of a girl. She was frightened of mice, beetles, thunderstorms, noises at night, the dark, and a hundred other things. Poor Mary-Lou. No wonder she had big scared eyes. Darrell, not easily scared of anything, laughed when she saw poor Mary-Lou rush to the other side of the dormy because she saw an earwig on the floor.

THAT’S NOT VERY NICE, DARRELL.  Also, after all these years I finally googled “earwig”, and they look like this:

For some reason I was expecting something more … earlike. In a wig.

And, okay, I can think of more hideous insects, but ew.

We meet Irene, who is an absent-minded genius.  Notably she’s a mathematical and musical genius — two fields are related, but the maths is not exactly traditionally feminine.

There’s also Emily, who sews, and … well, she sews.  She’s sew great.  And there’s Jean, who is Scottish and therefore good with money.

Mam’zelle disliked Jean because Jean was scornful of Mam’zelle’s enthusiasms and emotions. Jean herself never went into ecstasies about anything.

Welp, that’s the Scottish taken care of!

And there’s Violet, the most pointless character ever created:

Violet, a shy. colourless child, very much left out of things because she never seemed to take any interest in them. Half the form never even noticed whether Violet was with them or not.

THEN WHAT IS SHE HERE FOR, ENID?  Aside from presumably making up the numbers in the dorm.  You know that episode of Buffy where a girl is ignored so hard she becomes invisible?  That’s Violet.  I don’t think she’s ever mentioned again in the series.

But maybe Violet is secretly a ninja assassin, and Darrell just doesn’t notice because she’s too busy nursing an epic girl-crush on Alicia:

She knew a great deal about Alicia, but then, so did everyone, for Alicia poured out everything that came into her head, she chattered about her brothers, her mother and father, her dogs, her work, her play, her knitting, her opinion of everything and everybody under the sun.

Alicia had no time at all for airs and graces, pretences, sighs, moans or affectations. She was as downright as Darrell, but not so kind. She was scornful and biting when it pleased her, so that girls like Gwendoline hated her, and those like scared Mary-Lou feared her. Darrell liked her immensely.

‘She’s so lively,’ she thought to herself. ‘Nobody could be dull with Alicia. I wish I was as interesting as she is. Everyone listens when Alicia speaks, even when she says something unkind. But nobody pays much attention when I want to say something. I do really like Alicia, and I wish she hadn’t got Betty for a friend. She’s just the one I would have chosen.’

Oh honey.

I actually like that Darrell spends much of this book kind of failing at everything.  Blyton’s school story heroines either come in with a terrible attitude and Learn A Valuable Lesson, or they come in with a good attitude and Succeed.  So it’s nice that Darrell’s success isn’t instant, even though it means lots of paragraphs about how great Alicia is, and how she smells like Christmas, and she does joke shop commercials … in Japan, and one time she punched Gwen in the face.  And it was awesome.

This was a cover to a 1998 edition. SUCH A GREAT DECADE.

(I have made a TERRIBLE DISCOVERY!  Whilst searching the internet for a picture appropriate for a Mean Girls macro, I realised that I’m doing this BACKWARDS!  The St Clare’s books were published from 1941-45, and THEN Malory Towers appeared!)

One interesting bit:

No one seemed to like two girls called Doris and Fanny. ‘Too spiteful for words.’ said Alicia, who of course, could always give an opinion immediately about anyone or anything from Winston Churchill down to the little boy belonging to the Tower House cook. ‘They’re frightfully pi.’

‘What do you mean, pi?’ said Gwendoline, who hadn’t apparently heard that word before.

‘Golly—what an ignoramus you are!’ said Alicia. ‘Pi means pious. Religious in the wrong way. Thinking they’re wonderful and nobody else is. Trying to stop people’s pleasure. They’re a sickening pair. Always on the prowl and on the snoop.’

It’s good to see the Christian Right was around and doing its thing in the mid-1940s.  I’m sorry, however, that we don’t get to hear Alicia’s opinion on Winston Churchill.

One of the tropes Blyton loves in her school stories is the class prankster, who plays increasingly elaborate jokes on teachers and, occasionally, fellow students.  The Fred and George type.  Alicia is the prank player, Darrell is the egger-onnerer:

‘If they try any tricks on me, I’ll try a few on them!”

‘Oh, do, do,’ begged Darrell, who had a great weakness for jokes and tricks. She didn’t always dare to do them herself, but she was always ready to back up any one else who did.


One of the most memorable features of Malory Towers is its swimming pool:

One of the things that Darrell liked best of all was the big swimming-pool down by the sea. This had been hollowed out of a stretch of rocks, so that it had a nice rocky, uneven bottom. Seaweed grew at the sides, and sometimes the rocky bed of the pool felt a iittle slimy. But the sea swept into the big natural pool each day, filled it, and made lovely waves all across it. It was a sheer delight to bathe there.

The coast itself was too dangerous for bathing. The tides were so strong, and no giri was allowed to swim in the open sea. But anyone was safe in the pool. One end was quite deep, and here there were diving-boards and a chute, and a fine spring-board for running dives.

I used to think this was unrealistic and probably dangerous, but then I read about the ocean baths of New South Wales.

So the first week passes, and Darrell is the most popular of the North Tower new girls.  But the chapter ends with FORESHADOWING!

‘Oh, my.’ said Darrell. ‘I love it. If every term is as nice as this, I shall be thrilled!’

‘Ah, you wait,’ said Alicia. ‘Everything’s always all right at first -but when you’ve had a wigging or two from Mam’zelle, and been dosed by Matron, and kept in by Potty, and slated by Miss Remmington, and ticked off by one of the older girls and…!’

‘Oh stop!’ cried Darrell. ‘Nothing like that will happen, Alicia. Don’t try and frighten me!’

But Alicia was right, of course. Things were not going to be quite so smooth and easy as Darrell thought!

First Term at Malory Towers – Chapter 3: First Night and Morning

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.”

Could it be that the “trendy” current covers are the most accurate?

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.


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.


(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.)

First Term at Malory Towers – Chapter 2: Malory Towers

Hilariously generic 1960s Dutch (I think) cover.
I found the cover to this (presumably) Dutch edition on LibraryThing, and am utterly charmed by its inappropriateness.

I don’t know how long a train journey to Cornwall would take these days, but in 1946 it apparently took up the better part of a day.  On arriving at the station, the girls board coaches — which, as a child, I eventually realised referred to buses — and we have a moment that will be revisited later in the series:

‘Can we see Malory Towers from here?’ asked Darrell, looking all round.

‘No. I’ll tell you when we can. There’s a corner where we suddenly get a glimpse of it,’ said Alicia.

‘Yes. It’s lovely to get that sudden view of it,’ said Pamela, the quiet head-girl of North Tower, who had got into the coach just behind Alicia and Darrell. Her eyes shone as she spoke. ‘I think Malory Towers shows at its best when we come to that corner, especially if the sun is behind it.’

Darrell could feel the warmth in Pamela’s voice as she spoke of the school she loved. She looked at her and liked her.

Pamela saw her look and laughed. ‘You’re lucky, Darrell,’ she said. ‘You’re just beginning at Malory Towers! You’ve got terms and terms before you. I’m just ending. Another term or two, and I shan’t be coming to Malory Towers any more—except as an old girl. You make the most of it while you can.’

And our first glimpse of the school lives up to expectations:

They rounded a corner. Alicia nudged her arm. ‘There you are, look! Over there, on that hill! The sea is behind, far down the cliff, but you can’t see that, of course.’

Darrell looked. She saw a big, square-looking building of soft grey stone standing high up on a hill. The hill was really a cliff, that fell steeply down to the sea. At each end of the gracious building stood rounded towers. Darrell could glimpse two other towers behind as well, making four in all. North Tower, South, East and West.

The windows shone. The green creeper that covered parts of the wall climbed almost to the roof in places. It looked like an old-time castle.

‘My school!’ thought Darrell, and a little warm feeling came into her heart. ‘It’s fine. How lucky I am to be having Malory Towers as my school-home for so many years. I shall love it.’

No one would ever mistake Blyton for a great stylist, but I do love her description of the school.  I don’t think St Clare’s is such a vivid physical presence in the series.

Needless to say, for Gwendoline, the setting feeds her imagination:

‘It’s just like a castle entrance!’ said Darrell.

‘Yes,’ said Gwendoline, unexpectedly, from behind them. ‘I shall feel like a fairy princess, going up those steps!’ She tossed her loose golden hair back over her shoulders.

Alicia’s typically scornful, and promises that Miss Potts will knock such fancies out of Gwen.  Which makes me feel rather bad for her, because at twelve I still nursed secret princess fantasies, and frankly don’t think they ever hurt anyone.

On the other hand, Blyton doesn’t seem to regard this as an expression of imagination from Gwen, more like vanity and self-indulgence.  But it’s not as if Alicia’s attitude is going to help Gwen develop as a person.

…also, I suppose, by the time I was twelve, they were secret princess fantasies (and secret starship captain fantasies, and secret superheroine fantasies) for a reason.

Via Alicia, we get a quick tour of the school, which apparently has one science lab but multiple needlework rooms.  (Actually, I shouldn’t mock – a sewing room is a hell of a lot easier and cheaper to set up than a lab, especially in a very old building.  I did grade 8 at a girls’ school which had been fundraising for years to set up a manual arts block.)

At last, we meet the matron of North Tower.  Saving variations required for plot reasons, if you’ve met one of Blyton’s matron’s, you’ve met all of them:

Each of the Tower houses had its own matron, responsible for the girls’ health and well-being. The matron of North Tower was a plump, bustling woman, dressed in starched apron and print frock, very neat and spotless.

Alicia took the new girls to her. ‘Three more for you to dose and scold and ran after!” said Alicia, with a grin.

Darrell looked at Matron, frowning over the long lists in her hand. Her hair was neatly tucked under a pretty cap, tied in a bow under her chin. She looked so spotless that Darrell began to feel very dirty and untidy. She felt a little scared of Matron, and hoped she wouldn’t make her take nasty medicine too often.

Then Matron looked up and smiled, and at once Darrell’s fears fell away. She couldn’t be afraid of a person who smiled like that, with her eyes and her mouth and even her nose too!

By now Alicia basically has it in for Gwen.  Earlier she gets a very mild telling off (with twinkly eyes) from Miss Potts for referring to her as “darling Gwendoline”.  Now:

‘I’m Gwendoline Mary Lacey,’ said Gwendoline.

‘And don’t forget the Mary,’ said Alicia, pertly. ‘Dear Gwendoline Mary.’

‘That’s enough, Alicia,’ said Matron, ticking away down her list. ‘You’re as bad as your mother used to be. No, worse, I think.’

Legacy student privilege.  The old (brown and orange) school tie.  I liked Alicia a lot as a kid, but these days I think Gwen isn’t the only one who needs a few lessons in social graces.

The chapter ends with Darrell and her schoolmates going downstairs for supper:

Darrell looked round at the tables. She was sure she would never know all the girls in her house! And she was sure she would never dare to join in their laugh and chatter either.

But she would, of course—and very soon too!

And if you’re thinking this seemed like a very short chapter, you’d be right — I estimate chapter 1 clocked in at about 2200 words; chapter 2 looks like it’s 1800-1900, roughly.

(How to estimate a book’s word count: take a full page of text.  Count the words in a full line, multiply that by the number of full lines, and multiply that by the number of pages in the book or chapter.  Adjust as needed for half-pages etc.  I’ve checked this a few times against DRM-free ebooks — thank you, Baen — and it’s reasonably accurate.)

Now, I’m off to rearrange my room and hopefully create a more congenial space for writing.  Provided that I can find my tape measure.