Currently reading: The Stuart Princesses by Alison Plowden. I like a bit of royal history now and then, because it’s the popular history subgenre most likely to contain books about women.
I also like the Stuarts, because that family produced a hell of a lot of intelligent, educated women who tend to get overshadowed by the Tudors. Okay, in fairness, the two Stuart queens, Mary II and Anne, may have been intelligent but they were barely educated at all, because hey, they’re only the women most likely to inherit the throne, right?
Anne gets a particularly bad rap: she was uneducated, bigoted, a bit of a drama llama, easily led by her better-educated friends and courtiers — WOW, THERE’S A SHOCK — and, worst of all, she was fat. I can’t think of a single popular history of the Stuart queens that doesn’t mention, only about eighty or ninety times, that Anne was a fatty. Never mind that she “let herself go” over the course of seventeen pregnancies in a desperate attempt to produce a living child (and the one that survived infancy died in young adulthood, BECAUSE IT SUCKS TO BE ANNE). She was fat. Fatty McFatfat.
Anyway, mostly what I’m taking from The Stuart Princesses is that the whole family was hilariously dysfunctional, and the world desperately needs a costume drama/sitcom in the style of Arrested Development.
This is especially true during the Interregnum, that wacky period where England was a republic. Because the Stuarts were basically scattered all over Europe, trying to keep up appearances whilst being totally broke. And there were passive-aggressive religious conversions and fights about money, and that time the Duke of York secretly married a Catholic and it was totes awkward, and Charles II basically being the Tony Stark of Europe and concealing his royal angst behind a whole boatload of wacky shenanigans and also a spiffy beard.
Then Charles was restored to the throne, and the shenanigans continued, only they were less wacky and more sad, because Charles was kind of a dick, and his favourite sister was in an abusive marriage with a gay man, and England kept going to war with people. And meanwhile, Charles’s German cousin Sophia of Hanover, was getting on with things over there, happily married, popping out kids and writing voluminous and hilarious letters to everyone in Europe.
So she was super-intelligent, and so were her sisters — Elizabeth was BFFs with Descartes, Louise was an artist who ran away to join a Catholic convent and wound up running it, and Henriette Marie was a confectioner, although then she married a prince and died because that’s what women do, right?
Oh, and Sophia? Heir to the throne of England. Because Anne had no surviving children, and her younger brother was Catholic (OH NOES) and also she’d spent years putting it about that he wasn’t really her brother at all, so she had to kind of flail about looking for an appropriate Protestant heir. And wound up calling the German branch of the family.
Anne was a lot younger than Sophia, but she only outlived her by a few weeks. (BECAUSE SHE WAS FAT – many historians’ opinions.) So Sophia’s son George became the king of England, and that put us on the path that led to mad George III, the vacuous Prince Regent/George IV (HE WAS ALSO FAT, YOU SHOULD KNOW), and eventually Queen Victoria and the current lot.
In short, history is AMAZING. And there really ought to be more costume comedies.
Justice Hall – Laurie R King The Game – Laurie R King Locked Rooms – Laurie R King Ba(nd) Romance – Sarah Billington (short story) The Language of Bees – Laurie R King God of the Hive – Laurie R King The Pirate King – Laurie R King Garment of Shadows – Laurie R King Beekeeping for Beginners – Laurie R King (novella) A Spy in the House – Y S Lee Point of Honour – Madeleine E Robins Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons The Casual Vacancy – J K Rowling
A bit of a light month, what with all the re-reads. Other than the Russell novels, the standout was obviously JKR’s The Casual Vacancy. I wasn’t totally blown away — I found the realism jarred against the satire, and the ending didn’t thrill me, but it was a good read, and I’m eager to see what she writes next.
I’m super-excited and proud to announce that I have an essay in Chicks Unravel Time (Mad Norwegian Press, edited by Deb Stanish and L M Myles), a look at every season of Doctor Who from a female perspective. Other contributors include Barbara Hambly (so I know what my mum will REALLY be excited about), Joan Frances Turner, and Diana Gabaldon, so I’m in totally august company.
I got to write about season 17, and the way its reputation has been rehabilitated since it first aired. You may ask, “How can a season that was script edited by Douglas Adams and included Daleks, Paris and a guys in bull masks and platform shoes get a reputation for being bad?” And I say, “I DON’T EVEN KNOW! But it’s surprisingly good despite budget problems and general behind-the-scenes shenanigans, and is driven by relationships and women in a way that people generally don’t expect of Classic Who.”
Then I talk about Nick and Nora Charles and get in a reference to Sherlock and a dig at Adric.
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.
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.
Soooooooooooooooooo, been a while, eh? I do apologise; RL has been a bit busy, not to mention the minor matter of a month-long migraine that pretty much wiped me out for August. (My doctor and I suspect it’s jaw tension and night-time teeth-grinding; rather than pay $600 for a splint right before I leave for North America, I’ve ordered a nightguard from Dr Brux. STAY TUNED.)
Also, the prospect of typing out large chunks of text has been … well, not all that enticing. And I don’t think it could be avoided by having the Malory Towers books available in an ebook format, since generally DRM and copying and pasting are not considered compatible for some reason.
Now, I love ebooks! I have a Kobo reader, but these days most of my reading is done on my lovely iPad, so I can jump between ePub and Kindle formats at will. I still buy paper books, but frankly, I don’t have that much bookshelf space, so I try to stick to ebooks.
But just of late I’ve had some problems with DRM.
First I was no longer allowed to download new copies of the Laurie R King novels I bought back in 2009 and 2010, because the store no longer had the rights to sell them to Australia.
Fine, I thought, and eventually managed to find the ePub files I had downloaded back in the day. No biggie, they were sitting on my old EeePC. Only took half an hour!
BUT WAIT. These DRM-locked files can only be managed through Adobe Digital Editions!
And ADE doesn’t acknowledge the existence of my iPad! Something about the ongoing war between Adobe and Apple re Flash means hardly any Adobe things will work with iThings. REAL MATURE, GUYS. Thank God there are non-Adobe PDF readers, or I’d be screwed!
(Notability: for that happy moment when your friend has sent you her manuscript, and you need to scribble notes all over it but don’t want to print it out!)
In short, if I wanted to read these novels — for which I had paid AU$20 each, since at the time they weren’t out on Kindle and I could only find one store that would sell them to an Australian — I’d have to do it on my laptop, which is uncomfortable and not hugely mobile compared with the iPad, or I’d have to buy them again.
(Where was my Kobo, you ask? Lent it to a friend. Well, I wasn’t using it! I FIGURED MY iPAD WOULD TAKE CARE OF ALL MY NEEDS!)
So I bought them again.
A few days later, I had inhaled all of King’s Mary Rusell novels (a cross-dressing 1920s theologian who is married to Sherlock Holmes and occasionally investigates crime herself? SIGN ME UP. SIGN ME UP TWICE) and I desperately needed more. And bitter experience has taught me that this is not a fandom that produces much good fan fiction.
Then I remembered “Beekeeping for Beginners”, an e-novella published last year. I had even bought it at the time!
Oh. Adobe Digital Editions again.
Well, it was pay week, and the Kindle version was only $2. So I bought a second copy.
Then I read it, and loved it, and tried to send a copy of the Kindle version to my friend Branwyn, who has long been my partner-in-crime when it comes to this series.
Oh no. Amazon took my money, then told Branwyn, “Nope, this is the international version. No can do.” And gave her a $2 gift voucher in substitute.
I mean, seriously.
I’ve never really given much attention to the arguments about locked versus unlocked ebooks and consequences with sales, but I’m generally in favour of paying for things that I want to read (or at least going to the library) and hence not pirating books.
But I do not understand how restricting electronic sales across arbitrary geological boundaries is in any way a good idea.
(See also the Sarah Tolerance novels by Madeleine E Robins – the first two are available again in Kindle format, but only in the US. I had to go through a lot of user-unfriendly rigmarole to get the first one via an inter-library loan.)
If a customer can jump on Amazon or BookDepository and buy a physical book, why is that same customer unable to buy the electronic edition? Is this good for business? It’s not as though Australia is teeming with ebook sellers, and those that we have tend to be ridiculously overpriced.
(I worked at Borders for a long time, and I was very glad to be getting a much higher wage and better working conditions than, say, Amazon staff. But staff expenses alone don’t justify the difference in pricing between American and Australian ebooks.)
And I like Apple products, but there’s a lot of “I’M TAKING MY TOYS AND GOING HOME” where they’re concerned, and it’s customers who suffer.
There, I have ranted! Now I shall make an unprecedented second post of the day, dealing with chapter 9 of First Term at Malory Towers!
One of my projects for 2012 has been keeping a list of books I read each month. At first I was just posting the list and a couple of thoughts if the books seemed to warrant it, but every month that post grows longer.
So, begging patience from anyone who already sees this on Dreamwidth, here are my books for August and corresponding thoughts:
VIII – H M Castor Empress of Rome: The Life of Livia – Matthew Dennison The Poisoner’s Handbook – Deborah Blum Alchemy and Meggy Swann – Karen Cushman The Colour of Earth – Kim Dong Hwa I Want My MTV – Craig Marks The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King A Monstrous Regiment of Women – Laurie R. King A Letter of Mary – Laurie R. King The Moor – Laurie R. King O Jerusalem – Laurie R. King Am I Black Enough For You? – Anita Heiss
VIII is a YA novel covering the life of Henry VIII. As such it breaks a bunch of sometimes-written rules of YA, in that the main character ages well past the target audience’s age bracket and does things they might not have direct experience with, like marriage, divorce, spousal murder, ruling England, declaring war on France and Spain, etc. I don’t think breaking that rule guideline was the reason why the book sort of floundered after Anne Boleyn died, though — it’s more that (as happens so often), the first two wives got all the characterisation, so after the beheading it felt more like a series of sketches about an increasingly unpleasant character. The first half, though, was really good.
I wanted to read Empress of Rome: The Life of Livia since I found it in Hill of Content back in 2010, but couldn’t bring myself to pay $50 for the hardback. LIBRARIES, MAN. It was a good, clear biography with an increasingly hilarious hate-on for Robert Graves and I, Claudius and the general historiographical hatchet job on Livia. It could have done with some closer editorial attention, though, with unintentionally hilarious sentences like, “Augustus himself had given birth only to Julia.” There’s also an irritating trend through the book of praising Livia by putting other prominent Roman women of her era down.
Alchemy and Meggy Swann: decent middle-grade fiction about a disabled girl who comes to live with her father, an alchemist, in Elizabethan London. I was really impressed with Cushman’s use of the slang and songs of the era, and the portrayal of Meggy’s physical limitations.
The Colour of Earth is the first part in a manhwa trilogy. (That’s the Korean graphic novel and comic form, I discovered when I went straight from Amazon to Wikipedia.) I was pretty mixed — the art is gorgeous, but I kind of finished it going, “And this is three whole books about a mother and daughter who have no existence beyond their romantic dreams?” And then there was an afterword explaining that it’s notable for its unusually feminist and layered portrayal of women. How to scare Liz off an entire genre in one easy move! (I did like the relationship between mother and daughter, I just kept waiting for them to have a conversation that wasn’t about men or romance or sex.)
I Want My MTV is an oral history of the network, with various employees and celebrities sharing their memories and experiences. Parts of it were quite interesting, lots of it made me want to throw things, and the repeated complaints that it’s all terrible now made me want to go and watch Pimp My Ride. Boomers v Gen X: no one wins, least of all Gen Y.
THEN, because I had a cold and was feeling sorry for myself, and also because the book I wanted to read is unavailable in Australia, I started re-reading the Mary Russell novels. Which are only intermittently objectively good, but I love them. And I also love the way Sherlock fans on Tumblr express OUTRAGE that any character could be written as a match for Sherlock Holmes, LET ALONE A WOMAN. The misogyny wasn’t cute when it was coming from neckbeards; it’s downright ugly coming from women.
Finally, the month’s winner for book I liked most is Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss, which is part-memoir and part exploration of Aboriginal identity, expectations, stereotypes and more. (I especially enjoyed the chapter on Indigenous cultural expressions, copyright and cultural appropriation.) Heiss is an academic, writer, poet, activist and author of commercial women’s fiction. You know, chick-lit. In this case, chick-lit about educated young Koori women with jetsetting lifestyles and complex romantic lives. (I’ve been circling her novels for a while, torn between, “But I don’t really like chick-lit!” and “But if it had a different label you’d snap that up in an instant!”)
Heiss was also an applicant in the Andrew Bolt racial discrimination case last year, for which I was part of the transcription team. (In fact, nearly a whole page of Am I Black Enough For You? is a quotation from transcript I did myself! SHUT UP, I WAS VERY PROUD OF OUR WORK THERE! There were fair amounts of research involved, and also it was 90% rage-typing!) I don’t think I’ve ever before had a chance to read about a case I worked on from a party’s point of view, and it was informative and interesting.
I was also interested that Heiss discusses race and racism in terms that the internet (okay, Tumblr) claims is unacceptable, which was a handy reminder that fandom’s attitude towards discussing race is strongly US-centric and not universal. (Not that I discuss race much, online or elsewhere, but I read a lot.) One of the problems Heiss discusses is identity policing from people, black and white, who say she is too educated, urban, middle-class, etc, to be “really” Koori. Given that a few months ago, fandom was being told Korra, a brown-skinned fictional character, is “really” white because she has … well, any privilege at all — that rang pretty strongly. That identity-erasure was at the heart of the entire lawsuit last year, so I was kind of fascinated and horrified to see the Andrew Bolt Approach being taken up by people who are ostensibly anti-racist.
From politics to cartoons, and I still managed to get one nail painted! Saturday morning accomplishment: ACHIEVED!
[ETA: One thing I meant to say in this post, and forgot, that if you’re writing, or thinking of writing, anything involving Aboriginal people, cultural works, characters, etc, Am I Black Enough For You? also contains a wealth of information about authors, reports and guidelines to check out. I mention this because a major supporting character in Le Novel, who will have the POV if I ever get to the sequel, is a twelve year old Koori girl, and I’m really glad to have all these resources for the avoidance of offence and stereotypes.]
And if, by chance, you want to look at earlier posts, check out my books tag on DW.
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.
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!’
I haven’t written much this week — I’m even behind on Malory Towers! — because I have this terrible cold. The first symptoms, early this week, were Feeling Sad And Also Not Writing, which is basically the opposite of cool. Then I spent most of yesterday sleeping.
But today I feel well enough to leave my bed! Later I might even do the dishes and the next Malory Towers post!
In the meantime, here’s a great interview with my friend Zoe about fat activism and the extremely sketchy links between obesity and various “lifestyle” diseases. (Fact: due to various health conditions, my mother has been chronically underweight for most of her adult life. AND YET she has diabetes II, which the media tells me is God’s way of punishing fatties for not being thin! Amazing!)
Zoe’s the friend I go to when I need to be told that, no, I’m not too overweight to wear galaxy leggings, what are you talking about, Liz, don’t be stupid! And when I said to her, “Hey, the doctor tells me I’m pre-diabetic and should lose some kilos, and this doctor is pretty cool and not fatphobic so I’m taking him seriously. How can I frame weight loss talk without being horrible?” she gave me tips.
(She’s also my partner in A Certain Inappropriate Animated Villain Crush. *eyedart*)
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!
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.
CONGRATULATIONS, GWENDOLINE, YOU’VE CROSSED THE LINE FROM “TOXICALLY SOCIALLY INEPT” TO “SCHOOL BULLY”. WELL DONE.
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.’
WHY IS THERE NO ADULT SUPERVISION AT THIS POOL? WHAT’S THE STUDENT DROWNING RATE AT MALORY TOWERS?
Everything that follows is important, so Imma just gonna do a whole lot of typing:
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.
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.