Seven Scamps (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

In slowly reading through Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s ‘La Rochelle’ series, I reached ‘Seven Scamps’. This is the fourth book in the series, and one I have never read before, as far as I recall. I only managed to acquire the book last year; it was out of print for a long time, and I had not even heard of it until the Girls Gone By publishers produced a new edition in 2013.

I wasn’t sure what to expect; the word ‘scamps’ sounds like young children, so I was vaguely imagining seven young children getting up to mischief. It didn’t sound all that appealing, so I was pleased to discover that the ‘scamps’ are in fact seven siblings, the Willoughby family, ranging from Maidie who is seventeen, down to Tim, who is five. They have been running rather wild in their large home, looked after by a housekeeper and various other staff while their father travels abroad on business.

We quickly learn that their mother died when Tim was only a baby, and their father couldn’t handle staying in the house after losing his wife. But their escapades have been getting worse and worse. Dina, who is about seven or eight, and the second youngest, is ‘delicate’ and has problems with her spine.

Rex, the second oldest at sixteen, also has health problems. But they all decide to spend a night sleeping in hammocks outside, without telling any of the staff - and in order to prepare for this, Marjolane (the second oldest girl) takes Tim and Dina into town, purportedly to get their hair cut, and keeps them out for much longer than is good for them.

The staff all panic, the doctor is annoyed, and the curate - whom none of them like much, and who was supposedly tutoring the boys - takes a hand too, making himself even more unpopular. Several people write to the children’s father, asking him to come home; Dina needs urgent medical treatment, and the household staff are at their wits’ end.

So their father arrives, with a surprise which nobody expected and which his older children, at least, are very annoyed about.

Then the latter part of the book takes place in Guernsey, where they go for a long holiday. Here they meet the Atherton family, introduced in the early books, who are also there for a holiday, and the former Temple sisters, Elizabeth Ozanne, Anne Chester and Janie Temple (who is still a teenager).

I did find myself forgetting some of the Athertons, but it didn’t matter too much. By that stage I felt I knew the Willoughby siblings quite well. The author succeeded in making each of the children memorable, at least during the course of the book, with distinct characters; I particularly appreciated David (third youngest) who keeps saying things that are on his mind, without realising he has spoken aloud.

The children’s actions and activities are mostly interesting to read about, with quite a modern mindset, even while clearly set in the culture and societal attitudes of the late 1920s when the book was first written. I didn’t like comments about the boys being thrashed, nor the strong sense of class consciousness which pervaded their households, but they would have been considered normal for the era.

Indeed the only thing that jarred was Tim’s very immature language - he is supposed to be five, and given the era cannot have spent hours in front of any kind of screen. But his grammar and pronunciation are like that of a much younger child - he comes across as no more than three, at least in the early part of the book.

But other than that, I thought ‘Seven Scamps’ very well written and enjoyed it very much. A great addition to the ‘La Rochelle’ series, and I liked the insights into people whom I know will eventually be connected with the much longer ‘Chalet School’ series, also by Elinor M Brent-Dyer. Next time I read it through - probably starting next year - I will appreciate the latter part of ‘The Chalet School in Exile’ rather more, after getting to know some of the people whom the Chalet School folk meet when they move to Guernsey.

Other than the rather large cast, this book stands alone and I would recommend it to anyone who likes teenage fiction of the era. The ‘Girls Gone By’ edition has the bonus of a short story at the end, featuring a meeting between Maidie Willoughby and Gerry Challoner, the main character of the first book, who has become something of a celebrity in the musical world.

The earlier books in the ‘La Rochelle’ series are:

Review copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

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