03/07/2019

Heather Leaves School (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

Although I have read and reread regularly all the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer for over forty years, I had only read about three of her much shorter ‘La Rochelle’ series. I was delighted to learn a few years ago that they had all been reprinted by Girls Gone By, and managed to acquire them all from various sources in the past couple of years. I’m currently reading them through, interspersed with other books.

I bought ‘Heather Leaves School’ (fifth in the series) from a second-hand online bookshop last year. I read the fourth La Rochelle book, ‘Seven Scamps’ in the middle of June. I had not read either of these books before.

Heather Raphael is fourteen, and has been a boarder at the (fictional) Ripley school for girls. It’s quickly clear that she has fallen into some bad habits and attitudes and her father has decided to withdraw her. This book was written in 1929 so the faults in Heather would seem rather mild by today’s standards, but Brent-Dyer was very against what she called ‘slang’. And Heather does seem to be quite rude and abrupt. Other parents have made the same decision, but Heather is particularly upset that her father does not propose to send her to a different school: he is going to keep her at home, with her younger sisters’ governess, and they will be joined by four girls from the local Vicarage.

Heather is determined to sulk, but after leaving school (which happens in the first few chapters) the family go to Guernsey for a couple of months for a long holiday. There they meet Janie Temple and Pauline Ozanne, introduced in ‘The Maids of La Rochelle’ (third in the series), and become friendly with them. Janie, who is now 18, is a quietly positive influence on Heather, and her language and attitudes gradually improve.

In September, they return to the mainland, and lessons start. Miss Christopher, the governess, is clearly an excellent teacher. And while the eldest vicarage girl, Cressie, is obnoxiously arrogant and opinionated, her sisters, (Hero, Portia and Pat) are friendly and likeable, and Heather finds that she is enjoying being educated at home rather more than she expects.

There’s excitement in the book when an unexpected monk’s passage is found in the house, as well as poignancy and sadness, due to a young man they know who is very ill. There are day-to-day happenings - walks, and conversation, and so on - and friendships are gradually developed. The book stands alone; the two main families are new in this book. It’s more interesting (in my opinion) to read it in sequence with the other La Rochelle books, but Janie’s older sisters, now married with babies, have only the smallest part to play. And other characters from the earlier books don’t appear in this one at all.

All in all, I enjoyed this story. Definitely recommended to anyone who likes schools stories intended for teenagers, and particularly to anyone who is a Chalet School fan. This series fills in a few gaps and gives the background to several of the families who appear in the Channel Islands era of the Chalet School.

The introduction to the GGB edition I have is only very brief, outlining the writing history of the La Rochelle books with their connections.

Review copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

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