08/04/2019

A Head Girl's Difficulties (by Elinor M Brent-Dyer)

Although Elinor M Brent-Dyer is best known for her lengthy Chalet School series, she wrote quite a few other books too. A series I particularly liked in my teens was those set in ‘La Rochelle’; my grandmother had a couple, and I managed to borrow one of the others. It was only relatively recently that I realised that there were seven books in this series, and just this past year I managed to acquire those I did not already have.

A couple of months ago I read the first in the series, ‘Gerry Goes to School’, possibly for the first time; certainly the first time in many decades. In the past few days I have read its sequel, ‘A Head Girl’s Difficulties’, which is set three years later. I’m a tad surprised to discover that I read this in 2011, as I had no memory of the storyline at all!

The head girl featured in this book is Rosamund Atherton, who was mentioned in the first book, but was not one of the main characters. Gerry Challoner, main protagonist of the first one, is now a responsible prefect at St Peter’s School, well settled into living with the Trevennor family. Rosamund does not particularly want to be head girl. However when she learns that their beloved headmistress, Miss Catcheside, is in hospital and will not be at the school all term, she determines to do her best to pull up the standards of the school, in exam results, sports matches, and also general attitude and discipline.

Naturally there are juniors who decide to play up, and Rosamund’s first term as head girl is fraught with difficulties. She manages most of them well, although she is almost in despair at times. I was a little shocked at the almost casual way some younger characters were killed off in a nasty epidemic, but this book was published in 1923, before widespread vaccinations, and when childhood illnesses were fairly often fatal.

One unexpected problem that arises is that of over-sentimentality, in a form that reminded me more of Dorita Fairlie Bruce’s ‘Dimsie’ series than Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s. I don’t recall this kind of thing in any of the Chalet School books. Two new girls are held responsible in different ways, and it’s all stamped upon in ways that seem appropriate, but this, almost more than anything else in the book, makes it feel extremely dated.

Still, it’s a pleasant enough light read, with insights into people that, despite the era, are not so different from people nearly 100 years later. I doubt if most of today's teens would be interested in it, but these books are collected and regularly re-read by adults like me who remember them nostalgically from our youth. Online copies of the original hardback are very expensive, and although Girls Gone By re-published this in 2008, with an interesting introduction covering some of the issues in the book, it is no longer in print.

Review by Sue F copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Steve Hayes said...

I'd not read any of these, but have a couple of school books that belonged to my father, set about 20 years earlier -- Edwardian. I remember the childhood fever scenes, and anxiously waiting for the fever to "break".