I’ve fallen out of the habit of blogging lately. My addiction to blogging comes and goes in spurts. I suspect it’s probably inversely related to how much time I’m spending at work, which, at the moment? Way too much. Oh, I’m still reading everyone’s blogs and commenting every now and again, but my own blog feels somewhat abandoned.
I mentioned a couple of weeks back that having come across the Girls Gone By Publishers site (which specialises in reprinting girls’ fiction from the 20th century), I’ve not only ordered a couple of new-to-me CS books, but also started re-reading my own collection. I’ve re-read a good selection of my CS books since, ranging from the early Tirol days (“Jo Returns to the Chalet School”), the War years when the school moves back to England (“Peggy of the Chalet School”, “Bride Leads the Chalet School”) and then back to Switzerland (“The Chalet School Wins the Trick”, “Summer Term at the Chalet School”). And err… quite a few more besides.
It’s probably no great stretch of the imagination as to why I’m loving these re-reads – they’re taking me back to my childhood days when the most I had to worry about was if I had finished my homework or not! Ah, those were the days…
Anyway, the Chalet School series, if you haven’t stumbled them before, follows the establishment of a boarding school for girls on the shores of the Tiernsee in the Tyrol by Madge Bettany, who in later books, marries the head of a TB Sanatorium, Dr Jem Russell. The series spans a good number of years – the eldest daughters of Joey Bettany, Madge’s younger sister and the first-ever pupil, lead the school in the final CS book, “Prefects of the Chalet School”.
Some unique CS customs include its trilingual requirements, with all girls expected to be fluent in English, French, and German, and alternate days being dedicated to each language. There is much emphasis on outdoor pursuits, be it walks (and rambles), sports, or excursions, as fresh air and sunshine are thought to be directly linked to health. And each term brings its own major event, be it a Nativity play, the Sale (and yes, that’s with a capital S) or a sports regatta. As with other boarding school stories, there are naughty Middles galore, with prefects and mistresses keeping a close watch over them.
However, it isn’t just boarding school life with pranks and midnight feasts. More serious themes are tackled, for instance, the effects of WWII – “The Chalet School in Exile” deals with its German and Austrian girls having to leave and the school eventually having to evacuate to England. The school’s close links with the Sanatorium (apart from Madge and Jem, quite a few ex-pupils and staff end up marrying doctors, not least of all Joey!) mean that a number of girls have relatives at the San and there is acknowledgment that not everyone will live, and even those who do may not recover fully.
To me, part of the charm of reading contemporaries written years ago is getting a sense of the social norms and values of the time, and the CS books are no exception. The girls get ticked off for using slang – for instance, the word “smashing” is absolutely taboo! They have to “croc”, walking two-by-two in public places and keeping their voices low in case they disturb passers-by. In “The Chalet School Triplets”, there is a school trip where they end up in a department store (with lifts operated by liftmen) and there is mention of how the mistresses “turned them loose, warning them to keep sight of each other”, even though the youngest is “nearly sixteen-and-a-half”. Nowadays, teens pretty much roam where they please at will, surely?
Re-reading these books (together with commentary from the CBB boards) also made me realise several anomalies that never struck me at that time. For instance, Joey Maynard (nee Bettany)’s close involvement with the Chalet School – didn’t she ever want to let go? And how the teachers (or mistresses) stayed sane in the closed atmosphere, especially in the latter Switzerland books when they were based on the Platz, and it was a good hour to anywhere else. And oh, lots of other things which amuse me now 🙂
As much as I’m loving these, I’m starting to find a bit of same-ness seeping through – I will probably finish a few more that I want to re-read over the next couple of weeks… and then move on to my next obsession!