Re-Read Challenge: Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School Books

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.

Anyway, here’s something to try and get me out of my blogging slump: Nath’s Re-Read Challenge.  And I’ve chosen my Chalet School books for this one.

51kxH6Hh-AL._SL160_ 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”.

51WAMY841KL._SL160_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.

51mE8bPZ4hL._SL160_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!

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13 thoughts on “Re-Read Challenge: Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School Books

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog on the Chalet School books – it brought back many memories! They were my favourites for quite a long time and I read everyone the local Library could provide. Unfortunately I never got to the last ones and I can’t remember the last title I read (I think they were back in Austria by then) and have certainly not read the “Prefects of the Chalet School”.

    I got the chance, many years ago, to go abroad for a weeks holiday and chose Interlaken because of the association! and thoroughly enjoyed the visit.

    What I have been seeking are books by M. Pardoe about a family of children one of whom is called “Bunkle”. I trawl every second hand bookshop I come across wherever I am but have had no luck so far. I have “Four plus Bunkle” and “Bunkle went for six” but there were many others and I would love to trace some of them. Do you have any ideas that I could explore and where I could get “Prefects…”?

  2. Wow!!! So great! I’ve never read these books (probably due to the fact that I went to elementary school in French!). Anyway, they are probably awesome 🙂

  3. Nath – I remember wanting to go to boarding school so badly because of these books 🙂

    Seneca – Thanks! This was one of my favourite series when I was a kid.

  4. I love CS as well and have 37 of the paperbacks, which I’m also re-reading now, (well, mostly – skipping bits I’m not fussed about going over again). I lack all the usual ‘hard to find’ numbers, but I’ll get the lot one day.=)

    • 37 is a pretty good collection! I sort of wish I’d treated my books better when I was a kid now that I know how hard-to-find (and expensive!) they are now 🙂

  5. WOW I Love these chalet school books.Really the author has a
    very special gift to write and present these books.She presented the character as though it was alive.I love it and want to read more.I wish that i still will get some more of the chalet school books.

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  8. Love the Chalet Books.I have only one more to get Jo to the rescue, having bought Prefects as a Christmas present to me.(Badger Books). I try to get 2nd hand ones if I can and hardbacks of many that were edited by Amarda. You will find details of these at Friends of the Chalet School site.It has taken me years to build up my collection and I also enjoy EBD’s other titles too as well as some of the new add-ons written recently and published by Girls Gone By.

    • Another Chalet School fan! I’ve stayed away from the new add-on titles, but have been tempted, especially as some of them get very positive reviews. I unfortunately don’t own any hardbacks – mine are mostly paperbacks, both the older Armada versions and a few of the newer GGBP trade versions.

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