For 70 to 75 years, children over the world have indulged themselves in the life in English boarding schools. A far cry from Tom Brown’s School Days , Malory Towers and St. Clare’s took us into a world that was at once joyful and fantastic. All the girls loved school, and those who initially did not, soon grew to love it. These stories were given to us by Enid Blyton, a master storyteller who knew how to capture the interest and imagination of the young.
Twins at St. Clare’s
When asked whether she had a plan for her stories, Blyton said, that she simply allowed her imagination to take her from the beginning of the book to the final scene. In the days when she wrote there was no computer. So, she wrote with her typewriter perched on her lap. She was able to write 10,000 words of publishable story in one day!
In 1941, Enid Blyton began her school series starring twins at a boarding school called St. Clare’s. A series of six books, with never a dull moment. The first three revolve around life in the first form. The rest take you through the second, fourth and fifth forms.
Patricia and Isabel O’Sullivan have just finished school at the elite Redroofs. They have to move to senior school and their parents are reluctant to send them to yet another expensive school — Ringmere, where most of their classmates are headed. The parents fear the twins might end up being too snooty and spoilt. So, they choose to send them to St. Clare’s, which they describe as “a very sensible sort of school”. Furious at having to go to St. Clare’s and not Ringmere, the two of them are determined to be impossible. At St. Clare’s, they find nothing meets their mark and even on the sports field they find, horror of horrors! Only lacrosse is played. No field hockey and no tennis!
But, despite their vow to be difficult and unhappy in their new school, they have fun and make friends. There are other girls who make their appearance in the first book — Alison O’Sullivan (the twins cousin), Hilary Wentworth, Carlotta Brown, who was with the circus, Kitty Flaherty, who brings her pet goat, McGinty to school, The Honourable Angela Favorleigh and more.
The Headmistress, Miss Theobald believes that people get out of life what they put into it, telling her pupils: “Do your best for us and St. Clare’s will be able to do its best for you!”
Tricks and jokes, midnight feasts, sports matches, thrilling rescues, fun and friendship are all a part of life at school — but so are hard work, exams, problems, tempers, meanness and snootiness.
Though the books were written between 1941 and 1945, Blyton made it a point not to mention the war. It was as if she wanted to forget the dreadfulness of the situation and give the children a make believe world where everything was pleasant and happy. During the war there was severe rationing of food items, but Blyton did not stint on the food laid out at the midnight feast. From potted meat, hardboiled eggs and prawns to jam tarts, pickled onions and pineapple chunks, she laid it on thick.
Life at school
Seventy years ago, 12-year-old Darrell Rivers packed her bags and went to a boarding school known as Malory Towers, in Cornwall, England. As was the tradition at the school, all the new girls are taken to meet the head of the school — Miss Grayling. The head tells the new girls that in Malory Towers girls are considered a success when they have become “dependable, loving and prove to be women useful to society”.
The six books in the series take you through the school life of Darrell Rivers. Blyton began the series in 1946, bringing out a book every year till 1951 when Darrell leaves the school.
Darrell is impressed with Miss Grayling’s words and is determined to be a “success”. But then she gets friendly with Alicia Johns and gets side tracked. Alicia is a naughty one, and Darrell is taken up with playing pranks and fooling around, not paying much attention to her studies. Also, she has a violent, uncontrollable temper that gets into a trouble more than once! There are the usual spattering of nasty girls, snobbish ones — like Gwen, and meek and timid like Mary-Lou.
Events take a turn when Darrell is the cause of Sally Hope’s sudden hospitalisation requiring surgery. Regret and a wish to curb her temper and make amends bring the two together forming a firm friendship that takes them through their school years.
With every passing term, we see changes in Darrell’s behaviour. She becomes more responsible and caring and in her final year she becomes the head girl. When she takes the new girls to meet Miss Grayling, and the head gives her usual speech, Darrell is overwhelmed when she hears her name mentioned as one of the successes.
Darrell and her friend Sally Hope leave Malory Towers with wonderful memories. They are both bound for the University of St. Andrews. Darrell hopes to become a writer some day. Meanwhile, snobbish Gwen who had been lauding it over everyone about attending an expensive finishing school in Switzerland is in for a shock. Her father takes ill and Gwen has to leave Malory Towers. She is frightened and in tears, and does not return. Much later, Darrell receives a letter from her saying that her father was slowly recovering and she was considering taking up a job in an office. In the world of Enid Blyton, “taking up a job in an office” means things have become really bad!
Darrell’s younger sister Felicity also joins Malory Towers when Darrell is in her fourth.
However, as in all her books, Blyton could not resist the stereotype. So, in the St. Clare’s series we have Carlotta, the circus girl who is a “wild foreigner” who knows a language other than English. She is described as being “untidy with no manners at all”. The French mistresses in both Malory Towers and St. Clare’s had their quirks. Americans were thrown in for good measure — rich, flamboyant, pushy. But for all that, Blyton romanticised the idea of boarding school, creating in young girls a longing to be a part of this great adventure.
She died in 1968 at the age of 71. Despite the brickbats and criticisms of her work, Blyton continues to be popular — educating, entertaining and inspiring. Through her writing she encourages her readers to observe everything around them, explore and investigate, discover and learn.
Pamela Cox has valiantly tried her hand at continuing the Malory Towers and St. Clare’s series.
Look out for:
Naughtiest Girl series
The Adventurous Four
Mr. Galliano’s Circus
The Children of Cherry Tree Farm
Family at Red Roofs
Those Dreadful Children