First Term at Malory Towers – Chapter 7: Darrell–And Gwendoline

Where did we leave off?  Oh yeah, Gwen made an overtly bullying move towards Mary-Lou, causing Darrell to lose her temper and slap Gwen four whole times!

To the modern reader, what Darrell does is wrong because physical punishment is generally considered inappropriate and bullying.  In the 1940s it was mostly inappropriate because punishing Gwen was not Darrell’s job, and the issue of the slapping itself is a second one.  This seems obvious, but I do think it’s important to point out, because one does see contemporary reviewers becoming really angry that there’s no Very Special Moral about Not Slapping People.

TL;DR, Darrell hulks out sometimes.

HULK SMASH! (From The Avengers)
What I love about the internet is that I googled “hulk smash gif tumblr”, and this was my first result.

Katherine — she’s the head of the dorm, remember her?  You might not, because she’s not remotely obnoxious — calls a first-form meeting!  A FIRST-FORM MEETING!  That’s North Tower only, because apparently no one from the other towers — or even other forms — were present for this incident.  I mean, so I assume, because you’d think one of those “almost grown-up” sixth formers would have had something to say if the first formers started drowning and slapping each other.

Gwendoline had gone up to her dormy, to get some cold cream for her red-streaked legs. They didn’t need cold cream, of course—but she meant to make as much fuss as she could! She had always been jealous of Darrell, and she was jolly glad she had got something against her. Coming up and apologizing like that—she didn’t mean a word of it, Gwendoline was sure!

Portrait of Gwen in four sentences.

The general consensus in the form is that Darrell needs to apologise for slapping Gwen, and, as a secondary but important consideration, she should apologise to Katherine for cheeking her.

Mary-Lou’s post-traumatic girl-crush wars with her shyness:

Mary-Lou was firmly convinced that Darrell was a heroine. She had suffered such agonies under the water, and had really and truly thought she was drowning—and then along had come strong, angry Darrell. How could Katherine judge her anyhow but kindly? Mary-Lou didn’t dare to say any more, but she sat with a worried, anxious look on her face, wishing she could speak up for Darrell bravely and fearlessly. But she couldn’t.

The consensus is that if Darrell won’t apologise to Gwen — and Alicia, for one, is fairly cynical about it (‘How I should hate to have to say I was sorry for anything to darling Gwendoline Mary!’) — they’ll send her to Coventry, which is an old-fashioned way of saying they’ll give her the silent treatment and exclude her from the social interaction of the class.  Which is a pretty common bullying technique among adolescent girls, but hey, different era.  Right?

Luckily Darrell chooses that moment to make an entrance:

…the door opened and Darrell herself walked in. She looked surprised to see the girls sitting about, silent and serious. Katherine opened her mouth to speak to her, astonished to see Darrell looking so calm.

But before she could say a word, Darrell walked right up to her. ‘Katherine, I’m most awfully sorry I spoke to you like that. I can’t think how I could. I was in such a temper, I suppose.’

Don’t laugh, but as a child who also had a terrible temper, I basically learned how to apologise from Darrell Rivers.  I mean, now my therapist says I apologise too much and need to practice asserting myself, so maybe I took it a bit too far into Mary-Lou territory.  But I do think this is the source of my great love for characters who know they’re in the wrong and admit it.

‘That’s an awful fault of mine,’ said Darrell, rubbing her nose as she always did when she felt ashamed of herself. ‘My temper, I mean. I’ve always had it. I get it from Daddy, but he keeps his temper for something worth while—I mean he only loses it when there’s some really big reason. I don’t. I go and lose it for silly little things. I’m awful, Katherine! But honestly I had made up my mind when I came to Malory Towers that I wouldn’t lose it any more.’

The girls, who had looked coldly at Darrell when she had marched into the room, now regarded her with warm liking. Here was a person who had a fault, and who said so, and was sorry about it, and didn’t attempt to excuse herself. Who could help warming to a person like that?

Okay, but I’m retching just a little.  Things I hate:  using third person omniscient to tell us how great the main character is.

(Physical description watch!  Darrell’s “black curls” are mentioned!)

Mary-Lou is virtually melting, until Darrell goes and puts her foot in it again:

‘Of course,’ went on Darrell, ‘I still think that Gwendoline did a beastly thing to Mary-Lou—and I think it’s a pity too that Mary-Lou doesn’t pull herself together so that spiteful people like Gwendoline can’t tease her.’

Mary-Lou crumpled up. Oh! Darrell thought her feeble and weak and frightened. And she was too. She knew she was. She knew that a strong person like Darrell could never really like a stupid person like Mary-Lou. But how she wished she would!

Oh, honey, you just need some self-confidence.  And a girl-crush on a person who doesn’t think you’re a bit pathetic.

Gwendoline opened the door and came in, looking like a martyr. She had undone her hair so that it lay in a golden sheet over her shoulders again. She evidently fancied herself as an ill-used angel or something of the kind.

She heard the last few words Darrell spoke, and flushed red. ‘Spiteful people like Gwendoline can’t tease her!’ That was what she heard.

‘Oh—Gwendoline. The next time you want to give anyone a nasty fright, choose someone able to stand up to you,’ said Katherine, her voice sounding rather hard. ‘And please tell Mary-Lou you’re sorry you were such a beast. You gave her an awful fright. Darrell has apologized to you, and you can jolly well do your bit, now!’

‘Oh—so Darrell said she apologized to me, did she?’ said Gwendoline. ‘Well, I don’t call it an apology!’

‘You fibber!’ said Darrell, in amazement. She swung round to the girls. ‘I did.’ she said. ‘You can believe which you like, me or Gwendoline. But I did apologize—straightaway too.’

Katherine glanced from Darrell’s hot face to Gwendoline’s sneering one. ‘We believe you,’ she said, quietly. Her voice hardened again. ‘And now, Gwendoline, in front of us all, please, so that we can hear—what have you got to say to Mary-Lou?’

Gwendoline was forced to say she was sorry. She stammered and stuttered, so little did she want to say the words, but, with everyone’s eyes on her, she had to. She had never said she was sorry for anything before in her life, and she didn’t like it. She hated Darrell at that moment—yes, and she hated that silly Mary-Lou too!

GWEN, WHY YOU GOTTA MAKE THINGS SO AWKWARD FOR EVERYONE?  She’s the reason newbies are told to LURK MOAR before they start participating in forums!

Irene, who shares my feelings about AWKWARD SOCIAL ENCOUNTERS, flees to a music room.  Escapism, baby!  That’s the stuff!  The others sit around and dissect the events of the last two chapters, and agree that Darrell >> Gwendoline.  And I gotta agree — it’s a real shame that Gwen has never been taught how to admit when she’s in the wrong, even to herself, and that she’s apparently never encountered, say, positive social modelling through novels.  But I know which one I’d prefer to share close quarters with for most of the year.

Gwen sets out to write an angry letter to her mother about Beastly Darrell and Those Terrible Girls.  Katherine, faintly amused, says fine, she will also write to Gwen’s mother.  Predictably, Gwen storms off in a sulk.

To end the chapter on a lighter note, Alicia finds herself in a bit of a quandary.  Right before the slapping incident, she swam the length of the pool underwater.  Now…

‘I told you. I can’t seem to get the water out of my ears,’ said Alicia. ‘They feel blocked. I say—I do hope I shan’t be deaf tommorrow! I did go deaf once before when I swam under water for ages!’

‘Oh, Alicia! How funny it would be if you really did go deaf tommorrow in Mam’zelle’s class!’ said Darrell, heartlessly. ‘Oh, dear. I can’t imagine what would happen!’

‘Well, I can!’ said Alicia. ‘Let’s hope my ears get right before the morning!’

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