First Term at Malory Towers – Chapters 19 and 20

Previously: While recovering from her appendectomy, Sally has deduced that Gwen is the person destroying Mary-Lou’s property, even as she blames Darrell and Alicia.  Darrell and Sally agree that Mary-Lou needs more self-confidence, and that the best way to make this happen is to manipulate her.


Chapter 19 – Sally’s Plan

Sally and Darrell are here to chew gum and beat some confidence into Mary-Lou.  And they’re all out of gum.

But first, an important message from Darrell’s girl-crush:

[Darrell was] thinking how pretty the plain little Sally looked that morning, with colour in her cheeks, and twinkles in her eyes.

Sally is the first to admit that her plan isn’t great: Darrell will pretend to have cramp while swimming, Mary-Lou can throw her the lifesaver, everyone praises her for these heroics, Mary-Lou lives happily ever after.

I can’t fault Sally’s logic: that it will be easier for Mary-Lou to develop her courage and self-confidence if she knows that she does in fact have those qualities.  I just think that tricking Mary-Lou into that situation is patronising, and also, the girls — and Blyton, let’s be real here — are mistaking physical courage and a cool head in an emergency for the sort of confidence that enables a person to engage in necessary conflict.

Darrell has no such qualms:

“How do you know things like that?” asked Darrell, in admiration. “I wishdid!”

“Oh, it’s not very difficult really,” said Sally. “All you do is put yourself into the place of the other person, and feel like them, and then think how you could cure yourself if you were them. That sounds muddled—but I can’t very well say exactly what I mean. I haven’t the words.”

“Oh, I know what you mean, all right!” said Darrell. “You do what Mother is always telling me to do—get into somebody else’s skin, and feel what they’re feeling. But I’m too impatient to do that. I’m too tightly in my own skin! You’re not. I think you’re clever and kind, Sally.”

GIRLCRUSH.  Although Darrell still carries a torch for Alicia:

It was strange how completely different Sally seemed now. When Darrell looked back and remembered the quiet, self-contained, serious person Sally Hope had always appeared, it seemed impossible that she had turned into the laughing, eager, twinkling-eyed girl in the bed—a sensible, kindly girl with a real sense of fun.

“She’s not such good fun as Alicia, of course,” said Darrell to herself, “but she’s more trustable, somehow. And she isn’t as sharp-tongued, though she’s just as clever in what she thinks about people.”

Which is to say that Sally has empathy, a skill that Alicia has yet to master:

“Why ever should you want to bother yourselves with that silly little baby of a Mary-Lou?” said Alicia in surprise. “You’ll never make her any better. She’s hopeless.”

“But we might make her better,” argued Darrell, rather disappointed with the way that Alicia took the idea.

“Not much chance,” said Alicia, “I expect what will happen is that Mary-Lou will be too scared stiff to do a thing, and will simply stand blubbing by the pool and let somebody else run for the life-belt. And that will make her worse than ever, because everyone will despise her.”

Alicia, Alicia, Alicia.  She’s terrible, but she’s also a really great character, and one who doesn’t have many parallels in Blyton’s other school stories.  Blyton’s other tricksters are much nicer people, except to French mistresses and other acceptable targets.

And for all Blyton’s moralising, Alicia doesn’t really get her comeuppance until the later books.  Even then, we’re basically told that Alicia will go to university, have a great social life, passable academic results, and will eventually settle into a fairly unremarkable adulthood.  She has setbacks, but (spoilers!) she’s not humiliated the way Gwen will be.

Anyway, Darrell relays Alicia’s thoughts back to Sally, who points out that Alicia isn’t entirely wrong, but she’s forgotten the most important thing of all: the power of love.

I’m not even joking.

“She’s forgotten that it’s you who are going to struggle and yell for help,” said Sally. “Everyone knows that Mary- Lou thinks you’re wonderful and would do anything in the world for you—if you’d let her. Well, here is something she can do—and will do! You see if I’m not right. Give Mary- Lou a chance, Darrell. Alicia sees her as a weak little cry-baby. But she could be something more than that, for the sake of someone she loved.”

I know Darrell/Sally is the real OTP of the series, but we shouldn’t overlook Mary-Lou’s propensity to fall madly in love with girls.

Speaking of Darrell/Sally, though, Darrell takes a moment to break Sally’s heart:

“All right, I’ll give her a chance,” said Darrell. “But I can’t help thinking Alicia is right. She really is smart, you know, and can always size people up. I wish she wasn’t friends with Betty. I wish she was my friend!”

Sally didn’t say any more. She played dominoes with Darrell and was rather quiet.


Anyway, Alicia “1940s Regina George” Johns is miffed that Darrell is proceeding with a plan she considers silly.  But they all head down to the pool, even though Mary-Lou isn’t allowed to swim (she has a cold) and is in uniform.  Darrell has invited her to throw pennies for which Darrell can dive, and Mary-Lou’s got it bad enough that this sounds delightful rather than tedious.

Into the water plunged the girls. Some jumped in, some dived in. Only Gwendoline went cautiously down the steps. But even she went in quickly for once, because somebody gave her a push and down she went, spluttering and gasping. And when she arose, angry and indignant, not a single girl was near her. Of course, she had no idea at all who had pushed her. Darrell or Alicia she supposed. Beasts!

We never do find out who pushed Gwendoline, but let’s assume it’s the ghost of a long-dead schoolgirl who was drowned by the class bully.

Mary-Lou was at the deep end, watching the others. At least, she watched Darrell mostly, admiring the way she swam, cutting the water so cleanly with her strong brown arms, and thrusting through the waves like a small torpedo. Mary-Lou put her hands into her pocket and felt the pennies there. It was nice of Darrell to ask her to throw them in for her. It was always nice to do anything for Darrell, even if it was only a little thing.

Kickstarter to buy Mary-Lou a copy of Women Who Love Too Much.

Fun fact: when I was about ten, that reference to Darrell’s “strong brown arms” had me convinced she was a character of colour. My parents set me right. AHAHAHAHAHA a brown girl as the heroine of a boarding school novel.  What an idea.  Ahahaha. Ahahahahahahaha. *weeps*

Darrell begins her drowning act, while Betty and Alicia smirk and whisper at the other end of the pool:

Alicia nudged Betty.

“Just what I thought,” she said in a low voice. “Too much of a ninny even to get the life-belt!”

Ninny (n) (1590s) – probably from “innocent”.  If you were wondering.  (I like to double-check the source of insults from my childhood, ever since one of my family’s favourite sayings turned out to be incredibly racist.)

A couple of girls, thinking Darrell really is in strife, go to save her … but!

But somebody else reached Darrell first! There was a resounding splash, and into the water, fully dressed, jumped the scared Mary-Lou, doing her best to remember the few swimming strokes she knew. She managed to reach Darrell, and put out her arms to her, to try and save her.

Darrell, popping her head out of the water for the second time was filled with the utmost amazement to see Mary- Lou’s wet head bobbing beside her! She stared as if she couldn’t believe her eyes.

“Hold on to me, Darrell, hold on to me!” panted Mary- Lou. “I’ll save you.”

How illustrator Lilian Buchanan saw this scene
How illustrator Lilian Buchanan saw this scene in 1957
How Stanley Lloyd saw this scene in 1946.
How Stanley Lloyd saw this scene in 1946
How Charles Stewart saw this scene in 1963
How Charles Stewart saw this scene in 1963
Black and white line illustration
More from Stewart in ’63, because why not?
How I see this scene in 2015
How I see this scene in 2015

Chapter 20 -Well Done, Mary-Lou!

Really, Enid?  An exclamation mark in a chapter title?

Anyway, Mary-Lou isn’t a great swimmer, so the other girls help the mysteriously-recovered Darrell to the side of the pool.

“Mary-Lou! You jumped right in to the water, and you hardly knew how to swim! You’re an idiot, but you’re the pluckiest idiot ever I knew!” cried Darrell.

“Plucky” is such a great adjective.  It speaks of wholesome high spirits, and good, honest fun, and really invites you to punch anyone in the face who thinks it describes you.

It transpires that the lifebelt was off to be mended, and this is 1946, so no one had any qualms about letting unsupervised 12 year olds swim without it.  So Mary-Lou, as Darrell points out to Alicia, has a lot more courage and good sense than anyone realised.

Mary-Lou is praised throughout the school, much to Gwen’s dismay — not only is Mary-Lou stealing the attention that’s rightfully Gwen’s, but she’s gone and saved, ugh, Darrell.

[Mary-Lou] remained her own rather shy, quiet self, but now she had more confidence, and stood up for herself better. She had been proved and had not been found wanting. She was pleased and proud, though she did not show it, as a girl like Gwendoline would have done.

For one thing she stood up to Gwendoline better, and this annoyed and exasperated Gwendoline intensely. And when Sally came back into school again, as she did in two weeks’ time, she too seemed changed, and would stand no nonsense from Gwendoline. She stood up for Mary-Lou, and ticked Gwendoline off in a way that irritated her and made her long to snap at Sally.

Another couple of weeks pass, and Darrell’s schoolwork improves.  She becomes curious as to how Gwen is going to claim to be top of all her classes when her school report will say otherwise … and that’s how we discover that Gwen has never even heard of a school report before.

Poor Gwendoline. It really had never occurred to her for one single moment that her bad and lazy work would be reported in this fashion to her parents. She sank down in a chair and stared at Darrell.

“But Gwendoline, did you never have a report on your work before?” asked Darrell, in surprise.

“No,” said the crest-fallen Gwendoline. “Never. I told you I had never been to school before I came here. Only my governess, Miss Winter, taught me—and she never made out reports, of course. She just told Mother how well I was getting on, and Mother believed her. I didn’t know I was so backward till I came here.”

The really amazing thing about Miss Winter is that she still has her job. Like, Gwen’s dad is supposed to be Mr Sensible, yet his daughter has gone off to school, half-educated, and he’s still paying her!

Darrell still hasn’t learned that lesson about not repeating what someone said to you about a mutual acquaintance, because she goes and reveals to Gwen that Mary-Lou told her about all the giant porkies Gwen was telling her family over HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALF-TEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRM (sorry, it just slipped out).  Gwen is outraged.

Gwendoline was speechless. How dare Darrell speak to her like that? And HOW DARE Mary-Lou repeat to the others the things she had overheard her say to her mother at half- term? Nasty, sly, disgusting little meanie! She would jolly well pay her out. She would take her fountain-pen and stamp on it! She would—she would… Oh, there was no end to the things she would do to that beastly, ungrateful Mary-Lou.

In some ways the grown-up version of the girls boarding school genre is the women’s prison setting.  Gwendoline Mary Lacey is the Piper Chapman of Malory Towers, and she’s going into full season 3-era Trust No Bitch mode.

But first, she has to get some study done.

“What has happened to Gwendoline?” asked Miss Potts of Mam’zelle. “I begin to believe she has a few—just a few— brains at last!”

“I too,” said Mam’zelle. “See this French exercise ? Only one mistake! Never has this happened before to Gwendoline. She is turning over a new stalk.”

So my boss’s first language is French, and —

oh God, I have just realised that I am working for an Enid Blyton character.  The resemblance is uncanny and also terrifying —

— anyway, before I came to that shocking realisation, I was going to say that my boss’s first language is French, and her speech patterns and mixed idioms are exactly like Mam’zelle.  But is that because Blyton in fact had a good ear for Francophones using English?  Or is my boss literally a product of her imagination?

(It really would explain a few things.)

Unfortunately, Darrell still hasn’t figured out that there are things best kept to herself, so she tells everyone that Gwen has only just discovered that report cards are a thing.  And Mary-Lou makes the mistake of laughing.

Gwendoline had her chance of paying Mary-Lou out the next day. She went into the common room when there was no one else there—and in Mary-Lou’s locker was her precious fountain-pen! Gwendoline saw it at once.

“That’s the end of that!” she said, spitefully, and threw it on the floor. She stamped on it hard, and the pen smashed, spilling ink all over the wooden floor!

End chapter.

And now, a special message from Official No Award Calligrapher Moya:



(No fountain pens were destroyed in the creation of this post.)