Stephanie’s out of the country, which means … IT’S SQUID TIME! And also, you know, time to relaunch the Malory Towers readthrough.
You can find previous posts in the series here.
Second Form at Malory Towers! Let’s go!
Darrell, Sally, Gwendoline, Mary-Lou and all the other girls from the First Term at Malory Towers are now in the second form and they are as lively as ever. Mam’zelle Dupont is still trying to be strict, Alicia plays a terrible trick with invisible chalk and Gwendoline and Daphne inevitably get into trouble.
Chapter 1: Back to Malory Towers Again
After a year at Malory Towers, Darrell is thirteen and about to enter the second form. (That’s more or less year eight, for anyone trying to keep track.) She’s predictably keen:
“I’ve simply loved the hols,” said Darrell, as she got into her father’s car, ready to set off to school once more. “But I’m glad it’s time for school again. I’ve been eight weeks away from it!”
Key postwar British slang: “hols”.
Mr Rivers is here to bring casual sexism to the second paragraph:
“Is your mother ready, or must I hoot? It’s an extraordinary thing that I’m always the first one ready. Ah, here comes Mother!”
The tardiness of the Rivers women compared to the pater familias will be revisited over the years.
Curious boarding school novel pattern: students tend to travel by train in the first book, then return to school by car in the second. Think I’m exaggerating?
There are good plot reasons for this. The train journey quickly separates the main character from her parents and sends her out into the world alone, meeting the supporting cast with minimal adult supervision. It’s a good opportunity to introduce the antagonists and immerse the reader in the new setting.
By the second book, the reader already knows the school and the supporting characters, so the author can spend that time getting to know the main character’s family somewhat, or at least enjoying some flying car shenanigans.
Blyton only puts Darrell on the train when there are important characters to introduce — Darrell herself, and her sister in book four.
Speaking of Darrell’s sister, though…
“There’s your little sister waving to you,” said her father, as the car slid down the drive. “She will miss you, Darrell.”
Darrell waved frantically. “Good-bye. Felicity!” she yelled. “You’ll be coming to Malory Towers some time, then we’ll go together!”
Who is looking after Felicity? Servants? The gardener? SHE IS TEN YEARS OLD!
Picking up Sally introduces us to her sister Daphne — “Daffy” — at last (“Want to come too!” called Daffy, her eyes full of tears as she saw her beloved Sally going away), and we get some exposition about the first book. Finally, the chapter moves onto the really important stuff: who’ll be the head girl of the second form?
“Alicia perhaps.” said Sally. “She’s about the oldest.”
“I know—but do you think she would make a good head?” said Darrell, doubtfully. “I know she’s awfully clever, and gets top marks in anything—but don’t you think she’s too fond of playing the fool?”
“She might stop that if she was head of the form,” said Sally. “What Alicia wants is a bit of responsibility, I think. She just won’t take any. You know she was asked to run the Nature Walks last term, and she wouldn’t.”
Given her personality flaws, avoiding responsibility seems like a really sensible decision on Alicia’s part. Sally agrees:
“But I can think of another reason why she wouldn’t make a good head girl.”
“What?” asked Darrell, enjoying this gossip about her school fellows.
“Well, she’s rather hard,” said Sally. “She wouldn’t bother to help people if they were in trouble, she wouldn’t bother herself to be kind, she’d just be head-of-the-form and give orders, and see that they were kept, and nothing else—and you do want something else in a head-girl, don’t you think so?”
Yes, Sally, I really do.
(I find it interesting that there’s no moralising attached to this gossip, no authorial disapproval. When was the last time you read about two girls “gossiping” without a subtext of maliciousness? Sally and Darrell are gossiping, but they’re too fair to be malicious about it. A less loaded way to describe it would be to say that they’re checking in, confirming their opinions of their schoolmates. And, of course, providing exposition to the reader who is starting with the second book.)
Darrell has her own opinion on the matter: she’s making a Sally For Head Girl ’47 poster.
“Well, who do you think is fit to be head of the form?” demanded Darrell. “What about you! You size people up awfully well, and you’re fine when anybody’s upset or in trouble. And you’re so—well, so steady, somehow. You don’t fly off the handle like I do, or get all worked up about things. I’d love you to be head.”
Sally, on the other hand, is making Darrell For Head Girl ’47 fliers.
But Darrell points out that she still can’t be relied on to keep her temper — on being mistakenly told off by an older girl last term, she chucked a tantrum, threw her tennis racket on the ground and stormed off. Of course, since she didn’t engage in physical assault, so in some ways, that’s a win.
The important thing is that Gwen is still terrible. Why? Well, she went and had an unapproved girl crush:
“Do you remember how silly she was over Miss Terry, that singing mistress we had last term—the one that took Mr. Young’s place for two months? I thought Miss Terry was stupid to put up with it”
“Oh, Gwendoline will always be silly over somebody,” said Sally. “She’s that kind. I expect she’ll pick on somebody this term too, to worship and follow round. Well, thank goodness it’s not likely to be me!”
HOW DARE GWEN BE SILLY IT’S LIKE SHE’S A 13 YEAR OLD GIRL!
In the ’80s (day)school series Peter High, by Jean Ure, the main character spends the third book nursing a MASSIVE crush on an older girl. It is in fact called a crush, and her brother makes fun of her for being gay, but aside from him, no one bats an eyelid, even when it’s explicitly compared to actual lesbian infatuation. IT’S GREAT.
What I’m saying is, it’s a shame Gwen’s not in a completely different series all together.
“I say -wouldn’t it be funny if Mary-Lou was told to be head-girl!” Both girls laughed. Mary-Lou was devoted to both Sally and Darrell, though Darrell was her heroine -and the girls liked little Mary-Lou very much. But she was such a timid little thing, shrinking away from all idea of responsibility, that it was quite funny to picture her face if she was ever told she was to be head of the form.
“She’d have a blue fit and go up in smoke.” said Darrell. “But she’s much better now, Sally. Do you remember how she used to shake at the knees when she was scared? She hardly ever does that now. We’ve all been decent to her and not scared her, and we’ve made her believe in herself—so she’s different She’ll never be so bad again.”
(1) Mary-Lou would have been an AMAZING head girl, and I’m really disappointed it never happens;
(2) I still dislike the conflation of “shyness” with “weak character”.
It was a long, long drive to Cornwall. The journey was broken by picnic meals, taken by the wayside, sitting on heather or grass. Mrs. Rivers took the wheel of the car once to relieve her husband.
One of the few times we see a woman driving in Blyton’s writing.
How many roadside picnics were needed for this trip? Was one not enough? How long have they been driving? WHO IS LOOKING AFTER FELICITY WHILE THIS EPIC ROAD TRIP IS GOING ON?
“Not very far now,” said Mr. Rivers, who was back at the wheel. “We may see some other cars on their way to the school, too. Look out for them.”
They soon saw one—a low red car belonging to Irene’s people. Irene was at the back and waved violently, almost knocking off her father’s glasses, as he sat at the wheel. The car swerved.
Irene, you might recall, is the scatterbrained music/maths genius of their class. She didn’t have much to do in the first book, but she takes a slightly more prominent role in the second.
Pray that Irene never gets her driver’s licence.
And so Sally and Darrell arrive at school, where they are greeted by a tumult of voices and general schoolgirl chaos.
Chapter 2: Three New Girls
Darrell said good-bye to her parents and they purred off in the car.
Blyton’s cars always purr.
Darrell was always glad that her father and mother were sensible when they said good-bye. They didn’t burst into tears as Gwendoline’s mother always did. They didn’t expect her to stay close beside them and look mournful. They laughed and talked just as usual, promised to come down at half-term, then kissed her good-bye, and went, waving cheerfully.
Random Moral Lesson for Any Parents Reading.
In comes the Exposition Fairy!
Miss Potts was in the hall. She had been their form-mistress when they had been in the first form, and was still their house-mistress, for she was in charge of North Tower, in which they slept.
There’s more exposition, but I just wanted to point out that Miss Potts is (a) still around and (b) still the best ever.
Miss Potts puts Darrell and Sally in charge of the care and feeding of new girl Ellen Wilson, who is “tall and thin” and looks both nervous and scared:
She had a very pale face and looked tired out. In the middle of her forehead was a deep line, cutting down between her eyebrows, making her look as if she was continually frowning.
Darrell, with her typical lack of empathy, doesn’t much care for Ellen, but is nice to her anyway, because she’s a decent sort of person who hardly slaps anyone anymore.
In a modern school, the first day back is the chance to show off new hairstyles, but since this is the 1940s and Blyton has the same attitude towards fashion and make-up as C S Lewis, they just get taller. Which is to say, Mary-Lou may no longer be the smallest girl in the class, although I don’t believe we ever get confirmation either way.
Every book has a humorous interlude involving Irene’s health certificate.
“Got your health certificate?” asked Sally, slyly. It was a standing joke with the girls that Irene always arrived without it, no matter how safely her mother had packed it in her night-case, or given it in an envelope to Irene to put in her pocket.
“Got yours?” said Darrell to Ellen Wilson. “We have to hand them over at once. And woe betide you if you go down with measles or chicken pox or something if you’ve just handed in a certificate saying you haven’t been near anyone ill! Golly, Irene, you don’t really mean to say you haven’t got yours again?”
This was written before vaccination programs for common childhood illnesses became common. Throughout the books, various girls miss school because they’ve been exposed to an infectious disease and had to be quarantined. Something to look forward to again as anti-vaxxers kill our herd immunity, but I digress.
Irene was feeling in all her pockets, with a humorous look of dismay on her face. “Can’t find it at the moment,” she said. “Must be in my night-case. But no—Mother said she wasn’t going to put it in there any more because it always disappeared. Blow!”
Key postwar British slang: “Blow!” as an extremely mild expletive-substitute. Was it ever used outside children’s books?
“Matron said she’d isolate you next time you came without a health certificate,” said Sally. “You’ll have to be in the San. for two days till your mother sends another one. You really are an idiot, Irene.”
VACCINATE YOUR KIDS.
Matron has the second new girl:
She was about the same age as Darrell, and, like Darrell, had black curly hair, but cut much shorter, more like a boy. She looked rather dirty and untidy, but she had a very attractive grin, and her eyes twinkled as she looked at the other girls. She did not look nearly so lost or forlorn as Ellen.
The Mystery of Darrell’s Hair continues!
This new girl is Belinda, who is essentially Irene but with different talents:
“Where’s my night-case?” said Belinda, suddenly.
“Surely you had it with you a minute ago?” said Matron, looking all round. “Well, give me your certificate and then go and look for your case.”
“But it’s in the case,” said Belinda, and looked vaguely round.
SUCH HEALTH CERTIFICATE RELATED COMEDY. Irene is also having trouble.
“Oh, Matron, don’t isolate me!” begged Irene, taking her night-case, opening it and emptying all the contents higgledy-piggledy on the floor. “I’ll find it, I will!”
The girls stood by, laughing. Really, Irene was very funny when she had lost something.
Irene bent low over the case, hunting hard—and suddenly she gave a cry and put her hand to her chest.
“Oooh! Something’s pricking me! Whatever can it be? Gracious, something’s run a sharp point right into me!”
She stood up, rubbing her chest. Then she opened the front of her coat—and the girls gave a scream of laughter.
“Irene! You donkey! You’ve got your health certificate pinned on to your front! You couldn’t lose it if you wanted to.”
CUE ZANY IRENE MUSIC
Belinda also gets zany music:
Belinda had wandered off to look for her night-case. Whilst the others were still putting out their things, she sauntered back, a brown suit-case in her hand. She opened it and shook out a pair of pyjamas. She stared at them in surprise.
“Golly! I didn’t know I had pyjamas like this,” she said. “And what posh bedroom slippers Mother has put in for me. For a surprise, I suppose!”
Darrell looked over her shoulder. Then she grinned. “You’ll get into trouble if you unpack any more of those things.” she said. “They belong to Georgina Thomas! She’ll be jolly wild if she finds out you’ve got her night-case! She’s probably hunting all over the place for it now. Can’t you read, Belinda?”
As far as Blyton’s concerned, talent is all very well, provided you don’t take yourself too seriously. (More on that in book 3, I guess. Mavis! <3)
Irene didn’t in the least mind being teased. She was a clever, good-humoured girl, brilliant at music, but very thoughtless and vague over the ordinary little everyday things. If anyone lost a grammar book it was Irene. If anyone forgot to turn up at a special lesson, it was Irene. And now here was another girl. Belinda, who seemed to be just as bad. Irene very much liked the look of her, and had already made up her mind to be friends.
At last, the train girls arrive, and the dorm is complete.
Alicia Johns came in, her eyes bright. Behind her came Jean, the straightforward, sensible Scots girl. Then came Emily, a quiet girl whose only real interest was sewing, and the most elaborate embroidery.
REMEMBER EMILY? She still exists. Unlike poor Violet, who has vanished forever.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight of us,” said Darrell, counting.
At last, Gwen arrives, accompanied by the third new girl:
Gwendoline Mary introduced her. “Hallo, everyone! This is Daphne Millicent Turner, a new girl. She’s in our form and in our dormy. She travelled down in my carriage and I’m sure she’s going to be a favourite with all of us in no time!”
1. When I read this for the first time — coincidentally the same day I got hold of Mum’s fire engine red nail polish and painted my nails for the first time, an event commemorated by the nail polish encrusted on my copy of the book — I thought that “Daphne Millicent” was the most glamorous name I had ever encountered.
2. Poor Daphne, doomed at once by Gwen’s social ineptitude.