Chapter 2 ended with Gwen dooming new girl Daphne to guilt by association:
“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!”
Chapter 3: First Day of Term
This, of course, was a silly way to introduce any new girl, especially as every listening girl immediately felt that anyone likely to be Gwendoline’s favourite was not at all likely to be theirs!
I’m like, yes, it’s an infantilising way to address your classmates, but Team Main Characters could stand to be less judgemental. About so many things, really.
But they’re Nice Girls, so they “smiled politely” and give us a look at New Girl #3:
She was very pretty. Her golden hair curled about her forehead, and her blue eyes were much bluer than Gwendoline’s large pale ones, but they were set nearer together than Gwendoline’s, giving her rather a sly look. She had beautiful white teeth, and a very charming smile.
My eyes are very near together, and I spent my primary school years being paranoid that I looked untrustworthy. Thanks a lot, Blyton.
In the post-war rationing era, with dentistry still very much a luxury for the wealthy, beautiful white teeth were a notable feature. (Please refrain from British teeth jokes.)
Aside from being blonde-haired, blue-eyed and of doubtful characters, Daphne and Gwen have bonded over never going to school before. Alicia sees an opportunity to be mean, and takes it. Gwen responds with unexpected maturity:
“You don’t need to be rude immediately you see me, Alicia,” she said. “Come along, Daphne, I’ll show you what to do. You are in our dormy, which is very nice. I can show you around quite a lot. I know how I felt when I first got here and didn’t know anyone.”
NORMAL SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR FROM GWENDOLINE. But, of course, that’s just not good enough. Not only is it an unapproved crush (“I told you she’d have to be silly about somebody,” said Sally to Darrell) but rumour has it that Daphne is stinking rich, which must be why Gwen likes her.
I mean, yes, that is why Gwen likes her. But talk about giving a dog a bad name, etc, etc.
They have adjacent beds (Daphne looked really charming in blue pyjamas, her curly hair all about her shoulders in a golden mass) and commence whispering. But Sally soon puts a stop to that, and gets sassed by Gwen for her efforts.
Gwendoline sat up. “You’re not head of form or dormy, Sally,” she said. “Don’t give orders, then! …Wait till you’re head and I’ll obey you, but not till then!”
I don’t think we ever hear much about a head of dorm after this. It’s one of those signs that Blyton was making it up as she went along.
The next day, the three new girls visit Miss Grayling, who gives them the same speech she gives all the new students. (In one of the recent authorised St Clare’s sequels, it’s a plot point that the headmistress is unable to give the precise speech!)
Miss Grayling eyes up the new girls:
All three new girls in the second form seemed to be listening earnestly and sincerely, especially Daphne. Miss Grayling glanced at her, looking at her closely without appearing to. She knew quite a lot about Daphne Millicent Turner.
Daphne looked back, putting all her soul into her eyes. She wanted badly to make a good impression on Miss Grayling. She smiled her charming smile, but the Head Mistress did not return it.
MORE OMINOUS CHORDS
Meanwhile, Darrell and Sally are moving up the food chain:
They passed the door of the first-formers … a tangled crowd of small girls were choosing desks and bagging seats.
“Babies!” said Darrell, loftily. “Just inky-fingered kids who probably don’t know their twelve-times table yet.”
Knowing the twelve-times table seems to be a significant mark of maturity to Blyton. (Confession: I do not know my twelve-times table. I never got around to memorising it, I just go (N x 2) + N x 10), and there you have it.
Two old second-formers, now third-formers, passed them in the passage. “Hallo, kids!” said one of the third-formers, condescendingly. “Look out for old Nosey! She’s hard on people who make too many spelling mistakes!”
THE CIRCLE OF (school) LIFE.
“Nosey” is Miss Parker, the second form mistress, who is considered strict, except for “dreamy fits when she sometimes seemed to forget the class and sit gazing into the distance”. Darrell, always one to prejudge, is pretty certain she won’t like Miss Parker as much as Miss Potts.
Irene and Belinda want to know about the teachers, which gives us a chance for exposition: there are two French mistresses, Mam’zelle Dupont (short, fat, jolly) and Mam’zelle Rougier (tall, thin, unfriendly). There’s also a sharp-tongued history mistress, Miss Carton, who never actually appears in any of the books.
They also meet the most important part of the Malory Towers landscape: the swimming pool.
“I suppose you can swim very well,” Daphne says to Gwen. Gwen, who infamously can’t swim, is within earshot of Darrell and can’t exaggerate.
“Well — not so well as the others,” she said.
“I bet you swim the best,” said Daphne, warmly. “You’re too modest!”
Girl crush: RECIPROCATED.
Meanwhile, Ellen, seemingly the least interesting of the new girls, freely admits she can’t swim:
“I’ve never had much time for games,” she said. “But I’d like to play them well. I’ve had to work hard always.”
In Blyton’s world, it doesn’t matter if you’re totally rubbish at sports, as long as you make an effort. Blyton presumably never had to suffer through the mockery of twenty six-year-olds who just found out you can’t catch or throw. Or run.
Ellen has won the only scholarship on offer for Malory Towers — way to be exclusive, MT! — but she has a serious case of imposter syndrome:
“I don’t believe I’m really clever,” said Ellen, the little line deepening on her forehead and giving her a worried look. “I mean — I can work and work and work, and remember things all right — but I’m not brilliant like some girls. Some don’t need to work hard at all — they’re top because they’re so clever, and they can’t help it. I have had to work for everything. Still — I badly wanted to come to Malory Towers, and here I am, so the hard work was worth it!”
Ellen writes herself off as dull, which is a bad move for a new character. She’s not dynamic like Belinda, or charming like Daphne, but she’s just discussed one of the ideas that Blyton always comes back to, the value of hard work over lazy brilliance.
(It reminds me of an old debate in Harry Potter fandom, about whether Hermione was a genius, or if she has above-average intelligence and works really hard. I always came down in favour of the latter.)
Meanwhile, Belinda is uncomplicated:
Belinda loved everything about Malory Towers. Irene, who had taken her in tow as Gwendoline had taken Daphne, was delighted with Belinda’s rapturous admiration of everything.
Irene is the very last person who should be entrusted with the care and feeding of a new student, but she’s popular, so no one gives her a hard time about adopting a new girl.
It turns out that Belinda is an artist: she can paint and draw, and, most importantly for her friends, she does marvellous caricatures.
“We’ll have some fun with you, Belinda!” said Irene. “You can draw Nosey Parker — and Mam’zelle — both Mam’zelles, in fact — and Matron — and everyone. I’m glad you came. We’ll certainly have some fun with you!”
OMINOUS CHORDS — wait, no, that’s not meant to be grim foreshadowing. CARRY ON!
Chapter 4: Settling In
Malory Towers isn’t the kind of school where students get to pick their leaders. The teachers have decided that the new head girl will be … Sally!
The runners-up, Miss Parker says, are Darrell, Jean the Forthright Scot, and Winnie Toms, token contender from another tower. The girls are surprised: they had expected to hear that Irene or Alicia had been considered.
Irene doesn’t mind being passed over — being head girl might cut into Music Time — but Alicia nurses a seed of resentment.
“There’s too much favouritism!” she told herself, fiercely. “Just because I play the fool sometimes and upset the mistresses they won’t even consider me as head!”
You know, I’m usually pro-adverb, but I really do want to run a red pen through, say, two out of three adverbs in any Blyton novel.
The real reason that Alicia has been overlooked is, of course, that she’s a baby sociopath. We get a rare glimpse into a conversation between the teachers:
“She’ll get a lot of admiration and envy but she won’t get much love or real friendship from others,” Miss Grayling had said at the staff meeting. “As for Betty, her friend, she is clever too, but a little empty-head, compared with Alicia, who really has it in her to make good if she tried. It isn’t Alicia’s brain that is at fault, it’s her heart!”
That is just terrible writing. But a reasonable point!
We also get the logic behind choosing Sally:
Sally Hope, the steady, loyal, kindly, sensible Sally, Darrell’s best friend. Sally might not be top of the form, but she would always listen to anyone in a difficulty. Sally would not do brilliantly in exams, as Alicia would — but she would always help a younger girl at games or lessons. She would be completely fair and just as head-girl of the form, and she wouldn’t stand any nonsense.
Sally’s come a long way since she spent her first term pouting and sulking and not speaking to anyone! It’s a shame that most of this character development has happened off-screen.
It’s not just Alicia who’s displeased by the choice: Gwendoline is furious, as is Betty and a couple of her friends.
That night, Belinda asks what happens to girls who keep whispering after being told to shut up.
“Nobody ever does,” said Sally, grimly. “But I believe there is an unwritten rule at Malory Towers that if anyone makes herself a nuisance at night, the other girls must send her to Coventry.”
At least, that’s what Sally says in the current editions. I’ll have to check my paperbacks, but I’m pretty certain the original version involves a spanking with a hairbrush. Certainly Gwen’s reaction — “How dare Sally hint such a thing to a second former?” and “It would be too humiliating…” — is a bit over the top if she’s just faced with temporary ostracism.
Two girls lie awake late into the night. Gwendoline has rage!insomnia. Ellen has anxiety: she did well in the first day tests that let the teachers know how new students are doing, but not — in her opinion — brilliantly. (Although it’s hard to imagine that she did worse than Daphne or Belinda.) But “her brain didn’t seem to work so easily as it used to”, and the concept of burning out isn’t going to emerge for another few decades.
But the new girls begin to settle in, despite Belinda’s inability to find her way around the school. Irene offers to be her guide, but Miss Parker knows exactly how that will end, and it’s not with improved punctuality.
But Belinda’s artistic talent is keeping her afloat — in exchange for caricatures of the teachers, the other girls are doing her classroom chores and keeping her desk tidy. (Belinda’s doing bookmarks — the goal is to get one for each teacher, to mark the place in each lesson’s exercise book. This is still the greatest thing I ever heard, and I spent a couple of years in primary school desperately wishing I could caricature well enough to create such wonders for myself.)
The teachers are mystified by the girls — even Gwen — bending over backwards for Belinda, whom Miss Parker describes as “a silly child”. (SHE IS THIRTEEN YEARS OLD, MIND.) Mam’zelle (Dupont, the Default Mam’zelle) has her own ideas:
“Ah, Belinda has the artistic temperament!” said Mam’zelle. “She has no time for such things as tidying desks and making beds. I myself have an artistic temperament, but in this so-English school, it gets no sympathy. You English, you do not like such things.”
Remember, Blyton is very into tempering creativity with practicality. Which is actually a useful lesson, especially for dreamy girls who spent more time writing Malory Towers fan fic than was good for them (…what?), but it’s also a reflection of the workmanlike way she pounded out her books for children, finishing a new one every few weeks.
Miss Parker’s reaction to Mam’zelle’s artistic temperament is hilarious:
Miss Parker … had heard a good many times before about Mam’zelle Dupont’s artistic temperament. It usually took the form of groaning over such laborious tasks as marking papers, making out long lists and so on. Mam’zelle’s artistic temperament was always at odds with such tasks, and she tried in vain to hand them over to more practical people, such as Miss Potts or Miss Parker.
This is deeply hilarious to me. I bet Mam’zelle likes to procrastinate by making long to-do lists, then promptly misplacing them. (In a future book, we learn that she occasionally declares that it’s time to Get Organised, Dammit, and starts clearing out her desk, until such a time as she’s distracted by something more interesting.)
Mam’zelle Dupont really speaks to me as a person, is what I’m saying.
Miss Parker tries to find out why Belinda’s so popular, but the girls are careful to keep her from finding their bookmarks — Belinda has “a malicious pencil”, and an eye for unflattering exaggerations.
We end the chapter with Irene lamenting that everyone wants cartoons, but no one will trade chores for musical compositions. It’s a hard life, Irene.
You know who doesn’t have a hard life? ME. While searching for pictures to liven up this post, I stumbled across the site of Enrique Lorenzo, creator of the delightful Spanish illustrations!
Guys, I’m gonna hit Spanish eBay SO HARD, you have no idea how much I want more of this art.
I mean, sure, most of the characters don’t look anything like they’re supposed to (as far as I can make out, starting at the top left, we have Sally and Darrell (most prominent on all the covers), Mary-Lou (smallest), Gwen (fair-haired, “fashionable” plait, plump), Alicia (…I never pictured her as messy, but otherwise, that is on point), Mam’zelle Dupont. Then, second row, Daphne, Belinda (art portfolio), Irene (music!) and Ellen, Now The Only Goth At Malory Towers.
I love them so much. And I can’t complain about the depictions not being book-perfect, because I just stumbled across this depiction of Mrs Hope, Sally and Daphne from the ’60s edition of Segundo Grado en Torres Dde Malory: