The Marlow books by Antonia Forest

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I’ve just read all ten of these books, having read Autumn Term and The Cricket Term many moons ago when I was only about seven. I could have sworn that I’d read The Attic Term as well, but nothing about either it or End of Term rang a bell, so I think I must have just read the two.

These aren’t historical novels as such, but there are a couple of things which I really felt like waffling about! The books have been much discussed – the way in which the time in which they’re set moves around, the way in which they’re far more modern than most boarding school stories, the mixture of different genres, etc – but the two things which I really wanted to waffle about were Karen’s marriage and the religious aspects of The Attic Term.

Karen, the eldest of the six Marlow sisters, is the brightest of the bunch, wins a scholarship, and goes off to Oxford to study classics. Five months later, she drops out of Oxford to marry Edwin Dodd, a forty-one year old man with three children. His estranged wife, the children’s mother, has only very recently died, and there are some strong hints that he’d been hoping that they might get back together. None of Karen’s family have even heard Edwin’s name mentioned until Karen arrives home and announces that she plans to have a very quiet, rather hole-in-the-corner (no wedding dress, no wedding cake, no bouquet, no bridesmaids) wedding, without even waiting until her grandmother, her aunt, her eldest brother or even her father, who’s away on naval duty, can get there. We don’t “see” Commander Marlow in this book, but imagine how hurt the poor man must have been :-(.

It seems to be Karen rather than Edwin who’s pushing for the marriage to take place so quickly, and it’s hard to disagree with the view taken by one of her sisters, that she’s worried that if they don’t get married now then he’ll employ a housekeeper and or a nanny and decide that he doesn’t need a second wife. That doesn’t say very much for the relationship between the happy couple. Neither of them seems very happy, and Edwin is a rather unattractive character who seems to be constantly in a bad mood and even hits Karen’s younger brother with a horse whip.

Mrs Marlow, understandably, isn’t very happy about it, but is afraid to risk a huge family falling-out by trying to stop the wedding from going ahead. So it duly takes place, but it all seems so depressing and, at the end of The Ready Made Family, the reader’s left with the uncomfortable feeling that Karen’s made a big mistake. We don’t see much of Karen and Edwin thereafter, so we don’t really know how things work out. It just all seems very unsatisfactory.

Having said which, it’s entirely Karen’s own choice. In Prefects of the Chalet School, Len Maynard becomes engaged to Reg Entwistle; and most Chalet School fans seem to find that relationship very objectionable. However, as Reg is “only” ten years older than Len (who, at 18, is only a year younger than Karen is when she marries Edwin), and a bachelor with no children and no baggage, and it’s agreed that the marriage should wait until Len’s got her degree, on the face of it it’s a much less controversial match than Karen’s with Edwin is. Yet it seems even less satisfactory, partly because Len has so little life experience but partly because of the feeling that Len’s been pushed into it.

I don’t know what conclusions I’m drawing from all this: I just wanted to write something down!

The other issue is the way in which Antonia Forest – real name Patricia Rubinstein, daughter or a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, and herself a Catholic – uses The Attic Term to put forward her opposition to the reforms made by Vatican II. There’s an awful lot of talk about how the Merricks, the Marlows’ friends and neighbours, aren’t happy with the reforms, and Patrick Merrick ends up being expelled from his Catholic school because he is a traditionalist, opposed to the reforms, and the headmaster isn’t happy about it.

It was something that Antonia Forest clearly felt very strongly about, but I just feel that it’s not very appropriate for an author to use a children’s book, especially when it’s the ninth in a series which has previously focused on other things, to put forward their personal views on such an emotive and divisive topic. If a schoolteacher or a television programme did so, I think there’d be a lot of complaints. Obviously it was something that did affect her very deeply, but I don’t think that this was a very appropriate way of expressing her opinions.

OK. Waffle over!

One thought on “The Marlow books by Antonia Forest

  1. CA

    I read Autumn Term and End of Term. I loved them. I hope one day to read all the books in the series. Maybe I need to hunt for used copies on Amazon. Speaking of religion I recall Jewish identity and culture being discussed in End Of Term due to a Jewish pupil named Miranda West

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