Angela Brazil very briefly attended my old school, when her family first moved to Manchester. Her horrified mother withdrew her on discovering that the girls there behaved with “perkiness”, bought sweets from corner shops and even, horror of horrors, ran along the pavements. There was not one person considered suitable to be asked chez Brazil for tea. Good job that Mrs Brazil never knew the place in my day, some of the language we used and all the complaints that the bus company made about us! Dear Angela was consequently sent to a very select establishment, known as a “ladies’ college” rather than anything as plebeian as a “school”. So I think I can be forgiven for not having the most positive of images of her – but I read this as part of a reading challenge, and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and there was actually very little snobbishness in it.
Having said which, I was spitting feathers after reading the first page, which involved a girl who addressed her mum as “Muvvie” (seriously – Muvvie?!) and a lot of negative remarks about the evils of northern industrial landscapes. Dark satanic mill type stuff. Ooh! If there’s one thing I can’t be doing with, it’s people making negative comments about northern industrial landscapes! OK, there are lots of things I can’t be doing with, but that’s certainly one of them. It was particularly galling given that Angela Brazil’s dad (or maybe that should be Farvie?) worked in the Lancashire cotton industry, a fact which Angela tended conveniently to ignore. However, our friend and her sister – Mavis and Merle – didn’t have to stay amongst the dark satanic mills too long, because they were off to stay with their uncle in “Devonshire”, land of witches and pixies. After that, they pretty much shut up making negative comments about the North. Hey, they even acknowledged that we have our own mythical creatures – boggarts.
Off to Devon. It’s interesting how Girls’ Own authors seem to have this idea of the Celtic Fringe (I just mistyped that as “Celtic Fridge”) – yes, I know that Devon isn’t Cornwall and isn’t generally classed as being Celtic, but I’m not sure that Angela Brazil did, and Elinor M Brent-Dyer seemed to think that the two rival counties were actually interchangeable! – as being all fey and mystical. I suppose it was a combination of the Celtic Revival and the interest in the Scottish Highlands brought about by Queen Victoria and Sir Walter Scott. Clotted cream got mentioned several times as well – although it was referred to as “scalded cream”. I am a big fan of clotted cream, but have my scones the Cornish way, jam first! And there was a local festival to mark a local saint’s day.
Anyway, off they went to Devon, to stay with the uncle, who, like the dad, was a doctor. Girls’ Own authors are very keen on doctors. Darrell’s dad in Malory Towers is a doctor, the eponymous heroine’s husband in the Dimsie books is a doctor, and all good Chalet School girls and mistresses get to marry doctors. I got a bit annoyed at a snooty comment about “trippers” dropping litter, but it was only the one comment.
Like a lot of Angela Brazil books but unlike a lot of other Girls’ Own books, this one involved a day school, and there were two main storylines – one about the school, and the nasty girl who had the headmistress and the other teacher (the unfortunately named “Miss Fanny”) fooled into thinking that she was all sweetness and light, and one outside school hours, involving a mysterious boy called Bevis, who’d been brought up by foster parents after his mum had dropped dead at a local hotel without leaving any clue as to who she was. As you do.
Contrary to the image of Angela Brazil books being snobby, it was stressed that Bevis, despite his humble upbringing, was a really nice lad, and that it was fine for the girls to be friends with him. We were clearly meant to approve of him, but not of the rich boy whose family were renting the local squire’s house (the squire, an elderly man with no heirs, being abroad). Well, OK, there was some snobbishness there, in that the nouveau riche family were clearly to be detested, and you just knew that the poor-but-noble-minded Bevis was going to turn out to be the scion of some upper-class family, but there certainly wasn’t the sort of snobbishness that you get from, say, Julian in the Famous Five books.
Nor was there any of the gushing that people associate with Angela Brazil books. None of the girls went around kissing each other, hugging each other, developing grand passions for the prefects, writing soppy notes, bursting into tears every five minutes or anything else along those lines. Even the language wasn’t that bad. There was some strange slang, such as “Judkins”, but nothing too daft. Anyway, all schoolkids use weird slang; and, for some reason, the word for “silly person” (which is what “Judkins” appears to mean) tends to change every term or so. We went through wally, plonker (thank you, Only Fools and Horses), berk, prat, dork (thank you, Neighbours), derbrain, dweeb, dormant, nob, neb and assorted other terms, none of which were really any worse than “Judkins” 🙂 . And some of the descriptions of the countryside were extremely well-written and a genuine joy to read. Someone did get extremely ill from being out in the rain, but even Jane Austen uses that trope.
Needless to say, the nasty girl, one Opal Earnshaw – a very northern-sounding name for a Devonian! – eventually showed her true colours, and the teachers saw her for what she was. Equally needless to say, it turned out that Bevis was the long-lost heir to the local squire, the house being rented by the nouveau riche types (the son of whom turned over a new leaf and became quite a nice bad) and most of the other land and property in the area.
So it was all a bit cheesy and predictable, but, OK, I wasn’t expecting it to be deep and meaningful. The main characters were genuinely likeable, and it certainly didn’t fulfil the stereotype of the early school story that gets mercilessly parodied in something like Daisy Pulls It Off. It’d been a good few years since I last read an Angela Brazil book: I must read a few more of them.