22 April 2010

Malory Towers 101

All right, I am ready to start delving into the murky world of a boarding school full of adolescent girls. I have an old school jumper on (it might say BSB rather than Malory towers, but it was a good school dammit – on a side note, is it sad that I still have the jumper 13 years after attending my school? It’s such a comfortable jumper …) and I’m ready to show some school spirit, or to destroy it, whatever.

Welcome to the world of Malory Towers – a world in which parents cheerfully abdicate their parental responsibility and dump their pre-adolescent daughters in an isolated school on the coast in Cornwall. At this school, girls will learn the joys of institutional living, become conditioned into the ‘right’ way of thinking (this process involves some spanking and hair brushes), and gain an inflated sense of their worth in society (based on the school they attended). They will be forced to play sports, learn to sew, and be educated just enough to be regarded as decent marriage material (because we all know that marriage is the only real career path for any female, don’t we Enid?), not to mention network with the ‘right’ people, as that is the pool from which eligible husbands will later be sourced.

I feel that it is necessary to introduce you to this wonderful world before I dump you headfirst into the wild and heady adventures that take place within the books. Part of the attraction of the stories is the familiarity with which we come to regard the characters, shaking our heads over Irene’s latest mad escapade, predicting the demise of Gwendoline’s latest friendship …

This post may be a little boring, and I apologise – but it really is necessary.

Setting

Malory Towers itself is a boarding school in Cornwall, and is (so I understand) the place from which the sun rises and sets every day. It is a utopia filled (mainly) with the right thinking element of society, all from the right sort of families (you will see in a later post what happens when the nouveau riche try to infiltrate the ranks of this fine establishment …). It must be the sort of school that Blyton wished she had gone to (alas for poor E, she was doomed to be a day girl at a local school – no heady delights of communal living for her). As a point of interest, the school was probably based on the school to which Enid shipped her own two daughters from the age of about ten.

The building itself appears to be an old converted stately home (although no one ever speculates as to why anyone would be so stupid as to build a stately home on an exposed headland). It has four towers, imaginatively called the north, south, east and west towers, in which the girls reside. We are told from the start that only the North tower is worth living in, as that is where our heroine resides, so anyone not in that house is of no value and is hence ignored (thus does the indoctrination begins – the hierarchy of the school boarding houses is of the sort that gives birth to the larger bigotries later – remember that Hitler had only lately been defeated when she started writing these books). Apart from the details about the towers, we are not given much information about the geography of the school. There are sports fields, tennis courts, classrooms, a swimming pool and so on, but the layout is a closely guarded secret that would only be familiar to those who have actually been to the school. We are just meant to know. (It’s a clever little trick of Enid’s – we are given details that we can fill in ourselves in order that we might have some ‘ownership’ of the setting. While controlling that section, she takes over in more subversive ways …) Let us take as given that the layout doesn’t matter and that the girls all just magically appear where they are supposed to be…

Oh and there is a uniform, but I’ll save the joys of that until the next post.

Characters

There are new characters introduced in each of the six books, as variety is the spice of life (and reading about the same boring brats does tend to get tedious), but there are a few core characters with whom you must be conversant to really appreciate the subtle intricacies of this deep and philosophical epic.

Darrell Rivers: Our heroine. A ‘sensible girl’ who happens to have serious anger management issues – but these aren’t seen as a major character flaw as she always apologises after beating the shit out of some poor unfortunate. Potential domestic abuser in later life. Likes any sport that involves some sort of instrument that can be used to hit people (tennis, lacrosse, hockey). Nominally based on Blyton’s daughter Gillian, but seems more to channel how Blyton may have seen herself at school.

Alicia: The coolest girl in the class – clever and good at sports. She is an absolute bitch, but gets away with it as she is just so bloody wonderful and has school spirit (very important) – perhaps also because she admits that she is a ‘hard’ girl (I think one can get away with character flaw at Malory Towers so long as they admit that flaw. It’s a licence to misbehave). She likes to play pranks. Probably a fairly accurate depiction of Blyton at school (based on what I’ve read).

Sally: Darrell’s best friend. She has a tendency to be a possessive, jealous bitch – but that’s fine apparently because it shows her loyalty. She’s a good all-rounder, but obviously not as good as Darrell, because no one can be as good as Darrell. She seems to be the most normal of the lot, and hence quite boring. She really only exists to be a hassle-free foil for Darrell – almost wifely in her unquestioning devotion.

Mary-Lou: There are no super-intelligent pets in this series, so little Mary-Lou stands in for one. Doormat, co-dependent and possessing a tendency to fawn, Mary-Lou is seen as the class puppy. She gains an owner later in the series, which makes everyone happy for her.

Irene: budding musician. She is a stereotypical artist-type (forgetful, temperamental etc.) and is made the butt of many jokes because of it. Her idiosyncrasies appear to be programmed out of her throughout the series – making her much less interesting ...

Jean: Stock Scots-girl. Think of a Scottish stereotype and she is it. Says ‘och’ at least once a book so that everyone knows that she is from Scotland – but is seen as a good egg because she has many fine English attributes ... (please be aware that, in Blyton books, only English people can have or teach acceptable character traits – anyone who is a good egg obviously learnt their winning ways from one of this fine nation). She disappears later in the series

Gwendoline: supposedly the anti-heroine, Gwendoline is really the tragic victim of this institutional system. Sadly unprepared for the jungle into which she is thrown, Gwendoline does not react well to the constant negative reinforcement that she receives at the school. The rest of the staff and student body, however, are too stupid to try any other tactic than ‘sitting on her’. Constantly bullied and friendless, Gwendoline is the type from whom you hide any sharp implements. Today, she probably would have been the emo rebellious type and dyed her hair black (yet listened to Girls Aloud).

Miss Potts: House mistress and form mistress who enables the girls in their bullying of the misfits. She has a fanatical dislike of the wrong-thinking element and does not recognise the damage she causes by allowing her pet students to torment the outcasts. This mindset seems to be the same for all the teachers.

Miss Grayling: Head mistress. Woefully out of touch with the students in the school, she only gets involved when there are PR implications. Recites a stock speech at the beginning of every term to new girls that introduces them to the idea that they owe their school for their education (quite apart from the exorbitant fees they pay) so they should pitch in and ‘give back’ to the school. How one may do this is never set out … I can just see those words paving the way for a sexual assault case down the track …

The mam’zelles: two French mistresses, one fat and jolly, the other thin and sour. They are major French stereotypes – often get into cat-fights (in the gallic style – no English woman would behave so inappropriately). Fat and jolly Mam’zelle Dupont is often the butt of practical jokes, being nothing but a silly French woman (as all Frenchies are apparently). Both have a fierce temper. I can’t really think of a way in which these depictions could be more derogatory, but I’m sure that it will come to me throughout the series.

Matron: The closest thing to a mother figure many of these girls have. The parents turn up like toys to be played with every half term, leaving the actual caring to Matron. Has been at the school long enough to look after Alicia’s mother when she attended. She seems to go rabid over darning.

Darrell’s Family: Mummy, daddy and little sister Felicity. Mummy is (again) Enid Blyton, and Felicity stars later on in the series (does it surprise you that Blyton had a second daughter called Imogen?), but it is Daddy who excites my interest.
Daddy is a surgeon. This is relevant because it highlights a habit Blyton had – that of whitewashing her own history. The father of Blyton’s daughters was not a surgeon – he was E’s first husband and he was a publisher. E and husband number one, however, divorced when the girls were about ten and six, and she never let him see the girls again (she apparently had a history of cutting people out of her life). She did, however, provide them with a substitute father in husband number two. His last name happened to be Darrell Waters (sound familiar?) and he was a surgeon. Read these books and the references to ‘Daddy’, particularly in light of the other parallels one can draw with the Rivers family, and you will definitely feel a little manipulated …

Here endeth the lesson. To be honest, going through the characters in this series really does remind me of the movie Being John Malcovich - you know, the part where John Malcovich goes through the hole - ALL of the characters are basically Enid. Yes, I know that she wrote the damn books, but my point is that the different aspects of the Great E are not even very well disguised - if you know anything about her, you just keep seeing her pop up everywhere ...

I will actually start dissecting the books in the next post. I've been working up the courage. It doesn't help that the characters all start out so young and stupid - if they were old and stupid I wouldn't care, but this still feels like kicking a puppy! Anyway, The first cab off the rank in the series is First Term at Malory Towers If you're very interested, dig up a copy and take a look, but it isn't absolutely necessary in order to enjoy this blog. Reading the bog, however, is obligatory: keep reading or you may find yourself on the receiving end of some sharp slaps from a hairbrush!

6 comments:

  1. "She seems to go rabid over darning." - Perfect!!

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  2. wow you are insanely mean and rude. Whats your problem? Enid Blyton is one of the best authors in history. Id like to see you try write a book. You look at all the character's traits in negative ways. like " Likes any sport that involves some sort of instrument that can be used to hit people" ?????. i mean, whats wrong with you?? Honestly.

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  3. I suspect that there are many things wrong with me. Well spotted, you.

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  4. I really wanted to read Malory Towers but couldn't get through it for the reasons you mentioned. Thank you.

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  5. Enid Blyton, one of the best authors in history??? What a joke. Has that person ever read any other books?!

    Anyways, this looks solid, looking forward to reading the rest of this!

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  6. Well... in St Clare's Claudine and Carlotta were far more likeable than some of the English girls - and it was made pretty plain that the English can be a pain in the neck - just like people from any where else. I couldn't bear Malory Towers - the "scatterbrained" geniuses needed a good lesson in surviving from day-to-day and the whole crowd got me down. Seriously.

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