02 July 2010

Upper Fourth at Malory Towers Pt II

The bitches of Upper Fourth

I almost thought I would have to backtrack on my vigorous defence of Darling Gwendoline after her antics in this book. Gwen could almost pass as a bitch in this instalment. And this put me in a bit of an awkward position.

There are two things you should know about me to understand this angst: 1/ I’m extremely stubborn and 2/ my favourite four words in the world are ‘I TOLD YOU SO’. Having delivered myself of an impassioned diatribe for everyone’s favourite bullying victim, and basked in your admiration for my inspired analysis, this book was a bit of a slap in the face. It was entirely possible that I would have to retract my analysis and admit that Enid was right. The thought had me distinctly worried; I hate backing down on an opinion – ESPECIALLY if I realise that I was wrong.

Then I thought about it, and thought about it, wrote an entry … and took off my Enid coloured glasses and realised that I was being influenced again. I should have realised the moment that Gwen showed up at school inexplicably fat (she’d never been so before).

Let’s look at what Gwendoline does. She makes a friend, one who mummy would approve of very much. The honourable Clarissa Carter, who turns up at school, undersized, burdened with braces and glasses and a heart condition, and no idea of how to go on at school (having never attended). Yes the friendship is self serving, but were I Clarissa, I would have been grateful for it. Speaking from experience (I started new schools 3 times in high school), the first thing you want is a companion of sorts. Sometimes the friendship doesn’t pan out, but that’s OK.

In this instance, Gwendoline’s lack of social nous stymies the friendship. She starts out by bitching about all the girls in the year (and let’s be honest, at that age – who doesn’t?) and taking advantage of the meek nature of Clarissa. Being the dominant member of the friendship for once, Gwen takes advantage of that position. But what can you expect? Looking at the example shown by Gwen’s mother and governess – or even by Gwen’s past friendships (in which she was the submissive character), that is how she sees friendships operate.

Eventually, Clarissa sneaks over to become friends with Bill, as it turns out that they are both horse mad (“hello world, this is me-eeee, life could be-eee-eee … fun for everyone” – and if you know that theme tune, have fun getting it out of your head). After which time, she joins the general dislike for my friend Gwen, having been effectively cured of her Gwendolinitis (aided by the miraculous improvement of her looks when her braces and glasses are dispensed with). So Gwen is left alone again, bitter and bullied.

Of course, Clarissa’s dislike may be due to the trick Gwen pulls on those around her, which was the cause of my discomfort. What made me change my mind is realising that this trick was so stupid that in the real world it would never have succeeded for an instant, so Blyton is just being wantonly vicious to poor Gwen.

Here it is: having noticed that Clarissa gets out of games because of her heart, Gwen decides to fake one too. Once in motion, Gwen decides to use this ploy to get out of the School Certificate. Picking the usual butt of jokes, Mme Dupont, as her target, she convinces her that she is ill, then arranges a meeting between the teacher and her mother at half-term, which results in her being taken home right before the exams. Of course, this all unravels when she is taken to a specialist who basically says ‘meh – she’s fine’, then absentee father turns up and decides to be all self-righteous and send her back to school to fail the exams (seriously, he raised her [or failed to do so] – then gets all sooky because she doesn’t turn out the way he wants).

My question is how could this trick have been so successful? Where was the principal in this? The sports mistress, the house mistress … anyone? Gwen got a sick note based on a couple of observations of one teacher, known for her gullibility? The whole series of events is so unlikely that I can’t really blame Gwen for getting away with it. Everyone tries to chuck a sickie at one stage of their school careers. Gwen is a known malingerer, she’s never had heart trouble before, and only one person can attest to having seen it. If that had been me, my mother would have had no trouble in dismissing my ‘illness’ as being what it truly was – a bunch of crap. Yet Gwen is portrayed as sly and sneaky and all types of nasty names and creditied with being a mastermind. Oh well, I suppose that in the land of rotting grapes, a raisin can be queen …

This episode, if it happened today, would be regarded as a cry for help. If someone these days was so desperate to get out of ‘one of the finest schools in the country’, people would be asking her what was going on to make her so averse to the idea of staying at school. Counselling sessions would be ordered – probably mediation with her peers as well. Here, Gwen is considered a failure and allowed to sit (and fail) her exams – to ‘teach her a lesson’. What that lesson is I don’t know, but Gwen has had enough experience of failure over her career at school not to really let it worry her … so Sucks to you, Malory Towers!

In other news, new students Ruth and Connie have different problems. Fraternal twins, Ruth is dominated by her larger twin Connie, who does everything for her. Ruth is smarter than Connie, and Connie, afraid of failing the School certificate, asks her to deliberately fail the test. It’s then when Ruth’s creepy side comes out. Connie’s things mysteriously start being destroyed by an unknown vandal. Through her usual methods of clever sleuthing (making a large assumption and then accusing someone), Darrell finds out that Ruth is behind the vandalism. So she goes to see her teacher (a first – I bet it’s because she’s brown-nosing, I mean, she does get back her form-bitch status from this) and dobs. Miss Williams, seeing the potential for Ruth to become a crazy axe-murderer or something (my money is on the idea of killing and eating her sister) and tells Darrell that it will all work out next term, so run along and let the grown ups deal with the problem. The end, all is well with the world again. Seriously.

One issue I have with this is the resolution. Ruth knows what happened, Darrell finds out, and a teacher is told. But Connie is left out of this circle of knowledge. Why not? Well, it boils down to the fact that Connie isn’t smart enough to understand. Ruth talks to Darrell about Connie’s dominance, but they decide to keep the vandalising to themselves. They also decide to just let things roll out naturally (Ruth moving up, Connie staying down) instead of sitting the twins down and having a talk about their issues. So Connie, has no clue of what is happening, nor why her sister is about to start cold-shouldering her, because she is deemed not smart enough to understand. It’s a prime example of Blyton’s ability to write people off who are not good enough for her. Snob

Another issue is that despite everyone else being given a second chance in the school, as soon the items start being destroyed, fingers start pointing at Gwendoline. This is based on one incident dating back to her first term – and she has made it to FOURTH FORM without a repeat. Do we ever hear of people missing items and blaming Daphne? Or bruises being blamed on Darrel (even though they probably were her work)?


  1. Gwen sounds a bit like she's the whipping boy of Mallory Towers: if something's going wrong, we'll take it out on her! I kind of wish someone would get all meta and write the books from Gwen's point of view - what a different story we'd have then.

  2. Enid Blyton is a wonderful author, but a complete and total bitch at heart.