22 November 2010

disjointed ramblings of the nouveau riche and schoolgirls

Right. Attack of the nouveau riche. Go.

One of the side stories in this book has to do with second former Jo. I warn you, this is a cautionary tale of letting the wrong sort associate with you … prepare to be horrified.

Jo is obviously of the lower orders. Her name is abbreviated as befits a servant (but what about sally …?), and she is far too conscious of her money (well bred girls don’t worry about it – there will always be a parent or husband around to give them an allowance …) which indicates that her wealth is not of the old variety.

Big red flags have been planted around Jo – she’s fat, not very intelligent and doesn’t even like sport! Oh no! As she’s been around for a term already, the indoctrinated know that she is not to be befriended, and we the audience are thrust into the story just accepting that Jo is what they say she is.

But it’s her father that really shows what she is.

At the beginning of the book, Jo’s father nearly runs Darrell’s car off the road, which leads to a confrontation in which Darrel’s dad coldly tells off Jo’s in front of a crowd. It’s one of those moments where the breeding and dignity of Mr Rivers is supposed to shine through and show Jo’s dad for the low brow cretin for what he really is. In reality, a well placed ‘piss off’ would do wonders for the scene. Really.

And we know Jo’s dad is low brow. He drops his haitches, dresses inappropriately and is far too familiar with strangers. In fact, he’s quite a friendly guy, but stuck in Enid’s ice sculpture garden, he just wilts.

Basically, if it were an Australian contemporary story, Jo’s dad would be a bogan in a souped up torana who thinks those Angus burgers at McDonalds really are ‘just a little bit fancy’. Miss Grayling indicates that she regrets allowing such an uncouth interloper into her fine establishment, just after an encounter in which he tries to charm her. So we are forewarned that Jo is in danger.

Enid’s girls begin their usual round of bullying and victimisation to try and coerce her into being at least acceptable regime material. But Jo is defiant, making friends with an impressionable girl from the first form (note: this girl is you or your child – good, but helpless against the incursions of the classless). She fights back, but you know how it is – she’s never going to make it work.

The crisis comes when Jo loses five pounds. Just why she was carrying it around at school where there is nowhere to spend it is a mystery, but she is low class like that. Anyway, she loses it and matron finds it and deduces that it is Jo’s. But instead of just calling Jo in and giving her a bollocking for having too much money at school (girls are only allowed a few shillings a week, kept locked up in the matron’s office), matron puts up a notice asking for the girl to turn herself in.

Jo’s in a pickle. She needs to get the money back, but doesn’t want to get caught by the regime … so she picks her moment and steals the money out of the safe – along with four more pounds. Then she goes to town and spends the lot at the local shop, buying food for a birthday feast (what I love about this part is the fact that the shop, no doubt well aware of the allowance of the students, nonetheless let her spend the money then contact the school). By the time she gets back, news has got out that the money is missing. The entire form gets in trouble because Jo won’t own up and one just does not tattle.

Of course, the girls dole out the worst possible punishment – COVENTRY. Jo, beginning to feel guilty, ostracised by her peers and just plain fed up with the raw deal she’s been getting, decides that the ideal solution is to run away. But she can’t do it alone – remember that first former friend? Bingo! Off they go!

… and aren’t missed until bed-time.

Blah blah blah, they get found the next day, the first-former gets off (aren’t you happy? She claims the Nuremberg defence – which gets her off! WTF?), but Jo is expelled. No second chance, no redeeming character trait that would soften the icy chambers of Miss Grayling’s heart. Grayling does happy dance in her head during the interview with Jo and her dad. The Nouveau Riche threat is neutralised!

To be fair to Jo – she does learn something, she writes a letter to prove it. She apologises to the girls, puts on a brave face about her current school-less situation, and goes forth into the night. Just why she couldn’t do that at MT, I don’t know. Jo’s not very smart, a fact that La Grayling pounces on to justify her decision to vote her off the island.

…. And we all learn our lesson. Class will tell. It’s impossible to think that the right thinking element will not prevail. Absolutely impossible!

Meanwhile, June, suitably chastened by the near expulsion last book, has now come under fire from Amanda, the new sixth former. Amanda is a big, sporty type who is going in for the Olympics. When goaded by the other girls, she claims she can make June into an all-round sports champion. Amanda bullies June, June has a tantrum and quits (I think she even throws her racquet). Then drama strikes.

Amanda, being Enid’s choice of victim for her ‘pride comes before a fall’ 4x2, decides that she wants to swim in the ocean. Which has currents she is unfamiliar with. And sharp pointy rocks. Smart. Anyway, she sneaks off early one morning, gets half way to … wherever she was going (America perhaps), and gets caught in the current. Rather than swimming across it like any Australian knows to do, she fights it, tires out and gets dragged to the big pointy rocks. In a marvellous coincidence, June happens to come down, happens to see, and happens to know how to break into the hitherto unmentioned boathouse belonging to the school. Amanda lives, but may never be a great athlete, thus learning her lesson – and serves her right, wouldn’t you say? June also starts training again so that Amanda can live vicariously through her triumph … that’s an arrangement that will definitely end happily.

That’s really all of interest in the book. There’s a brief cameo of a copy of Claudine from St Clares, but Enid doesn’t quite know what to do with her. There’s also an improbable trick involving magnets and teachers’ hair pins that was funnier in Enid’s head than on paper.

And so we leave Malory towers (FINALLY – it took me long enough). The girls go off to wherever their parents deem the most likely place to meet their future husbands, Enid leaves you with that insidious feeling that you want more, and her publishers helpfully point out that they commissioned writers to write sequels so that you can get even more Malory Goodness. Don’t expect me to read them, though. Enid is only fun when it’s Enid doing the writing.


  1. Thank goodness those dastardly nouveau riche were put in their proper place! You simply cannot let them work their grimy way into the place of such perfect upper class people!

    What happens now? Are you going to read new books, or write about themes or over-looked characters, perhaps?

  2. It's interesting that Bylton often has characters losing their unique gifts and abilities only to find that it's much nicer to be "just an ordinary schoolgirl." And, certainly all the other girls like them much better that way. Here we have a girl destined for the Olympics, but isn't it better that she no longer has a chance? Wasn't there a character in another book who had a marvelous operatic voice, but somehow lost it? All for the best, naturally. Do you suppose Enid suffered pangs of jealousy over the skills of other girls at her school?

    Also, what's up with the weight issues? Carrying a few extra pounds is clearly an indication of a weak, selfish, and often dishonest personality.

  3. wow! I really like your sense of humour, wit and sarcasm.Enid blyton's were my first novels and i used to love them. Looking back i realise they're not innocent children's book but rubbish with ridiculuous stuff like the 'english sense of honour". No offense to the english but they're not the only one's with a sense of honour.
    It's not just mallory towers but her other
    boarding school novels as well. In fact the only books i like are her mystery series. You should start a blog on the famous five next.they're nonsense too. with their "adventure" every holiday

  4. I think, to be fair, a lot of people forget that these are very much Enid Blyton Being Rich And Young Again, so they are effectively the best part of a hundred years old, insofar as the time they were set. Not that I disagree, she was very simplistic, not very good at creating likeable but flawed people, the books were formulaic and very much racist, classist, sexist and probably a few more (but not anti lesbian, because girls don't do that sort if thing, which is why it was fine for Bill and Clarissa to buy a farm, although Bill is virtually male, anyway). And wrong as it may be, this was very much the prevailing attitude a century ago. The fact that they are STILL so popular now, and that I still have a guilty enjoyment reading them, that's a whole different issue and one I can't explain!

    I do love your reviews though. A bit of snark now and then sharpens your wit. Or tongue!