18 November 2011

The iron fist in the velvet glove

I can hardly believe that chapter five is reached and Elizabeth STILL hasn't got past her first day.

I could rant about the mixed philosophy of the school yet again, but I think it would be better just to let the principals of the school tell you themselves (for some reason there are two - I don't know why, they don't seem to actually do anything except lollop about in their drawing room). Elizabeth goes to see them this chapter (can I say that I NEVER went to see a principal when I started a new school - and I started at new schools four times in high school). Here's what they have to say to Elizabeth (after laughing delightedly when she said that she was going to be naughty):

"We never punish anyone, Elizabeth," said Miss Best, suddenly looking stern again. "Didn't you know that?"
"No I didn't," said Elizabeth in astonishment. "What do you do when people are naughty, then?"
"Oh, we leave any naughty person to the rest of the children to deal with," said Miss Best. "Every week the school holds a meeting, you know, and the children themselves decide what is to be done with boys and girls who don't behave themselves. It won't bother
us if you are naughty - but you may perhaps find that you make the children angry."

A cold shiver ran down my spine when I read that passage. I pictured them sitting there with sneaky hip flasks getting quite squiffy during their conversations with the new brats (it's what I'd do). And that is all I'm going to say about it (there must be something terribly wrong with me today if I'm not running at that red flag).

This chapter "Elizabeth is naughty" exposes Elizabeth to the true brutality that Whyteleaf School authorities (by that I mean the students) are capable of.

Basic plot: Following that not very encouraging meeting with the principals, Elizabeth goes to supper where she is still in food coventry, makes a joke (Enid never did have a very good sense of humour, so I won't try to repeat the joke), then finds out that she has an assigned bed-time.

Elizabeth, predictably, objects to going to bed at 8 p.m.

Irish Nora's response?

"No wonder you're such a cross-patch! my mother says that late hours make children stupid, bad-tempered, and slow."

I rather love that response: it's supremely arrogant (in that Nora has known Elizabeth for less than half a day) and slavishly apes an absentee parent all in one. Nora, however, is a true daughter of Enid: she doesn't stop her parent aping there. No, she takes it to its logical conclusion and decides become an absentee supervisor herself, expecting Elizabeth to do as she's told while she buggers off back to the playroom.

In a massive piece of perversity, Elizabeth doesn't go to bed (gasp). She instead goes to play on the swings (honestly, playroom, swings? If you're going to be naughty, steal some cigarettes and go sit behind the bike shed!). Honestly, this girl is made to be a rebel. I mean, we all know the dangerous effects of swing sets, don't we? It's a slippery slope to slides (I tried not to make the pun, really I did), then merry-go-rounds before she's a full-on jungle gym junkie. Tsk tsk ...

Fortunately for Irish Nora, back-up is at hand to save Elizabeth from this slippery slope. A boy comes along and orders her to go to bed or he'll dob her in to the other kids (fittingly, we're not told which boy - and neither is she - what she doesn't know, she can't dob. Gotta love corrupt government).

"Pooh!" said Elizabeth, and she swung herself very had indeed, put out her foot and kicked the boy so vigorously that he fell right over. Elizabeth squealed with laughter - but not for long! The boy jumped up, ran to the swing and shook Elizabeth off. He caught hold of her dark curls and pulled them so hard that the little girl yelled with pain.
The boy grinned at her and said "serve you right!"

That fight scene started so promisingly. Finally, I thought, Elizabeth is going to actually do something worth her title. Then it was matched and bettered by the other kid and my hopes were dashed.

It would have been so much better if he had hit his head or done some actual injury that would REALLY get Elizabeth in to trouble. All that happened was that Elizabeth came out second best in a fight, and we got a glimpse of the iron fist inside the velvet glove. How is Elizabeth supposed to be naughty when the corrupt system in which she is operating allows right-minded individuals to commit violence with impunity while punishing the minority for the same infractions? This is so unfair to we readers ...

Because of course Elizabeth is going to be dobbed in to the authorites by this unknown boy. And did I mention that he's a monitor?

Here ends Elizabeth's first day in Blytonia. The score? Elizaeth 0, Blytonia 4 (perhaps 5). We'll see how day 2 goes next time.


  1. The scene with the would-be fight could be quite creepy in the right hands. Or wrong hands, depending on your point of view.

  2. Especially if I got round to fixing up all my typos (why do I keep writing these posts at midnight?)

    I found the principals creepier, really. They were just ... wrong ... I could totally do something with the principals.

  3. Seriously orwellian. Don't make the children angry (you won't like me when I'm angry!). A monitor- a mature and sensible student-pulls E's hair so hard she cries out and grins, telling her it's her fault. Don't even wait for the wedding, call the domestic violence now and tell them to watch out for this kid.
    The school meetings make Mr think of that Margaret Atwood book where the women literally tear the sinner apart with thru bare hands.