While doing rewrites on my memoir, I looked up some bibliographies of boarding school books to refresh my memory on ones I read as a child.

It's scary how many I read: Enid Blyton's St. Clare's and Malory Towers series, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series, which was set in Switzerland and was full of local color, and many more. It is my theory that the popularity of Harry Potter has less to do with fantasy than with the introduction of the traditional British boarding school story to an American audience. They're wish-fullfillment fantasies in which the wish was that school was fun.

Boarding school books for girls have uniformly female casts, and so offer girls the chance to occupy every school story archetype: the brave one, the sensible one, the dreamy artist, the bully, the hero, the dummy, the actress, the jock, the horse-crazy girl, the shrinking violet, the snob. Competitive sports play major roles, and performing arts a slightly smaller one. Midnight feasts are frequent.

Macho girls, who may go by male names like Bill, often become best friends with very femme and timid girls with names like Mary-Anne, and fantasize together about never marrying and living together in a small cottage, where Mary Anne can keep house and Bill can break horses. In light of this, I enjoyed seeing the title, which was apparently translated from Phyllis Matthewman's original Swedish, The Queerness of Rusty.

Other sample titles: The Turbulence of Tony, Jill's Jolliest School, The Darling of the School, The Chums of Study Ten, Miss Prosser's Passion, 'Play Up, Buffs!', So this Is School!, and Gay from China at the Chalet School.


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