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.


From: [identity profile] jonquil.livejournal.com

I'm reading Antonia Forest at the moment, and I'm struck by how much the books reinforce reticence and independence as core values. One of the heroines is falsely accused of skipping soccer practice (and thus is denied being on the team), but she refuses to tell the headmistress that her behavior was misrepresented. The denoument is very unlike an American book, justice never happens; she never gets back on the soccer team and the liar is never confronted with her lies.

From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com

I have a couple of books specifically on the subject of girls' school stories. They not only go into Angela Brazil, but examine the predecessors.

(And I think Rowling reinvented the form, which had largely died out over the past thirty years.)

From: [identity profile] rushthatspeaks.livejournal.com

Angela Brazil is real? I thought Diana Wynne Jones made her up in The Lives of Christopher Chant. Eep.

From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com

Oh, she's real--she was apparently full of girlish cuteness, never married, just lived with her brother and wrote those stories in which men were simply never, ever an issue. Modern feminist writers have wondered if there was some deep coding there in the 'pash's the girls had for one another. Whether or not Brazil preferred her own gender, she earned world wide fame for a time, as well as good money, writing decades worth of school stories, but she never really engaged with post-WWII social changes, and her later stories turned into distortions.

Her autobiography is almost unreadable, it's so twee, but there are some good considerations of her and her career by solid women scholars.

From: [identity profile] shalanna.livejournal.com

Neat reading list! I'll have to see whether I can find some of those.

I recall Ursula Nordstrom's _The Secret Language_ as my major "boarding school" book read as a youngling. Leeleeleebossa (as they say in the story.) And there was one about a girl with mild disabilities (braces on her legs) who went to a special boarding school, but I can't remember the title or author--it may have been abominable, but who knows, since I can't recall much about the story other than how scared she was and how she came to feel at home at the school. Roald Dahl's autobiography covers a bit about his experiences away at school, and I read both volumes as a teen. (_Going Solo_ and _Boy_, I think, are the titles.)

Can't remember any other boarding-school books.

But I do think you've got a point with the Potter books. Others have done the magic and fantasy very similarly without gaining that kind of following. There's an appeal about the British-ness, as well.

larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)

From: [personal profile] larryhammer

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.

That's my theory as well. Though the fantasy also plays a part.

I once read, in my teens, a school story in which the girls set up, in effect, a brothel for the boys' school across the way. I was cery disappointed there was no onstage sex — the narrator played procuress, and when she was finally trapped by circumstance into receiving a customer, it was someone she knew or otherwise couldn't actually have sex with (a relative?). Cheap thrills indeed.

Does anyone have any clue what title/author might be?


From: [identity profile] lalouve.livejournal.com

The Queerness of Rusty is probably the original title - Matthewman was translated into Swedish from English (Sweden doesn't have boarding schools, and never really did). I remember reading one of her books in my childhood.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

Ah-ha, not just a tin-eared or prankish translator then. Wow.

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