II. The Chalet School as an Educational Institution

NB: An revised version of this lexia is available as "School with bells on!" in The Chalet School Revisited (Bettany Press, 1994)

In fictional terms, the Chalet School began as a small privately-owned school of nine pupils in the mid-1920s (Brent-Dyer, 1925, p29) and ended as a large boarding school of over 400 pupils with its own finishing branch and public examination centre, owned by a company headed by Madge Bettany, its founder (Brent-Dyer, 1966, p17). In this the school mirrored the development of actual educational establishments for middle-class girls, for whom boarding schools were a typical experience in the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, and this perhaps helped to maintain the series' credibility.

It is important to remember that Brent-Dyer herself was not a product of the type of school she was writing about. Instead she was educated at a small private day school, established in the nineteenth century and run by a pair of sisters who, like Brent-Dyer's Madge Bettany, were unqualified to teach (McClelland, 1981, p33). Although she came from a middle-class background, this gave her little more than a limited private education and a respectable home (McClelland, 1981, p52). Indeed, a key reason that Brent-Dyer wrote the Chalet School series was to support herself and later her mother. Nor do the books reflect Brent-Dyer's teaching experience: as a teacher her most prestigious post was at the Boys' High School in South Shields during 1917 (McClelland, 1981, p61), and she spent much of her teaching career at local authority schools (McClelland, 1989, p56). She did teach at girls' schools, most notably at a day school, Western House in Hampshire (McClelland, 1981, p79), but the problems with her own school show her shortcomings as a teacher and educationalist). The Chalet School, then, was as much fantasy for its author as it was for its readers.

In fact the educational aspects of the Chalet School play a very small role in the plots of the individual books. Lessons are used instead as settings for tricks or amusing incidents - for example, the cookery lesson described in Chapter Nine of The Chalet School and the Lintons (1934) functions in the plot to allow Cornelia Flower to flavour apple pies with garlic by mistake - and for demonstrations of power by girls and teachers. The boarding school setting essentially provides a realistic raison d'etre for the autonomous all-female community that, as has already been stated, is the true subject of the series. Nevertheless, academic achievement and the curriculum in general do play a small but significant part in the series.

The school initially begins with a curriculum consisting of "English subjects", French, German, Sewing and Music (Brent-Dyer, 1925, p7). However, this curriculum soon broadens out and for most of the series the standard curriculum includes Latin (eg Brent-Dyer, 1955a, p25); Science (eg Brent-Dyer, 1950a, p69); Mathematics (eg Brent-Dyer, 1954b, p99); Art (eg Brent-Dyer, 1955c, p129); Domestic Science (eg Brent-Dyer, 1934, p50); Religious Studies (eg Brent-Dyer, 1955b, p74); English, History and Geography (Brent-Dyer, 1936, p48), as well as sewing, music and foreign languages. Senior girls are entered for "public examinations" (eg Brent-Dyer, 1953b, p190).

The curriculum of the school, in other words, was similar to that in many real middle-class girls' schools. Penny Summerfield's study of middle-class girls' schools in the first half of this century, "Cultural Reproduction in the Education of Girls: a Study of Girls' Secondary Schooling in Two Lancashire Towns, 1900-50" (Hunt, 1987, pp149-170) shows that there was a great deal of emphasis placed on academic achievement, although interestingly this was less pronounced in Catholic schools (Hunt, 1987, pp152-169). As the Chalet School is multi-denominational this may explain why academic achievement is important, but does not play an overwhelmingly important role in the series. While in reality the academic performance of girls declines as they reach adolescence (Sharpe, 1976, pp134-5), this does not appear to happen in the Chalet School. This lack of decline is probably linked to the absence of any overt references to adolescence in the series.

Evans recalls that in her school: "Academic achievement was never allowed to be everything (hence the universal dislike of the swot and the equally universal award of the school prize to the good 'all rounder')" (Evans, 1991, p22). This was duplicated in the Chalet School, where Benson - later to become a Phd - is universally disliked to begin with. Later in the series Joey, now married, presents a prize for "the girl who does her best to help other people" (Brent-Dyer, 1955c, p224). Prize-winners include Mary-Lou Trelawney, one of the role model characters in the series, who is told that the prize "is given to the girl who most fulfills the ideal the pupils of the Chalet School always have held before them" (Brent-Dyer, 1958a, p159). That ideal is service to others rather than academic success.

Evans also recalls that: "To be assured of high academic honour within the school the subjects to excel at were English Literature and History. Being good at science and mathematics had no great cachet or appeal." (Evans, 1991, p13). This is not quite true of the Chalet School, where girls go on to study science subjects in higher education, but it is true that Joey's own subjects are History and English Literature, while her "ideas of maths are wild and woolly in the extreme" (Brent-Dyer, 1936, p48). Mary-Lou's chosen career is archaeology (Brent-Dyer, 1959b, p159), a specialism with strong links with both subjects.

Out of school activities include the Hobbies Club (see Brent-Dyer, 1926, pp86-90); the school magazine The Chaletian (see Brent-Dyer, 1926, p35); Brownies and Guides (see Brent-Dyer, 1926, pp148-149); and an annual fete (see Brent-Dyer, 1928, p218). These would have been familiar institutions to many readers, and Valerie Walkerdine, writing about growing up in the 1950s, explains that:


Sewing, first mentioned as a subject when the school begins, is still being referred to 26 years later in A Problem for the Chalet School (1956). However, Evans has pointed out that sewing was a skill still much in demand in the 1950s: "mass availability and mass consumption had not yet given the physical object the kind of fleeting importance that it was later to acquire . . . Perfectly respectable and comfortably-off women still mended their stockings in those very recent days" (Evans, 1991, p86). That sewing is seen as useful rather than as an accomplishment is also shown by Brent-Dyer's treatment of Sybil Russell, Madge's eldest daughter, who wishes to study embroidery at "the South Kensington School" and then sew "church embroideries, like altar frontals and stoles and copes" (Brent-Dyer, 1951a, pp69-70).

Other domestic subjects were introduced in the Chalet School in 1934 in the tenth book of the series, when the then headmistress tells the school: "While we wish you to become cultured women, we also desire that you shall be home-makers" (Brent-Dyer, 1934, p50). However, it is doubtful that Brent-Dyer was sincere in her commitment to this, as the lessons were always utilised as settings for the plot device of "Tricks and Amusing Incidents". In this the Chalet School appeared to reflect the divided messages which real middle-class schoolgirls received.

Penny Summerfield has noted in her study of middle-class girls' schools in the first half of the century, "Cultural Reproduction in the Education of Girls: a Study of Girls' Secondary Schooling in Two Lancashire Towns, 1900-50" (Hunt, 1987, pp149-170), that "the schools themselves relegated them [domestic subjects] to a secondary position. In so doing they conveyed a message to girls about the relatively unimportant place which preparation for domesticity occupied in the schools' agenda" (Hunt, 1987, p157). Evans recalls a different message, but points out that: "The responsibilities of the housewife and the mother were given full credit by the staff and 'making a home' was an ideal which was accorded full status by a staff that was largely unmarried" (Evans, 1991, p29).

It is probable that both the fictional and non-fictional dichotomies arose because both fictional and non-fictional headmistresses were forced to reflect the educational emphasis on domestic subjects, while not necessarily agreeing with it. Deidre Beddoe points out that educationalists differentiated between the purpose of education for boys and girls for much of this century, in reference to official education reports (Beddoe, 1983, pp59-62). Two years before the publication of the first of the "Chalet School" series, the Hadow Committee, reporting in 1923 on The Differentiation of the Curriculum for Boys and Girls Respectively in Secondary Schools, stated that: "We do not think it desirable to attempt to divorce a girl's education from her home duties and responsibilities" (p125).

By 1943, when the 17th book in the series was published, the Norwood Report of that year still saw girls being educated as future wives and mothers. This view of girls' education continued after the war, and for the rest of the time that Brent-Dyer was writing, with the Crowther Report of 1959 claiming that the incentive for girls to equip themselves for marriage and home-making was genetic and the Newsom Report of 1963 stating that the main social function of girls was to make a suitable home for their husbands and children and to be mothers. Hunt quotes The Journal of Education, August 1932, which claimed that girls who did not become mothers were failures as women, and which commented that women teachers and office workers really needed "marriage, a home and a family" (in Hunt, 1987, p3). Summerfield refers to John Newsom's book The Education of Girls (1948), in which he concluded that: "the vital educational objectives for women are to enable them to become accomplished homemakers, informed citizens and to use their leisure intelligently" (in Hunt, 1987, p131). And as late as 1977, J. Gathorne-Hardy was describing a headmistress as becoming masculinised in his book The Public School Phenomenon (Gathorne-Hardy, 1977, p271).

The lack of commitment with which many middle-class girls' schools pursued domestic science subjects did not mean that they were offered an equivalent education to boys. Deidre Beddoe has pointed out that:

This was not strictly true of the Chalet School. As early as 1927 Brent-Dyer writes that Juliet Carrick, Madge's ward, leaves the school to read mathematics at London University (Brent-Dyer, 1927, p148). By the 15th book, The Chalet School Goes to It (1941), fifth formers' ambitions include being a surgeon, and later in the series one of Jo's triplet daughters, Margot, wishes to go to medical school (Brent-Dyer, 1963a, p11). Daisy Venables, Jem's niece, also becomes a doctor (Brent-Dyer, 1955a, pp78-79).

Throughout the series many of the girls aim for higher education and professional careers. These include teaching, nursing and gardening (see Brent-Dyer, 1941, p77-79); librarianship (see Brent-Dyer, 1955a, pp78-79); farming (see Brent-Dyer, 1953a, p29); the law (see Brent-Dyer, 1953a, p58) and interior design (see Brent-Dyer, 1954b, p106). Summerfield has noted that in actual middle-class girls' schools:

She adds that this is despite the fact that the actual numbers going to university each year were small. In another study she states that only 0.5 per cent of 18 year old girls entered higher education during the 1920s (Braybon and Summerfield, 1987, p138). In fact Oxford University did not open its degrees to women until 1920 and Cambridge University until 1948.

Anne Nightingale, one of Radio One's first women disc jockeys, writes of her girls' public day school in the early 1960s:

Evans agrees and notes that this emphasis on academic achievement did not reflect what was considered to be important in the outside world.

Evans believes that the main reason that academic success was emphasised for middle-class girls was to reinforce class structures in English society.

She adds that:


However, four years before the "Chalet School" series began, the census of 1921 showed that nearly one in three women had to be self-supporting (Hunt, 1987, p18), while about 18 per cent of women aged 20 to 45 never married during the inter-war period (Beddoe, 1987, p148). Tinkler quotes research carried out by Edith Mercer in 1940, which found that all the girls interviewed from a girls' secondary school wanted a profession, while the majority also wanted to marry (Hunt, 1987, p67). And in 1951 more than one in five married women and half of all unmarried women were in employment (Deem, 1980, p114). While many of the women in work may have been working-class, there is nothing to suggest that Brent-Dyer's readers reflected the social class and educational background of the Chalet School pupils, and the need to work would probably have seemed quite natural to them. Brent-Dyer herself needed to work throughout her life, suggesting that her portrayal of a career as a serious option for most middle-class girls was quite sincere.

Aside from showing her readers the range of options when they became women, Brent-Dyer offers both them and the Chalet School pupils a wide range of role models. These models consist of older girls, teachers, and former pupils who Brent-Dyer continues to re-introduce as adult characters throughout the "Chalet School" series. Pupils (and perhaps readers) are expected eventually to make the transition to role model status, beginning when they become Seniors. For example, in The Chalet School and Jo (1931), Jo initially resists accepting the position of head girl because she does not want to take the responsibility. Gisela, the school's first head girl and now a wife and mother, tells her that it would be "cowardly" to evade responsibility and to refuse to grow up (Brent-Dyer, 1931, p12). However, Jo agrees and later admits that "In one way, you know, I'm fearfully proud of being head girl; and - I suppose - all that about being fed-up with it isn't really true. I - I do like it, now I'm accustomed to it." (Brent-Dyer, 1931, p159). By the time that Jo has left school and returned temporarily to teach, headmistress Mademoiselle says: "I only wish we might keep her here always. Her influence is excellent" (Brent-Dyer, 1936, p110). Of course, Jo does remain with the school for "always", and continues to be the school's most important role model.

In a later book, Tom Tackles the Chalet School (1955), Brent-Dyer is more explicit about the function of Senior girls as role models when she explains to Tom Gay:

Brent-Dyer illustrates this with the example of Daisy Venables as an ideal role model for Tom.

Detta O'Cathain, who attended a middle-class girls' school in the early 1950s, recalls that she too regarded older girls as role models. She writes that: "I remember when I was a youngster looking up to these fifteen- or sixteen-year-olds and thinking they were gods - or goddesses. They were role models" (Bennett and Forgan, 1991, p138).

Members of staff, who are often former pupils, are also role models for the girls. Because many of them, like Joey, are first described as teenagers, the distinction between staff and prefects is deliberately blurred. The very first role model teacher is Madge Bettany, and the first to treat her as such is Juliet Carrick, who becomes Madge's ward when her parents abandon her.

Later in the series Juliet tells Grizel that Madge is "the sort of person people do come to. She's a dear, and I adore her!" (Brent-Dyer, 1926, p17). By the time that Juliet returns to the Chalet School to teach, however, it is she who has become the role model: "when she came among them like one of themselves they all became her instant slaves" (Brent-Dyer, 1931, p84).

In reality pupils at middle-class girls' schools seem to have had a mixed response to the staff, or perhaps to have had different experiences depending on which school they attended. Evans, for example, recollects that "The very women who had battled for entry into this [patriarchal] world had made themselves unacceptable to us as role models because they seemed to have rejected men" (Evans, 1991, p60). However, Julia Pascal recalls that her school was "weighed down in petty details of school uniform and model behaviour, but a place where I saw that women could hold positions of power and authority" (Heron, 1985, p41). And Sheila Rowbotham remembers that:


Perhaps the most interesting way in which teachers function as role models in the "Chalet School" series is in Brent-Dyer's portrayal of their work and leisure time. Here teachers are seen as happy and leading a full life, with no sense of lack because they are not married. For example, in Carola Storms the Chalet School (1951), "the Staff, having seen all but the prefects safely to bed, were relaxing in the Staffroom, drinking coffee, eating chocolate biscuits, smoking, and otherwise refreshing themselves" (Brent-Dyer, 1951, p106). Their working environment is also shown to be attractive; for example, on one occasion Miss Annersley is pictured "gazing absently out of the open window at the flower garden, where roses still bloomed magnificently and the borders were aglow with tall spikes of gladioli and great clumps of cactus dahlias" (Brent-Dyer, 1952b, p7).

Staff are often, though by no means always, portrayed as physically attractive. They are not teaching because they cannot attract a partner but teaching as an alternative or as a prelude to a relationship. For example:

Hilary later becomes Hilary Graves, one of the many former pupils who marries a sanatorium doctor. She thus continues to be associated with the school after marriage despite Brent-Dyer's acceptance of the contemporary dictum that married women did not teach.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Brent-Dyer also positions married women with children as role models alongside single women. Many women did not want to have to choose between marriage and a career - although they commonly wanted to stay at home when their children were young. Wilson, writing about the post-war period to 1968, when Brent-Dyer was producing the final "Chalet School" books, quotes a letter from Margaret Stacey who wrote that "women older than me chose either a career or marriage . . . we said, I and my friends, we would be mothers and women in our own right" (Wilson, 1980, p47). In reality, Stacey's generation, Brent-Dyer's readers, had far more opportunity to do this than Brent-Dyer - who 'chose' a career - and the first Chalet School pupils, who inevitably gave up their career on marriage. Beddoe writes that:


This image enjoyed a resurgence after the war (Wilson, 1980, p22), continuing the pressure on Brent-Dyer to produce images of contented domesticity alongside positive images of independence. However, it is obviously significant that Joey, who embodies all the most desirable qualities of a Chalet School girl, has a successful career as well as an extremely large family (eleven altogether, including one set of triplets and two sets of twins). No-one could accuse Jo of curbing her fertility for "selfish" reasons, as the 1950s media did to women with small families, nor could she be accused of neglecting her children as she worked from home.

Wilson points out that part-time work was seen as the ideal solution for married women in the 1950s as there was, as today, an underlying assumption that young children needed the constant presence of their mother (Wilson, 1980, p59). Jo is thus able to have it all - a large family, a husband and a career - without any contentious constructs of femininity. So it is perhaps not surprising that Joey remains such a popular role model with readers today. McClelland has pointed out that Brent-Dyer appeared to identify closely with Joey (McClelland, 1989, p49), and so it is possible that Joey's domestic situation also represented Brent-Dyer's ideal.

Brent-Dyer's dual professional status - as a teacher and an author - is evident in a few places where she uses the series to air what were almost certainly her own beliefs about educational theory and practice. As a teacher it is probable that she would have been aware of educational developments during the time she was writing the "Chalet School" series, both in state and private education, and would be able to compare and contrast them with her own experience. And despite Brent-Dyer's own forthcomings as a teacher, McClelland points out that at least one lesson described in the books - Joey teaching new girl Polly Heriot (Brent-Dyer, 1936, pp52-57) - has been validated by an experienced teacher as "a model in miniature of how it should be done" (McClelland, 1981, p132).

McClelland suggests that Brent-Dyer was dissatisfied with her own educational background, and that this is reflected in the series when old-fashioned teaching methods are criticised (McClelland, 1981, pp16-18). For example, in Jo Returns to the Chalet School (1936), new girl Polly Heriot's work is described by the staff as being "at least fifty years behind the times!" (Brent-Dyer, 1936, p46). The staff go on to explain in detail exactly why this is the case: "she doesn't even know how to do arithmetic. Her science is conspicuous by its absence; botany, mid-Victorian; geography, the limit . . ." (Brent-Dyer, 1936, p46).

Perhaps it is not surprising, given that Brent-Dyer was educated and trained at the beginning of the century, that modern teaching methods also come in for criticism later in the series. In the first Swiss book, The Chalet School in the Oberland (1952c), staff are concerned about a girl who has come from a school where:

One of the other staff members comments:


Another device that Brent-Dyer uses to illustrate her opinions about modern teaching methods is the invention of another Chalet School, run on very different lines. It makes its first appearance in The Wrong Chalet School (1952), when a pupil tells a new girl:

In a later book, Bride Leads the Chalet School (1953), the two schools merge and the results of these teaching methods are demonstrated for the readers.

Given her attacks on both old-fashioned and modern teaching methods, it is likely that Brent-Dyer agreed with headmistress Miss Annersley when Miss Wilson claimed that "There's quite a lot to be said for some of the old-fashioned methods of teaching, you know." Miss Annersley replies: "I believe in mingling the old and the new - making the best of both, in fact." (Brent-Dyer, 1949, p386).

Throughout the series, there are three characteristics of the Chalet School which distinguish it from other schools, both fictional and non-fictional. These are its commitment to internationalism; the fact that it takes both Catholic and Protestant pupils in roughly equal proportions; and its avowed function to protect the health of its pupils. Madge Bettany founds the Chalet School on "English lines" (Brent-Dyer, 1933, p11), but of the first pupils at the school, only one third are English or American and the rest are French, German and Austrian (Brent-Dyer, 1925, p35). With the exception of the years immediately following the war when the school was set in England, the school continues to take pupils of differing nationalities, the bulk of the pupils being European with others coming from America or the Commonwealth (eg A Chalet Girl From Kenya, 1955). While most pupils are white, at least one Asian pupil is mentioned (Brent-Dyer, 1943, p135). Although it was not uncommon for real English schools to be based in the Alps, anecdotal evidence suggests that this mix of nationalities would be highly unusual in reality, with the majority of pupils normally drawn from the UK.

When the series begins lessons are given in English, apart from French and German (Brent-Dyer, 1925, p31). But within a fictional four and a half years Brent-Dyer is writing that the girls "naturally had to be tri-lingual, learning French, German and English" (Brent-Dyer, 1933, p11). By the 13th Chalet School book, The New Chalet School (1938), the school speaks and writes a different language each day, alternating between French, German and English (Brent-Dyer, 1938, p181). This policy is abandoned during the war years, perhaps because Brent-Dyer felt that this might cause offence at a time when Germany was the enemy and France was occupied, but is reintroduced in the first of the post-war books (Brent-Dyer, 1949, pp340-342). The school's trilingualism is often highlighted in the books by the horrified reaction of new girls, who are reassured that "when you hear nothing but French round you for two days every week and nothing but German on two others, you'll soon pick up words and phrases and begin to use them naturally." (Brent-Dyer, 1954b, p102).

These new girls were likely to be in the same position as Mary Evans and her school friends in the UK in the 1950s: "Confronted by real-life French or Germans or Spanish we were collectively confounded by the ability of these people to speak in tongues that we had only read about" (Evans, 1991, p17). While most of the reported conversation in the series is nevertheless in English, French and German phrases are not uncommon (eg Brent-Dyer, 1954b, pp98-101). McClelland has noted that the trilingual policy of the Chalet School encouraged readers to emulate the pupils, although in fact Brent-Dyer's own knowledge of languages was limited which led her to make "glaring errors" in the texts (McClelland, 1981, p177).

The school also adopts some of the customs of its host countries (Austria then Switzerland) when abroad, most notably with regard to meals and telling the time. The dining room is the Speisesaal (eg Brent-Dyer, 1925, p24). Breakfast - "Fruhstuck" - consists of "coffee, hot rolls, butter and jam" (eg Brent-Dyer, 1952c, p58). Tea is replaced by "Kaffee und Kuchen" - coffee and cakes - supper is "Abendessen" (eg Brent-Dyer, 1954b, pp50,52). Time is told in central-European style (eg "Lessons begin in the afternoon at fourteen-fifteen, and finish at sixteen-fifteen", Brent-Dyer, 1954b, p58), which only became common in the UK in the 1970s. Headmistress Miss Annersley explains to pupils that "we are in Central Europe and naturally we must use Central Europe times" (Brent-Dyer, 1954b, p58).

Perhaps this would not have appeared so "natural" to real English schools based abroad. Evans has written that the pupils attending her middle-class girls' school in the UK in the 1950s were "children of a culture which had already inculcated belief in the superiority of the British and the benefits of British influence." (Evans, 1991, p15). However, Evans goes on to write that:

It is probable that readers interpreted the inclusion of such details as references to 'abroad', increasing the appeal of the series for them, rather than believing that a real English school would adopt "foreign" customs.

However, that the series is genuinely committed to internationalism is proven by the books written in the war years. When the German and Austrian pupils are forced to leave the school by the Nazis in 1938, the girls "had solemnly formed a peace league among themselves, and vowed themselves to a union of nations, whether they should ever meet again or not" (Brent-Dyer, 1940, p55). The founding document, signed by "every girl there", pledges:

The founding of this league is one of the causes of Joey's and Robin's flight from the Nazis. Later, when the school is in Guernsey, Miss Annersley tells the girls:


The Peace League plays a small but significant part in the series until the war is ended. For example, a member helps the brothers of two Austrian girls to escape from a concentration camp (Brent-Dyer, 1940, p332), and the German brother of two other former pupils drops a message of support for the Peace League from his aircraft and later deliberately crashes to avoid taking any further part in the war (Brent-Dyer, 1941, pp131-143). Later Joey and Robin explain to new girls that one of the aims of the League is "to remember that whatever our nationality may be, we are all Chalet Girls" (Brent-Dyer, 1942, pp65-66) - the implication being that the membership of this all-female community is more fundamental than nationality. Brent-Dyer is also careful to distinguish between Germans and Nazis: "'It isn't the Germans who are doing it,' said Robin. 'It's the Nazis.'" (Brent-Dyer, 1940, p228).

Given the school's commitment to internationalism, it is probably not surprising that from the beginning pupils and teachers from both main Christian denominations are seen to be members. In addition, when the school changes to having two head mistresses following an accident to Miss Annersley, one is a Catholic, Miss Wilson (Brent-Dyer, 1949, p328), showing that the books really did treat the two denominations as being of equal status. This would be unusual in real English schools for middle-class girls, of which Evans has written: "what did constitute social deviance and marginality in those far-off days was largely constituted by two factors - having a mother with a job, and belonging to a religion other than Church of England" (Evans, 1991, p28).

In the Chalet School Catholicism is seen as quite natural, and in the Austrian books Catholics outnumber Protestants (eg Brent-Dyer, 1938, p217). Religious services are taken separately, but on some occasions Protestant girls attend Catholic services. In an early book Eustacia Benson, shown by her actions and authorial comment to be an undesirable character, questions this and is told by Joey, the series' ultimate role model:

Jo later grows up to marry a Catholic, Jack Maynard, brother of one of the Catholic mistresses, and her children are brought up in the Catholic Church (The Chalet School in Exile, 1940). Although the books are never explicit about Joey's religion in later life, there is no mention of her adopting a different religion to the rest of her family, so presumably she is supposed to have converted to Catholicism. Brent-Dyer herself was formally received into the Catholic Church in December 1930, having previously been a practising member of the Church of England (McClelland, 1981, p117). Thus it is probable that she had already taken her decision in principle at the time of writing Jo's speech to Eustacia. Nevertheless Brent-Dyer continues to promote the idea that both denominations are equal, and while the school is set in Herefordshire stresses that the school's two chaplains "were great friends" (Brent-Dyer, 1955a, p55).

Perhaps it is understandable, given Evans' recollections, that Brent-Dyer never extended the school's concept of religious tolerance to include Jewish girls, although girls from other Christian groups such as Quakers are occasionally mentioned (eg Brent-Dyer, 1958b, p36). However, Brent-Dyer does make plain her opposition to anti-semitism. Another incident which precipitates Joey's flight from the Nazis is her defence of an old Jewish jeweller who is being tormented by a mob (Brent-Dyer, 1940, pp119-123) - he is later murdered.Later Joey deplores a state where there are "such horrors as concentration camps and protective detention, and beating up of helpless people just because they are Jews" (Brent-Dyer, 1940, p162).

The third distinguishing characteristic of the Chalet School is its avowed aim to protect the health of its pupils. One of Madge Bettany's main reasons for starting the Chalet School is Joey's poor health, which makes it desirable that she moves to a drier climate (Brent-Dyer, 1925, p7). One of Madge's first pupils, Amy Stevens, is sent there for the same reason (Brent-Dyer, 1925, p35). Later, when the sanatorium is founded nearby and Madge marries its head, Jem Russell, the school's function to protect its pupils' health becomes more explicit, with particular concentration on combatting TB.


This continues when the school moves to England: "ever since the establishment of the two [school and sanatorium], great stress had been laid on the care of the girls' health. The school was planned with an eye to this, and the staff knew it" (Brent-Dyer, 1944, p49). "The prospectus laid emphasis on the fact that health was particularly guarded here" (Brent-Dyer, 1951a, p73). In reality it is probable that there were English schools in the Alps where the children of sanatoria patients studied. Susan Sontag, in Illness as Metaphor, has noted that "travel to a better climate was invented as a treatment for TB in the early nineteenth century", and that TB continued to have a high mortality rate in Western Europe until the 1950s (Sontag, 1991, pp74, 35), with around 40,000 Britons contracting it every year. Elsie Oxenham, author of the 'Abbey Girls' series, describes a similar sanatorium in the Alps in one of her books and talks about "the big English schools, St. Mary's and St. John's, where children can be sent while their parents are under treatment" (The Abbey Girls at Home, 1928, p206).

It is also true that health was a consideration for some parents when deciding to send their daughters to boarding school. Sheila Rowbotham has written that "at eleven off I went . . . to a Methodist boarding school in East Yorkshire, close to the sea. 'Healthy air,' my father said. 'Good for the chest, bracing.'" (Heron, 1985, p197). Perhaps it is not surprising given Brent-Dyer's early experiences that she should be preoccupied with ill-health, particularly lung diseases. But the combination of Brent-Dyer's continual use of the 'Illness/Injury' plot device and the references to the school's function to protect its pupils' health portray a picture of fragile femininity.

However, it is important to remember that the supposed fragility of girls' health had been of concern to educationalists during the late 19th and the first quarter of the twentieth century, with fears that giving girls an equivalent education to boys' would affect their general health and particularly their fertility (see Hunt, 1987, pp9-11). Hunt points out that one of the main ways that headmistresses combatted these concerns and preserved a full academic curriculum for girls was the fact that "All of them concentrated heavily on health and medical care and this included rules about dress, holding medical inspections and encouraging gymnastics and games" (Hunt, 1987, p9). It is possible then to interpret the stress that Brent-Dyer places on the school's function to protect its pupils' health as a means of extending the choices available to the girls rather than limiting them, and it is probable that she genuinely believed that girls' health needed protecting.

And in fact one aspect of the school's policy to protect the health of its pupils is currently being advocated by doctors anxious to prevent adolescents from becoming disabled from curvature of the spine (scoliosis/kypho-scoliosis), which is the cause of my own impairment. This is a condition, more common in girls, which can develop or worsen rapidly with adolescence, but which can be combatted with exercise, bracing or traction. According to the New Statesman and Society of 15 November 1991, American schools regularly screen their pupils for scoliosis and there is widespread public awareness in the USA that prompt recognition and treatment can control the condition, but this is not the case in Britain. In the Chalet School, in contrast, girls who appear to be developing scoliosis are given remedial treatment. For example, in Ruey Richardson, Chaletian (1960), Margot:

It is probable that the doctors referred to in New Statesman and Society would regard this incident as a model of health promotion within schools.

Next: 6: III. Learning to be a "Real Chalet School Girl"
Return to: 6. The World of the Chalet School Index
Return to: Virtual Worlds of Girls Index

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