"You're a wife and a proud mamma, but in a good many
ways, Jo, you're still nothing but a schoolgirl."
"You've missed out the chief part of it," she said. "I'm still, in part of me, what I shall always be - a Chalet School girl."
(Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, The Chalet School and the Island, Chambers, 1950, p192)
Collecting children's books first became a "mainstream"
activity for British adults in 1932, when the National Book Council organised
a children's book week and arranged an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert
Museum in London to illustrate the history of children's books. At this
point, a "correspondent" in the Times Literary Supplement
of 17 November 1950 estimated that: "it is doubtful whether at that
time there were in England more than a dozen collectors interested in the
whole field of children's literature" (pxvii). However, 1932 marked
a turning point, and by the 1970s children's book collecting was established
as a "respectable", if somewhat odd, hobby. (Indeed, my own collecting
habit was inspired by the father of a schoolfriend, a primary-school headmaster
who owned a collection of boys' school stories in the 1970s.)
It was inevitable that both a collecting network and a secondhand bookdealing network would emerge as a result of this shared activity, and many collectors themselves eventually became dealers, as Gill Bilski describes in "Confessions of a Chalet School Collector".
Many collectors become dealers to a lesser or greater extent because they have spare books . . . Most just sell them to other, larger, dealers who can pass them on, but there are the few such as myself who don't stop there and go on to produce catalogues and, eventually, let it take over their lives!
(in Auchmuty, Rosemary, and Gosling, Ju, [eds.] The Chalet School Revisited, Bettany Press, London, 1994, pp286-292)
These networks were often hidden from view, but longstanding
friendships grew up as a result of shared interests in particular types
of children's book, along with a growing body of knowledge about the texts.
This was as true of popular children's stories as of the "good"
By the time of Brent-Dyer's death, the rise of children's
book criticism (see 7: II. The Critics of Girls' School Stories, 1949-1995)
had meant that a number of societies had been established to promote "good"
children's books. For example, the Children's Book Circle was set up in
1962, originally restricting its membership to those working in publishing,
and giving the Eleanor Farjeon Award annually for "distinguished services
to children's books". In 1968, the Federation of Children's Book Groups
was founded as a registered charity "to promote an awareness of the
importance of children's literature principally amongst parents",
sponsoring the annual Children's Book Award. And in 1970, the Children's
Books History Society was established as a British branch of a Canadian
organisation, aiming "to promote an appreciation of children's books
and to study their history, bibliography and literary content, and encourage
the distribution and exchange of information on the history of children's
literature". Clearly, though, there was no place in any of these organisations
for the collectors of girls' school stories.
By the early 1970s, however, fantasy and comic readers
and collectors - then perceived mostly to be men, although this may well
be inaccurate - had begun to set up their own societies, stressing the
literary and/or artistic nature of their collections. The Tolkien Society
and the Lewis Carroll Society were founded in 1969; the British Fantasy
Society was founded in 1971; the Mervyn Peake Society was founded in 1975;
and the Association of Comics Enthusiasts was founded in 1978. It was only
in the 1980s, though, that popular children's fiction gained its own organisations.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her status as a "classic" children's
author, one of the first of these societies was the Beatrix Potter Society,
which was founded in 1980 with the aim of promoting "the study and
appreciation of the life and works of Beatrix Potter as author, artist,
diarist, farmer and conservationist". Another early society was The
Followers of Rupert, founded in 1983 "to promote and co-ordinate the
appreciation of the stories of Rupert Bear, and to provide facilities for
the exchange of relevant information and material". Fans of Richmal
Crompton, author of the "Just William" books, also began, in
1983, to meet annually on the last Saturday in April, although no formal
organisation was formed.
Then, in 1985, the first of the societies was launched for a popular woman author who wrote principally for girls: the Violet Needham Society. Since Needham's books were also read by boys and collected by men, and the stories often have historical settings, perhaps Needham was perceived as being more "respectable" than the authors of girls' school stories; however, many of Needham's fans also collected the genre. The Violet Needham Society was:
originally formed to rectify the critical neglect of Needham's work and to bring together admirers of her books . . . to promote appreciation of her achievement as a unique writer for children by acting as a focus for research into her life and work, and by issuing little-known and previously unpublished writing by her. Meetings and excursions are organised, the Society maintains a library for members of the author's books and other relevant material, and the journal Souvenir is published 3 p.a.
(internal membership correspondence)
Thus the society set the pattern for the modern fan clubs
of reclaiming the author as a "good" writer; of bringing together
fans to meet other collectors and to exchange views about the author; of
organising trips for fans to sites associated with the author, particularly
those where her stories are set; of encouraging and publishing research
about the author and her books; of maintaining a library so that rare texts
are freely available to fans; and of publishing a regular newsletter. This
was possible first, because, rather than the collectors being the children
at whom the books were originally aimed, they were now adults, and second
because of the new technologies of word-processing, desktop publishing
and faxes, which meant that fans could communicate and control the publishing
process themselves at a reasonably cheap cost; no official sanction was
now needed. The establishment of the Violet Needham Society also reflected
the fact that there were now at least hundreds of collectors of girls'
books, principally of girls' school stories, who would pay high prices
to obtain copies of their favourite books in prized editions - hundreds
of pounds, in some cases.
The first of the Elsie Jeanette Oxenham societies was
also launched in 1985: not in Britain, as might have been expected; but
in Australia. There had always been fans of girls' school stories in English-speaking
parts of the former British Empire, where for many decades Britain was
spoken of as "home". Given that the vast majority of these readers
had no external experience of Britain, their image of the "mother
country" remained imaginary, and it is probable that the imaginary
world of the stories became conflated to some extent with this. For example,
Rosemary Auchmuty writes that: "I came to live in England in 1978
- drawn I am sure by the idealised picture I had gleaned from school stories."
(A World of Girls, The Women's Press, 1992, p3) These fans' experiences
cannot, therefore, be regarded as having entirely the same cultural significance
as that of the British fans.
The Abbey Girls of Australia began as a circle of three
friends with a mutual interest in collecting Oxenham's books. However,
following a formal launch by Val Shelley in May 1985, by 1989 the Abbey
Girls had nearly two hundred members, with annual gatherings and a regular
newsletter, The Abbey Guardian. Individual groups of readers also
met regularly, centred around their geographic location, and some members
produced craftwork inspired by the books. As with Oxenham's Abbey girls,
the members also began to elect their own May Queens, and to recreate the
ceremonies described in the books. In 1989, the Abbey Girls of Australia
were then joined by the newsletter The Abbey Gatehouse in New Zealand,
and by the Elsie Jeanette Oxenham Society, who published The Abbey Chronicle,
in the UK. This latter society was founded by Olga Kendell and Monica Godfrey,
and arose as a result of a growing awareness of the Australian society
among UK fans, who were already meeting informally through the collecting
and dealing networks.
Then, in September 1990, Sue Sims and Belinda Copson launched the newsletter Folly (Fans of Light Literature for the Young) in the UK, published, as with Souvenir and The Abbey Chronicle, three times a year. The aims were described in the first issue as being:
a loose association devoted to enjoying, collecting, recommending and recording (preferably in this magazine) what people who aren't in sympathy with us would call "trash" or (if they're being kind) "I don't know what you see in that stuff". (p1)
Sims and Copson explicitly rejected the values of the mainstream collecting networks.
. . . we're willing to accept almost anything about almost
any author or aspect of book collecting with a few exceptions:
(a) earnest studies of writers and their books with most of the emphasis firmly on first editions and huge prices (Book and Magazine Collector style);
(b) scholarly and beautifully researched articles on serious or important writers for children/seventeenth century chapbooks/lithogravure techniques in children's books of the Netherlands. (p1)
Readers were instead asked to produce articles which focused on themselves as collectors and their interests. For example, articles about:
Your greatest collecting disasters . . . ;
A literary pilgrimage that you've made, visiting the site(s) on which one of your favourite authors based a book/series;
An article on a book/author which you love, but which none of your collecting friends and acquaintances have ever heard of;
How you were first drawn into the fascinating, enjoyable and horrifically expensive world of collecting whoever you happen to collect;
That article you've had up your dust-jacket for years, but couldn't find anywhere to send it. (p1)
In addition, Folly would include information for
collectors, including who was looking for what book, who produced sales
lists, and which dealers should be avoided (for example, because of failure
to deliver books). However, from the beginning Folly also included
serious articles about girls' books and their authors, and soon became
the main vehicle for the publication of research in this field. Much of
this research was carried out by the editors, along with biographer Hilary
Clare. Folly also published parodies of the genre and collecting,
which demonstrated that the readers were well aware of the perceived literary
and political weaknesses of the genre and demonstrated that fans could
move between taking an ironic and an uncritical attitude towards the genre
(for a detailed discussion of these, see 8: V. The Parodies of Girls'
School Stories, Women's Parodies);
Once at the forefront of the organised fan movement, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School fans were now in danger of being left behind. The desire for an organisation of some sort had been clearly identified, though, as collector/dealer Gill Bilski explains in "Confessions of a Chalet School Collector": "After all, many of the others, such as Elsie Oxenham and Violet Needham, had been out of print for years, whereas the Chalet School stories were still being published in paperback and bought. However, no one was willing to take it on." Bilski explains that:
It fell to Ann Mackie-Hunter in Australia to do what we
had seemed unable to do in the UK.
Ann was a member of the Abbey Girls of Australia, but was also a keen Brent-Dyer collector. One cold, wet Sunday afternoon in 1989 she had some time on her hands and decided to practise her typing and, rather than straight and boring copy-typing, she decided to create a mock Chalet newsletter. That evening, a friend of hers (the founder of the Abbey Girls of Australia, Val Shelley) rang, and, when Ann told her what she'd been doing, Val said she should start a new club. Ann was somewhat dubious about the idea, but, before she could say a definite no, Val collected subscriptions from some Brisbane Abbey Club members who were also Brent-Dyer readers at their meeting the next morning. Faced with a fait accompli that evening, Ann ran off some copies the next day and posted them. Australian Friends of the Chalet School was born.
(in Auchmuty, Rosemary, and Gosling, Ju, [eds.], The Chalet School Revisited, Bettany Press, 1994, p301)
The fact that other, similar newsletters were already in existence meant that there was a simple way for Mackie Hunter, a history teacher, to advertise her newsletter (slogan: "Onwards and Upwards") to other self-identified fans of girls' school stories. Specialist publications also allowed her to target collectors, and in addition there was some mainstream media interest from the women's press. Bilski explains that: "Two of the Oxenham newsletters, the Abbey Guardian and the Abbey Chronicle, advertised FOCS and the membership grew, mainly from Australia but a handful from the UK, New Zealand and Canada. An advertisement in the Australian Women's Weekly and the Bookseller and Publisher in Australia brought in more new members." (pp301-2) Alongside the growth in membership generally, the role of the UK membership began to grow, largely due to Bilski.
I joined, somewhat belatedly, at the end of 1989, as it
was so expensive to get cheques in foreign currency, and I suggested that
it might be easier if someone in the UK could collect subscriptions to
save everyone having to purchase the cheques individually. Just like Ann,
I really could not have imagined what this little suggestion would lead
to. At the same time the society dropped its Australian prefix and became
just Friends of the Chalet School as we wanted to stress that the society
was international - just like the Chalet School.
In the middle of 1991, Ann had another of her bright ideas. As so many new members were joining from the UK, wouldn't it be nice to have a UK corner in each newsletter? I agreed prematurely, realising too late that what Ann really meant was that it would be nice if I wrote a UK corner. As I couldn't think of any convincing reason why I shouldn't do it, the UK corner first appeared in Newsletter 12. (p302)
In 1992, fandom was acknowledged in the mainstream media
- and thus became visible for the first time - when university librarian
Barbara Inglis took as her specialist subject "The Life and Chalet
School Novels of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer" on the BBC television quiz
programme Mastermind. Prior to this fans had remained largely invisible
even to the academics who were collecting and studying the genre. For example,
in 1990 Kimberley Reynolds wrote that: "To the best of my knowledge,
the phenomenon of adults annexing books written for girls is unknown."
Auchmuty and myself also became aware of their existence only in 1992 following
the publication by The Women's Press of Auchmuty's A World of Girls,
the content of which prompted fans - who were naturally wary of critics
- to make contact.
By 1993, the majority of FOCS members were based in the UK, and the organisation had also widened. Bilski explains that:
Ann decided that producing four newsletters a year virtually single-handed was getting too much, and thought that it would be better to have an editorial committee of four, each producing one newsletter a year. Once again I agreed that it was a good idea, and immediately found myself on the committee together with Clarissa Cridland and Polly Goerres, two UK members who had already become involved by volunteering to organise events for Brent-Dyer's centenary in 1994. The first result of this was Newsletter 21, edited by all four of us. (pp302-3)
In 1992, the growth of the Chalet fan movement internationally had also been given impetus by plans to celebrate Brent-Dyer's birth centenary in 1994. The fan who played the leading role in organising the centenary celebrations was Polly Goerres, a Jaguar Cars executive.
The idea of celebrating Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's centenary
had come to me when, as a student, I read Helen McClelland's biography,
Behind the Chalet School. Then, I had been reading the Chalet School
books for ten years. Unlike several other teenage fans I had gone on reading
them unashamedly during adolescence. . .
I wandered slowly round the students' union bar, reading it avidly. I noted then that Elinor's centenary would take place in 11 years' time, and wondered what was being planned to celebrate it. . .
I kept on with my Chalet reading in the years leading up to the centenary in 1994, my life being affected by several Brent-Dyer inspired events. The first happened when I established a valued correspondence and friendship with Elinor's biographer, Helen McClelland. Secondly, with Helen's encouragement and advice, I completed an undergraduate dissertation entitled Language, Traditions and Genre of the Chalet School Series, now held at Sheffield University's Centre for English Language and Cultural Traditions (CECTAL). Then Helen put me in touch with Ann Mackie-Hunter who had founded a Chalet fans' society and newsletter. The following year, 1990, as a result of reading the books, I spent my honeymoon in Pertisau-am-Achensee, site of the early Chalet titles. All the while I wrote to Collins (who published the books in paperback), Ann, Helen and others asking "What are you/we/they doing to celebrate Elinor's centenary in 1994?" Ann suggested I should contact Gill Bilski, who was then UK secretary for the Friends of the Chalet School.
16 May 1992 was a day that would change my life . . . for the next few years at any rate. This was the "Folly Day" at the home of Belinda Copson, co-editor of Folly magazine. Here I met Gill Bilski and coyly asked her what Friends of the Chalet School were doing to celebrate Elinor's centenary in two years' time. Gill seemed surprised to learn that it was to be the centenary, but a lively discussion followed. The assembled Fans Of Light Literature for the Young were keen to commemorate the birth centenary of such a great popular author. One of these fans was Clarissa Cridland, to whom I chatted enthusiastically about Pertisau, the Chalet series and, to her great surprise, football!
When, in a subsequent FOCS newsletter, Gill appealed for a committee to plan and co-ordinate centenary events, I assumed that she and her book-dealing contacts had by then effected a grand stratagem. Not wishing to be left behind in this, I wrote a desperate letter to Gill offering all the help I could with the centenary plans and hoping it wasn't too late to become involved. I need not have worried, for only one other person had offered to take on the daunting challenge . . .
("Excitements for the Chalet Fans", in Auchmuty, Rosemary, and Gosling, Ju, [eds.], The Chalet School Revisited, Bettany Press, 1994, pp67-9)
Rather than being someone from the bookdealing network, this person was Clarissa Cridland, rights manager for an international publishers and a self-identified fan and collector of the genre. In 1994, she explained her reasons for becoming involved with organising the centenary celebrations as follows:
[Brent-Dyer] has created something which is unique in
the annals of school stories. And for that reason I think it's important
that we did celebrate the centenary, and it also gave the chance for an
awful lot of people who didn't know that there was a fan club to find out
about it through the publicity, and I mean our membership has almost quadrupled
since we started this. And one of the nicest things is that we've had so
many letters from people saying "I knew nothing about it and I'm so
pleased to have found you, I'm so pleased to find that there are other
people like me".
(The Chalet School Revisited, FOCS 3)
So who were the adult fans at this time, and what did they have in common? Lawrence Grossberg notes that:
it is often assumed that popular culture appeals to the lowest and least critical segments of the population. These audiences are thought to be easily manipulated and distracted (not only from "serious" culture but also from real social concerns), mobilized solely to make a profit. The various forms of popular culture appeal to the audience's most debased needs and desires, making them even more passive, more ignorant and non-critical than they apparently already are. . . . A second, related view of fans assumes that they are always juveniles, waiting to grow up, and still enjoying the irresponsibility of their fandom.
However, Helen McClelland records that:
there are Chalet fans to be found today working in the
BBC, and in the British Library. More than one young editor in go-ahead
London publishing houses has confessed to being "an avid fan of the
Chalet School". One older reader in Hereford presented several of
the books to her daily help "because her [the latter's] mother always
enjoys them so much".
it would be quite impossible to put Chalet School readers, past and present, into any category - or even series of categories. They belong to no particular age-group. They come from various social backgrounds and from many different countries - although, for obvious reasons, the majority are British. Some have attended boarding-schools, others not. Some have travelled abroad and may have studied foreign languages; some have done neither. Many did first meet the Chalet stories during childhood, but a sizeable minority did not. A number go on reading the books with uncritical admiration; a few lose interest altogether; but many more, in all age groups, continue to enjoy the stories while remaining fully aware of their flaws.
The fans include children and teenagers and the whole age-range of adults up to at least the age of ninety (the oldest known to date was ninety-three); people married, unmarried, childless, with families large or small. They work in a variety of jobs, skilled, unskilled, intellectual or otherwise, paid or unpaid; attend schools or colleges (an interestingly high proportion of adult fans belong to the teaching profession). Many are housewives, with or without other jobs. Only a very few are ladies of leisure.
They include practising members of many different religious sects, and people without any religious affiliations - occasionally even an avowed atheist. They include people from widely different income brackets, and of opposing political views. They are certainly not all middle-aged women seeking to recapture their childhood. They are not even all females.
(Behind the Chalet School, Bettany Press, London, 1996, pp278-9)
To this I would add that the fans included a number of lesbian and bisexual women and a number of disabled women. Henry Jenkins has noted that:
Fandom is particularly attractive to groups marginalized or subordinated in the dominant culture - women, blacks, gays, lower-middle-class office workers, the handicapped [sic] - precisely because its social organization provides types of unconditional acceptance and alternative sources of status lacking in the larger society.
However, although Gill Frith found in the early 1980s
that British girls with ethnic minority backgrounds read and enjoyed school
stories, and while a number of Black women have commented to me that they
enjoyed - or still enjoy - the books, only a tiny number of fans from these
backgrounds was visible during the fan activities in which I participated.
Black women's experiences of and perspectives on reading girls' school
stories have not yet been represented within the fan movement studied here,
nor within the critical world. (The absence of British fans with an Afro-Caribbean
background was particularly striking because the other common element in
fandom was that the large majority of the fans were Christians, reflecting
the books' content as well as the religious networks which had been used
to establish the Club.) Since the Chalet School books themselves are avowedly
anti-racist, and since Brent-Dyer had educated two of the grand-daughters
of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia within her school, it seems likely
that one reason for the absence of Black fans was the invisibility of FOCS
outside a white women's minority culture. Aside from the publishing world,
the networks available to fans to contact each other were those which were
based away from the cities and had their roots in white British culture.
The fact that the majority of fans were female would seem self-evident, given that the genre is aimed at girls, forefronts female experiences and is generally ridiculed by men. (Unsuprisingly, the minority of male fans have received a disproportionate amount of media attention.) However, to some extent it is also true that book collecting is a particularly acceptable hobby for women. Shopping plays a key element in collecting; and both buying and selling can take place from the home. Like other objects, the collections can be displayed in the home; taking care of the collection, in fact, involves housework such as dusting. When collectors do meet each other, it is generally in the safe, enclosed environment of the book fair or fan meeting; and partners and families, where fans have them, do not seem to feel threatened by these activities.
Ultimately, then, fans had little in common aside from
being mostly white women who were avid readers and who had access to the
networks by which news of the fan movement had spread: principally the
secondhand bookdealing network, linked to the Provincial Book Collectors'
Fairs; the Women's Institute; the Church of England; and the publishing
world itself. They also tended to be women who read widely and extensively
rather than exclusively reading children's books, and who collected other
types of books as well. Goerres adds that: "The majority seem to be
women who are rather forceful characters, by which I do not mean bossy.".
There was little sign of them being "dull daydreamers", as Nicholas
Tucker characterised girl fans in 1970.
Rather, analysis seemed to support claims by "filkers" (science
fiction fans who produce music related to their fandom) that fans: "are
not simply dreamers who maintain the imagination and idealism of their
childhood; they are also 'doers' who envision a better world and are working
to transform those dreams into a reality."
For example, Colette Tunley, who describes herself as "a pretty average
person - very conventional and a conformist, not a radical in any way",
actually "went into social work, and now train[s] social work students"
The fan movement itself now played a much larger role in the organisation than with the original Chalet Club, and the social aspects of it were central. John Fiske has noted that: "Indeed, much of the pleasure of fandom lies in the fan talk that it produces." In 1994, Bilski explained the aim of Friends of the Chalet School as being:
to bring together people from all over the world who enjoy Elinor Brent-Dyer's books. We do that through the newsletters, which are written by the members, and also through local meetings, where devotees can get together to talk about their passion (and all kinds of other things as well!). We are called Friends of the Chalet School because, despite the large membership, we like to consider ourselves as friends, bound in friendship by a common love of Elinor Brent-Dyer's books. (pp303-4)
Jenkins, offering a model of fandom, gives one of fandom's characterising features as being that:
Fandom constitutes an alternative social community: The fans' appropriation of media texts provides a ready body of common references that facilitates communication with others scattered across a broad geographic area, fans who one may never - or seldom - meet face to face but who share a common sense of identity and interests.
A typical local group was the one in Edinburgh, established by full-time parent Fen Crosbie. In 1994, she explained that:
I started it last summer [in 1993], when Polly and Clarissa
were first coming up to start organising centenary things, and I just circulated
everybody with a letter asking if they wanted to meet up. And we have grown
from I think about ten the first time to [about 25] . . .
We do all sorts of things, we do quizzes sometimes - at Christmas we had a quiz with prizes, which was a thinly-disguised excuse for giving Christmas presents, and we have had swapping books around, we have had just talking about dealers and other clubs like Folly, but really it's mainly a social thing. And despite what the reporter from Scotland on Sunday asked me when she rang me to ask me about local clubs, we do not dress up as schoolgirls and go to public places - she seemed to think that's what we do, but no we don't, no we don't!"
(The Chalet School Revisited, Edinburgh 3)
Rather than being social occasions which are unconnected with the books, though, Jenkins points out that fan meetings and newsletters are used to develop collective readings of the texts.
Fandom constitutes a particular interpretive community:
Given the highly social orientation of fan reading practices, fan interpretations
need to be understood in institutional rather than personal terms. Fan
club meetings, newsletters and letterzines provide a space where textual
interpretations get negotiated.
Fans adopt a distinctive mode of reception. . . fans are motivated not simply to absorb the text but to translate it into other types of cultural and social activity. . . Often, fans join fan organisations or attend conventions which allow for more sustained discussions. Fans chat on computer nets.
It should be stressed here that the fans were not primarily women who lacked friends, or who were uninvolved with other social networks. Many were prominent in girls and women's organisations, the Church of England and the Catholic Church. However, the theme of pleasure at meeting other fans was a constant one in the fans' correspondence with Friends of the Chalet School, with their common fandom rather than social contact per se being given as the reason for this pleasure. In 1994, Goerres explained that: "So many people thought that they were the only ones, they thought they were mad to be still reading them into their adulthood. And people write in and say 'I thought I was a nutcase because I still read children's books', but then now we can welcome them aboard and say 'yes, we all do it', and it's a wonderful feeling." (The Chalet School Revisited, FOCS 3)
Many contributors to the fanzines have written of their
relief at finding others through the fan clubs who share their preference;
many use the metaphor of the closet, and speak gratefully of being able
to "come out" in the company of fellow-fans. Like the lesbians
and gay men from whom this metaphor is borrowed, the joy these readers
experience at meeting others like themselves is in direct proportion to
the pain they suffer at having to deal, in the rest of their lives, with
other people's perceptions (or misconceptions) about them and the books
they love. What is abundantly clear to adult school story fans is that
a liking for school stories is not simply disparaged in our society (as
a liking for detective or romantic fiction might be, for example), it is
generally considered bizarre, if not ridiculous.
(Auchmuty, Rosemary, and Gosling, Ju, "Introduction", in Auchmuty, Rosemary, and Gosling, Ju, [eds.], The Chalet School Revisited, Bettany Press, 1994, p15)
There were many reasons why other fans would not
come out, though, including the fact that keeping their reading private
may have added to their pleasure.
That there were many collectors "in the closet" originally was shown by the effects of the publicity for the Elinor M. Brent-Dyer centenary celebrations. FOCS gained its 500th member just before the Hereford weekend, and by the autumn, Bilski wrote that:
Membership all over the world has grown and is now over
800, with members living in Austria, Australia, Canada, the Channel Islands,
Eire, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden,
Switzerland, Zimbabwe, the USA and the UK, predominantly female, but with
twenty-plus male members. Ages range from seven to over eighty. The general
feeling from new members is that they are delighted to find that there
is such a society, and relieved that they are not the only adults addicted
to school stories!
("Confessions of a Chalet School Collector", in Auchmuty, Rosemary, and Gosling, Ju, [eds.], The Chalet School Revisited, Bettany Press, 1994, p302)
Goerres points out that this did not necessarily mean that members felt comfortable telling others about their reading habits.
A leading book dealer who went to the Hereford weekend
explained that she had not told her boyfriend where she was going, fearing
what he might think! [after marrying, this dealer subsequently gave
up her business] Similarly, when the centenary committee tried to gauge
interest in printing Christmas cards and calendars showing illustrations
from the delightful Nina K. Brisley dustwrappers, one member wrote to explain
that she would not buy any because she could not possibly admit to her
business colleagues, to whom she would be sending Christmas cards, that
she still read children's books!
("Excitements for the Chalet Fans", in Auchmuty, Rosemary, and Gosling, Ju, [eds.], The Chalet School Revisited, Bettany Press, 1994, pp71-2)
Other collectors had felt it necessary to hide their habits unless and until they had daughters of their own, as Jenny Davis and her nine-year-old daughter Rachel explained in 1994.
[Jenny] Although I carried on reading children's stories,
it wasn't something that one actually admitted, you did it on the sly.
You walked into a bookshop, you sidled towards the children's books pretending
that you were choosing for someone else, and one stood there and read for
half an hour or so and finally very guiltily put the books down. It's only
recently I've been able to actually go back to them. [Rachel] Because of
me! [Jenny] Because of you, very much because of you. [Rachel] Because
then you can pretend you're choosing for me! [Jenny] Oh yes, it's marvellous,
and it's marvellous to be able to say 'What do you think about Miss Annersley?
What do you think about Joey?' It's lovely to be able to choose them and
not to have to be guilty any longer.
(The Chalet School Revisited, Hereford 4)
Once in contact with Friends of the Chalet School, though,
many fans risked possible ridicule in order to meet with other members.
According to anecdotal evidence, a substantial number of people who had
known about FOCS previously to 1994 joined only when they were offered
the opportunity to meet with other fans during the centenary celebrations.
Another reason for the growth in membership prior to more widespread publicity,
though, must have been the fact that Goerres and Cridland had been able
to summon official support for the celebrations: from local authorities
who were interested in the tourism potential of fandom; and from publishers
who were interested in the growth in sales which fandom might generate.
As with the original Chalet Club, the role of market forces was crucial
here in giving credibility to fandom.
Combined with the huge interest from fans, the centenary events became much more extensive than Goerres and Cridland had originally envisaged, which initiated further publicity for the fan movement. McClelland records that:
On 6 April 1994, a ceremonial gathering in South Shields,
attended by the Mayor, with other officials of the South Tyneside Borough
Council, and numerous Chalet School fans, not to mention local visitors
and representatives of the media, marked the first in a series of events
to commemorate Elinor Brent-Dyer's centenary.
At this first celebration, a memorial plaque to Elinor was unveiled . . .
South Shields certainly did Elinor proud that day. 'Now it's wor Elinor' - announced the headline in the Shields Gazette; and the Borough Council not only provided transport to and from Westoe Village for the many guests but, after the unveiling ceremony, laid on a splendid reception and sit-down lunch at the Town Hall - itself an impressive building, and one that must have been a familiar sight to Elinor as she walked around the town.
Next came the turn of Hereford, where the City Council was also most co-operative. Among other things, they sponsored the erection of a plaque at the gate of Elinor's former home in Bodenham Road (where she had run the Margaret Roper School); assisted with the arrangements for a Brent-Dyer exhibition at the Central Library; and laid on an evening reception in the Bishop's Palace.
More than 160 Chalet School enthusiasts attended an April weekend of celebrations in and around Hereford - some had come from as far afield as Australia. And the non-stop programme of official events included a celebration dinner at Belmont Abbey (where one of the speakers was a former pupil of the Margaret Roper School, Mrs Luella Hamilton); a visit by coach to the second-hand bookshops of Hay-on-Wye; a special Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Francis Xavier's Church in Hereford - the church Elinor herself attended; a fiendishly difficult quiz, covering just about every aspect, known and unknown of Elinor's books; and a hilarious group photograph session. Throughout the weekend the flow of chatter and laughter could hardly have been matched on a first day of term at the Chalet School itself.
Later in the year a comprehensive exhibition was staged at Edinburgh's Museum of Childhood; and this was opened by Mr Tony Chambers, a former director of Elinor's publishers, W.& R. Chambers, who, in relating some of his own memories of Elinor, provided a direct personal link with the Chalet School's author.
During the summer (thanks to the good offices of Martin Spence, who is prominent among the Chalet School's group of male admirers), a plaque commemorating Elinor's Tyrolean visit was erected outside the library in Pertisau-am-Achensee (as mentioned in Chapter XIII). This plaque particularly stresses the important role played by Pertisau as Elinor's inspiration in her Chalet School series.
The weekend of 16-18 September then saw a gathering in Guernsey, where the interest focused on both the Chalet School and the La Rochelle series. And, on Tuesday 20 September, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Elinor's death, a memorial and thanksgiving service was held in the Church of the Holy Family at Reigate, her parish church and scene of her funeral. This was followed by the blessing at Elinor's grave in Redstone Hill Cemetery at Redhill, Surrey of a specially commissioned headstone, paid for by subscriptions from Chalet fans all around the world.
(McClelland, Helen, Behind the Chalet School, Bettany Press, London, 1996, pp287-9)
This final event was prompted by the fans' discovery that
Brent-Dyer had been buried in an unmarked grave and that no memorial had
ever been erected to her. Along with the unveiling of the two commemorative
plaques in South Shields and Hereford, the erection and blessing of the
headstone was symbolic, both of the fans' reclaiming of Brent-Dyer and
her importance in twentieth-century British and other girls' lives, and
of the deep respect which they had for her. Mayor-Elect of Hereford Kit
Gundy, who knew Brent-Dyer personally, summed up fans' sentiments prior
to unveiling the commemorative plaque in Hereford: "For all the pleasure
she has given to so many of us over so many years, it's only fitting that
there should be a permanent memorial to her." (The Chalet School
Revisited, Hereford 1)
The nature and extent of the national publicity which
these activities received should be noted here. On 22 March 1994, The
Times carried an article by male fan Martin Spence, entitled "A
heroine for the next century", which took up almost half a page. This
provided a serious summary of Brent-Dyer's life and of the contents of
the series, although Spence was careful to distinguish Brent-Dyer from
"the sentimental Angela Brazil and the saccharine Elsie Oxenham".
Similarly, on 25 March, the Times Educational Supplement carried
a half-page article by critic Mary Cadogan entitled "Chalet schoolgirls
for ever" (pXII). This summarised Brent-Dyer's life alongside the
series, and while sending up certain elements common to the genre as a
whole, noted that "her books have acquired far greater resilience
than those of [Brazil, Oxenham and Bruce]". Brent-Dyer had now been
awarded the contradictory status of being a "good" author of
a "bad" genre.
On 7 April 1994, the day following the plaque unveiling
in South Shields, the Guardian carried a photograph by Ted Ditchburn
and a report by Martin Wainwright in their Home News section, occupying
around a sixth of a page (p8). This was light-hearted in tone - "[Brent-Dyer]
created a cheery, eager world for girls" - but made no attempt to
ridicule the fans or their activities. At the end of the week, the Guardian
then published a travel feature by Spence in their Weekend section (9 April
1994, pp42-3), aimed at fans who wished to visit the Austrian sites which
had inspired the series. And on 10 April 1994, The Observer published
an article by Geraldine Brennan in their review section (pp4-5), entitled
"So jolly without those hockey sticks". Brennan began by identifying
herself as being a fan when a child: "I, like millions of young readers
before me, longed to be a Chalet School girl." She then produced a
serious report about fandom and the centenary celebrations, and details
of FOCS and the Edinburgh exhibition were given at the end. Fandom of Brent-Dyer,
at least, had become semi-respectable.
What characterises modern fandom? As with the original Chalet Club News Letter, the content of the Friends of the Chalet School newsletter quickly became established, as Bilski explains.
[Issue 21, the first issue with four editors] contained
comments from members on previous articles including paperbacks, matters
medical, music and what happened next; whatever happened to . . . ? (a
regular feature picking out characters who seemed just to disappear); potted
autobiographies of members; a report on arrangements for the centenary
events; reports on meetings in Scotland, Nottingham and Somerset; a report
on the lending library (we are trying to collect copies of all her books
which are lent to members for a small fee); a résumé of Joey
and Co in Tirol (1960); and ten articles on various subjects such as
how one member started collecting, Elinor and Miss Le Poidevin (her friend
from Guernsey), memories of Herefordshire and the historical background
to The Chalet School in Exile. There were also items for sale and
wanted and a couple of puzzles.
(Bilski, Gill, "Confessions of a Chalet School Collector", in Auchmuty, Rosemary, and Gosling, Ju, [eds.], The Chalet School Revisited, Bettany Press, 1994, p303)
This was very similar to the content of the original Chalet Club News Letter (see previous lexia), but the "experts" were now the fans rather than Brent-Dyer herself. Likewise The New Chalet Club Journal, launched in autumn 1995, was composed of the following articles during its first five issues:
19% General interest
14% EBD's books
13% EBD's characters
11% Quizzes, puzzles and crosswords
10% Location of EBD's books
9% EBD's life
5% Book reviews
5% Bad jokes and parodies
2% Chalet fiction
(The Journal Report, 17 September 1996)
The location or setting of the books themselves had always held a fascination for the fans (see McClelland on the Chalet Club News Letter), and many had tried to trace the real-life sites which had inspired the books as well as visiting the sites associated with Brent-Dyer's own life. This is a common literary phenomenon for fans of both popular and "classic" fiction, enthusiastically encouraged by tourism officials (South Shields itself is on the border of "Catherine Cookson Country", and produced a leaflet for Brent-Dyer's centenary entitled: "Another literary daughter of South Tyneside"). Mo Everett, a teacher on the Channel Island of Guernsey, spent a great deal of time in the early 1990s in tracing the settings of Brent-Dyer's "second series", the "La Rochelle" books, and then created a tour of the sites for the centenary celebration weekend in September 1994.
I'd never heard of the La Rochelle series until I started
to collect them, but then I started to find all the different place names
and take photographs. And then when the celebrations came up, and Guernsey
was mooted as a place to come, I thought I'd go into it in a lot more detail.We
were able to establish, for example, where Polly learnt to swim in Maids,
and where they used to fall off the wall into the sea, where the fire was
where Peter de Garis was killed saving Anne, and so on. And I just worked
from the books, and got the estates archivist who holds all the history
material on Guernsey, and we just worked together to hunt up all the places
and just took it from there.
(The Chalet School Revisited, Guernsey 2)
Once again, officialdom had proved happy to co-operate with the fans and to further their interests, thus giving status and backing to their activities as well as support for the imaginative reality of the series. Likewise, South Shields and Hereford City Councils co-operated to produce maps of their associated sites to aid fans, and in April 1994 Goerres and Cridland organised visits to these sites as part of the centenary celebrations, which further brought the scenes to life. As well as being associated with Brent-Dyer's own life, Hereford and the "Golden Valley" was where the "Armishire" part of the Chalet School series had been set, and fan Beth Varcoe and her husband David produced a commemorative guide, The Romance and the Reality. In 1994, they explained that:
[Beth] I wanted to know about the Golden Valley, and Helen
McClelland did say that the books were written, she felt, somewhere around
the Peterchurch area. . . And so we came to Vowchurch and it was just wonderful,
we just seemed to meet the people who gave us the information.
[David] And when we came here and all the text in Elinor's books fitted exactly, well we said "this must be it", we'll work from here. Having found this everything else falls into place. [Beth] I read all the Golden Valley books and took every piece of information out that could be used for directions for us, that's how we started. [David] And having established this as the school, it was easy to take Gay Lambert's escape when she went home to meet her half-brother from here, and also Gwensi's disappearance into the hedge where she disappeared for 24 hours, and we even found that in the place. [Beth] And where the bog was. [David] She didn't actually introduce it here, she introduced it in the "Island" books. [Beth] But that information was here.
We just get a buzz from it, really, we get a buzz from it. [David] This is what we do for fun. [Beth] So we find it exciting, and when the pieces of the jigsaw sort of fit into the picture, then, well, it's just exciting, it really is.
(The Chalet School Revisited, Hereford 3)
Although Brent-Dyer herself had revealed the identity of the site where the Austrian books were set in the Chalet Club News Letter, prior to this fans had been equally excited when they discovered the setting for themselves. McClelland recalls that:
in 1950, when I was staying in Austria with my mother,
I made a wonderful discovery. We were staying in Innsbruck and I was struggling
through a local guidebook - my German not being quite as good as Joey Bettany's
- when the name Scholastika leapt out at me (that's a place that's frequently
mentioned in the early books). And further, breathless research with the
map revealed other familiar place names - Buchau, Gaisalm, Seespitz and
so on - all grouped round a lake that wasn't called the Tiernsee, but the
Achensee. And there, in exactly the right situation beside this lake, was
a village, reached - just as in the stories - by mountain railway and lake
steamer, called, not Briesau, but Pertisau. It had to be right: despite
those altered names, everything fitted. And to my great joy I had discovered
that the original site of the Chalet School really did exist - or I should
say, really does exist!
(The Chalet School Revisited, Elinor 2)
The fascination with this site in particular had meant that many fans had visited Pertisau since the 1960s, and in 1992 the first organised trip for fans had taken place, organised by Daphne Paintin Barfoot, a retired teacher. Barfoot had founded another Chalet School newsletter, The Chaletian(named after the Chalet girls' school magazine), in 1991. In 1994, she explained that:
I started The Chaletian . . . through the Abbey
Chronicle. I heard about the Abbey Chronicle by accident and
joined that, and then I found that people who were writing in that about
the Abbey books quite often said "Well, of course, I really like the
Chalet School books better". And so I wondered if there was a place
for an English Chalet School club [FOCS being perceived then as Australian],
and so I started it and I advertised it through the Chronicle and
then Folly put an advertisement in, and I believe that somebody
put it in the Book and Magazine Collector at one point because one
or two people came from there, and then it was word of mouth. And I've
got about a hundred subscribers now.
(The Chalet School Revisited, Austria 1)
In fact, by 1994 Barfoot had married and this, combined with the success of FOCS, had made her decide to close her newsletter. First, however, she planned a second visit to Achensee. "At the time when I planned it I didn't realise it was the centenary of the author's birth, but I did know it was the 70th anniversary of her first visit to Austria." Thus, in May 1994, twelve women accompanied her to spend ten days visiting Chalet School-related sites. Barfoot identified the appeal of the visit as follows:
I think for those who have come for the first time, they've
probably got the same kind of thrill as I got when I came for the first
time - the excitement of seeing the places and being somewhere you've never
been before and yet knowing the geography. When I first came I found it
very exciting knowing where the steamers went, knowing the route and knowing
that there was probably the dripping rock between Pertisau and Geisalm
and so on. And it was very strange knowing the geography of somewhere you've
not been to. And I think for people who've been before it's probably interesting
being with a group, so that one can compare notes and quote and talk about
the characters in the books.
I think it's because it's exciting to realise they're real places because so many books are purely fiction, and here you've got somewhere that although the distances have been changed and the names have been changed, it is about a real place, and so you can, you can almost pretend the thing is real, and you can say "Well, this is where they did that, this is where they got caught in the storm on the alm and this is where they went to pan for gold in the Ziller and so on," and it somehow gives the books more reality. And I know some of us were saying yesterday that we almost felt like being old girls of the Chalet School.
(The Chalet School Revisited, Austria 1)
Visiting the sites, then, especially in the company of
other fans, helped to heighten the imaginative reality of the books for
For some fans, this effect was deepened because they could relate their own school experiences to those represented in the Chalet School series, recalling their own memories to add to the imaginative reality created by their reading. Anne Thompson, another retired teacher who accompanied Barfoot to Austria, identified the reason for the books' appeal to her as follows:
I think the thing that I feel about Brent-Dyer's books
is a feeling of security, of a safe background. No matter what happens,
everything always ends up happily, and it's also a time and a place that
is familiar. Each time you start another book you go back into her world
and you recognise the same things. The dormitories with their cretonne
curtains, and the classrooms and the people, and there's a sense of continuity.
I think too it's the period in which she wrote is recognisable, it's similar to the schools where I went, where things like posture and good manners and speaking quietly and walking along corridors without talking . . . When I was at school we had to always process along the walls of the corridor between the classrooms so that the staff could walk down the middle. Somebody in one of the magazines said that you didn't knock on the staffroom door, you stood and you waited till somebody came out and then you could ask if you had a message or a query, and that was very like the school to which I went.
And I suppose too I like her Catholicism, because I was a Catholic in a school where there were only about three of us out of about, I suppose, five hundred, and we were a little clique of our own, a little collection of people with similar thoughts and similar ideas.
(The Chalet School Revisited, Austria 3)
Visits to Chalet sites continued after the centenary celebrations,
with a group trip to the site of the Swiss Chalet School settings in the
summer of 1995; a return visit to Austria in the summer of 1996; and a
second visit to Switzerland in 1997. (Similarly, the Abbey Girls of Australia
organised a nineteen-day tour of Great Britain in May 1996 to visit sites
associated with Oxenham and her books.) For some British fans, the walking
associated with the visits became an attraction in itself, and smaller
groups began to walk together regularly to places which were not associated
with their fandom. This echoed the early schoolgirls who welcomed the chance
of strenuous physical exercise, since in the 1990s there is little provision
for women's physical exercise apart from aerobics and a narrow range of
Another characteristic of fandom was the tendency to create
art- and craftwork associated with the books. In the UK, some fans made
items which they also sold to others: for example, Hilary Clare
and Fiona Sali Arnold's
dolls of Dimsie, Abbey and Chalet characters; Ros Bayley's Abbey- and Chalet-inspired
beadwork badges and bookmarks;
Donald Emblow's Abbey paperweights;
Hazel Leach's Abbey pottery;
and a number of other items including badges and sweatshirts.
Others created work which they then shared with others in the form of providing
patterns: for example: Ruth Allen's Abbey tapestry;
Gillian Jackson's quilted hangings;
and Lilian Smith's Chalet sampler. Still others created work which they
gave away: for example, Barbara Inglis,
Julie Anne Donnelly,
and Rosemary Auchmuty
all created Chalet Christmas cards for their friends; and Ve Smith created
Yet more created work purely for their own pleasure: for example, Olga
Kendell's Abbey table-cloth and tray-cloth;
Julie Anne Donnelly's illustrated diary of the 1992 fan trip to Austria;
and Chris Keyes' Abbey frieze.
More unusually, Madeleine Smith created the "Tunes of the Abbey"
for her GCE "A" Level in music.
Meanwhile, in Australia Pat Mitchell created an Abbey-inspired
quilt, cushions, tapestry and dolls and shared an Abbey Cats cross-stitch
pattern with many other fans;
Nellie Cooper hand-painted china and dressed dolls;
Adrienne Fitzpatrick produced decoupage work, including a coffee table;
and Ronda Green created Abbey and Chalet jumpers and cushions and a scale
model of the Abbey Gatehouse.
The Abbey Girls of Australia produced a special cake for each of their
May Queens, whose ceremonial trains are embroidered or handpainted;
while in New Zealand, Bev Martin created Abbey bookmarks and other embroidered
The value which fans put on their own productions was shown by the fact that examples of their work were included in the "Back to the Chalet School" exhibition at Edinburgh in June 1994: Helen Ware's cake decoration; Lilian Smith's sampler; and Julie Anne Donnelly's illustrated diary. (See The Chalet School Revisited, Edinburgh 1 for further details.) Visiting the exhibition, Smith explained that:
I was glad to be able to share it with others, although
it's not terribly well done, it was only my second attempt, but yes, I
was quite happy to have it on show so that others could see about the Chalet
books - and I know there's so many people interested in handiwork now,
and to show that this is an interest that actually I got through collecting
books. I had never done anything like this before I started to collect
books, so this was something to show that there was more than just reading
the books, you've got so many interests, with handiwork as well as people.
(The Chalet School Revisited, Edinburgh 2)
Fiske has noted that this is a common practice among fans per se. "Fans produce and circulate among themselves texts which are often crafted with production values as high as any in the official culture. The key differences between the two are economic rather than ones of competence, for fans do not write or produce their texts for money; indeed, their productivity typically costs them money." Similarly, Jenkins writes that:
Fandom constitutes a particular Art World . . . fandom constitutes as well its own distinctive Art World founded less upon the consumption of pre-existing texts than on the production of fan texts which draw raw materials from the media as a basis for new forms of cultural creation.
In this instance, however, fans were also influenced in their choice of work both by the genre itself - Brent-Dyer's Chalet School includes a Hobbies Club as part of the curriculum and Oxenham's Camp Fire girls make beadwork, while Brazil's books were influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement - and by the tradition of women working in quilting, knitting, embroidery and toy-making.
Another form of "cultural
creation" which fans were involved in was the production of stories
which looked at what characters were "doing now", or, in some
cases, filling in past gaps in the stories. There are many examples of
short fiction in the fanzines: Cynthia Castellan's "Joey Writes to
Mary-Lou" (The New Chalet Club Journal, No 4, Summer 1996,
p27) and Meg Crane's "Bill of the Chalet School" (in Friends
of the Chalet School, Nos 33-36, 1996-7) being recent examples. Novels
include Nina Farthing's continuation of the Abbey books, Old Friends
at the Abbey (unpublished), and Merryn Williams continuation of the
Chalet books, The Chalet Girls Grow Up (published privately in 1998).
Producing this type of fiction is a common phenomenon among science fiction fans: an enormous amount of amateur Star Trek fiction is in existence; while Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover fantasy novels have resulted in such a volume of fan-produced fiction that several anthologies have been published with Bradley's blessing. In the introduction to one of these, The Keeper's Price (1980), she notes that both Star Trek and Darkover amateur fiction is a peculiarly "feminine phenomenon", and offers the following explanation.
Women, I think, are not encouraged, in our society, to create their own fantasy worlds. Society has long had a vested interest in limiting the imagination of women . . . Boys who wanted to write usually made up their own worlds, often beginning with a set of toy soldiers, or cutouts, or space cadets. Girls were not encouraged to do it. (pp9-11)
In borrowing another's fantasy world, though, the fan
also takes control and makes it their own.
Sometimes this can be explicit. Brent-Dyer's biographer Helen McClelland created her own Chalet School novel, Visitors for the Chalet School, in the late 1970s.
As a child, I often wished there had been more stories about that early time. Then, many years later, when my children began to read the books - with general enthusiasm but a similar bias towards the Tyrolean stories - it struck me that another story could perhaps be written to fill one of the early gaps; a project that was viewed with warm approval by my family's younger members (and with dignified resignation by my husband).
(Visitors for the Chalet School, Bettany Press, 1995, pI)
McClelland, though, did not want simply to write in Brent-Dyer's world.
What I wanted was to write my own story, borrowing Elinor's
characters and setting. At first I planned to use one of the unchronicled
terms that follow Jo of the Chalet School. But so little is known
about that year that it was difficult to find a starting-point, and this
project never really took off.
. . . it was the chance discovery of some sketchy notes among Elinor's papers that finally pointed the way. For that scribbled page indicated that, at some time, Elinor may herself have considered writing a retrospective book about another missing term, that between Princess and Head Girl. . .
her random jottings had set my memories whizzing round. In particular, references to: "English schoolgirls visit Briesau. Netball match. Hockey?" For these sent me scurrying to Head Girl, where, in Rosalie Dene's report to the prefects, I found quite a full, if basic, account of Chalet School events during that missing Christmas term.
Elinor's skeletal notes also identified the visiting school as "Grange House in Kensington" - a school-name so typical of its period that I decided to keep it, despite the rather disconcerting likeness to television's Grange Hill! There were, too, some lists of names - "Patricia Davidson, Pamela Trent, Priscilla Doughty-Smith, Veronica Cunningham" - presumably intended for the London schoolgirls; and a scattering of cryptic phrases: "medical studies - Rattenberg expedition - Juliet in London", the significance of the second and third being fairly clear, but that of the first obscure.
Not much to go on! But it did provide an outline. Even if the task threatened to resemble those paper-games, beloved of Elinor herself, where lists of unrelated people and events must somehow be built into a coherent story. (ppII-III)
McClelland then created a story where her "own"
school, Grange House, met the Chalet School.
This story was originally shared only with her daughters and a small group of fans, but in 1995 Bettany Press published an edited edition of the novel. Mainstream bookshops ordered more copies of Visitors for the Chalet School than of any other Bettany Press book, and it sold out (1000 copies) at the end of 1996. Fans seem to regard fan-produced fiction as adding to their own imaginative world of the Chalet School, and many fans appeared to count Visitors for the Chalet School as a "genuine" Chalet book. For example, Goerres writes that:
As a child of ten I identified with Joey Bettany because she . . . didn't seem outstandingly brilliant at games (I hated games!). A twenty-odd year icon was shattered when I read Visitors and found that Joey was put into school teams - agh! (private correspondence)
One aspect of fandom which collecting makes apparent is
the high value which fans place on the books. This seems to show that fandom
is no mere affectation, since it is accompanied by the willingness to pay
high prices to obtain copies of the books. For example, in 1997 rare copies
of books by Elsie Oxenham which retained their original dustwrappers were
advertised in dealers' catalogues for an average of between £200-£300,
with the rarest of all fetching over £500; while prices for pre-war
illustrated editions of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's books, without dustwrappers,
started at around £40; and post-war first editions of Brent-Dyer's
books, with dustwrappers, averaged between £40-£80. Few examples
of the genre could be purchased for less than £5. Yet there is little
financial or literary value placed on the books within wider society; no
guarantee that the books purchased could ever be resold; and British women
generally have lower incomes than British men.
Further analysis underlines that the fans' collecting
does not privilege books as objects or as investments. Most of the fans
wanted to collect the original editions, but principally because they were
unabridged and told the "real story" (meanwhile the fanzines
published detailed comparisons with the paperbacks to fill in the missing
pieces of the story for those unable to afford the hardbacks). Most fans
preferred their copies of the books to have dustwrappers, but because these
illustrated the stories with coloured pictures. Similarly, most preferred
first editions or early reprints, because these were the only ones to contain
illustrations within them in addition to the dustwrapper. There was a preference,
too, for the illustrations by the original artists, but because these were
generally felt to be most "true" to the author's descriptions
of characters and events. Fans, then, collected the books to read; and
to be able to return to the imaginative world of the genre whenever they
That fans read the texts closely, and that they prized their knowledge of the Chalet School world, was illustrated by the fact that the newsletters generally contained at least one quiz, while meetings often centred around a mass quiz. Fans were expected to answer detailed questions about plots and characters; and even to place chapter titles in the correct order. This detailed knowledge of what is generally regarded by the rest of the world as unimportant is, of course, one of the main reasons why fans are often denigrated as "anoraks" or "trainspotters" and as being socially inadequate. But, as Joli Jenson points out of Barry Manilow fans, their behaviour is actually inseparable from that of academics.
The mind may reel at the comparison, but why? The Manilow
fan knows intimately every recording (and every version) of Barry's songs;
the Joyce scholar knows intimately every volume (and every version) of
Joyce's oeuvre. The relationship between Manilow's real life and
his music is explored in detail in star biographies and fan magazines;
the relationship between Dublin, Bloomsday and Joyce's actual experiences
are explored in detail in biographies and scholarly monographs. . .
But what about the fans who are obsessed with Barry, who organize their life around him? Surely no Joyce scholar would become equally obsessive? But the uproar over the definitive edition of Ulysses suggests that the participant Joyceans are fully obsessed, and have indeed organized their life (even their "identity" and "community" around Joyce.
Jenson concludes that:
the real dividing line between afficionado and fan involves
issues of status and class, as they inform vernacular, cultural and social
theory. . . The obsession of a fan is deemed emotional (low class, uneducated),
and therefore dangerous, while the obsession of the aficionado is rational
(high class, educated) and therefore benign, even worthy. . .
Defining fandom as a deviant activity allows (individually) a reassuring, self-aggrandizing stance to be adopted. It also supports the celebration of particular values - the rational over the emotional, the educated over the uneducated, the subdued over the passionate, the elite over the popular, the mainstream over the margin, the status quo over the alternative. The beliefs evidenced in the stigmatization of fans are inherently conservative, and they serve to privilege the attributes of the wealthy, educated and powerful.
Following the end of the Brent-Dyer centenary celebrations, fandom of girls' school stories continued to grow in strength. In October 1994, the Dorita Fairlie Bruce Society was launched by Stella Waring (who also began to organise annual day schools devoted to the study of girls' school stories under the auspices of the Workers' Educational Association). The society's patron was Eva Löfgren, author of Schoolmates of the Long-Ago: Motifs and Archetypes in Dorita Fairlie Bruce's Boarding School Stories (Symposium Graduale, Stockholm, 1993). As with the other societies, the Dorita Fairlie Bruce Society launched its own lending library, organised by Carolyn Denman, and a newsletter, Serendipity, which it published three times a year. In the first issue, Denman explained that the title of the newsletter had been taken from Bruce's book The Serendipity Shop.
Inside my copy . . . is a quotation from the Oxford English
Dictionary: "Serendipity - the faculty of making happy and unexpected
discoveries by accidents and sagacity of things they were not in quest
of." . . .
When I read D.F.B. I am never disappointed. I always find more than I anticipate. Good characterisation, real-life relationships and problems, values, kindness, gentle harmony, as well as an interesting story (I am sure you can think of many more examples, but I didn't wish to be tedious).
We hope our journal may highlight some of the happy and unexpected discoveries to be found in D.F.B.'s novels, whether by accident or design.
(Serendipity No 1, October 1994, p4)
Shortly after the closure of Daphne Paintin Barfoot's
Chaletian in 1994, fans also began to explore the possibility of
founding another Chalet School organisation. By the end of 1994, Mackie-Hunter
had found that her small newsletter had changed out of all recognition,
and a de factor fan club had emerged. Unsurprisingly, fans were now pressing
for a democratic organisational structure for Friends of the Chalet School,
and to tailor the organisation to meet the identifed needs of the members.
Mackie-Hunter, who by this time was living in the UK with Clarissa Cridland,
decided instead to return Friends of the Chalet School to its roots as
an international newsletter where fans could exchange news and views; as
with the original Chalet Club, meetings between fans would be organised
informally. Mackie-Hunter therefore dissolved her editorial committee,
and began running the organisation with Cridland.
Goerres, McClelland and Barfoot then joined with other
fans to launch The New Chalet Club in June 1995, with Brent-Dyer's heir,
Chloe Rutherford, as patron. The new organisation gained 400 members in
its first two months, and reached 550 by the end of 1996. The New Chalet
Club was determinedly democratic: a voluntary steering group distributed
questionnaires and a draft constitution to members; as a result of which
the organisation's name and activities were decided upon and an executive
committee elected to run the organisation. However, the majority of its
members were also FOCS readers, so the establishment of the Club
could not be viewed strictly as a split in the movement so much as political
differences in how fan activities should be organised. Equally, the themes
in the two newsletters were very similar; the major difference being that
The New Chalet Club Journal was edited more formally and professionally;
whereas FOCS consisted principally of grouped extracts from readers'
letters. It should be noted here that the Chalet School itself ended with
no less than three branches: an English branch; a Swiss branch; and a finishing
While it is impossible at the time of writing (1997) to
predict the future of the organised fan movement, the continuing establishment
of organisations such as the Dorita Fairlie Bruce Society and the New Chalet
Club suggests that it will survive into the next millenium. Beyond
that, the continuing readership of the genre amongst girls in the 1990s,
and the demonstrated tendency for mothers to introduce their daughters
to the genre, suggests that fandom, whether organised or not, will persist
for some decades to come. However, the globalisation of publishing, together
with the decline of reading, meant that the children's book market declined
from the mid-1990s, and the future of the Chalet and Enid Blyton's school
series was uncertain at the time of writing, as was the future of books
by more modern authors such as Jean Ure and Anne Digby. It seems unlikely,
then, that girls' school stories will have survived as a living genre by
the end of the twenty-first century, whatever the importance they are by
then perceived as having had in the twentieth.
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