Antonia Forest, and a question of class

minnow at minnow at
Sat May 3 18:13:55 EDT 2003

Anna quoted:


>>From Fen Crosbie's Article:
>        "At Kingscote things are much more realistic. The girls do not all
>get on together in harmony, but are often very unpleasant to each other.
>They seem to have little respect for the staff, who are depicted as being
>distant from the girls' lives and possessing little understanding of them
>and even less affection for them. Indeed, the girls do not even bother to
>invent nicknames for the staff, with the exception of Miss Cromwell,
>referring to them by surname only on most occasions. It is clear that
>there exist in the school great tensions between the staff and the girls,
>and between different cliques among the girls. Whereas we all know that it
>would be quite impossible for any girl to remain unhappy at the Chalet
>School for more than one term -- because she will cheer up as soon as she
>sees the light and starts to act like a Christian -- we can well imagine
>many girls going through their entire time at Kingscote in a state of
>misery which the staff neither notice nor care much about. "

Or, to put it another way, it's the least inaccurate writing that I have
ever encountered about the actual experience of girls' boarding school in
the period.  I wish wish wish I had read those books when I was at a very
similar school during the period between *End of Term* and *The Attic
Term*, but I only discovered them when it was Too Late, and anyway I had
left school by the time *The Attic Term* came out, and that is probably
closest to the reality I experienced.

We didn't faff about inventing nicknames for the staff, whether we liked
them or not (though we were very daring and referred to them by their first
names among ourselves if we knew those, because they were never used
officially).  Why should we?  We didn't invent nicknames for each other
either.  In Forest, the invention of nicknames for Pomona is being done to
make the point that this is not at all the sort of thing that really
happens: it's one member of the school taking the mickey out of the School
Story; rings true to me.  As for members of staff who tried to be 'friends
with the girls', we had no time for them at all: we could spot the fake
nature of that *no* bother.  The school nurse (Sister) was more likely to
be a help if something was really wrong -- and she was *just* like the
school nurse at Kingscote, a dragon who could tell if you were really in
need of comfort, but gave short shrift to malingerers.

One of the reasons I didn't hold with Enid Blyton was that her schools were
nothing like any school anyone I ever met had ever encountered, even
people's mothers who'd been at school in the 1920s and 30s.  We had to
assume that she was being utterly truthful when she claimed once that "All
her inspiration came directly from God" -- He obviously never went to an
all-girls' boarding-school!  Did EB, does anyone happen to know?  I know
she trained as a Froebel kindergarten teacher...  For some reason she isn't
in the Oxford Companion to English Literature, not even in the new Drabble

>her staunch refusal to have
>any truck with the burgeoning 20th Century English middle class, except
>whe she needs a really loathsome figure of fun & a working class person
>won't do...

Eh?  Kingscote, and the Marlows' homelife, seem to me middle-class to the
core.  As much so as the setting of Angela Thirkell's books in Borsetshire
of the 'tween wars and forties.  Everyone in them is of the middle classes
apart from such people as the Thuggery (and The Village despise them not
for their class but for their behaviour) and Doris and Mrs. Bertie, who are
obviously The Salt Of The Earth whatever class they may nominally belong

I would have said that the 1950s is at least a century after the middle
class burgeoned in England, probably much longer: some time around the
reign of Queen Elizabeth the First was when the process got going, and into
its swing with the English Civil War, whose object was at least in part to
reduce the arbitrary power of the king and nobility and give the merchants
a bigger slice of the cake -- and what is the merchant class if not

>The Marlow family are very much from the impoverished post-war
>upper class. Real officer material.

Upper-middle at the highest.  They're of farming stock, aren't they, not
living on rents but living by their own work.  Naval officers have never
necessarily been upper class, and ain't that just as well when you look at
Nelson.  If upper class origin had been a requirement he wouldn't have got
very far.  Great-grand-nephew of a "Sir" on his mother's side, and son of a
country rector, doesn't make him one of the Upper Ten Thousand, not by a
long shot (and he himself complained that his remote connection to the
Walpoles did him no good at all, they were useless).

It's a bit of a shock to my system, your classification of the Marlows as
upper class, because my mother's family, somewhat similarly placed in the
twentieth century and sharing as far as I can tell the values and mores of
the Marlows, are Yeoman Yorkshire and would never in eight hundred years
have claimed to be "upper class" any more than I would.

What Forest has little time for, it seems to me, is dishonourable
behaviour.  Folly too she swipes at (Lawrie catches it for being an ass,
often enough).  But being middle-class?  No.  Not behaving as a gentleman
should, maybe; but being or not being a gentleman has nothing to do with
being of any particular class.  Matt Carter is most certainly a gentleman,
and he mends the roads for a wage, which is hardly the most upper-class


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