Friday, 10 February 2012

Guilty pleasures - curling up with The Chalet School

Despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise,  my annual trawl through the Chalet School oeuvre does not count as curling up with a good book.  More like a tin of Quality Street than designer chocolate. 

The thing about the Chalet School series is that over the course of 57 or so books, not a great deal happens.  Nearly 30 years pass and the school moves from the Tyrol to Wales via Guernsey and St Briavels Island and finally to Switzerland, but somehow remains in a glorious time capsule.

WWII prompts the move from the Tyrol and is genuinely dramatic, but the other moves come about mostly because of poor drainage.  The parents must have been the most forgiving bunch ever.  Their girls are constantly being uprooted and plunked down in new buildings, but nary a word is spoken of inconvenience.  Nor do any of them protest when Miss Annersley announces two weeks into one term that half term has been moved.

On the whole, the following will happen in any given book:-

There will be a prefect's meeting by the end of chapter 2.  In the course of this there will be in depth discussion of who should be in charge of the Stationary Cupboard (often a source of trouble with naughty middles demanding more than their proper allocation of blotting paper).  Someone will always be pleasantly surprised to be voted into a post they didn't expect.

We will meet a new girl.  She will have some slightly interesting backstory which will emerge piecemeal through the book.  By the end she will either have been sidelined in favour of someone more interesting, or she will have become a proper Chalet School girl.

In the course of each book, someone will inevitably do something stupid.  In the early Tyrol books, this usually means getting stuck up the Tjernjoch or falling through unsafe ice.  St Briavel's island also offered unrivalled opportunities for getting stuck on seaweed clad rocks with a rising tide threatening doom.  Switzerland  has a lovely array of dodgy cliff edges for people to fall off during moss-gathering expeditions.

One noticeable difference between early and late stage Chalet is that these accidents become less and less likely to have a tense near-death scene with a delirious pupil being anxiously eyed by the staff.  By the back end of the books, most accidents have been reduced to a swift visit to Matron and a few thoughtful days in the sick room.

The Sanatorium is always a major player.  The San is closely linked to the School and always has been (and oddly, follows the school in its journeyings).  This is because the founder, Madge Bettany, married a San doctor somewhere around book 2.  As a result, the greatest reward for any Chalet School girl is to marry a doctor.  Quite a few do, and then send their offspring to the Chalet School (of course).  A side effect of this is that any given book will include long sections updating us on the activities, families and accidents of past pupils.

"Oh, I have some wonderful news!  Bernie and Kurt will be moving to Innsbruck!"

What can I say?  A guilty pleasure but mine own.

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