First Term at Malory Towers

Review by Laura Canning (February 2, 2005)

New girls in school fiction are generally one of two types. The first type (the O'Sullivan Twins, Elizabeth Allen) do not want to go to school and are dragged there kicking and screaming, to cause as much havoc as possible before realizing how wonderful the school is and becoming model citizens. The second type are keen to get to school, having read stories of pillow fights and midnight feasts, and are of a sensible, jolly, glowing-cheeked disposition which means they will settle down immediately. Both types invariably become monitors, prefects and head girls. Darrell Rivers of Malory Towers is the second type. As is typical in school stories, the first of the series opens with the new girl on her way to school. Darrell is happy and excited as her parents drive her to Malory Towers, and we already know she will be A Good Egg.

With the other new girls, Darrell goes to see the headmistress Miss Grayling, who lays out her ethos for the school. Exam results, while good, are not the most important things at Malory Towers, Miss Grayling explains. Instead, the school wants to turn out 'good strong women the world can lean on'. These are the Malory Towers 'successes'.

Darrell immediately resolves to be a 'success', but is waylaid at first by her friendship with the irresponsible Alicia Johns. Encouraged by Alicia's casual attitude, Darrell does not work as hard as she might, and is disappointed to find her name well down on the class list. Miss Potts explains that Darrell, while clever, is of the type that must work hard to attain good results, which, disappointingly, does not include playing jolly tricks on the French mistress.

Nonetheless, Darrell quickly settles down into school life, and the girls like her. But no such luck for the other two new girls, Sally Hope and Gwendoline Lacey. Gwendoline has already made herself a laughing stock by her OTT display saying goodbye to her mother and governess, while Sally is reserved and unfriendly. Darrell tells Sally that their mothers know each other, and isn't Sally's new baby sister lovely? Don't have a baby sister, Sally ses. Hmm, thinks Darrell.

All good things come to an end, and a few chapters into the book Darrell's Hulk-like temper surfaces. One girl in the first form, Mary-Lou, is very timid and frightened of everything—spiders, the dark, the swimming pool... Gwen doesn't like the pool either, and when she sees Mary-Lou one day during swimming, she wades over to her and 'ducks' her. The girls always duck each other, but Gwen is a nasty type and holds Mary-Lou under water for too long. Then—smack!—Darrell has seen her and starts slapping. Head girl Katherine ticks her off, Darrell snarls back and is ordered out of the pool.

On the way back to the school Darrell is immediately contrite and knows that her famous temper has once more got the better of her. She sees a sniffling Gwen in the changing room and apologises to her. Don't care, Gwen ses.

The other girls agree that Darrell must apologise to Gwen and Katherine. Darrell comes in during their meeting, says she knows she was at fault and tells Katherine she's sorry. The girls admire Darrell for admitting she is wrong and apologising for her fault, and being an all round Good Sort. Incident apparently closed.

Things calm down for half-term, at least until Darrell sees Sally later that night. She says that Sally does have a baby sister, as her mother has just told her. Sally again denies it, the girls row, and Darrell pushes Sally so hard she flies across the room (grrl power!). The next morning Sally is in the San., seriously ill. Oops!

Darrell worries for a few days until her father arrives to operate on Sally (happily, he was staying in a hotel nearby!) and explains it was appendicitis and not Darrell's push that made Sally ill. Once more Darrell vows she has jolly well learnt her lesson and that she will keep her temper under check. She and Sally become friends, and Sally confesses she pretended she had no sister because she was jealous of the new baby. Darrell talks her round and the two become Firm Friends.

Gwendoline, meanwhile, is still simmering over the Pool Incident, and when Darrell and Sally orchestrate a near drowning of Darrell so that Mary-Lou will save her and then feel more confident, Gwendoline's green-eyed monster knows no bounds. In a Machiavellian masterpiece, she smashes Mary-Lou's fountain pen, hides her own shoes and smears ink on Darrell's shoe (Gwen later found a good job working for the police). Darrell is assumed guilty and ostracised by all except Sally and Mary-Lou.

The newly brave Mary-Lou saves the day by sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night and finding Gwendoline's hidden shoe. Darrell is cleared! (Hurrah!) And so the term ends.