Last Term at Malory Towers
Review by Laura Canning (February 2, 2005)
It is Darrell's final term at school, and she is now head girl (presumably having conquered that temper of hers). She arrives back to see most of her old friends and a few new faces. Gwendoline is as annoying as ever, and poor Mam'zelle still gets tricks played on her. Did the girls learn nothing from the fifth form?
Gwen kicks in in style in her last term, boasting and whinging as soon as she arrives. She has decided that she wants to go to a very exclusive, very expensive, 'finishing school' in Switzerland, a tradition for public school girls at the time. Her father has said no, and over the hols Gwen embarked on a process of emotional blackmail to wear him down. Aided by her mother and Miss Winter, she finally gets her way. Can't afford it? Gwen says to the girls, of course he can afford it!
The Malory Towers tradition is for all new girls to go and see Miss Grayling when they arrive. Mary-Lou offers to take this term's lot along, but Darrell asks if she can go instead. In her very last term, she wants to hear once more the words of Miss Grayling about the Malory Towers ethos (and very probably she wants to escape from Gwen). The headmistress makes her usual speech to the new girls, about how Malory Towers 'successes' are measured by personality rather than academic ability. When she talks to Darrell afterwards, she says that Darrell is one of the school's biggest successes, as are Sally and Mary-Lou. But as for Gwendoline...Darrell promises to do what she can to try and make Gwen shape up a little before she is unleashed on an unsuspecting world.
Darrell is delighted to hear that Miss Grayling sees her as one of the successes—who can forget her slapping Gwen in the pool or shaking June off the piano stool? But Miss Grayling seems to think she has overcome her faults.
At tea, Darrell is very surprised to see a new girl at the table. Amanda is a huge 'strapping' athlete, who makes poor Mam'zelle feel quite intimidated. Why come to a school so late? In her somewhat lofty manner, Amanda explains that her school, Trennigan Towers, has burnt down, so she has had to find somewhere else. Trennigan Towers! The famous sports school! The girls are impressed. But Amanda soon makes it clear that she doesn't think much of the sports programme at Malory Towers. Perhaps you should go in for the Olympics, Alicia says, trying to be sarcastic, and is rather stunned when Amanda says that yes, in fact she intends to.
Amanda continues to annoy the girls, saying that there is a girl in the junior forms who could be in all the school teams if she was properly trained. Moira and Sally ask who—it is June, Alicia's young cousin in the second form. June messes about so much in gym class that the older girls didn't see her potential, and Moira quite understandably is not fond enough of June to assess her suitability for the school teams. They make a bet with Amanda—can she get June into the school teams? Amanda accepts the challenge and sends for June.
June is shocked at first, but agrees to the training plan because she would like to get in the teams, and 'show' the sixth formers. The programme duly begins. June does improve but Amanda coaches her like a Marine sergeant, and finally June has had enough and quits training.
The second form are quite prominent in this story and Darrell takes a back seat for much of the book. Their main role is in once more torturing the French mistress, this time by means of a very powerful magnet they use to extract all Mam'zelle's hairpins. They do this several times, including in the sixth form classroom (encouraged by new sixth former Suzanne, Mam'zelle's niece!), and Mam'zelle almost goes batty trying to figure out where all her hairpins keep disappearing to.
Jo from the second form is also featured. We have already met her on First Day, when her father almost drove Darrell's father off the road. Jo is like her father—loud and boastful, and in Malory Towers world, this means both that she is unpopular and that she will Get Her Comeuppance by the end of the book. This arrives in the form of Jo failing to hand in five pounds to Matron, and of Matron finding the money after Jo drops it. Jo knows she cannot go and ask Matron for the money back, as she will get into trouble for having so much money in school. So she sneaks into Matron's office and raids the safe. But she is in such a hurry that she inadvertently takes nine pounds instead of five. It's OK though; she'll put it back...
Meanwhile she is very unpopular with her form, as she and her first form friend Deirdre were seen outside the school, and it is not allowed for girls to leave the grounds with members of lower forms. The whole class gets punished when Jo fails to 'own up', and they resolve to leave her out of their midnight feast. So what, Jo thinks. She will buy lots of food with her own money, and as everyone has been so beastly to her, she is going to run away from school as well. So there! She recruits a wimpy Deirdre, and the two sneak off that night.
The next morning the first and second form girls see that two beds have not been slept in. Where are Jo and Deirdre? Luckily the foolish girls haven't gone too far from the school, and they are found the next morning by Bill, Clarissa and Miss Peters, who are out for an early morning ride. They are taken back to school in disgrace, and Miss Grayling, who now knows about the missing money, phones for Jo's father. Deirdre is allowed to escape with a ticking off and a promise to do better in future.
Jo's father arrives, loud and hearty. What's this little scamp of a Jo been up to now, eh? He takes a light view of the matter until Miss Grayling mentions the stolen nine pounds. For once he is stricken dumb, and listens as Miss Grayling tells him he has failed Jo as a parent. Jo agrees, and the two leave Malory Towers sadder and wiser people. Felicity later gets a letter from Jo where Jo apologises for not owning up that time, and we get the impression that Jo is on the road to the straight and narrow. Good! She is the only girl to be expelled from Malory Towers in the series.
But it is not just the younger girls who can be stupid. Amanda has been talking all term of her wish to go and swim in the sea rather than just the swimming pool, and scoffs at the girls' warnings of the strong currents. A boastful character who is too proud of her own talents and who won't listen to well-meant advice? You've guessed it—Amanda gets into difficulties, is thrown against the rocks and seriously injured, and finally rescued by June. The two come to a truce and June agrees to start practicing for the teams again. This is the nicest we have seen June in the three books she has been in—is there hope that the Malory Towers spirit is starting to stir in her?
In the sixth form, Gwen is becoming more and more obnoxious, and Darrell finally loses it with her. Sadly she doesn't slap her as she did in the first form (such are the perils of having to be a dignified head girl), but she does invite Gwen to her study for a Talk. This scene is done quite nicely, showing Darrell as awkward and Gwen as sulky, unlike the standard school story scenes where a wayward character is made to feel jolly small indeed by a girl her own age. Gwen is unrepentant, and Darrell goes to Miss Grayling to apologise for having failed.
No matter, the headmistress says. Gwen will learn her lesson at some point in her life—somewhere, punishment is waiting for her. And this comes sooner than expected, with the news that Gwen's father has fallen seriously ill and that Gwen must go home immediately. Gwen leaves in a hurry, tearful and frightened—an awful way to leave Malory Towers, Darrell thinks.
Darrell receives a letter from Gwen some time later, where Gwen says that her father is better and that she is trying to get an office job (a fate worse than death in Enid Blyton's world). Like Jo, we get the impression that Gwen is wising up somewhat, and that things might turn out all right in the end.
And now it is Last Day and almost time to go. Darrell and Sally visit all their favourite spots around the grounds and reminisce about the good times. The girls talk about what they are doing next—Darrell, Sally, Alicia and Betty are going to college, and Darrell plans to try and become a writer. Mary-Lou is going to train to be a nurse in a children's hospital. Irene and Belinda are of course going on to train in music and art, and Mavis will train in singing. But of course, no matter how happy or successful they will be in later life, they will never forget the happy times at good old Malory Towers. Three cheers for the school! Hurrah!