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Almost as good as Malory Towers

Article by Laura Canning (September 28, 2005)

I have to declare a prejudice right at the start here—while I love the St Clare's books, they are not as good as the Malory Towers series. They are still excellent, and have some great characters, but they just aren't as good as the exploits of Darrell et al. The heroines, for example, although they get off to an interesting start in the first book, The Twins at St Clare's, by being spoilt brats who determine not to try at all at their new school because they are annoyed they weren't sent to the exclusive one of their choice, have no interesting character flaws and pretty much no personality. Isobel is the worst, merely being a shadow of her twin Pat, but even Pat is quite a flat (hey, that rhymes) character. Another issue is just the darned sensible nature of everything in the school. Well, not so much that, as one of Blyton's recurrent themes is the jolly sensibility of everyone and everything, but the way it is always referred to in rapturous and grateful tones by the girls. Come on, all normal teenagers want a school where they can sneak out at night and smoke pot behind the gym, oui? Or is that just me...

And there are a few odd inconsistencies (okay I'm nitpicking here as we all know Enid did bloop a little), but these are ones that still puzzle me in my ripe oul age. First, the size of the school. It's mentioned in the first book as being big, yet in the first from only about ten girls are mentioned and at some point Blyton says there are twenty in the form. Assuming an average of twenty girls for each of the six forms, this would only be 120 girls, not a big school at all. To be fair, the reference in the first book is more to do with the school's size than the number of pupils, but it still seems odd. It would be nice to think that this was all carefully thought out by Blyton and that perhaps there are more girls in the higher forms, but I think we all know that's not the case...

Another thing that has always jarred in this series is the age of the girls. The first formers are fourteen or fifteen, not eleven or twelve as in other school stories, which really baffles me as to how six forms can be got through in only three years. Perhaps St Clare's girls spend only two terms in each form? But no, the twins end up spending three full terms in the first form and (another irritating mystery), 'old' girls like Hilary and Janet have already been in the first form for at least two terms by the time the twins arrive. Is the St Clare's first form some sort of metaphor for purgatory? Do girls arrive there at eleven and remain captive until fifteen (then shooting up the remaining five forms in record time)? Are they extraordinarily thick and stay at school until they are 21? I think we should be told.

The school also seems stricter than Malory Towers (I don't know whether it's supposed to be a Catholic school? A name like St Clare's sounds vaguely Catholic, but apart from references to 'after prayers' nothing about religion is mentioned [a great advantage of Blyton's writings, methinks]). First and second formers, for example, have to wait on the older forms, in much the same way as the 'fag' system worked in British public schools of the time. This involves menial tasks such as making toast or cleaning hockey boots, and is encouraged as a jolly sensible way to make younger pupils learn responsibility and older ones to learn about authority. Now call me a cynic, but boll**ks to that, I say. Surely the older one gets the more adept one should become at making toast? And of course there will always be silly moos such as Angela (we'll get to her, sadly) who will take things too far.

That said, the St Clare's books are still an excellent Blyton series, and I loved them as a kid. The books have recently been reprinted by Egmont, and I'm with Keith here (owner of EnidBlyton.net) in complaining that later editions of Blyton's books appear to have been put together too hastily—there were quite a few typos in the newer editions I read. Boo! And, something which DRIVES ME NUTS, the text has been 'updated' in places, so that shillings become pounds and grandmothers become grannies. STOP IT! The books were written in the forties and are supposed to be like that! And if you're going to update it, at least look out for genuine mistakes by Blyton, which can be fixed at the same time the books are being massacred. Grr...

The cover art of the newer St Clare's (and Malory Towers) books is boring too. A lacrosse stick. A leather satchel. Two hats. Yawn. Still, at least the girls aren't wearing Rachel haircuts and baggy T-shirts while drinking from plastic lemonade bottles as in my 1990s edition of Upper Fourth at Malory Towers (although, in the omnibus copy of the first three St Clare's books I've just bought, the twins have boobs!).

But, I digress. Onto the first book, The Twins at St Clare's...

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