Now as you all know I am a big Malory Towers fan, and I love the series quite dearly, but I have never read a St Clare’s book until now. I brought the 1967 Dragon paperback from the Barnardo’s Charity shop in St Andrews last October (or it may have been July – I forget which) when I was up in Scotland and staying with Fiona. I already have several Dragon editions of the Malory Towers book, so knew that I was getting a good copy to read. Being aware that St Clare’s predates Malory Towers didn’t stop me being surprised when I noticed several plot points that appear as bigger, more developed stories in the Malory Towers books.
I suppose I should start with the characters first. The O’Sullivan twins are the first obvious characters to look at. I must admit that I didn’t warm to the twins at all; personally they didn’t grow on me. They live up to their nick-name, the stuck-up twins, given to them when they arrive by the rest of their form. After their previous school, Red-Roofs, where the girls father feels they have been given too many airs and graces, St Clare’s is a down to earth school. The twins start the book by telling their parents that they won’t try at St Clare’s because they would rather go to Ringmere School with their friends Mary and Frances White.
Soon after they get to St Clare’s the twins start getting into trouble; they don’t muck in with the rest of the class and the older girls and get put in their place time and time again. Even the head girl, Winifred James ticks them off for not doing their chores.
The girls then start to muck in a bit, after a word from Miss Theobold, the headmistress, and Winifred, and start to make some friends. However the girls don’t keep to the rules, disobeying another sixth former, Belinda Towers, by going into town when they have been told not to, just as Pat gets selected for the lacrosse team. In the end, she owns up to Belinda and for her honesty is allowed to play in the match.
Other people in the twins’ form include their head of dormitory Hilary, who tries to keep the twins in line, Joan who is the class comic – like Alicia in Malory Towers, Doris who is a bit like Irene and Kathleen who is a bit like Mary-Lou. Kathleen becomes a particular friend to the twins throughout the term, and in the end the three seems like firm friends, Pat even asking Kathleen for her address at the end of the term.
The teachers are interesting as well. Miss Theobold is more involved in the girls’ lives than Miss Grayling is in Malory Towers. The O’Sullivan twins’ form mistress, Miss Roberts, is a nice strong character, Miss Kennedy the history teacher comes in for a lot of tricks from the girls, but when the twins accidentally overhear some of Miss Kennedy’s problems they convince the rest of the forms to behave for her.
One teacher the twins really don’t like much, especially in the beginning, is their French mistress, Mam’zelle who gets nicknamed Mam’zelle Abominable by them because “abominable” is Mam’zelle’s favourite expression when something goes wrong. She forbids the twins to go to the cinema because they have written bad French essays and she wants them to do rewrites and bring them to her before bedtime. Pat gets upset by this and convinces Isabel that they should go to the cinema and then write their essays after bedtime. The twins do this, and when they go to hand their essays in, Mam’zelle is with Miss Theobold. After being told to go to bed by the headmistress, they worry about what will happen to them but Mam’zelle saves the day by offering to spend half an hour each day teaching the twins how to write properly in French. So she’s not all bad.
It’s a neat little story and according to the “key” on the back of the book, Blue Dragon is supposed to be “for young children.” So I am not surprised at the lightness of the story. The chapters are short and episodic, almost like they should have been published in Blyton’s magazines.
Overall, I can see the appeal of the books, but I’m afraid I wasn’t too overawed with St Clare’s. Maybe I’m too old for the books, or just too much of a Malory Towers fan to really enjoy the book. As with any of Blyton’s work, it is worth a read!
Next review: Summer Term at St Clare’s