Fifth Formers of St Clare’s is the final Blyton-written instalment of the series. Pamela Cox subsequently wrote three more books for the series. Third Form at St Clare’s Kitty at St Clare’s [also set in the third form] and Sixth form at St Clare’s to fill in the ‘gaps’. Blyton herself never returned to St Clare’s after the Fifth Form.
After 1941 St Clare’s was not part of her on going writing possibly because the second world war was in full swing and even Enid with her many different publishers had to ration her paper use. Or it’s possible that she moved onto bigger and better things, different series. The ending in the Fifth does make it seem like there will be another book, especially after the build up of who is going to be the head girl!
So anyway we start this term with more new characters, dropping some ones once more from the previous book. We also gain two old characters, Gladys and Mirabel to be part of the Fifth form with the twins, Janet, Bobbie, Hillary, Carlotta and Claudine as well as Alison and the Honourable Angela.
Mirabel is made sports captain for the whole school and Gladys becomes her deputy. However the power goes to Mirabel’s head somewhat and she starts expecting the lower school to take as great an interest in games as she does, and begins to rub everyone up the wrong way. Meek little Gladys cannot seem to rein her in and eventually resigns her post in the process for a short while.
The new girls are Felicity Ray, up from the fourth form, Anne-Marie Longden and an old sixth former, Alma Pudden. I must say that the girls seem to chop and change forms a bit, I don’t really understand this whole thing of girls being left behind or moved up and down in the St Clare’s and Malory Towers novels. Its possibly because things were different in the school system back then to the way things are now? Can anyone shed any light on this for me?
Anyway, we don’t have a very happy bunch of girls really this year, but then the St Clare’s girls don’t usually seem to be very settled. Anne-Marie is supposed to be a gifted poet, at least she believes she is and is very put out when the other girls and then new English mistress don’t agree. Her poems are described as very dull and sad because she believes poems are supposed to be sad and moping.
Anne-Marie has to share a study with the musically gifted Felicity Ray as well, and she doesn’t like it. Felicity practices all the time and disturbs Anne-Marie’s concentration, and Anne-Marie feels hard done by. She also dislikes that Felicity’s genius with music gets recognised and goes about planning a way to get her own thought of genius recognised and gives Mam’zelle a fright in the process.
Another big part of the fifth form is that Claudine’s little sister Antoinette joins the school and becomes a bit of central character.She causes mischief such as setting off the fire bell during a games meeting, causing the Honourable Angela some distress as well as a good dose of her own medicine and helping her form organise a midnight feast which is discovered by Alma who cannot stop eating.
Overall this book in the series feels weaker than the rest. There are too many new characters to keep in mind as the plots weave in and out of each other. Too many factors to consider and none of the familiar faces to lighten the load. In fact Pat and Isabel, possibly considered the series protagonists, are barely seen. There are no jokes from Bobby or Janet and no interaction outside these new characters.
I must say that I am certainly not a fan of this book, or actually, of the series. Unlike the Malory Towers books which centre largely around Darrell, and characters you’ve grown to love, St Clare’s doesn’t even have the twins by the third book as the focus shifts. Could this possibly be why there was no sixth book? Did the publishers think that they weren’t working? I don’t know, and I wish I did just because I would have liked to see how Blyton finished her series. However if you are a fan of the series, don’t fret! Pamela Cox has written the final term for the O’Sullivan Twins.
I think that the St Clare’s series would be a good starting point for any parents who are looking to introduce their children to the Blyton world as they would be able to read a chapter a night as a bedtime story and the child wouldn’t feel cheated as the events in one chapter rarely carry over to the next. But I’m afraid, I don’t think I shall be reading St Clare’s again. I’ll stick with Malory Towers if no one minds!
Thanks for the review, Stef. I know you are not a fan of St Clare’s but, speaking as one who is, I think Fifth Form is the best of them. There are some great characters and conflicts, and the scene where Antoinette/Toni puts boot polish on Angela and Alison’s toast (I hope I am remembering this right, I haven’t checked the details) is great.
On this question of the girls moving up, or not, to the next form, I think the practice in public schools at the time was that you did not automatically move up to the next form, it depended on your performance. Thus an individual might be stuck in the same form for years, or alternatively move smoothly up year by year or even, I think, go faster. I will check this theory with my mother this weekend because she went to exactly a St Clare’s kind of school at exactly the period they were written and are set, and report back.
Thank you Stef – Enid seems to have cut her teeth on this school series and the result is the great Malory School series. In old Public and Private schools (especially in the 19th century) pupils could move up forms by passing exams. Thus the sixth forms could contain a few very bright pupils of 14 and the Fifth form some rather less bright pupils of 18. I am not sure when this system ended.
No, it can’t just be ability, or Pam Boardman wouldn’t have been left in the first, and then in the fifth.
That’s right. In the last chapter, Miss Theobald says “Pam would make an ideal head girl, but she is too young.” Then she adds that Pam is staying on longer than the other girls, so she could be a future head girl.
I wonder what will become of the rich and beautiful Hon. Angela when she finally leaves school. Will her life be a happy one if she does not have riches and beauty any more ? She seems to have learnt nothing apart from indulging herself. Has no good qualties like unselfishness or even a kind heart. Life is known to take strange twists and turns and all days may not remain the same. Should such a thing happen, Angela is in for a hard time. But then it is truly said that we learn more from experience and sorrow , things that make us realise what a shallow existence we have led till then if we have been like the favoured Hon. Angela Favourleigh.
If you compare Enid’s school stories with those of Frank Richards, who wrote mainly about boys’ schools, one very obvious difference quickly becomes apparent: the Greyfriars stories of Frank Richards don’t allow the boys to change forms at all. He wrote about a single Form, called the Lower Fourth, from 1908 until 1965 (with only a brief wartime pause between 1940-46), but the boys never aged a day in all those years. He didn’t feel he could limit himself to a single story based in, say, the Third Form, so he never wrote like Enid, who usually limits herself to a single book covering an entire school year.
However, occasionally he moved a boy up or down a year — usually down, on the pretext that the boy was too dim to cope with the average academic requirements (anyone familiar with Greyfriars will recognise my description of a 5th Former called Horace Coker at this point). But it was done without consideration of the character’s age. And it was very infrequent. In general, most boys in a given Form were of the same age.
In real life, Public Schools often did require each boy to pass an exam in the summer term, before allowing him to advance to the next Form. But this never led to the kind of chaos Enid depicts at St Clare’s. A boy had to be exceptionally backward to be moved in that way, in my experience. At my own school, it only happened if a boy failed in a public exam, such as O-levels, and had to re-sit them, in which case he would stay on in the 5th Form for a further year, and thereafter would be permanently a part of his new year-group..
Fictional schools, as Enid has it, were much freer to chop and change. In my opinion, it was a bad idea. The St Clare series would not so easily have run out of steam if it had featured a permanent cast of characters, for the readers to develop a loyalty to. Would the Famous Five have lasted so long, if each member had been retired after being included in only a couple of the books? What would have become of the Five Find Outers, if Fatty had only been in ‘Burnt Cottage’, because his parents had never bought a house in the village?
St Clare’s and Malory Towers always confused me with the way girls moved up and down forms so easily. Many joined half-way through a year and moved up after the summer, while others did four or more terms in the same form. I don’t think she paid that much attention to details like that, though, if she wanted a new face to cause contention, then she just did it!