Miss Grayling is the headmistress at Malory Towers. She is ultimately responsible for all the girls at her school, down to accepting their applications to be pupils and expelling them if they cannot be kept on. She is quiet, dignified and well-respected amongst the girls and teachers and for the most part she is a background figure, seen only at the start of term to welcome new girls, and on the rare occasion a girl has done something bad enough to be sent to the headmistresses’ office. This doesn’t happen too often, most transgressions are handled by the class teacher or the form mistress, and little is escalated to the top. There is a slight horror at the idea of being sent to the headmistress, although she is not a monster nor a terrifying figure, the girls know it would be a very serious matter and they could be in real trouble.
ARRIVING AT MALORY TOWERS
Girls who arrive at Malory Towers at the start of term (whether they arrive for first form or higher up the school) all get taken to the headmistresses’ office for what seems to be her standard inspiring speech. Darrell gets it in her first year, and in her last she takes some new pupils to Miss Grayling and hears the speech again, as a nice bookend to her time at Malory Towers. She remembers being a quaking first-former hearing those words and hoping to do her best to fulfil them, and by the last book she is a strapping sixth-former who hopes she has done the school proud.
After a few words to each girl asking them their names and so on, she says to them all:
One day you will leave school and go out into the world as young women. You should take with you eager minds, kind hearts and a will to help. You should take with you a good understanding of many things, and a willingness to accept responsibility and show yourselves as women to be loved and trusted. All these things you will be able to learn at Malory Towers – if you will. I do not count as our successes those who have won scholarships and passed exams, though those things are good things to do. I count as our successes those who learn to be good-hearted and kind, sensible and trustable, good, sound women the world can lean on. Our failures are those who do not learn these things in the years they are here. It is easy for some of you to learn these things, and hard for others. But easy or hard, they must be learnt if you are to be happy, after you leave here, and if you are to bring happiness to others. You will get a tremendous lot out of your time at Malory Towers. See that you give a lot back.
The feminist in me is cringing a little as I read between the lines there about women being sensible and dependable home-makers as more important than them gaining qualifications, but I will leave that aside, she’s not encouraging them to be vapid airheads as long as they get a good husband after all. I think she means that not everyone will be an academic genius in every subject, but as long as they work hard they will learn skills that will stand them in good stead. The ability to work hard and try when something is difficult is sometimes just as important as actually learning a language or to play an instrument.
So Darrell and most of the other girls who start at Malory Towers get that speech, and Darrell immediately longs to be a Malory Towers’ success. She, of course, does become a success, along with Mary-Lou and Sally. In her sixth year she hears the exact same speech given to some new girls, and at the end Miss Grayling adds:
Six years ago I said those words to Darrell. She is one who has got a great deal out of her time here – and there is no one who has given more back than Darrell has.
Beyond this, it seems that Miss Grayling has some input into all the girl’s schooling. Most pass through without her having to make any big decisions or even speaking to her again but I think she follows them all carefully and is ready to step in if necessary.
A VARIETY OF GIRLS
Not every girl at Malory Towers is a Darrell (or a Mary-Lou or Sally). Others are successes in a more modest way, and some could only be described as disasters.
Being a private boarding school Malory Towers – and Miss Grayling – can be somewhat picky about its intake. Most girls, I assume, simply apply and are accepted based on their school records and a character reference or letter from their parents etc. There are some more special cases at Malory Towers, though, where Miss Grayling intimates she has taken on girls she otherwise wouldn’t have, to give them a chance at making something of themselves, to turn their life around, or because they have nowhere else to go.
Even out of the ‘normal girls’ not all of them want to be a Darrell, though. I’m sure some don’t care, and others already believe themselves so fabulous that they don’t think Malory Towers can offer them much. Either Miss Grayling couldn’t judge them fully based on their applications, or she decided to give these girls a change too.
I will look at some of Malory Towers successes, failures and the in-betweens in my next few posts.
Next post: Miss Grayling’s Girls part 2: the failures