We have now reached the final story in the book!
The plot of The Show Must Go On
From the title I had already guessed that this would be about the girls putting on some sort of show, which is generally not my favourite kind of plot – though I do enjoy their fifth form panto.
What they are putting on is a showcase, something to show off what life at Malory Towers is like. It’s the fourth form that are doing it, with each house supposedly doing a thirty minute show, but only the North Towers is ever mentioned, with the exception of a rumour that the West Tower has been practicing during the hols.
A few ideas are lifted from the fifth form panto. There one girl suggests a ballet because she is a ballet dancer, but the other girls say no as they can’t dance. Here Alicia wants to do a juggling, tumbling sort of routine (as she would go on to do in the panto), Irene wants an opera, Belinda an art work exhibition.
In the end they have to come up with something that everyone can be involved in.
The new girl isn’t mentioned until a few pages in – with the girls remarking that it’s unusual for a new girl to arrive into the term. Except that happened in the previous story, didn’t it.
All we know at first is her name is Margaret and there’s some sad tale involved as the teachers have called her a poor little mite. Then Alicia reveals that Margaret already has a cousin at Malory Towers, and tries to build a little suspense before telling the girls who it is. But that’s rather spoiled by the fact that the Amazon/Waterstone’s etc blurb reveals that she’s Gwen’s cousin. (Oddly Mary-Lou panics that it might her her mean cousin, though it’s not clear if her cousin is also called Margaret.)
It’s obvious from the start that Gwen and Margaret do not get on. Gwen is absolutely poisonous about Margaret, in fact I was surprised at just how vitriolic she was, despite some of the others things she has done. Perhaps it is because Margaret is her family, or because Margaret has just lost her father… but Gwen is really awful.
Most of it is based on class and appearance;
My mother married up and your mother married down and that is why I am who I am and you are, well, you.
But Gwen really sticks the knife in about Margaret’s wish to be known as Maggie, and her father’s death.
Mother and Miss Winters said it was foolish of your father to shorten your name like that and that maybe now he’s dead the silly nickname can die too.
Margaret has Gwen’s old uniforms which don’t fit her well, hardly surprising as Margaret is described as very tall, while Gwen is short (and plump). She also wears tatty boots as that’s all she has. Miss Potts eventually provides her with the correct sort of shoes (but not nearly soon enough, in my opinion, and after giving her order-marks over it), but by then Margaret doesn’t want to wear them.
She is bitter about being at Malory Towers, and doesn’t want to be like the other girls. She sees them as ungrateful for what they have.
You all think that you’re something special just because you go to school here. You think that this is normal but it isn’t. It isn’t normal to spend your afternoons swimming in a pool next to the sea. It isn’t normal to have all your meals cooked for you and your clothes washed for you while you swan around the place, riding your ponies and sketching in art books.
She has a point – the girls at Malory Towers are very privileged and some of them probably don’t realise it, or think about it very often. Naturally Darrell is a bit offended by this attack, though, as she and the others have been welcoming to Margaret.
It’s hard to overlook Gwen, though, who absolutely does not realise how lucky she is to have what she has. In fact she’s so spoiled that most of her attitude towards her cousin is jealousy. She is jealous that her parents have been paying attention to, and looking after Margaret instead of her. She doesn’t have the emotional maturity to understand that her cousin has just experiences a bereavement, and that the shift of attention is temporary.
I know that Gwen’s father is a sensible fellow, and it’s not altogether surprising that he has paid for Margaret to attend Malory Towers (despite she and her mother not wanting her to go!). But it seems like they’ve done a lot for Margaret, having her to stay, and even drive her to school for her first day, though Gwen’s mother hadn’t been resist making equally tone-deaf comments;
Mother and Miss Winter say that [the name Maggie] really is very common, and that people like them should make more of an effort to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
By marrying a man of better social standing, I suppose?
Anyway the story progresses with little rows between Gwen and Margaret, interspersed with the girls making plans for the showcase. The title suggests that the showcase is somehow threatened, but it isn’t really. They are supposed to include all of the North Tower Lower Fourth (so, just the ten of them in Darrell’s dorm?) and it just seems difficult to find a place for Gwen, and to get Margaret to take part.
However Margaret discovers an aptitude for dance that she never knew she had – in the gym she just starts dancing beautifully with no instruction or experience.
Gwen is then challenged by the other girls and that’s when she reveals about her jealous and Margaret’s father, and goes from being incredibly spiteful and awful to very apologetic and subdued in the space of one page.
I don’t want her to be here. Nobody asked me whether I was happy for her to come to my school and be given my clothes! Mother and father spent days talking about poor Margaret and what was to be done, but nobody asked my opinion, not once!…
I would have said yes if only they’d asked.
That seems rather unlikely, but Gwen suddenly realises she’s been awful.
I suppose I felt a bit pushed out. I know I’ve been horrible to her.
Margaret’s epiphany comes when Alicia and Darrell rescue her from drowning. Another unlikely scenario as they say that Alicia nearly drowned herself there, due to the tides, yet the two of them can drag a non-swimmer back? Margaret sees the girls in a new light after that, and both she and Gwen take part in the Showcase.
Despite there being at least the West Tower girls doing one as well, it isn’t mentioned at all, and somehow Irene is commanding the whole school orchestra for theirs.
Margaret and Gwen do a dance to end the showcase, despite Gwen not being able to dance at all, and not having rehearsed somehow she does well just being led by her cousin.
How does it compare to the originals?
As with the other stories I will look at four key points:
- Does it fit with the continuity of the series?
- Are the characterisations consistent?
- Does the author attempt to adopt Blyton’s writing style, and if so is that successful?
The setting and updates
As with the other stories this is set in the 40s. My/your people is used quite a few times, which gives us a sense of the era, and the gramophone is mentioned a few times.
The class issues – marrying up, being common, and so on are also very accurate for the time.
This is set in the never before mentioned lower fourth, and I still can’t work out if the girls do two years in the fourth, or move up half way or whatever, but that’s not really a fault with this story.
Mam’zelle has suddenly picked up a Cockney accent it seems, and is dropping her Hs.
you ‘ave all returned from the ‘olidays like a bunch of young – ‘ow do you say? ‘oodlums!
Stop it you ‘orrible girl. You will be bringing Miss Pots in ‘ere… and I do not want ‘er…
I know that the French don’t generally pronounce their Hs but Mam’zelle has never spoken like that before.
The characterisation is a bit hit-and-miss. Gwen and Alicia have a nice little disagreement at the beginning, that fits their characters. Gwen then goes massively nasty, while Alicia becomes dependable and fair.
The girls begin well with teasing Mam’zelle Dupont, asking what an Oodlum is, (the dropping of the H in the text may be purely to facilitate this joke, whereas I feel that Blyton would simply have explained that due to Mam’zelles accent, hoodlum became oodlum), but it gets a bit OTT when they start making animal noises.
Miss Grayling gives a very apt speech to Darrell and Alicia after they rescue Margaret;
There are some people in the world who run away from a crisis and others who run towards it, looking for ways that they can help. You are both fine examples of the latter.
However I find it hard to believe that she would have let Margaret walk around school in brown boots, getting order-marks from Miss Potts, when she didn’t have any other shoes to put on. Mind you, it also doesn’t make sense that Mr Lacey would pay for Margaret’s school fees and not buy her a pair of shoes (or a few new uniforms…).
I know it’s a short story but Gwen’s about-face comes on very quickly, and next thing she’s buying Margaret new dance shoes. Gwen wasn’t just cruel once, it was on multiple occasions, deliberately and calculatingly, and there’s no way she hadn’t realised or understood what she was doing. Gwen’s the type to double down, anyway, or grudgingly apologise, so this turn-around seems out of character.
Apart from my people the girls’ language is fairly time-neutral. It’s certainly not written in Blyton’s style, as it has quite a lot of run on sentences with many ands in them.
The book as a whole
Overall this isn’t a bad collection of stories. I think the stories are better than the full novel continuations that I have read so far, but it is unfortunate that the style and characterisations vary a bit between stories as it makes for odd reading sometimes.
The Secret Princess, I felt, was the closest to what Blyton would have written, if a little convoluted. I also enjoyed the library scenes in Bookworms, but the other stories I could take or leave.