For the Sake of the School by Angela Brazil ~ 1915. This edition: Blackie & Son Ltd., circa 1926. Hardcover. 264 pages.
My rating: 5.5/10
After years and years of constantly hearing Angela Brazil referenced as the sine qua non of girls’ school story writers, I’ve finally laid my hands upon one of her books. And she did not disappoint, in the area of loading on the clichés and utter predictability of plot.
On second thoughts, as this writer helped to invent the genre, couldn’t we theorize that she originated the stock scenarios we now view as laughably foreseeable? In that case, do they count as real clichés? Must mull that over…
By the end of Chapter Two (“A Friend From the Bush”) I had everybody figured out, and a good idea of the eventual dénouement. Luckily the story galloped right along, from minor crisis to minor crisis to big reveal and feel-good ending, and reading it was relatively painless. However, I don’t know if I could take another one of these stories any time soon, though there certainly a goodly number to choose from. (See title list at bottom of post.)
It is September, the start of term, early on in the first months of the Great War. At lovely Woodlands, a small girls’ school in the Welsh hills, Ulyth – what an interesting name! – one of the Fifth Form pupils, is thrilled at the prospect of her new roommate – her pen-pal from New Zealand, sent to Great Britain across suddenly dangerous waters – for war has been declared after the ship has set sail – to attend a proper English school for both education and polishing.
And both are decidedly needed, for Rona is very much a diamond in the rough. Repelled instantly by Rona’s untidy unpacking, overly friendly advances, hee-hawing laugh, and – rather meanly, I thought – even her plumpness, Ulyth tries to get out of rooming with Rona, but her headmistress asks her to consider her Greater Duty to this Colonial Fellow Schoolgirl. Of course, put on the spot like this, Ulyth mans up and grits her teeth and proceeds to Set a Good Example to desperately gauche Rona.
Rona eagerly responds to Ulyth’s rather reluctant tutoring in the Way We Do Things Here in England, and eventually the two become friends, which is useful, because they both soon fall afoul of a Jealous Co-Student, who complicates things tremendously before receiving her comeuppance in the last chapter. For Rona turns out to have a Secret Identity, which rewards Ulyth’s efforts at civilizing her, and is a marvelous slap-down to the snobbish Jealous One.
Angela Brazil waxes lyrical about the Beauties of Nature and her descriptions go on for pages, which provides a bit of a break from the machinations of the forty-some schoolgirls and the patient coping of their various teachers. Here’s a wee sample.
Miss Bowes and Miss Teddington, the partners who owned the school, had been exceptionally fortunate in their choice of a house. If, as runs the modern theory, beautiful surroundings in our early youth are of the utmost importance in training our perceptions and aiding the growth of our higher selves, then surely nowhere in the British Isles could a more suitable setting have been found for a home of education. The long terrace commanded a view of the whole of the Craigwen Valley, an expanse of about sixteen miles. The river, like a silver ribbon, wound through woods and marshland till it widened into a broad tidal estuary as it neared the sea. The mountains, which rose tier after tier from the level green meadows, had their lower slopes thickly clothed with pines and larches; but where they towered above the level of a thousand feet the forest growth gave way to gorse and bracken, and their jagged summits, bare of all vegetation save a few clumps of coarse grass, showed a splintered, weather-worn outline against the sky. Penllwyd, Penglaslyn, and Glyder Garmon, those lofty peaks like three strong Welsh giants, seemed to guard the entrance to the enchanted valley, and to keep it a place apart, a last fortress of nature, a sanctuary for birds and flowers, a paradise of green shade and leaping waters, and a breathing-space for body and soul.
The whole thing was better in some ways than I had expected. The writing was decidedly workaday, gushings about purple hills and the blue, blue sky reflected in the waters of the local river aside, but there was a lovely vein of humour throughout, which kicked the story up a notch.
I am quite happy to have read For the Sake of the School, as it has satisfied my niggling curiosity about the author. It can definitely can be called a period piece, what with the many Great War references – in one instance, the girls give up their annual school prize awards in order to donate the money to the Belgian Fund – and the many details of food, clothing, manners and attitudes of the time. (And I can now tick 1915 off the Century list.)
This book, and many others by Angela Brazil, are available online at Gutenberg.
A detailed description of the plot of For the Sake of the School may be found here.