Series Book Spotlight: The School at the Chalet

The School at the Chalet
Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
First published 1925

My history with this book
As a child, I read a later book in the Chalet School series, The Princess of the Chalet School, which I acquired in Ireland. I loved it, but since the books weren’t easily available in the U.S., I hadn’t read any of the other books in the series.

My thoughts
The School at the Chalet is part a long tradition of British girls’ boarding school books. The series has 59 books, and they were published over a 45-year-period. Unlike many img_2963long-running series (such as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys), all of the books were written by the same author.

Twenty-four-year old Madge Bettany and her twin brother Dick are alone in the world with their 12-year-old sister Joey. Their parents are long dead, and their guardian recently died, leaving them without much money. Dick has a job in India, and Madge needs to find a job that will help her support Joey, whose health is delicate. Madge decides that she’ll start a school in the Tyrol in Austria, a place the siblings once visited. She rents a chalet and within no time, the school has numerous pupils, with several girls coming from the UK and several from the neighboring area. This required a fair amount of suspension of disbelief, at least by today’s standards, but I suppose that school accreditation and teacher training weren’t issues at the time.

The book tells the story of the school’s first term. The school quickly increases in size, and Joey’s health improves greatly in the mountain air. There are lots of hijinks and the occasional drama, including the students pulling a series of pranks. Much of the drama is caused by two difficult students, both of whom cause a lot of stress for Madge. We learn that both of these girls come from dysfunctional families, and although their behavior isn’t excused, Madge shows some understanding for the reasons behind it.

The School at the Chalet is a very old-fashioned book, but I found it enjoyable. It’s a bit like stepping back in time, to an era when anyone could start a school and, with a little British pluck, make a success of it. Much like Enid Blyton’s St. Clare’s series, the girls struck me as very young, even though some of them are as old as 15 or 16. img_2965There’s something very innocent about this book. I always find it interesting to read books that are from a seemingly more innocent time. Of course, the 1920s were hardly innocent and there was a great deal of societal change happening, but in the world of the Chalet School, the ugliness of the real world never intrudes.

Most of the books were edited in the later (1960s/1970s) paperback editions. Some of the edits were fairly minor, but some of the books were heavily edited, and in a few cases, longer books were split into two. The version I read was the original text. The paperback version is heavily edited from the original. The series is chronological, so it helps to read them in order.

Does it hold up?
As I never read this one as a child, I can’t say, but I enjoyed it, although not quite as much as I remember enjoying The Princess of the Chalet School (which had a more exciting plot).

Would I want my kid to read it?
If he’s interested.

Is there any objectionable content?
The author exhibits a very specific prejudice toward certain types of German. Written not long after the end of World War I, there’s some anti-German sentiment, but it’s directed at North Germans (specifically the Prussians). The Austrians and Bavarians are said to be good people, but the Prussians (and particularly people from Berlin) are not.There’s also some sexism, as it’s assumed by many that Madge needs assistance from the men in her life (although she seems to do quite well running the school on her own).

Can you read it aloud?
It’s a bit long for reading aloud.

Availability
Currently out of print, but used copies are occasionally available. The series is popular with collectors, and early editions can be pricey. A small publishing house has reprinted the books, so new editions of the original text are available for some volumes, but even the new reprints are out of print for many titles. This is a series I try to collect, but finding them in the U.S. is difficult and can get expensive, since you usually have to buy from overseas. The paperback editions are more affordable, but may have significant revisions to the original text. Ebay and abe.com have been useful resources for me.

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