Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding-Schools, 1939–1979 : Ysenda Maxtone Graham

Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding-Schools, 1939–1979Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding-Schools, 1939–1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a delight.

The second of two boarding school histories that I’ve breezed through recently, Terms & Conditions is an absolute delight. The first – Alex Renton’s Stiff Upper Lip: Secrets, Crimes and the Schooling of a Ruling Class was a much more different experience, focusing as it did upon the male experience of boarding school life and wrapping this around his own experiences. I found Stiff Upper Lip a dry read; interesting, yet I skipped over a substantial chunk of it.

Terms & Conditions, however, wasn’t anywhere near long enough. I loved it. I devoured it. I suspect my different reaction to the two books is partially due to my own research interests and angle of interest, yet Maxtone Graham writes with a sheer verve and narrative drive that can’t be denied. This is an honest, warm-hearted, genuine and sympathetic book.

Ending just before the popular arrival of the ‘duvet’, that blessed piece of night-time warmth, Maxtone Graham ranges through a series of tightly structured chapters constructed around the recollections of her interviewees. Being a big children’s literature fan, I was delighted to find that Judith Kerr functioned among these. What’s great is that Maxtone Graham admires these women that she works with and talks to, and she admires them openly. It’s so interesting to me, this complex ideal of the boarding school woman – of women, generally – because as they grow older, they are expected to be less visible. Less forthright. Yet as Maxtone Graham comes to articulate, these are the women that have remarkable stories – ranging from being pummeled outside in the dark as part of a new girl ritual, through to spending the night on the Kings Road with boys and making it back to the convent school in time for morning. I welcome anybody who works to make these stories visible, I really really do.

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2 thoughts on “Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding-Schools, 1939–1979 : Ysenda Maxtone Graham

  1. I’ve been reading this on my daily commute, and I want to praise the design of the book: it’s the same size as a small paperback, but it’s a hardback and has a bookmark ribbon.

    “Sophia Ruck at St Mary’s, Ascot read twenty-nine novels in the summer term of 1976 , by (among others) Rumer Godden, Monica Dickens, Daphne du Maurier and Hester Burton (seven of her historical novels). That was typical.”

    I’d never heard of Hester Burton before. According to Wikipedia, she wrote historical novels for children and young adults, one of which won the Carnegie Medal in 1963.

    I’ve read a few children’s books I’ve really liked recently:

    A Little Princess – a version published by Puffin in 1961 with a cover and illustrations by Margery Gill

    Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh – this also has nice illustrations. I feel like there are a lot of good children’s books set in 1960s/70s New York for some reason

    Who, Sir? Me, Sir? by K. M. Peyton

    The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine

    The Girl Savage by Katherine Rundell – which is well-written but felt like it should have been continued

    All That Glitters by Holly Smale (Geek Girl, Book 4)

    Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens (Wells & Wong, Book 4)

    I recommend them all (I mean, the ones you haven’t already read)!

    I also watched about half of the TV series Anne with an E on Netflix. The actors are good and it’s visually nice (costumes, sets, scenery) but the script was not to my taste. A review I’ve read of it called it “a bit emo” which sums it up perfectly IMO.

    Keep up the good work.

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