The School by The Sea : Angela Brazil

The School by the SeaThe School by the Sea by Angela Brazil

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is great. It bounces along in that determinedly vivacious sort of way that Angela Brazil does (“Girls! Girls Everywhere!”) and then completely forgets about plot and has a natural history interlude that goes on for about three hundred pages, before plot reasserts its ugly head and everything gets resolved and sorted out in about five pages. It’s a joy, really, this ridiculous and beautiful and furiously of its time book, and I devoured it.

Deirdre and Dulcie are bosom friends, in that bosomy sort of way that Brazil did so well; one is slender and one is stout, one is picturesque and one is a redhead who is “somewhat obtuse” and a new girl has been put into their bedroom for the new term. Crisis! Inevitable tensions! Moreso when the new girl has lived in Germany and can speak fluent German!

Published in 1914, this book is very much of a particular time and bent. Angela Brazil had such a lengthy and prolific career that she wrote across two world wars (how awful that is, to have experienced that sort of thing twice…) and her work changes quite dramatically in my opinion. The first world war is greeted with a sense of wild patriotism, where the girls hunt out spies and knit socks and all that sort of thing, but the second? That’s a quite different story; the girls are secluded from the world in countryside mansions and asked to believe in themselves. The books look inward, I guess, as opposed to outwards. The visible acts of patriotism in WW1 shift to some sort of internal stiffening of ones resolve. And so, The School By The Sea does engage in some distinctly complex social dialogue. More complex than I think the book quite realises; Gerda is frankly bullied by some of her compatriots before the truth is revealed and the truth itself ties into some typical themes and tropes of Brazil that I won’t spoil here. Suffice to say, there’s a subtle challenge presented towards a blanket anti-German sentiment and that’s interesting to me because I’ve not seen it elsewhere in her work. That nuance of understanding identity.

And, on another note, the opening to this is iconic. Forgive me for copying the first few lines below, but it’s really rather something and speaks of Brazil’s new blueprint for the genre:

“Girls! Girls everywhere! Girls in the passages, girls in the hall, racing upstairs and scurrying downstairs, diving into dormitories and running into classrooms, overflowing on to the landing and hustling along the corridor β€” everywhere, girls! There were tall and short, and fat and thin, and all degrees from pretty to plain; girls with fair hair and girls with dark hair, blue-eyed, brown-eyed, and grey-eyed girls; demure girls, romping girls, clever girls, stupid girls β€” but never a silent girl. No! Buzz-hum-buzz!”

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Conversations with Dead Authors: Angela Brazil

2. Angela BrazilΒ 

She insists on us going for a walk. “It will do you good,” she says. “Physical exercise isn’t something to be shirked from. Consider it part of your duty towards yourself.”

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The New School at Scawdale : Angela Brazil

The New School at ScawdaleThe New School at Scawdale by Angela Brazil

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a lot of time for Angela Brazil and The New School at Scawdale is a very distinctively Brazil book. It drifts rather pleasantly from set piece to set piece but doesn’t really do much with what it has. Back in the day Angela would have been all ‘here’s a Nazi spy!’ and ‘here’s a long lost relative!’ and ‘hey, here’s a mysterious castle’ or some such, but The New School at Scawdale simply moves on.

None of this is, however, to say that it’s a bad book. Far from it, The New School At Scawdale is almost the epochal Brazil text. It’s jolly, and vibrant, and the girls roar with character. There’s that distinctive reluctance to use the word ‘said’ – characters frown, expostulate, ejaculate, quaver, demur and wail (p110, all) and my vocabulary shoots up immensely as a result. There’s that brief bit where we all bang on about Nature For A Bit, and there’s that other brief bit where An Accident Is Swiftly Averted. There’s also some curiously distinct elements that sing with detail; the most notable of these is a visit for two girls to the BBC which is rendered with a knowledge that must come from a real life experience. It’s an odd note in this text that’s almost twenty or so years past where it should be, and yet it’s a note that makes this almost more real. It’s rather intriguing in its own tiny way and yet, once it’s done, it’s very definitely done.

The New School at Scawdale is a treat, but it’s nowhere near her best. It’s pleasant, it’s jolly, and it’s lovely but really it’s just a year in the life of Aileen Carey. The incidents are beautifully written, and the characterization is fiercely vigorous, but it’s not brilliant. But then, even when she wasn’t brilliant, Brazil was still sort of amazing.

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The School in the Forest : Angela Brazil

The School in the ForestThe School in the Forest by Angela Brazil

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“What! Go to school! To boarding-school! I won’t I tell you I won’t!”

So begins The School in The Forest and the story of fourteen year old Jean Langton, a spoilt heiress who is both inevitably orphaned and inevitably romantic. Her life in the remote and isolated Craigness Tower is to come to an end and she is to be sent to boarding school. Prodigously, as “south country air doesn’t suit” Jean, a respectable school has evacuated to the locale and thus she is to be sent there. St Hilda’s is a typical school as far as Brazil is concerned; it is progressive with a naturalistic pedagogy (can you tell I am writing an essay about this book as well as this review?) and has relocated itself to the romantic surroundings of Wildeswood Hall.

I always overuse the word romantic when I talk about Angela Brazil because her books are so resolutely focused upon casting the everyday outside and becoming embroiled in a saga of dancing through the trees and singing songs around a campfire. Even Brent-Dyer, my great literary love, held back from the wholesale passions of Angela Brazil and her obsession with the outdoors world. And I think it’s the way that Brazil approaches the outdoors and forces her girls out there to engage in the world that gives her work a particular and peculiar force, even now, a million miles away. Jean is a musical girl (how rare for the new girl to have a talent! *side-eyes camera) and yet, she’s irrevocably tied to landscape. Her family history, her escapades, her Christmas with real and true and proper friends; all of it steps outside of the school and into the wide world.

Of course, having said that, as ever with Angela Brazil there’s a deeply contrived subplot. And what is a school story without a contrived subplot? It is a quirk of genre and one that is inescapable. This subplot involves gypsies and a mysterious child. It’s a subplot which doesn’t translate particularly well to contemporary reads. As ever, judge the text by the standards of the age and make allowances for those standards, however they may be.

For an author who cut her teeth on school stories, and who indeed must take credit for making the contemporary school story what it is, The School In The Forest isn’t really a book about schools at all. It’s a book about girlhood; about learning to live in a community and to live with yourself. I rather love it. But, then again, I think that I will always love Angela Brazil for a myriad of reasons, and not only for the way I learn a thousand new synonyms for ‘said’* every time I read her work. Brazil was epochal. Still is, really.

(page 55: ‘asked’ / ‘mocked’ / ‘laughed’ / ‘nodded’ / ‘sniggered’ / ‘decided’.
I love these books)

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The Girls of St Cyprians : Angela Brazil

The Girls of St. CypriansThe Girls of St. Cyprians by Angela Brazil

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I posted last night on Twitter with some degree of hysteria that The Girls of St Cyprians was now available on Project Gutenberg. This, for those of you that haven’t experienced this title, is a Very Good Thing.

Angela Brazil is an experience, really, what with her ‘expostulated’ and her ‘declaimed’ and her pathological need to avoid the word ‘said’ and her distinctly racist moments(oh hello, The School in the South). Sometimes I have to skip the worst of these (viz said racism and also the interminable ‘let’s hear a local legend whilst we skip through the meadows’ / ‘oh here is my inheritance in the form of a mislaid will’ chapter) but that’s all part of the experience of my modern reading of an author who was writing over a hundred years ago. It is, however, something I acknowledge whenever I read her, and something that I balance against that reading.

Here, in The Girls Of St Cyprians, Brazil is really rather on form. St Cyprians engages in a series of competitions with several other local schools in “A kind of Olympic contest? Oh, what sport!” It’s an unusual topic for Brazil and it’s one that she gets her teeth into. Though it is ultimately Mildred Lancaster’s (sensitive musical genius Mildred!) story, and the story of her talent, it reads like more of an ensemble piece once

What’s particularly interesting in The Girls Of St Cyprians is how it reflects several of Brazil’s key tropes. Girls are hearty, happy and well-rounded. Mildred, with her gift, gets a little authorial interjection the moment that she appears: “[her appearance] suggested that highly-strung artistic temperament which may prove either the greatest joy or the utmost hindrance to its possessor.” Mildred’s also not quite the paragon some of Brazil’s other heroines tend to be, and this is lovely to read. Obviously Mildred gets her act together by the end of the book otherwise she would not be a Brazil heroine.

If you’re interested in the representation of gifted and talented characters in children’s literature (with a lot of focus on Girlsown books because, well, it’s me), I have a reading list of titles here and an archive of related posts here.

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Loyal to the School : Angela Brazil

Loyal to the SchoolLoyal to the School by Angela Brazil

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It may be the result of me binging on a lot of Angela Brazil novels at the moment, but Loyal To The School genuinely struck me as a bit poor. Lesbia Ferrars’ guardian and his family decide to emigrate to Canada and Lesbia is expected to join them. Acting on the spur of the moment, Lesbia runs away from the ship and heads back to the family of her nearest schoolfriend – convinced by her friend that they will put her up. It turns out that this is far from the truth, and it’s an awkward year in prospect for Lesbia when she is passed from distant relative, to distant relative, and forced to earn her keep at school as a sort of ‘teacher-student’ to the lower forms.

Loyal To The School is full of the typical Angela Brazil motifs. It’s also got a particularly glorious chapter where the new incumbent headmistress decides to address the ‘sentiment’ dominent in the lower forms. This leads to some slightly hysterical protests on behalf of the girls that can’t help but read awkwardly in a contemporary climate (“..Any time was kissing time!”)

Despite the faults of heavy moralising, and ‘lesson learning’ from Lesbia, it’s still full of the Brazil charm that makes it distinctly appealing at points. Lesbia herself however isn’t really amongst the best of Brazil’s characters and never quite reaches the heights of say, a Winona or Monitress Merle.
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A Pair of Schoolgirls : Angela Brazil

A Pair of SchoolgirlsA Pair of Schoolgirls by Angela Brazil

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s always a difficulty in reviewing an Angela Brazil for me in that all of her books pretty much resemble another. We have the girl in transition who is caught at a key point in her life (if you ignore all the hyperbole, it’s essentially puberty), some romantic nature / historical interludes, some inter-form based squabbles, a macguffin, and impoverished noble gentle folk who, by the end of the book, have resumed their rightful station in life.

The above is true, but a bit harsh because it’s a groove that works. This book is one hundred years old this year (what’s left of it!), and it’s sort of fascinating to see how much it has dated. There are parts that haven’t dated in the slightest: the quickness of the schoolgirl relationships, the longing to go round to somebody’s house after school, the relationship between pupils and staff. That’s what Brazil was good at, phenomenally good. She had voice down. So very down. The language of these children whilst naturally archaic to a modern reader sings. Utterly. There’s a lightness and vivacity to it, and it’s the sort of language that you know (you utterly utterly know) that you’d only find in an Angela Brazil.

All of the big school story authors had their quirks. Oxenham had her country-dancing, Brent-Dyer had the marrying them off to doctors thing, and Brazil had her plot twists. The twist in A Pair of Schoolgirls is a thing of epic wonder and epic hysteria all at the same time. It’s always joyous when we hear the ‘confession’ in a Brazil, and this time is no exception to the rule.

A Pair of Schoolgirls is very run of the mill as far as a Brazil book can be, but I loved the twist here. And I loved the levels she gave Dorothy, even though those levels came with such deep levels of authorial intervention that I skipped a few of the longer ‘Dorothy was learning…’ paragraphs.

With some of my favourite authors, I always tend to wonder what they’d be like in real life. Brent-Dyer would be a bit giddy, a bit tipsy even though the nearest she’d come to alcohol was as a word in dictation. Oxenham would be sat sagaciously in the corner, like a rather wise old Judi Dench / Maggie Smith hybrid. And Angela Brazil would be one of those terrifyingly astute and severe ladies who could give you a *particular* look, and you’d do whatever she wanted.

My copy of this was downloaded from the amazing Project Gutenberg.
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