REMEMBER WHEN GOING to boarding school seemed like the most glamorous, fun thing a 12-year-old could do?
If so, you were probably a fan of Enid Blyton’s St. Clare’s series of novels. And here’s 12 things you may want to remember about the antics of the O’Sullivan Twins & Co.
1. The war didn’t happen
The books were written and published between 1941 and 1945 but there is not one mention of the war. Isabel, Pat, Alison, Janet, Margery, Prudence and Carlotta have many, many worries. They grow tiresome of Miss Quentin’s duplicity and Mademoiselle’s French lessons. They have to solve mysteries, rescue each other from kidnapping attempts and wriggle their way out of trouble after being caught having a midnight feast (more on those later…) But their teenage concerns don’t include food rations, air raids and Army telegrams. Escapism at its finest from Ms. Blyton.
2. Being quarantined was actually a thing
At the start of the third novel, Summer Term at St. Clare’s, Pat and Isabel are quarantined because they played tennis with a girl who had the mumps. This was typical in the 1940s so Enid didn’t erase all the bad stuff. Just the war.
3. Lacrosse could be played with a sprained ankle (so it’s not just for burly US high school jocks)
Was anyone else really disappointed when they realised that secondary schools in Ireland don’t play lacrosse? Just us? Pat was the better of the twins at the game and was only delighted to be called up to the team by Belinda, despite having played a nasty trick on her earlier in the day. The trick involved Pat and Isabel trading places, of course.
Pat O’Sullivan, you played well in the lacrosse practice yesterday,” she said. “I was watching. You’re a silly, obstinate kid, but I’m not counting that against you where lacrosse is concerned. I’m putting you down for the match on Saturday.”
“In a match already!,” she cried. “How decent of Belinda! If she’d been spiteful she’d have left me out for months.”
Then she became silent and went away by herself. Isabel knew quite well what she was thinking, because she was worrying about the same thing herself. Soon Pat came over and put her arm through Isabel’s. “I feel a beast,” said Pat. “I’ve let you do all the jobs – and I’ve gone down to the town all I wanted to, just to spite Belinda. I thought we were being rather clever to play a trick like that. But now I don’t think so.
Remember how fierce the rivalry between St Clare’s and St Christopher’s was? Can you imagine what it would be like if the Clare’s girls met the Mallory Towers team? One fan has done more than imagine…she’s written the scene, half-time lemons and all.
4. MIDNIGHT FEASTS! MIDNIGHT FEASTS!
Pineapple chunks. Prawns. Tinned sardines in tomato sauce. Potted meat. Tongue sandwiches. Hard-boiled eggs. Jam tarts. Pickled onions. Lashings of ginger beer. It all sounded rancid. We wanted it all.
Although there were always repercussions
Matron: You are suffering from Midnight Feast Illness! Aha! You needn’t pretend to me! If you will feast on pork-pies and sardines, chocolate and ginger-beer in the middle of the night, you can expect a dose of medicine from me the next day.
5. Stereotypes. Everywhere.
Carlotta was the “wild” foreigner, described as knowing a different language other than English and being “like a fiery little gypsy with her black curls, deep brown eyes and creamy-brown skin”. It remains ambiguous about where she is actually from or if she is, in fact, a gypsy. We are told she has a half-cockney, half-foreign voice and is “untidy with no manners at all”. We do, however, discover that she was born into the circus after Prudence spies on her riding bareback (!) on a horse.
Sadie is a rich American and all she and her mother care about is their looks. She is eventually pulled out of St. Clare’s because the girls don’t even bother to look “cute”.
Mam’zelle, the French mistress, also has some borderline racist quirks.
However, Blyton was seemingly trying to avoid stereotyping the Irish. Both the O’Sullivan girls – who were from a well-to-do family (they could afford to go to the poshest of the posh Redroofs school but their parents wanted to knock some sense into them) – had an Irish lilt, something that was given to them to avoid a stereotype following bicycle bomb attack by the IRA in the late 1930s.
6. Names had double-meanings
Bobby was the tomboy. Prudence was, well, prudish (and a bit of a bitch). Gladys was a talented actress (just like the real Gladys Cooper in the early-to-mid 20th century). Alma Pudden is nicknamed Pudding and she is the fat girl. We never said boarding school wasn’t mean.
7. Money was always going missing
If someone’s character needed testing, money would go missing and the wrong person would be blamed until the actual culprit owned up. The real moral of the story? The girls should have been more careful with their valuables. Or better detectives.
Oh, my, a whole ten shillings!” wailed Hilary. “I was going to buy all sort of things with it. I really must get some new shoelaces, and my lacrosse stick wants the end leg. Where in the world has it gone?”
It was very generous of Kathleen,” said Janet to the twins, as they went to the classroom. “But I can’t understand why she went on such a splash on me! Usually she’s awfully mean with her gifts – either gives nothing at all, or something that costs a farthing. It isn’t as if she likes me a lot, either. I’ve gone for her heaps of times because she’s such a goof.
8. Being sent to Coventry was just the worst
Poor, sullen Margery was constantly being sent to Coventry (where no one would talk to her or clap her back if she scored a goal for the Good Old Team). Coventry was the worst.
And did you know?
1. It got the animé treatment
In Japan. It then got translated into German, French, Spanish, Italian and Arabic.
2. German girls loved Hanni and Nanni
The six-book series was really popular in Germany, where Patricia and Isobel became Hanni und Nanni and readers received bonus hair bobbins. But the Germans lost out on the lacrosse scenes, which were substituted with games of handball.