Book and Magazine Collector No. 86 - May 1991

Collecting Elinor Brent-Dyer's Chalet School Series

Book and Magazine Collector 86 Although Elinor Brent-Dyer originally wrote the Chalet School series of books for schoolgirls, she probably wouldn't have been too surprised to learn that many of her admirers are a little older today. Of course she is still popular with the young, but most of her collectors left their own schools years ago. Once you've read the exploits of Joey Bettany and her friends and successors at the little school in the mountains they tend to stay with you for a long time. Those young readers grow into adult collectors, and the books they are after become scarcer and scarcer every year. Certainly, all the books in the Chalet School series are becoming increasingly hard to find in collectable condition.

Article Illustration (p4) Some collectors are quite prepared to accept paperbacks, of course - the story is more important than the edition to them - and they will be perfectly happy with Armada's current reprints. To date these cover over three-quarters of the entire series and more are scheduled up to 1993. According to Armada's figures these continue to sell at the astonishing rate of between 150,000 and 200,000 copies each year. Others prefer hardback editions, but the real Chalet School enthusiasts prefer to acquire first editions in their original dustjackets. In the few years since we last covered Elinor Brent-Dyer's work in depth the prices of these have shot up. Dealers will verift that as soon as they put copies on their shelves or in their catalogues they are snapped up.

There are four major schoolgirl fiction writers. Angela Brazil, Dorita Fairlie Bruce and Elsie Oxenham all have their many admirers, of course, and are enthusiastically collected, but few will argue that it is Elinor Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series which really inspires the most passion. In May 1959 Brent-Dyer's publishers organised a Chalet School Club which boasted 4,000 members from all corners of the earth until it was disbanded ten years later; and just recently a new club has been founded in Victoria, Australia. The series had a truly international following, inspired no doubt by the fact that the school and the stories themselves were truly international. It is easy to see their appeal.

Gladys Eleanor May Dyer was born in a terraced street in South Shields, Tyneside, on 6 April 1894. She changed her name to the more familiar Elinor Brent-Dyer only when she was much older. In fact, she seemed to have a liking for changing her name. At school she was known as May Dyer and when she studied at Leeds Training College she rather eccentrically called herself Patricia Mariquita. Perhaps her desire to hide her identity was due in some way to her rather unusual childhood. Her parents were hardly suited to each other and one day in 1897 her father left home never to be seen again. From that time on Elinor was brought up by her mother and grandmother, neighbours were led to believe that Mrs Dyer had "lost her husband", and the scandal was hidden as much as it could be in such a close-knit community.

SCHOOLS

'Prefects of the Chalet School' was published by Chambers in 1970. It was the very last title in the series. (p5) In the words of one biographer, school because a life-sentence for Elinor Brent-Dyer; after attending it as a girl she worked in education all her life and wrote dozens of books set in schools. When she left St Nicholas's School in South Shields she became an "unqualified teacher" at the age of eighteen and spent some time in local Board Schools. She then gained her teacher's certificate from the Training College and went on to work in several more establishments including the Boys' High School in South Shields and independent schools in Middlesex and Hampshire. And as all Elinor Brent-Dyer enthusiasts are aware, she eventually set up her own school in Hereford in September 1938. The Margaret Roper School managed to survive through the difficult war years before it finally closed its doors in 1948.

This early title appeared from Chambers in 1932.  It features illustrations and a jacket by Nina K. Brisley. (p6) By this time, of course, Elinor Brent-Dyer was already a very successful author with dozens of books and not a few Chalet School stories behind her. Her first books appeared in 1922. In the early 1920s Elinor Brent-Dyer met Edith and Julian Bainbridge, a theatrical husband-and-wife team whose ten-year-old daughter Hazel was a talented actress. The teacher and the little girls became great friends despite the age difference and Elinor often amused Helen by telling her stories. It was only a matter of time before she put these stories onto paper, and when Gerry Goes to School was published by Chambers it was dedicated to her young friend.

DAUGHTERS

Gerry Goes to School was the first of seven books collectively known as the La Rochelle series which stretched up to 1953. None of these are in print today (nor are they particularly collectable except to Brent-Dyer completists) but they are important in at least one sense. The daughters of some of the girls in the La Rochelle books turn up as pupils at the Chalet School. This is one of the delights of Elinor Brent-Dyer's books, particularly the Chalet School series. They are in essence a sage; a history of a school over around forty-five years. Unlike Frank Richards's Greyfriars stories, Richmal Crompton's William books, or even the Beano's Denice the Menace comic strips, Elinor Brent-Dyer's heroines are allowed to grow up. Joey Bettany begins the saga as a young teenage girl and ends up married to a doctor and having a frankly massive family of eleven children, including two sets of twins and a set of triplets! One wonders what they put into the cocoa at the Chalet School. Elinor Brent-Dyer always re-pupiled the school with new girls willing to undergo all sorts of adventures, and with just one or two exceptions the time runs smoothly between each book.

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During the long summer vacation of 1924 Elinor Brent-Dyer spent a couple of moths in the Autrian Tyrol. The landscape so impressed her she decided to use the place as the setting for a "school-story with a difference" and the Chalet School saga was started. It went on for fifty-nine books in all. Many readers consider the beautiful setting of the books their major appeal (and Brent-Dyer certainly manages to convey it with magnificent effect) but this is just part of their success. The most impressive thing about the Chalet School saga is their realism. Some of the girls' adventures may seem a little far-fetched, perhaps, and there is a liberal sprinkling of natural catastrophes, kidnappings, spies and dramatic rescues from fires, drowning and falling down mountains, but the girls themselves seem to real. They are invariable slim and beautiful, of course, but Brent-Dyer used her own experiences of teaching girls to show how girls actually behaved. Unlike the girls in Angela Brazil's books, for instance, Joey Bettany is not a paragon of virtue. In fact on many occassions she can be moody, sarcastic and very rash. Nor is she particularly pretty with her square fringe, pale face and "goblin-like appearance". It must have been a refreshing tonic for young readers to come across Josephine Mary Bettany when she first appeared in The School at the Chalet in October 1925.

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DUSTJACKETS

The School at the Chalet was published by Chambers in brown cloth and is without doubt the hardest title to find in the first edition format today: when they do turn up they are invariably without the dustjackets which form such an integral part in their appeal. I heard recently of a Very Good copy of the first edition in a bright but slightly rubbed at the edges dustjacket being offered for 120. I don't know if anybody bought it at that price, but it wouldn't be too surprising. It's not impossible for this first title to sell for three-figure sums.

Right from the start of The School at the Chalet it was obvious that Elinor Brent-Dyer had hit upon a winning formula. Up to then schoolgirl fiction had been set in schools in crusty manors in the country or in ramshackle Victorian villas in the city; how could young readers fail to be thrilled by a school set amongst the mountains and lakes of the Tyrol? Instead of trudging to school through windswept streets or on dingy buses, the Chalet School girls got to their lessons in cable cars over snow-capped peaks. And instead of being taught in dowdy rooms by dowdy teachers, the girls went to school in a beautiful large wooden building originally designed as a hotel.

Elinor Brent-Dyer didn't really need her wonderful imagination to conjure up these images; she just wrote down what she saw. The fictional Chalet School was set in a village called Briesau on the shore of a lake called Tiernsee. In real life this was Pertisau on the shores of the Tiernsee, a picturesque little spot twenty miles to the north-east of Innsbruck.

To begin with the school was very small; the nine pupils were Joey Bettany, the fourteen-year-old Grizel Cochrane, the French girl Simone Lecoutier and six girls from the Tyrol. It was run by Miss Madge Bettany, Joey's older sister and the formidable Mademoiselle Lepattre. All these characters were to play major roles throughout the whole series, long after many of them got married and had families of their own.

This was the fiftieth title in the series and to celebrate the occasion D. Brook designed a special 'wrap-around' jacket. (p8) This is one of the joys of the whole series. Elinor Brent-Dyer never forgot her 'originals'; she always kept her readers informed of the progress of characters who might have left the series in some way, and there is always a feeling of closeness. Some commentators have criticised the books for repitition and focusing too much on the same characters. Like P.G. Wodehouse (who had just two or three basic plots which he managed to create over a hundred superbly funny books from) reading the Chalet School saga is like catching up on news of an old friend.

Article Illustration (p9) The School grew quickly, of course, and changes were predictable. After Madge Bettany's marriage to Doctor James Russell Mademoiselle Lepattre became headmistress, although by the time The New Chalet School appeared in 1938, ill health forced her to give way to Miss Annersley. The Chalet School's pupils were very loyal to the place too. Both Simone Lecoutier and Grizel Cochrane are among the old girls who return to join the teaching staff. By this time the school had over 250 pupils from all over the world, including eleven European nations and the United States.

EVENTS

But it couldn't remain immune to the depressing turn of world events. In the fourteenth story in the series, The Chalet School in Exile (chambers, 1940), the school is forced by the Nazi annexation of Austria to flee first to a former hotel Der Edel Ritter, and then via Switzerland to Guernsey. Even this wasn't totally safe, though, and the school was forced to uproot afain to Plas Howell in Armishire (based on Herefordshire) and, after the drains there were found to be defective, to the island of St. Briavel where seven of the books from The Chalet School and the Island (1950) to Changes for the Chalet School (1953) [are set - L]. After this the school returned to Europe; from The Chalet School and Barbara onwards the stories are based in the Oberland in Swtizerland. This was to be the Chalet School's final resting place.

From a collecting point of view, all the Chalet School books are collectable today but, to paraphrase George Orwell, some are more collectable than others. Without doubt the top prices are paid for nice copies of the early books in their dustjackets, particularly the first thirteen titles from The School at the Chalet to The New Chalet School (1938), and also The Chalet School Goes To It (1941). All these titles were illustrated by the talented Nina K. Brisley, who together with her sister Joyce trained at the Lambeth School of Art before contribution illustrations to a number of magazines. Joyce L. Brisley wrote and illustrated the Milly-Molly-Mandy series of books from 1928-1955, and Nina provided illustrations [for - L] books by Elizabeth Clark, Elsie Oxenham as well as the very collectable Wilfred's Annual.

The Chalet School series always kept up with current events, even wards.  This title was published in 1940. (p10) Nina K. Brisley also designed most of the gorgeous period dustjackets which adorn the Chalet School books, even some of those which she didn't actually illustrate such as Jo to the Rescue (Chambers 1945). Her jackets are crude and naive, but they are also humorous and warm-hearted. Most collectors prefer these early jackets to those execute in the 1950s and 1960s by D. Brook. Incidentally, all these jackets had brightly designed spines which make a complete set arrayed on a shelf a very pleasant site indeed. D. Brook did some attractive jackets also. Particularly striking are the designs for the last title in the series, Prefects of the Chalet School (1970), and The Chalet School Reunion (1963). For this special fiftieth book in the series Brook designed a wrap-round design covering the whole jacket and also provided a ket to identify everybody present. Brent-Dyer's publishers presented her with the original of this painting to mark the appearance of the book.

PURISTS

Also quite hard to come by today is The Chalet School and Rosalie, published by Chambers in 1951. Because the events in this particular story happened out of their sequential order some Brent-Dyer purists don't consider this to be part of the official series. Neither was it numbered like all the other stories. But it most definitely is a Chalet School story so, unlike associated items such as The Chalet Book for Girls (1947) and The Chalet Girls' Cookbook (1953), it is safe to include it in the list. This title never appeared as a hardback, so any copy you are likely to find could be worn and less than perfect. For this reason Very Good copies or better tend to command premium prices.

By the time she died in September 1969 Elinor Brent-Dyer had written over a hundred books in all, but it is really the Chalet School series for which most will remember her. These books aren't easy to acquire today, but neither are they notoriously scarce, particularly if you are prepared to accept an early reprint. Most of these reprints can be picket up for just a few pounds each, even with their jackets intact. If, on the other hand, only pristine first editions in their original jackets will do, be prepared to spend a lot of time and money putting your collection together.

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COMPLETE BIBLOGRAPHY OF
"THE CHALET SCHOOL SERIES"

A guide to current values of first editions in vg condition with dustjacket
The School At The Chalet (Chambers, 1925)
Jo Of The Chalet School (Chambers, 1926)
The Princess Of The Chalet School (Chambers, 1927)
The Head Girl Of The Chalet School (Chambers, 1928)
The Rivals Of The Chalet School (Chambers, 1929)
Eustacia Goes To The Chalet School (Chambers, 1930)
The Chalet School And Jo (Chambers, 1931)
The Chalet Girls In Camp (Chambers, 1932)
The Exploits Of The Chalet Girls (Chambers, 1933)
The Chalet School And The Lintons (Chambers, 1934)
The New House At The Chalet School (", 1935)
Jo Returns To The Chalet School (Chambers, 1936)
The New Chalet School (Chambers, 1938)
The Chalet School In Exile (Chambers, 1940)
The Chalet School Goes To It (Chambers, 1941)
Highland Twins At The Chalet School (Chambers, 1942)
Lavender Laughs At The Chalet School (", 1943)
Gay From China At The Chalet School (", 1944)
Jo To The Rescue (Chambers, 1945)
Three Go To The Chalet School (Chambers, 1949)
The Chalet School And The Island (Chambers, 1950)
Peggy Of The Chalet School (Chambers, 1950)
Carola Storms The Chalet School (Chambers, 1951)
The Wrong Chalet School (Chambers, 1952)
Shocks For The Chalet School(Chambers, 1952)
The Chalet School In The Oberland (Chambers, 1952)
Bride Leads The Chalet School (Chambers, 1952)
Changes For The Chalet School (Chambers, 1953)
Joey Goes To The Oberland (Chambers, 1954)
The Chalet School And Barbara (Chambers, 1954)
Tom Tackles The Chalet School (Chambers, 1955)
The Chalet School Does It Again (Chambers, 1955)
A Chalet Girl From Kenya (Chambers, 1955)
Mary-Lou Of The Chalet School (Chambers, 1956)
A Genius At The Chalet School (Chambers, 1956)
A Problem For The Chalet School (Chambers, 1956)
The New Mistress At The Chalet School (", 1957)
Excitements For The Chalet School (Chambers, 1957)
Coming Of Age Of The Chalet School (Chambers, 1958)
The Chalet School And Richenda (Chambers, 1958)
Trials For The Chalet School (Chambers, 1959)
Theodora And The Chalet School (Chambers, 1959)
Joey And Co. In Tirol (Chambers, 1960)
Ruey Richardson, Chaletian (Chambers, 1960)
A Leader In The Chalet School (Chambers, 1961)
The Chalet School Wins The Trick (Chambers, 1961)
A Future Chalet School Girl (Chambers, 1962)
The Feud In The Chalet School (Chambers, 1962)
The Chalet School Triplets (Chambers, 1963)
The Chalet School Reunion (Chambers, 1963)
Jane And The Chalet School (Chambers, 1964)
Redheads At The Chalet School (Chambers, 1964)
Adrienne And The Chalet School (Chambers, 1965)
Summer Term At The Chalet School (Chambers, 1965)
Challenge For The Chalet School (Chambers, 1966)
Two Sams At The Chalet School (Chambers, 1967)
Althea Joins The Chalet School (Chambers, 1969)
Prefects Of The Chalet School (Chambers, 1970)
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