My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have a soft spot for Lavender Leigh at the Chalet School for some very particular reasons. Published in 1943, during both the real Second World War and the Chalet School wartime books, it’s a tightly domestic book that still manages to deliver some intense ideological messages.
It is, as ever, the first term of our titular new girl. Lavender is a strange little creature, cossetted and nervous from her odd lifestyle where she travelled the world with her Auntie who then wrote books about their adventures, featuring Lavender heavily in them. Following Auntie Sylvia being called up to wartime service, Lavender is enrolled in the Chalet School and, as ever, experiences the traditional near-death incident on her way to becoming a true Chalet School girl.
My edition of this, a chewed up Armada, features one of my favourite parts in the entire series and it’s a part which confounded me for many years. Mid conversation, the characters switch names and arguments, leading to a slightly discombobulating reading experience. And it’s a mark of the books that I’ve never been sure whether this has been introduced into this edition or something that Brent-Dyer did right at the start and nobody ever picked her up on…
Another favourite moment, and one where Brent-Dyer is genuinely a bit outstanding, is during the scene between Auntie Sylvia and Miss Wilson. It’s a moment where Sylvia expresses her discomfort with the juniors hearing war news and essentially Miss Wilson tears her to shreds. The speech itself is outstanding and it’s something I won’t attempt to precis for reading it in context is one of those landmark moments. Brent-Dyer was a brave, outstanding author during the wartime years and through ideological devices as this inculcated that bravery indelibly on her readers.
There’s also something particularly lovely in the presentation of the Juniors throughout the entire book. They are juniors, foolish, loud, funny and impetuous. They’re vivacious characters, and even Peggy Bettany is an attractive individual. I also love how they express their support to an individual who experiences a lifechanging event – they show their sympathy and love for her through the tiniest of gestures. A new pencil. A new rubber. It’s adorable and something incredibly touching. This was a book where she got the juniors and got them really well.
Plus Bride, and her actions at the school assembly, remain outstanding.