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The Oberammagau Passion Play and the Chalet School

It’s no secret that we support the works of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer on this blog (and if it is, then welcome! stay! let us talk about romantic omelettes and improbable speedboat shenanigans!), and the Chalet School books in particular. One of the earlier titles in this sprawling series, The Chalet School And Jo, is of interest to us today. It sees the girls attend the Passion Play at Oberammagau – a ‘once every decade’ piece of theatre that retells the story of the Passion.

I was reminded of this book this week. I was finishing off a research job at the British Library (hire me! I’m very good!) and as is the way when you’re a big nerd, taking some time afterwards to look through the material on my own behalf. The paper was The Wearside Catholic News (1910) and it was fascinating – though I have to admit, the photos of Archduke Franz Ferdinand were quite startling. But that’s research; sometimes you see people before they become history.

I found some rather brilliant reports of the Oberammagau Passion Play and thought instantly of The Chalet School and Jo. I was particularly enamoured to find mention of some of the characters that Brent-Dyer herself references. Here they are. The Wearside Catholic News was a weekly paper and these are all from July 1910. I hope the photographs are legible!

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The Chalet School and Jo : Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

The Chalet School and Jo (The Chalet School, #7)The Chalet School and Jo by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Destined for head-girl ever since day one, she’s finally done it. The Chalet School and Jo sees Joey assume the mantle of head girl. She’s not happy at the prospect and goes off grumbling to the intensely serene now-married-and-making-of-the-babies former head Girl Gisela. Gisela puts Joey on the right track, and Joey sets about making her term a success.

However. There’s worries about the Robin’s health, there’s a raven haired Irish orphaline with a begorrah-worthy accent wandering the Platz and those pesky Middles are being, well, pesky. Who knows how things are going to end up?

Well, to be frank, we all do, because we know how the system works by now. The middles, even at this early stage in the series, are tempestuous souls and their activities in this book are a bit amazing. We have the (soon to become legendary) Oberammergau incident, and also the Biddy-in-the-shed incident. It’s sort of glorious and bonkers all at the same time (and if that’s not a good way to describe the Chalet School series as a whole, then I’ll hand in my book-nerd badge at the door).

Coupled with this though is the story of Robin. Brent-Dyer wrote life, when it dances on the edge of death, so very very well and this book sees some of her finest work. There are points in it, full of stillness and pain, that make me weep. And I imagine they’ll always make me weep.

But then, in comparison with that, we have the odd little romance subplot between Juliet and A.N. Other. (“She’s left school! Marry her off!”) It’s a constant fascination to me how Brent-Dyer kept these distinct tonal opposites in complete harmony. It’s a skill that even she lost eventually (evidence a: “I take it we’re engaged? Like it darling?”)

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