First published 1974.
(Post edited to try and fix some formatting infelicities.)
( Chapter 1: Home— )
( Chapter Two ‘Interval’ )
( Chapter 3 – And Away )
Looking forward to seeing what everyone has to say!
We'll be beginning the readthrough again on 16th January, with Cricket Term. coughingbear, to whom thanks, has very kindly offered to write the discussion posts for this novel.
Jan 16th: Chapters 1-3
Jan 23rd: Chapters 4-6
Jan 30th: Chapters 7-9
Feb 6th: Chapters 10-12
As scarletlobster recently reminded me, seven years ago thewhiteowl and I were amusing ourselves by writing versions of the Marlows books in LOLCAT dialogue. (We never actually sourced any pictures of cats because it would have been too much work, and anyway, can you imagine the wars about whether Miss Ferguson should be a Scottish Fold or a foxy-looking ginger?)
As the fandom has been going through a renaissance due to lilliburlero and associates' great work on the readthroughs, I thought I'd link to the posts again so that people who missed them the first time round can share in the silliness.
Autumn Term, The Marlows And The Traitor, The Ready-Made Family, The Attic Term
Run Away Home
The Thuggery Affair
Falconer's Lure, End Of Term, The Cricket Term, Peter's Room
1. The Bronte discussion in the library in PR is fascinating but are we really supposed to agree with Karen that Gondal and Angria were a complete waste of time? Charlotte gave up Angria but it's an obvious influence on the Rochester backstory in Jane Eyre. I seem to remember from Juliet Barker's biography of the Brontes that Wuthering Heights is much more of a Gondal story than it seems as the Gondal setting was similar to Yorkshire. If Gondal and Angria were essential to the published works, weren't they a necessary part of the Brontes' creative development? Has critical opinion changed on this in the decades since PR was published?
2. When Peter pins Nicola down and twists her arm behind her back, it seems cruel and out of character for him. It could just be that he hasn't quite realised that he is getting too strong to fight with her like they did as children - but then I remembered that Foley does something similar to Nicola in TMATT and I wondered if Peter was subconsciously copying him. Foley gets mentioned in PR (because of the treachery theme coming up again I guess) and it's stated that Peter doesn't remember all that happened. I wondered if the arm-twisting incident was something he internalised and is now acting out - so that, whatever he says, Foley is still an influence on him.
3. Cricket Term - how far ahead is Karen planning? She tells Nicola that Colebridge Grammar is one of her arguments for staying in the Tranters' cottage. I wonder if she is looking ahead to starting a family of her own, because if they save on school fees and/or her family waive the rent for the cottage it makes it harder for Edwin to say they can't afford any more children. I can't see him being keen on going through the dirty nappy stage again and maybe she is already thinking how to counter his arguments?
Otherwise, I'm not sure why Karen is so keen to stay near to Trennels. Edwin doesn't get on that well with her family and you would think they'd do better making a fresh start further away.
In the words of Janice Scott, no less, Lawrie's Prosser was a "useful gimmick". How believable is the trap-for-heffalumps in the context of a school like Kingscote - or does it come across as a bit of a deus ex machina?
I was recently struck by a bit in the otherwise not especially informative Marlows and their Maker about the creation of Tim. Apparently AF was writing Autumn Term without her, and her friend (GB Stern) said why shouldn't the twins make use of being the head girls sisters, and how she had always wanted to read a school story with a headmistress's niece who did take full advantage - and hey, presto, the character was born. AF completely rewrote the book. And AF commented that she never really felt that Tim was one of "her" characters as a result.
Reading Autumn Term and End of Term, especially as a child, I never liked Tim. She could be so intensely, bitingly hateful to people (mainly Nicola). But rereading the early Marlow stories recently as an adult - Falconer's Lure and Marlows and the Traitor - I have been rather off put by the feel of the books, the undiluted establishment-y feel of the naval/gentry Marlows, and I wonder if what I am missing is Tim's presence, which adds that subversive voice? Without her, Autumn Term would be a very different book, and a lot duller. Then again, I prefer Cricket Term of the school stories, where Tim has moved somewhat to the sidelines - been tamed, almost. I'm not sure AF knows quite what to do with her, from that point. Will she become head girl? What will happen to her?
Any Tim haters/fans out there? What do you think?
I always thought Lois ended up killing herself, because she couldn't get over losing the cricket match. Everyone tells her it's not a matter of life and death, "but they were wrong". I haven't read 'Cricket Term' for about 25 years and I never owned it, but I remember rereading that section over and over and being absolutely chilled by it. Did I read too much into it? Also, given that she's extremely competitive and reasonably good at making excuses for herself and blaming others why doesn't she go on to great success in life?
For me she has been a favourite writer since I first encountered her books as a child. Some of her books I wasn’t able to find until I was an adult anyway, and I found them just as gripping. I think her biggest strengths are in her style, and the depth of her characterisation of a wide range of people. Almost no one is unambiguously good or bad in her books, and I’m able to understand and get involved with characters I don’t necessarily like as people, but find fascinating nonetheless. Even someone like Rowan, who is mainly and effectively held up as an admirable person, can and does hold grudges, make mistakes and mishandle people. I think one of Forest’s strengths is her ability – despite plainly having strong views on many things – not necessarily to have her favourite characters share her beliefs, or give one the sense that the world she’s created is being forced into shape to vindicate them. She does I think fail at this in her handling of Ann in Run Away Home and in the accounts given of the post-Conciliar Catholic church particularly in Attic Term – though to the extent that the latter come from Patrick, I think they are in character. Nicola shares some of her enthusiasms – for the Navy, Nelson, and Hornblower for example – but that works very differently.
I don’t rate all the books equally highly, but even those which I consider lesser, such as Thuggery Affair have some scenes I’d be very reluctant to lose, like the canoe trip at the beginning. Though I think Thuggery Affair has too much plot, and that plotting is not one of her strengths. Instead, she’s good at themes, like death and betrayal in Falconer’s Lure and Peter’s Room. In fact I wonder if the school/family story genre suits her partly because it is rather episodic, and I think her best books (Cricket Term, End of Term, Falconer’s Lure) are episodic. There is drama, there are crises, but nothing is fully resolved and other bits of life are always going on around the big moments.
One other aspect which came up on girlsown was whether school stories as a genre are generally not that good when compared to other children’s or adult literature. Thinking about other books than Forest’s with a strong school aspect which I would put on any list of good books, as opposed perhaps to my favourite school stories (not that I am any good at lists, they change every time I make them), I’ve come up with the following on a first think; books that have a strong shape and feel in my mind still, even though I may not have read them for many years:
Frost in May, Antonia White
Charlotte Sometimes, Penelope Farmer
Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfeild
Swarm in May, William Mayne
Nightwatch Winter, Jenny Overton
(ETA: Am temporarily deleting my lj as I need not to be distracted at the moment; I will be back.)
I just moved to America (okay, it's not quite a desert island) and had to make agonising choices about which books to bring. Specifically about which AF books to bring. My final list was: The Cricket Term, The Attic Term, Falconer's Lure, Run Away Home and Players Boy. The last one made it because it's new and I've only read it a couple of times. I'm starting to wonder if I'll miss End of Term when it gets nearer Christmas. But the others are just books I can't live without.
So which would make it onto your list?
1. In Cricket Term, Miss Kempe suggests that Lawrie read Fellowship of the Ring to give her a better idea of the sort of creatures Ariel is. On which creatures do you think she wanted Lawrie to model her performance? Surely not the hobbits, who are of the rustic, earthy persuasion. But who, then? The Black Riders fit the "almost immortal but less than human" bill, but they're also menacing and creepy, which Ariel isn't (not from my dimly remembered reading of him, anyway). The ethereal, melodious elves, perhaps? (I also wonder about AF's take on LOTR, writing that into Cricket Term. Did she read much fantasy?)
2. In Ready-Made Family, Peter refers to Edwin several times as "your old man". Are there parts of the Anglophone world where "your old man" is used for "your husband", or is Peter using it in a more literal sense, because to him Edwin is so old? In Australia, "your old man" is, as far as I know, only ever used to mean "your father".
I was reading The Cricket Term lately, and noticed particularly Jan's response to Nicola's attempt to thank her for having been kind when N is shocked by her mother's letter telling her she's possibly in her final term at Kingscote. Nicola says (again, I haven't got my copy to hand, so am not claiming accuracy)'Thanks, Jan [...] I know you don't like to be bothered.' Jan is portrayed as being genuinely bemused by this, as apparently she has been by various staff comments down the years to the effect that she is uncommitted, uninterested (plus a couple of adjectives I can't remember). Certainly, she is always portrayed as utterly neutral, apparently contentedly isolated, completely self-reliant. Is she really so unaware of her own effect, given that she is presented as an excellent reader of others, whether Lois's machinations, Nicola's sensibilities, or staff moods?
Also, do we intuit a subtext giving some context for Jan's isolation? I can't remember which novel includes the reminiscence about her refusal to do voluntary weeding and being marked down thereafter as an unco-operative type, but in Cricket Term we get Rowan's brief account of Jan's background (father a surgeon in Lincolnshire, presumably why he doesn't attend the play, leaving Jan to talk briefly to Rowan and make her 'unobtrusive exit') and her apparent motherlessness, with the possibility that the absent mother is not dead but Mad or Criminal, or Adulterously Elsewhere? (A propos of not much, AF can be rather harsh on mothers - Esther's is 'no nicer than Nicola expected', Helena Merrick is a cypher, also disliked by N, Edward Oeschli's mother doesn't come up trumps, Miranda is dubious about her mother, Pam Marlow is another cypher, and Madame Orly is from hell...)
In a set of novels full of characters getting madly involved in everything from the tidiness picture to the diving cup, and where people are continually looking at lists to see if they're in plays or on teams, the only other character who at all resembles Jan for uninvolvement is Latimer, the gorgeous Jersey cow, too lesirely to scold, but both are depicted as admirable.
Anyway, thoughts on Jan?
I've just been on a re-read of my books, and something struck me about the Marlow parents - they don't actually seem to know their children all that well. Maybe it's just a generation gap, or mabye it's because the children are away at boarding schools so much, or maybe it is something about their characters - they are not very observant or involved parents, at the least.
For example: Mrs Marlow gives the twins the lovely party dresses in Run Away Home, because (paraphrasing) "Karen/Rowan(?) commented how awful it must be for the two of you always having second-hand clothes". Why was it one of them who needed to point that out? Surely any fairly obvservant parent might have noticed that fact herself? Another example: When she writes to Nicola about leaving Kingscote, while she knows Nicola enough to know that she's the more sensible one and the better choice to have to leave, she doesn't really know how Nicola will react - again, it's Rowan who tells her Mum that Nicola would rather know if it was a possibility. Even back in Autumn Term and the twins are describing the Court of Honour, it's one of the others (can't remember who) and not the parents, that "suddenly sees how it had been", how the filthy full dress and formality of it all had made Lawrie tearful and Nicola tongue-tied, and the parents have to have it spelled out. It's Ann who notices that Nick is upset by the other laughing at their efforts to be credits to the family. There are various other examples as well, including some about the other children, where the parents ask "dumb" questions and the other children fill them in on what the other one is thinking or feeling. I can't think of many right now, as it's the Nick ones that stick in my mind, since I have most sympathy for her being misunderstood, but I remember noticing them when I was reading that it happened to the others as well.
The parents don't seem to have nearly as good a grasp on the emotional lives of their children as I might have expected: they don't know why they're reacting in a certain way, they don't see beyond the surface, they aren't as good at predicting how a particular one will react, etc.
On the other hand, I have never been to a boarding school, and I've never had children, so the separation from the parents/lots of time spent with sisters, and the generation gap, might have much stronger effects than I realised, and maybe it's not specially the parents' fault.
For that matter, should Lawrie have been given the Prosser? (I know this wasn't her parents' decision, I'm just interested whether people think it was a good judgement call on the part of the staff.)
In a similar vein, what about the horse business in Peter's Room? Was it fair that their mother bought Ginty a horse for her birthday, and said no-one else was to ride it? Was it reasonable to buy herself one before ensuring the children all had equal access to a horse for hunting? In effect, she created a situation where one daughter was the only one in the family who was unable to go hunting (without hiring a horse), which seems harsh to me. But then, I'm from a small family where such unequality with gifts never happened - is this normal for a large family? Was Lawrie's reaction reasonable, or did other readers take it as just one more example of her throwing whiny tantrums?
These two occasions seemed to me to best illustrate Mrs. Marlow's failings as a mother (and also perhaps where the children got their selfishness) - I wondered if anyone else felt the same.
Can anyone else think of any other examples of this kind of thing? Or of fairer treatment?