THE CHALET SCHOOL REVISITED
This is a proposal for an 80,000 word book celebrating the life and work of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer (1894-1969), jointly edited by Rosemary Auchmuty and Ju Gosling.
Background to the Proposal
1994 is the centenary of the birth of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, author of the Chalet School series of books for girls. Beginning in 1925 with The School at the Chalet and ending six months after Brent-Dyer's death with the posthumous publication of Prefects of the Chalet School in 1970, the series numbers 59 books in all and is the longest girls' school story series ever written.
The series' popularity is unprecedented, with current sales ranging from 150,000 to 200,000 a year in Armada paperback. The books are not just popular with girls; two fan clubs, each with their own magazine, were established in the early 1990s by adult women collectors, and there are similar clubs overseas in Australasia and South Africa.
Until recently the books have had almost no critical attention, and have been largely dismissed by academics. However, this began to change in 1992 with the publication of Rosemary Auchmuty's A World of Girls (The Women's Press) and the submission of Ju Gosling's M.A. thesis A World of Girls - Schoolgirl fiction: Genre, Femininity and the Chalet School. Ju Gosling is now exploring the reasons for the genre's popularity as a PhD student in the Department of Communication and Image Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury, and Rosemary Auchmuty is continuing to write and lecture about the books.
Academic interest in the books has never been greater than today, with several students known to be writing theses on related topics. A conference attracting students and academics from Women's Studies and related disciplines is planned for late 1994, organised by Rosemary Auchmuty and Ju Gosling.
The Chalet School Revisited will capitalise on the growing interest in girls' school stories and specifically on the interest generated by the centenary of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's birth (a committee of collectors is organising celebratory events throughout the year, and the possibility of producing a television documentary is also being explored). While aimed primarily at Women's Studies and Cultural Studies students and academics together with collectors, the approach of the book will be such that it will be of interest to any woman who has read books from the series (probably a majority of British women) and it should also prove useful in school and F.E. settings.
The Chalet School Revisited will add an up-to-date contribution, with new information and insights, to the growing literature of women-centred approaches to popular fiction. It will collect together work by the leading authorities in the field of girls' school stories, representing a variety of viewpoints including those of biographer, librarian, feminist historian, dealer, collector and enthusiast. Using the Chalet School series as their focus, contributors to the book will analyse the characteristics and concerns of the genre as a whole, as well as exploring issues relating to its popularity.
The Chalet School Revisited will contain eight contributions of between 8,000-10,000 words, together with an introduction written by Editors Rosemary Auchmuty and Ju Gosling. This format will be more accessible than a book of similar length written by one author, as each part will function independently and as a whole should also cover a wider range of issues and interests. The proposed contents are as follows:
Introduction by the Editors, including: the history and critical reception of the genre; a description and discussion of the Chalet School series; the rationale for this book and for the choice of contributors and their contributions; and the location of the book within feminist approaches to popular culture, particularly in terms of collaboration between academics and enthusiasts.
An overview of the life and work of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, including a discussion of the process of researching into girls' school story authors and the reasons for some of the difficulties found - Helen McClelland
A discussion of the nature of and the reasons for the continuing appeal of the Chalet School series, using primary experiences (including the writer's own) as well as critical analyses - Polly Goerres
The literary context of the Chalet School series, including literary influences on the series, literary references made in the series, and literary critical responses to the series (particularly those of the library movement) - Sheila Ray
A discussion of the educational and moral philosophy
represented in the Chalet School series, the extent to which this reflected
the philosophy of real girls' schools of the period, and the significance
- Ju Gosling
An examination of the real-life girls' organisations represented in the Chalet School series and other girls school stories, and of the nature and significance of that representation - Rosemary Auchmuty
A discussion of the representation of religion in the Chalet School series and in girls' school stories as a whole, with reference to the links between twentieth century girls' schools and convents and to the part religion played in real girls' schools - Judith Humphrey
An exploration of the meaning of the popularity of the series within the genre of girls' school stories, with special reference to the Chalet School series. This will include a discussion about the comparable popularity of television soap operas among women today - Sue Sims
An analysis of the appeal of collecting girls' school stories, particularly the Chalet School series, of the part the books play in collectors' lives and of the reasons why collectors have launched no less than two Chalet School fanzines since the late 1980s - Gill Bilski
Notes on contributors
Annotated bibliography, including: the complete works of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer (Helen McClelland); notes on the differences between first and later editions (Sue Sims); notes about the dustwrappers (Clarissa Cridland); and critical studies of girls school stories, with comments by the Editors
Resource list for researchers, including details and addresses of magazines, clubs, library collections and dealers
Why the book will be original
It won't . . .
* Use a discussion of girls' school stories as an opportunity for an easy laugh and sneer.
* Patronise the books and their readers, assuming that popular culture is unworthy of serious discussion and its readers must be pitied and/or condescended to.
* Be an "academic" analysis of the books which substitutes postmodern jargon for content.
It will . . .
* Be written from the inside, by women who love the books, not from the outside by writers who do not share their readers' enthusiasm.
* Be lively, interesting and accessible, demonstrating that analytical, scholarly, feminist work in cultural theory and criticism does not have to be difficult to understand.
* Focus on the texts, their authors, critical responses, the history of the genre, its readership, the research process, and the books' meaning today and in the past; in other words, it will take a more comprehensive look at the varieties of ways of viewing and using girls' school stories than other books have done.
By including accounts by a number of authorities from different viewpoints, it will demonstrate that . . .
* It is possible to produce useful and scholarly work by means of a collaboration between those within and outside the academic world.
* The categories of researcher and fan are not mutually exclusive, as past studies of popular fiction have seemed to suggest.
* We can work together with mutual respect, sharing ideas and learning from each other.
The book should appeal to a large and varied market, encompassing fans and feminists, librarians, Cultural and Women's Studies teachers and students, and the general reader (groupings which, as the contributors themselves demonstrate, are not mutually exclusive). Dealers will promote it, fans will have to have it (there is so little currently available on girls' school stories that they tend to snap up everything that comes out). Academics will set in on their courses, students will appreciate its clarity. Last but not least, general readers will pick it up and read it for fun. The Chalet School Revisited will be a definitive Women's Studies text that also makes sense and speaks to us all.
About the contributors
Rosemary Auchmuty teaches Law and Women's Studies at the University of Westminster. She is the author of A World of Girls: The appeal of the girls' school story (The Women's Press, 1992).
Gill Bilski is a collector of and dealer in girls' school stories, and is the editor of the British edition of Friends of the Chalet School magazine.
Clarissa Cridland has worked in children's book publishing for many years, and is one of the organisers of the Elinor M. Brent-Dyer centenary celebrations.
Polly Goerres wrote her undergraduate dissertation on the popularity of the Chalet School series, and is one of the organisers of the Elinor M. Brent-Dyer centenary celebrations.
Ju Gosling was awarded an M.A. by Independent Study in 1992 by the University of East London for her thesis on the Chalet School. She is currently researching into the genre of girls' school stories for her PhD thesis in the Department of Communication and Image Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury.
Judith Humphrey is writing her PhD thesis for the Open University on girls' school stories, specialising in the Chalet School series. A teacher of French, she is also a keen collector.
Helen McClelland is Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's biographer, and is the author of Behind the Chalet School (New Horizon, 1981) and Elinor M, Brent-Dyer's Chalet School (Armada, 1989).
Sheila Ray writes regularly on the subject of girls' school stories and is the author of The Blyton Phenomenon (Andre Deutsch, 1982). A former librarian, she is also a keen collector.
Sue Sims is a collector and dealer of girls' school stories, and is the editor of Folly magazine (Friends of Light Literature for the Young). She teaches English Literature at a College of Further Education.
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