After the first meeting, which was held in the croquet
ground after prep., it was quite twenty minutes before Barbara could get
to sleep that night.
. . . Nell stood up on the garden roller, and though she nearly tipped off several times, she made a splendid speech. It's a pity she wasn't a boy, and could go into Parliament, like her father. But perhaps girls will be able to by the time Nell Mainwairing is old enough.
(Florence Bone, Margot's Secret or The Fourth Form at Victoria College, S. W. Partridge & Co, London, 1910, pp122-3)
Rosemary Auchmuty and I both wanted to continue the principle
enshrined in the production of The Chalet School Revisited
of working with the fans to produce scholarly work rather than perpetuating
the traditional academic divide, as well as to stimulate a wider academic
debate about the genre. We therefore decided to hold a conference to mark
the publication of The Chalet School Revisited, on 3 December 1994,
involving fans as speakers as well as participants.
We were able to secure the Regent Street building of the
University of Westminster as the venue, which meant that we were able to
keep costs down to £10, and to use the University's facilities to
advertise the conference to other relevant institutions. We named the conference
Studying Girls' Popular Fiction, intending to have a broader remit
than Brent-Dyer and school stories alone. However, in fact the overwhelming
majority of those registering turned out to be members of Friends of the
Chalet School (FOCS), and so the conference became more tightly focused
on the Chalet School phenomenon.
In terms of speakers, first we asked each of the women who had contributed to The Chalet School Revisited to lead a workshop or to speak, together with Ann Mackie-Hunter and Fen Crosbie from the FOCS committee. We also invited the critic Mary Cadogan, the academics Lynette Muir, Fiona Cownie and Anne McGregor, and the biographer Hilary Clare, all of whom were involved in FOCS, and the modern girls' school story author Anne Digby. The final programme was as follows:
10.00-10.30am: Registration and coffee.
10.30-11.30am: Plenary session, chaired by Rosemary Auchmuty, with Mary Cadogan, Anne Digby, Helen McClelland and Sheila Ray.
11.45am-1.00pm: First workshop.
1.00-2.00pm: Lunch and book sale.
2.00-3.15pm: Second workshop.
3.30-4.30pm: Second plenary session, introduced by Ju Gosling and including the first showing of The Chalet School Revisited: The Movie.
For organisational purposes, we asked delegates to select four workshop choices in order of preference before registration, and we then attempted to ensure that every delegate was able to attend at least one of their first two choices. The workshops were as follows.
1. Gill Bilski: Why collect school stories?
2. Mary Cadogan: Change and challenge in girls' fiction over the last 150 years.
3. Mary Cadogan: The men who wrote for girls - a comparison with the women writers.
4. Hilary Clare: Some contemporaries of Elinor Brent-Dyer: Smith, Elder, Darch, Channon et al: contrasts and comparisons.
5. Fiona Cownie: "A solid lump of comfort": the role of marriage in the Chalet School books of EM Brent-Dyer.
6. Clarissa Cridland: Dustwrappers and illustrations in the books of Elinor Brent-Dyer.
7. Fen Crosbie: Joey's health (in the Chalet School books).
8. Polly Goerres: Elinor Brent-Dyer and Social Class.
9. Judith Humphrey: Liberating Images - Elinor Brent-Dyer and Religion.
10. Ann Mackie-Hunter: The poetry of Elinor Brent-Dyer.
11. Anne McGregor: Slang, Colloquialisms and Language Usage in the Chalet School books.
12. Lynette Muir: Writing a historical school story - a personal account.
13. Lynette Muir: "Round table or school desk": alternative realities in children's fiction.
14. Sue Sims: Sundry Series (a comparison of the Chalet School series with other girls' school story series).
Over 150 delegates attended the conference, the overwhelming majority of whom were women. Most completed a feedback form, from which the following extracts are taken.
What did you like best about the conference?
A once-and-for-all confirmation of the value and importance of this fiction. A real coming-out occasion - as if the subject has "grown up".
The all-pervading spirit of women's friendship, and the dual aspects of academic thought and leisure/enjoyment of the books.
Meeting people and talking about why they still read Chalet books.
The friendly atmosphere.
Meeting and exchanging views with people of like mind. The workshops were wonderful.
Being able to admit that yes, I do still read EBD etc without people thinking I'm mad!
All of it.
Restricted to two workshops.
Not enough time to talk during breaks, and therefore meet new people.
One day is too short.
Any suggestions for improvement at future events of this kind?
Make it a week long!
Perhaps a two-day conference.
Some delegates also sent separate letters, from which the following extracts are taken:
There was a buzz which I hadn't come across for a long time, and it was only going home when I realised what it was: a large gathering of all and only women together. It was lovely!
Thank you also for bringing so many of us "out of the closet". It's wonderful to exchange views with like-minded enthusiasts, and not to be looked down upon because what we like has to do with women and girls. Far too many of us have been brought up to undervalue ourselves and our influences.
The large attendance and the success of the day themselves meant a step forward. One significant factor must be that more women now have control over the money which allows them to come to such events, and can, where necessary, leave their husbands/families to cope.
Thanks for one of the most enjoyable conferences I've ever been to!
In all, the most common points delegates made were about:
the friendly atmosphere and the opportunity to meet other women; the desire
for a longer conference, perhaps residential; the desire to attend more
of the workshops than was possible; and the desire to attend another conference
the following year.
As a result, on 9 December 1995 we held a second Bettany Press conference: A Celebration of Girls' School Story Writers, this time in conjunction with the fan organisation The New Chalet Club. The conference was again held at the University of Westminster, this time in the School of Law in Red Lion Square. We restricted the advertising to members of the fan networks, since we knew that there was sufficient interest to fill the conference venue to capacity (around a hundred people), and that the fans had not had another opportunity that year to meet en masse. The programme was as follows:
10.00am: Registration, coffee, book sales.
10.30-12.30: First plenary session: Researching the Writers. Ju Gosling will chair a discussion session with Mary Cadogan, Hilary Clare and Sue Sims.
11.30am-1.00pm: First workshop session.
2.00-3.30pm: Second workshop session.
4.00-5.30pm: Second plenary session: Feedback from the workshops/future plans, chaired by Rosemary Auchmuty. [This substituted for the feedback forms used in the first conference.]
The workshops were:
Rosemary Auchmuty: Old Maids.
Hilary Clare: Chronologically Challenged: Antonia Forest and the passage of time.
Fen Crosbie: Character References: Where did she get that name?
Jill Eckersley: "Larks and Lemonade": A look at dating and romance in the Chalet School books and others.
Polly Goerres: Jean of Storms: Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's lost masterpiece.
Joanne Hedge: The Chalet School, Music and Elinor M. Brent-Dyer.
Philomena Jones: Fires, Fevers and Floods: Disasters in the Chalet, Abbey and other books.
Helen McClelland: Following the trail Behind the Chalet School.
Sue Sims: Talking Turkey: The descent from Condor Crags.
Keely Taylor: Dramatic Terms: Theatrical pursuits at school.
In April 1997, over 120 women attended the third conference
in Birmingham. This time it was organised solely by The New Chalet Club,
with both Auchmuty and myself attending as invited speakers only - we had
achieved our aim of working with the fans to produce scholarly work rather
than perpetuating the traditional academic divide.
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