II. 1990s Women Fans

Collecting children's books first became a "mainstream" activity for British adults in 1932, when the National Book Council organised a children's book week and arranged an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to illustrate the history of children's books. At this point, a "correspondent" in the Times Literary Supplement of 17 November 1950 estimated that: "it is doubtful whether at that time there were in England more than a dozen collectors interested in the whole field of children's literature" (pxvii). However, 1932 marked a turning point, and by the 1970s children's book collecting was established as a "respectable", if somewhat odd, hobby. (Indeed, my own collecting habit was inspired by the father of a schoolfriend, a primary-school headmaster who owned a collection of boys' school stories in the 1970s.)

It was inevitable that both a collecting network and a secondhand bookdealing network would emerge as a result of this shared activity, and many collectors themselves eventually became dealers, as Gill Bilski describes in "Confessions of a Chalet School Collector".

These networks were often hidden from view, but longstanding friendships grew up as a result of shared interests in particular types of children's book, along with a growing body of knowledge about the texts. This was as true of popular children's stories as of the "good" books.

By the time of Brent-Dyer's death, the rise of children's book criticism (see 7: II. The Critics of Girls' School Stories, 1949-1995) had meant that a number of societies had been established to promote "good" children's books. For example, the Children's Book Circle was set up in 1962, originally restricting its membership to those working in publishing, and giving the Eleanor Farjeon Award annually for "distinguished services to children's books". In 1968, the Federation of Children's Book Groups was founded as a registered charity "to promote an awareness of the importance of children's literature principally amongst parents", sponsoring the annual Children's Book Award. And in 1970, the Children's Books History Society was established as a British branch of a Canadian organisation, aiming "to promote an appreciation of children's books and to study their history, bibliography and literary content, and encourage the distribution and exchange of information on the history of children's literature". Clearly, though, there was no place in any of these organisations for the collectors of girls' school stories.

By the early 1970s, however, fantasy and comic readers and collectors - then perceived mostly to be men, although this may well be inaccurate - had begun to set up their own societies, stressing the literary and/or artistic nature of their collections. The Tolkien Society and the Lewis Carroll Society were founded in 1969; the British Fantasy Society was founded in 1971; the Mervyn Peake Society was founded in 1975; and the Association of Comics Enthusiasts was founded in 1978. It was only in the 1980s, though, that popular children's fiction gained its own organisations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her status as a "classic" children's author, one of the first of these societies was the Beatrix Potter Society, which was founded in 1980 with the aim of promoting "the study and appreciation of the life and works of Beatrix Potter as author, artist, diarist, farmer and conservationist". Another early society was The Followers of Rupert, founded in 1983 "to promote and co-ordinate the appreciation of the stories of Rupert Bear, and to provide facilities for the exchange of relevant information and material". Fans of Richmal Crompton, author of the "Just William" books, also began, in 1983, to meet annually on the last Saturday in April, although no formal organisation was formed.

Then, in 1985, the first of the societies was launched for a popular woman author who wrote principally for girls: the Violet Needham Society. Since Needham's books were also read by boys and collected by men, and the stories often have historical settings, perhaps Needham was perceived as being more "respectable" than the authors of girls' school stories; however, many of Needham's fans also collected the genre. The Violet Needham Society was:

Thus the society set the pattern for the modern fan clubs of reclaiming the author as a "good" writer; of bringing together fans to meet other collectors and to exchange views about the author; of organising trips for fans to sites associated with the author, particularly those where her stories are set; of encouraging and publishing research about the author and her books; of maintaining a library so that rare texts are freely available to fans; and of publishing a regular newsletter. This was possible first, because, rather than the collectors being the children at whom the books were originally aimed, they were now adults, and second because of the new technologies of word-processing, desktop publishing and faxes, which meant that fans could communicate and control the publishing process themselves at a reasonably cheap cost; no official sanction was now needed. The establishment of the Violet Needham Society also reflected the fact that there were now at least hundreds of collectors of girls' books, principally of girls' school stories, who would pay high prices to obtain copies of their favourite books in prized editions - hundreds of pounds, in some cases.

The first of the Elsie Jeanette Oxenham societies was also launched in 1985: not in Britain, as might have been expected; but in Australia. There had always been fans of girls' school stories in English-speaking parts of the former British Empire, where for many decades Britain was spoken of as "home". Given that the vast majority of these readers had no external experience of Britain, their image of the "mother country" remained imaginary, and it is probable that the imaginary world of the stories became conflated to some extent with this. For example, Rosemary Auchmuty writes that: "I came to live in England in 1978 - drawn I am sure by the idealised picture I had gleaned from school stories." (A World of Girls, The Women's Press, 1992, p3) These fans' experiences cannot, therefore, be regarded as having entirely the same cultural significance as that of the British fans.

The Abbey Girls of Australia began as a circle of three friends with a mutual interest in collecting Oxenham's books. However, following a formal launch by Val Shelley in May 1985, by 1989 the Abbey Girls had nearly two hundred members, with annual gatherings and a regular newsletter, The Abbey Guardian. Individual groups of readers also met regularly, centred around their geographic location, and some members produced craftwork inspired by the books. As with Oxenham's Abbey girls, the members also began to elect their own May Queens, and to recreate the ceremonies described in the books. In 1989, the Abbey Girls of Australia were then joined by the newsletter The Abbey Gatehouse in New Zealand, and by the Elsie Jeanette Oxenham Society, who published The Abbey Chronicle, in the UK. This latter society was founded by Olga Kendell and Monica Godfrey, and arose as a result of a growing awareness of the Australian society among UK fans, who were already meeting informally through the collecting and dealing networks.

Then, in September 1990, Sue Sims and Belinda Copson launched the newsletter Folly (Fans of Light Literature for the Young) in the UK, published, as with Souvenir and The Abbey Chronicle, three times a year. The aims were described in the first issue as being:

Sims and Copson explicitly rejected the values of the mainstream collecting networks.

Readers were instead asked to produce articles which focused on themselves as collectors and their interests. For example, articles about:

In addition, Folly would include information for collectors, including who was looking for what book, who produced sales lists, and which dealers should be avoided (for example, because of failure to deliver books). However, from the beginning Folly also included serious articles about girls' books and their authors, and soon became the main vehicle for the publication of research in this field. Much of this research was carried out by the editors, along with biographer Hilary Clare. Folly also published parodies of the genre and collecting, which demonstrated that the readers were well aware of the perceived literary and political weaknesses of the genre and demonstrated that fans could move between taking an ironic and an uncritical attitude towards the genre (for a detailed discussion of these, see 8: V. The Parodies of Girls' School Stories, Women's Parodies); .

Once at the forefront of the organised fan movement, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School fans were now in danger of being left behind. The desire for an organisation of some sort had been clearly identified, though, as collector/dealer Gill Bilski explains in "Confessions of a Chalet School Collector": "After all, many of the others, such as Elsie Oxenham and Violet Needham, had been out of print for years, whereas the Chalet School stories were still being published in paperback and bought. However, no one was willing to take it on." Bilski explains that:


The fact that other, similar newsletters were already in existence meant that there was a simple way for Mackie Hunter, a history teacher, to advertise her newsletter (slogan: "Onwards and Upwards") to other self-identified fans of girls' school stories. Specialist publications also allowed her to target collectors, and in addition there was some mainstream media interest from the women's press. Bilski explains that: "Two of the Oxenham newsletters, the Abbey Guardian and the Abbey Chronicle, advertised FOCS and the membership grew, mainly from Australia but a handful from the UK, New Zealand and Canada. An advertisement in the Australian Women's Weekly and the Bookseller and Publisher in Australia brought in more new members." (pp301-2) Alongside the growth in membership generally, the role of the UK membership began to grow, largely due to Bilski.


In 1992, fandom was acknowledged in the mainstream media - and thus became visible for the first time - when university librarian Barbara Inglis took as her specialist subject "The Life and Chalet School Novels of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer" on the BBC television quiz programme Mastermind. Prior to this fans had remained largely invisible even to the academics who were collecting and studying the genre. For example, in 1990 Kimberley Reynolds wrote that: "To the best of my knowledge, the phenomenon of adults annexing books written for girls is unknown." Auchmuty and myself also became aware of their existence only in 1992 following the publication by The Women's Press of Auchmuty's A World of Girls, the content of which prompted fans - who were naturally wary of critics - to make contact.

By 1993, the majority of FOCS members were based in the UK, and the organisation had also widened. Bilski explains that:


In 1992, the growth of the Chalet fan movement internationally had also been given impetus by plans to celebrate Brent-Dyer's birth centenary in 1994. The fan who played the leading role in organising the centenary celebrations was Polly Goerres, a Jaguar Cars executive.

Rather than being someone from the bookdealing network, this person was Clarissa Cridland, rights manager for an international publishers and a self-identified fan and collector of the genre. In 1994, she explained her reasons for becoming involved with organising the centenary celebrations as follows:


So who were the adult fans at this time, and what did they have in common? Lawrence Grossberg notes that:

However, Helen McClelland records that:

To this I would add that the fans included a number of lesbian and bisexual women and a number of disabled women. Henry Jenkins has noted that:


However, although Gill Frith found in the early 1980s that British girls with ethnic minority backgrounds read and enjoyed school stories, and while a number of Black women have commented to me that they enjoyed - or still enjoy - the books, only a tiny number of fans from these backgrounds was visible during the fan activities in which I participated. Black women's experiences of and perspectives on reading girls' school stories have not yet been represented within the fan movement studied here, nor within the critical world. (The absence of British fans with an Afro-Caribbean background was particularly striking because the other common element in fandom was that the large majority of the fans were Christians, reflecting the books' content as well as the religious networks which had been used to establish the Club.) Since the Chalet School books themselves are avowedly anti-racist, and since Brent-Dyer had educated two of the grand-daughters of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia within her school, it seems likely that one reason for the absence of Black fans was the invisibility of FOCS outside a white women's minority culture. Aside from the publishing world, the networks available to fans to contact each other were those which were based away from the cities and had their roots in white British culture.

The fact that the majority of fans were female would seem self-evident, given that the genre is aimed at girls, forefronts female experiences and is generally ridiculed by men. (Unsuprisingly, the minority of male fans have received a disproportionate amount of media attention.) However, to some extent it is also true that book collecting is a particularly acceptable hobby for women. Shopping plays a key element in collecting; and both buying and selling can take place from the home. Like other objects, the collections can be displayed in the home; taking care of the collection, in fact, involves housework such as dusting. When collectors do meet each other, it is generally in the safe, enclosed environment of the book fair or fan meeting; and partners and families, where fans have them, do not seem to feel threatened by these activities.

Ultimately, then, fans had little in common aside from being mostly white women who were avid readers and who had access to the networks by which news of the fan movement had spread: principally the secondhand bookdealing network, linked to the Provincial Book Collectors' Fairs; the Women's Institute; the Church of England; and the publishing world itself. They also tended to be women who read widely and extensively rather than exclusively reading children's books, and who collected other types of books as well. Goerres adds that: "The majority seem to be women who are rather forceful characters, by which I do not mean bossy.". There was little sign of them being "dull daydreamers", as Nicholas Tucker characterised girl fans in 1970. Rather, analysis seemed to support claims by "filkers" (science fiction fans who produce music related to their fandom) that fans: "are not simply dreamers who maintain the imagination and idealism of their childhood; they are also 'doers' who envision a better world and are working to transform those dreams into a reality." For example, Colette Tunley, who describes herself as "a pretty average person - very conventional and a conformist, not a radical in any way", actually "went into social work, and now train[s] social work students" (private correspondence).

The fan movement itself now played a much larger role in the organisation than with the original Chalet Club, and the social aspects of it were central. John Fiske has noted that: "Indeed, much of the pleasure of fandom lies in the fan talk that it produces." In 1994, Bilski explained the aim of Friends of the Chalet School as being:

Jenkins, offering a model of fandom, gives one of fandom's characterising features as being that:


A typical local group was the one in Edinburgh, established by full-time parent Fen Crosbie. In 1994, she explained that:

Rather than being social occasions which are unconnected with the books, though, Jenkins points out that fan meetings and newsletters are used to develop collective readings of the texts.


It should be stressed here that the fans were not primarily women who lacked friends, or who were uninvolved with other social networks. Many were prominent in girls and women's organisations, the Church of England and the Catholic Church. However, the theme of pleasure at meeting other fans was a constant one in the fans' correspondence with Friends of the Chalet School, with their common fandom rather than social contact per se being given as the reason for this pleasure. In 1994, Goerres explained that: "So many people thought that they were the only ones, they thought they were mad to be still reading them into their adulthood. And people write in and say 'I thought I was a nutcase because I still read children's books', but then now we can welcome them aboard and say 'yes, we all do it', and it's a wonderful feeling." (The Chalet School Revisited, FOCS 3)

There were many reasons why other fans would not come out, though, including the fact that keeping their reading private may have added to their pleasure.

That there were many collectors "in the closet" originally was shown by the effects of the publicity for the Elinor M. Brent-Dyer centenary celebrations. FOCS gained its 500th member just before the Hereford weekend, and by the autumn, Bilski wrote that:

Goerres points out that this did not necessarily mean that members felt comfortable telling others about their reading habits.

Other collectors had felt it necessary to hide their habits unless and until they had daughters of their own, as Jenny Davis and her nine-year-old daughter Rachel explained in 1994.


Once in contact with Friends of the Chalet School, though, many fans risked possible ridicule in order to meet with other members. According to anecdotal evidence, a substantial number of people who had known about FOCS previously to 1994 joined only when they were offered the opportunity to meet with other fans during the centenary celebrations. Another reason for the growth in membership prior to more widespread publicity, though, must have been the fact that Goerres and Cridland had been able to summon official support for the celebrations: from local authorities who were interested in the tourism potential of fandom; and from publishers who were interested in the growth in sales which fandom might generate. As with the original Chalet Club, the role of market forces was crucial here in giving credibility to fandom.

Combined with the huge interest from fans, the centenary events became much more extensive than Goerres and Cridland had originally envisaged, which initiated further publicity for the fan movement. McClelland records that:


This final event was prompted by the fans' discovery that Brent-Dyer had been buried in an unmarked grave and that no memorial had ever been erected to her. Along with the unveiling of the two commemorative plaques in South Shields and Hereford, the erection and blessing of the headstone was symbolic, both of the fans' reclaiming of Brent-Dyer and her importance in twentieth-century British and other girls' lives, and of the deep respect which they had for her. Mayor-Elect of Hereford Kit Gundy, who knew Brent-Dyer personally, summed up fans' sentiments prior to unveiling the commemorative plaque in Hereford: "For all the pleasure she has given to so many of us over so many years, it's only fitting that there should be a permanent memorial to her." (The Chalet School Revisited, Hereford 1)

The nature and extent of the national publicity which these activities received should be noted here. On 22 March 1994, The Times carried an article by male fan Martin Spence, entitled "A heroine for the next century", which took up almost half a page. This provided a serious summary of Brent-Dyer's life and of the contents of the series, although Spence was careful to distinguish Brent-Dyer from "the sentimental Angela Brazil and the saccharine Elsie Oxenham". Similarly, on 25 March, the Times Educational Supplement carried a half-page article by critic Mary Cadogan entitled "Chalet schoolgirls for ever" (pXII). This summarised Brent-Dyer's life alongside the series, and while sending up certain elements common to the genre as a whole, noted that "her books have acquired far greater resilience than those of [Brazil, Oxenham and Bruce]". Brent-Dyer had now been awarded the contradictory status of being a "good" author of a "bad" genre.

On 7 April 1994, the day following the plaque unveiling in South Shields, the Guardian carried a photograph by Ted Ditchburn and a report by Martin Wainwright in their Home News section, occupying around a sixth of a page (p8). This was light-hearted in tone - "[Brent-Dyer] created a cheery, eager world for girls" - but made no attempt to ridicule the fans or their activities. At the end of the week, the Guardian then published a travel feature by Spence in their Weekend section (9 April 1994, pp42-3), aimed at fans who wished to visit the Austrian sites which had inspired the series. And on 10 April 1994, The Observer published an article by Geraldine Brennan in their review section (pp4-5), entitled "So jolly without those hockey sticks". Brennan began by identifying herself as being a fan when a child: "I, like millions of young readers before me, longed to be a Chalet School girl." She then produced a serious report about fandom and the centenary celebrations, and details of FOCS and the Edinburgh exhibition were given at the end. Fandom of Brent-Dyer, at least, had become semi-respectable.

What characterises modern fandom? As with the original Chalet Club News Letter, the content of the Friends of the Chalet School newsletter quickly became established, as Bilski explains.

This was very similar to the content of the original Chalet Club News Letter (see previous lexia), but the "experts" were now the fans rather than Brent-Dyer herself. Likewise The New Chalet Club Journal, launched in autumn 1995, was composed of the following articles during its first five issues:


The location or setting of the books themselves had always held a fascination for the fans (see McClelland on the Chalet Club News Letter), and many had tried to trace the real-life sites which had inspired the books as well as visiting the sites associated with Brent-Dyer's own life. This is a common literary phenomenon for fans of both popular and "classic" fiction, enthusiastically encouraged by tourism officials (South Shields itself is on the border of "Catherine Cookson Country", and produced a leaflet for Brent-Dyer's centenary entitled: "Another literary daughter of South Tyneside"). Mo Everett, a teacher on the Channel Island of Guernsey, spent a great deal of time in the early 1990s in tracing the settings of Brent-Dyer's "second series", the "La Rochelle" books, and then created a tour of the sites for the centenary celebration weekend in September 1994.


Once again, officialdom had proved happy to co-operate with the fans and to further their interests, thus giving status and backing to their activities as well as support for the imaginative reality of the series. Likewise, South Shields and Hereford City Councils co-operated to produce maps of their associated sites to aid fans, and in April 1994 Goerres and Cridland organised visits to these sites as part of the centenary celebrations, which further brought the scenes to life. As well as being associated with Brent-Dyer's own life, Hereford and the "Golden Valley" was where the "Armishire" part of the Chalet School series had been set, and fan Beth Varcoe and her husband David produced a commemorative guide, The Romance and the Reality. In 1994, they explained that:


Although Brent-Dyer herself had revealed the identity of the site where the Austrian books were set in the Chalet Club News Letter, prior to this fans had been equally excited when they discovered the setting for themselves. McClelland recalls that:


The fascination with this site in particular had meant that many fans had visited Pertisau since the 1960s, and in 1992 the first organised trip for fans had taken place, organised by Daphne Paintin Barfoot, a retired teacher. Barfoot had founded another Chalet School newsletter, The Chaletian(named after the Chalet girls' school magazine), in 1991. In 1994, she explained that:


In fact, by 1994 Barfoot had married and this, combined with the success of FOCS, had made her decide to close her newsletter. First, however, she planned a second visit to Achensee. "At the time when I planned it I didn't realise it was the centenary of the author's birth, but I did know it was the 70th anniversary of her first visit to Austria." Thus, in May 1994, twelve women accompanied her to spend ten days visiting Chalet School-related sites. Barfoot identified the appeal of the visit as follows:

Visiting the sites, then, especially in the company of other fans, helped to heighten the imaginative reality of the books for readers.

For some fans, this effect was deepened because they could relate their own school experiences to those represented in the Chalet School series, recalling their own memories to add to the imaginative reality created by their reading. Anne Thompson, another retired teacher who accompanied Barfoot to Austria, identified the reason for the books' appeal to her as follows:


Visits to Chalet sites continued after the centenary celebrations, with a group trip to the site of the Swiss Chalet School settings in the summer of 1995; a return visit to Austria in the summer of 1996; and a second visit to Switzerland in 1997. (Similarly, the Abbey Girls of Australia organised a nineteen-day tour of Great Britain in May 1996 to visit sites associated with Oxenham and her books.) For some British fans, the walking associated with the visits became an attraction in itself, and smaller groups began to walk together regularly to places which were not associated with their fandom. This echoed the early schoolgirls who welcomed the chance of strenuous physical exercise, since in the 1990s there is little provision for women's physical exercise apart from aerobics and a narrow range of sports.

Another characteristic of fandom was the tendency to create art- and craftwork associated with the books. In the UK, some fans made items which they also sold to others: for example, Hilary Clare and Fiona Sali Arnold's dolls of Dimsie, Abbey and Chalet characters; Ros Bayley's Abbey- and Chalet-inspired beadwork badges and bookmarks; Donald Emblow's Abbey paperweights; Hazel Leach's Abbey pottery; and a number of other items including badges and sweatshirts. Others created work which they then shared with others in the form of providing patterns: for example: Ruth Allen's Abbey tapestry; Gillian Jackson's quilted hangings; and Lilian Smith's Chalet sampler. Still others created work which they gave away: for example, Barbara Inglis, Julie Anne Donnelly, Anne Thompson and Rosemary Auchmuty all created Chalet Christmas cards for their friends; and Ve Smith created Abbey notelets. Yet more created work purely for their own pleasure: for example, Olga Kendell's Abbey table-cloth and tray-cloth; Julie Anne Donnelly's illustrated diary of the 1992 fan trip to Austria; and Chris Keyes' Abbey frieze. More unusually, Madeleine Smith created the "Tunes of the Abbey" for her GCE "A" Level in music.

Meanwhile, in Australia Pat Mitchell created an Abbey-inspired quilt, cushions, tapestry and dolls and shared an Abbey Cats cross-stitch pattern with many other fans; Nellie Cooper hand-painted china and dressed dolls; Adrienne Fitzpatrick produced decoupage work, including a coffee table; and Ronda Green created Abbey and Chalet jumpers and cushions and a scale model of the Abbey Gatehouse. The Abbey Girls of Australia produced a special cake for each of their May Queens, whose ceremonial trains are embroidered or handpainted; while in New Zealand, Bev Martin created Abbey bookmarks and other embroidered items.

The value which fans put on their own productions was shown by the fact that examples of their work were included in the "Back to the Chalet School" exhibition at Edinburgh in June 1994: Helen Ware's cake decoration; Lilian Smith's sampler; and Julie Anne Donnelly's illustrated diary. (See The Chalet School Revisited, Edinburgh 1 for further details.) Visiting the exhibition, Smith explained that:

Fiske has noted that this is a common practice among fans per se. "Fans produce and circulate among themselves texts which are often crafted with production values as high as any in the official culture. The key differences between the two are economic rather than ones of competence, for fans do not write or produce their texts for money; indeed, their productivity typically costs them money." Similarly, Jenkins writes that:

In this instance, however, fans were also influenced in their choice of work both by the genre itself - Brent-Dyer's Chalet School includes a Hobbies Club as part of the curriculum and Oxenham's Camp Fire girls make beadwork, while Brazil's books were influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement - and by the tradition of women working in quilting, knitting, embroidery and toy-making.


Another form of "cultural creation" which fans were involved in was the production of stories which looked at what characters were "doing now", or, in some cases, filling in past gaps in the stories. There are many examples of short fiction in the fanzines: Cynthia Castellan's "Joey Writes to Mary-Lou" (The New Chalet Club Journal, No 4, Summer 1996, p27) and Meg Crane's "Bill of the Chalet School" (in Friends of the Chalet School, Nos 33-36, 1996-7) being recent examples. Novels include Nina Farthing's continuation of the Abbey books, Old Friends at the Abbey (unpublished), and Merryn Williams continuation of the Chalet books, The Chalet Girls Grow Up (published privately in 1998).

Producing this type of fiction is a common phenomenon among science fiction fans: an enormous amount of amateur Star Trek fiction is in existence; while Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover fantasy novels have resulted in such a volume of fan-produced fiction that several anthologies have been published with Bradley's blessing. In the introduction to one of these, The Keeper's Price (1980), she notes that both Star Trek and Darkover amateur fiction is a peculiarly "feminine phenomenon", and offers the following explanation.

In borrowing another's fantasy world, though, the fan also takes control and makes it their own.

Sometimes this can be explicit. Brent-Dyer's biographer Helen McClelland created her own Chalet School novel, Visitors for the Chalet School, in the late 1970s.

McClelland, though, did not want simply to write in Brent-Dyer's world.

McClelland then created a story where her "own" school, Grange House, met the Chalet School.

This story was originally shared only with her daughters and a small group of fans, but in 1995 Bettany Press published an edited edition of the novel. Mainstream bookshops ordered more copies of Visitors for the Chalet School than of any other Bettany Press book, and it sold out (1000 copies) at the end of 1996. Fans seem to regard fan-produced fiction as adding to their own imaginative world of the Chalet School, and many fans appeared to count Visitors for the Chalet School as a "genuine" Chalet book. For example, Goerres writes that:


One aspect of fandom which collecting makes apparent is the high value which fans place on the books. This seems to show that fandom is no mere affectation, since it is accompanied by the willingness to pay high prices to obtain copies of the books. For example, in 1997 rare copies of books by Elsie Oxenham which retained their original dustwrappers were advertised in dealers' catalogues for an average of between £200-£300, with the rarest of all fetching over £500; while prices for pre-war illustrated editions of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's books, without dustwrappers, started at around £40; and post-war first editions of Brent-Dyer's books, with dustwrappers, averaged between £40-£80. Few examples of the genre could be purchased for less than £5. Yet there is little financial or literary value placed on the books within wider society; no guarantee that the books purchased could ever be resold; and British women generally have lower incomes than British men.

Further analysis underlines that the fans' collecting does not privilege books as objects or as investments. Most of the fans wanted to collect the original editions, but principally because they were unabridged and told the "real story" (meanwhile the fanzines published detailed comparisons with the paperbacks to fill in the missing pieces of the story for those unable to afford the hardbacks). Most fans preferred their copies of the books to have dustwrappers, but because these illustrated the stories with coloured pictures. Similarly, most preferred first editions or early reprints, because these were the only ones to contain illustrations within them in addition to the dustwrapper. There was a preference, too, for the illustrations by the original artists, but because these were generally felt to be most "true" to the author's descriptions of characters and events. Fans, then, collected the books to read; and to be able to return to the imaginative world of the genre whenever they desired.

That fans read the texts closely, and that they prized their knowledge of the Chalet School world, was illustrated by the fact that the newsletters generally contained at least one quiz, while meetings often centred around a mass quiz. Fans were expected to answer detailed questions about plots and characters; and even to place chapter titles in the correct order. This detailed knowledge of what is generally regarded by the rest of the world as unimportant is, of course, one of the main reasons why fans are often denigrated as "anoraks" or "trainspotters" and as being socially inadequate. But, as Joli Jenson points out of Barry Manilow fans, their behaviour is actually inseparable from that of academics.

Jenson concludes that:


Following the end of the Brent-Dyer centenary celebrations, fandom of girls' school stories continued to grow in strength. In October 1994, the Dorita Fairlie Bruce Society was launched by Stella Waring (who also began to organise annual day schools devoted to the study of girls' school stories under the auspices of the Workers' Educational Association). The society's patron was Eva Löfgren, author of Schoolmates of the Long-Ago: Motifs and Archetypes in Dorita Fairlie Bruce's Boarding School Stories (Symposium Graduale, Stockholm, 1993). As with the other societies, the Dorita Fairlie Bruce Society launched its own lending library, organised by Carolyn Denman, and a newsletter, Serendipity, which it published three times a year. In the first issue, Denman explained that the title of the newsletter had been taken from Bruce's book The Serendipity Shop.


Shortly after the closure of Daphne Paintin Barfoot's Chaletian in 1994, fans also began to explore the possibility of founding another Chalet School organisation. By the end of 1994, Mackie-Hunter had found that her small newsletter had changed out of all recognition, and a de factor fan club had emerged. Unsurprisingly, fans were now pressing for a democratic organisational structure for Friends of the Chalet School, and to tailor the organisation to meet the identifed needs of the members. Mackie-Hunter, who by this time was living in the UK with Clarissa Cridland, decided instead to return Friends of the Chalet School to its roots as an international newsletter where fans could exchange news and views; as with the original Chalet Club, meetings between fans would be organised informally. Mackie-Hunter therefore dissolved her editorial committee, and began running the organisation with Cridland.

Goerres, McClelland and Barfoot then joined with other fans to launch The New Chalet Club in June 1995, with Brent-Dyer's heir, Chloe Rutherford, as patron. The new organisation gained 400 members in its first two months, and reached 550 by the end of 1996. The New Chalet Club was determinedly democratic: a voluntary steering group distributed questionnaires and a draft constitution to members; as a result of which the organisation's name and activities were decided upon and an executive committee elected to run the organisation. However, the majority of its members were also FOCS readers, so the establishment of the Club could not be viewed strictly as a split in the movement so much as political differences in how fan activities should be organised. Equally, the themes in the two newsletters were very similar; the major difference being that The New Chalet Club Journal was edited more formally and professionally; whereas FOCS consisted principally of grouped extracts from readers' letters. It should be noted here that the Chalet School itself ended with no less than three branches: an English branch; a Swiss branch; and a finishing branch.

While it is impossible at the time of writing (1997) to predict the future of the organised fan movement, the continuing establishment of organisations such as the Dorita Fairlie Bruce Society and the New Chalet Club suggests that it will survive into the next millenium. Beyond that, the continuing readership of the genre amongst girls in the 1990s, and the demonstrated tendency for mothers to introduce their daughters to the genre, suggests that fandom, whether organised or not, will persist for some decades to come. However, the globalisation of publishing, together with the decline of reading, meant that the children's book market declined from the mid-1990s, and the future of the Chalet and Enid Blyton's school series was uncertain at the time of writing, as was the future of books by more modern authors such as Jean Ure and Anne Digby. It seems unlikely, then, that girls' school stories will have survived as a living genre by the end of the twenty-first century, whatever the importance they are by then perceived as having had in the twentieth.

Next: III. 1990s Girl Fans
Return to: 9. The Fans of Girl's School Stories Index
Return to: Virtual Worlds of Girls Index

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