Angela Brazil 1868 – 1947
Angela Brazil was one of the first British writers of "modern schoolgirls' stories", written from the characters' point of view and intended primarily as entertainment rather than moral instruction. In the first half of the 20th century she published nearly 50 books of girls' fiction, the vast majority being boarding school stories. She also published numerous short stories in magazines.
Her books were commercially successful, widely read by tween girls, and influential upon their readers . While interest in girls' school stories waned after World War II, her books remained popular until the 1960s. They were seen as disruptive and a negative influence on moral standards by some figures in authority during the height of their popularity, and in some cases were banned, or indeed burned, by headmistresses in British girls' schools.
While her stories have been much imitated in more recent decades, and many of her motifs and plot elements have since become clichés or the subject of parody, they were innovative when they first appeared. Brazil made a major contribution to changing the nature of fiction for girls. She presented a young female point of view which was active, aware of current issues and independently minded; she recognised adolescence as a time of transition, and accepted girls as having common interests and concerns which could be shared and acted upon.
WRITING AND PUBLICATION
She was quite late in taking up writing, developing a strong interest in Welsh mythology, and at first wrote a few magazine articles on mythology and nature- due most likely to spending holidays in a cottage in Wales.
He first publication was a book of four children's plays entitled The Mischievous Brownie. Written in Wales, and published in 1899 by T. W. Paterson of Edinburgh, the plays featured fairies, ogres and enchantments. Family and friends encouraged her to write a novel for an adult audience, but she had already set her heart on writing for children. She began work on her first full-length tale for children, The Fortunes of Philippa, in the same year, after her father's death.
Her first published novel was A Terrible Tomboy (1905), but this was not strictly a school story. The story was autobiographical, with Brazil represented as the principal character Peggy, and her friend Leila Langdale appearing as Lilian. It was an early success for Brazil, and did well in the United States, perhaps as a result of the popularity of Tomboy stories, which had grown in popularity in that country since the mid 19th century.
Her long sequence of school stories did not commence until the publication of her second novel The Fortunes of Philippa (1906). The novel was based on her mother, Angelica Brazil, who had grown up in Rio de Janeiro and attended an English boarding school at the age of 10, finding the English culture, school life and climate confronting.
The Fortunes of Philippa was an instant success, and Brazil soon received commissions to produce similar work. In total she published 49 novels about life in boarding schools, and approximately 70 short stories, which appeared in magazines. Her average production of these tales was two novels and five short stories each year.
Her fifth novel, Bosom Friends: A Seaside Story (1910) was published by Nelson's, but subsequent books were all published by Blackie and Sons.Blackie and Sons sold three million copies of her novels. Her most popular school story novel, The Nicest Girl in The School (1909) sold 153,000 copies. By 1920 the school story was the most popular genre for girls.
STYLE AND THEMES
Angela Brazil is seen as the first writer of girls' school story fiction who wrote stories from the point of view of the pupils and whose stories were mostly intended to entertain readers, rather than instruct them on moral principles. She intended to write stories that were fun and included characters who were ordinary people. She wrote for girls gaining a greater level of freedom in the early 20th century and intended to capture their point of view.
Unlike many of her successors, Brazil never wrote a series of books set in a particular school, although there are three pairs of books among her 46 full-length school stories: A Fortunate Term and Monitress Merle; At School with Rachel and St. Catherine's College; and The Little Green School and Jean's Golden Term. Monitress Merle also has a substantial character overlap with The Head Girl at The Gables, and A Fortunate Term has a slight connection with The Girls of St. Cyprian's. Most of her novels present new characters, a new school and a new scenario, although these are frequently formulaic, especially in the books written later in her career.
Her schools usually have between 20 and 50 pupils and so are able to create a community which is an extended family, but also of sufficient size to function as a kind of micro state, with its own traditions and rules. The schools tend to be situated in picturesque circumstances, being manors, having moats, being built on clifftops or on moors, and the style of teaching is often progressive, including experiments in self-expression, novel forms of exercise, and different social groups and activities for the girls.
The narrative focuses on the girls, who tend to be between 14 and 15. Although they are high-spirited and active, they are not eccentric or directly conflicting with social norms, as had been the case with Tomboy fiction. They are adolescents, shown as being in a normal period of transition in their lives, with a restlessness that tends to be expressed by minor adventures such as climbing out of dormitory windows at night, playing pranks on one another and their teachers and searching for spies in their midst. They also typically develop their own behavioural codes, have a slang or secret language, which is exclusive to the school.
The stories tend to focus on relationships between the pupils, including alliances between pairs and groups of girls, jealousy between them, and the experience of characters who feel excluded from the school community. Events which have become familiar from the girls' school fiction written since Brazil, are common, such as secret night-time meetings, achieving and receiving honours or prizes and events at the end of term such as concerts.
In addition to her books, she also contributed a large number of school stories to children's annuals and the Girl's Own Paper.
FOR THE SAKE OF THE SCHOOL
"Are they never going to turn up ?"
"It's almost four now !"
"They'll be left till the six-thirty !"
"Oh, don't alarm yourself! The valley train always waits for the express."
"It's coming in now !"
"Oh, good, so it is !"
"Late by twenty minutes exactly !"
"Stand back there !" yelled a porter, setting down a box with a slam, and motioning the excited, fluttering group of girls to a position of greater safety than the extreme edge of the platform. "Llangarmon Junction! Change for Glanafon and Graigwen!"
Snorting and puffing, as if in agitated apology for the tardiness of its arrival, the train came steaming into the station, the drag of its brakes adding yet another item of noise to the prevailing babel. Intending passengers clutched bags and baskets; fathers of families gave a last eye to the luggage; mothers grasped children firmly by the hand; a distracted youth, seeking vainly for his portmanteau, upset a stack of bicycles with a crash; while above all the din and turmoil rose the strident, rasping voice of a book-stall boy, crying his selection of papers with ear-splitting zeal.
From the windows of the in-coming express waved seventeen agitated pocket-handkerchiefs, and the signal was answered by a counter-display of cambric from the twenty girls hustled back by an inspector in the direction of the weighing-machine.
"There's Helen !"
"And Ruth, surely !"
"Oh! where's Marjorie ?"
"There! Can't you see her, with Doris ?"
"That's Mamie, waving to me!"
"What's become of Kathleen ?"
One moment more, and the neat school hats of the new-comers had swelled the group of similar school hats already collected on the platform; ecstatic greetings were exchanged, urgent questions asked and hasty answers given, and items of choice information poured forth with the utmost volubility of which the English tongue is capable. Urged by brief directions from a mistress in charge, the chattering crew surged towards a siding, and made for a particular corridor carriage marked "Reserved". Here handbags, umbrellas, wraps, and lunch-baskets were hastily stowed away in the racks, and, Miss Moseley having assured herself that not a single lamb of her flock was left behind, the grinning porter slammed the doors, the green flag waved, and the local train, long overdue, started with a jerk for the Craigwen Valley.
Past the grey old castle that looked seawards over the estuary, past the little white town of Llangarmon, with its ancient walls and fortified gates, past the quay where the fishing smacks were lying idly at anchor and a pleasure-steamer was unloading its human cargo, past the long stretch of sandy common, where the white tents of the Territorials evoked an outcry of interest, then up alongside the broad tidal river towards where the mountains, faint and misty, rose shouldering one another till they merged into the white nebulous region of the cloud-flecked sky. Those lucky ones who had secured window seats on the river side of the carriage were loud in their acclamations of satisfaction as familiar objects in the landscape came into sight.
"There's Cwm Dinas. I wish they could float a big Union Jack on the summit."
"It would be a landmark all right."
"Oh, the flag's up at Plas Cafn !"
"We'll have one at school this term ?"
"Oh, I say! Move a scrap," pleaded Ulyth Stanton plaintively. "We only get fields and woods on our side. I can't see anything at all for your heads. You might move. What selfish pigs you are! Well, I don't care; I'm going to talk."
"You have been talking already. You've never stopped, in fact," remarked Beth Broadway, proffering a swiftly disappearing packet of pear drops with a generosity born of the knowledge that all sweets would be confiscated on arrival at The Woodlands.
"I know I have, but that was merely by the way. It wasn't anything very particular, and I've got something I want to tell you something fearfully important. Absolutely super ! D'you know, she's actually coming to school. Isn't it great ? She's to be my room-mate. I'm just wild to see her. I hope her ship won't be stopped by storms."
"By the Muses, whom are you talking about ?"
"'She' means the cat," sniggered Gertrude Oliver.
"Why! can't you guess ? What stupids you are! It's Rona, of course, Rona Mitchell from New Zealand."
"You're ragging !"
"It's a fact. It is indeed !"
The incredulity on the countenances of her companions having yielded to an expression of interest, Ulyth continued her information with increased zest, and a conscious though would-be nonchalant air of importance.
"Her father wants her to go to school in England, so he decided to send her to The Woodlands, so that she might be with me !"
"Do you mean that girl you were so very proud of corresponding with ? I forget how the whole business began," broke in Stephanie Radford.
"Don't you remember ? It was through a magazine we take. The editor arranged for readers of the magazine in England to exchange letters with other readers overseas. He gave me Rona. We've been writing to each other every month for two years."
"I had an Australian, but she wouldn't write regularly, so we dropped it," volunteered Beth Broadway. "I believe Gertrude had somebody too."
"Yes, a girl in Canada. I never got farther than one short letter and a picture post card, though. I do so loathe writing," sighed Gertrude. "Ulyth's the only one who's kept the thing up."
"And do you mean to say this New Zealander's actually coming to our school ?" asked Stephanie.
"That's the joysome gist of my remarks! I can't tell you how I'm pining and yearning to see her. She seems like a girl out of a story. To think of it ! Rona Mitchell at school with us !"
"Suppose you don't like her ?"
"Oh, I'm certain I shall ! She's written me the jolliest, loveliest, funniest letters! I feel I know her already. We shall be the very best of friends. Her father has a huge farm of I can't tell you how many miles, and she has two horses of her own, and fords rivers when she's out riding."
"When's she to arrive ?"
"Probably to-morrow. She's travelling by the King George, and coming up straight from London to school directly she lands. I hope she's got to England safely. She must have left home ever such a long time ago. How fearfully exciting for her to "
But here Ulyth's reflections were brought to an abrupt close, for the train was approaching Glanafon Ferry, and her comrades, busily collecting their various handbags, would lend no further ear to her remarks.
The little wayside station, erstwhile the quietest and sleepiest on the line, was soon overflowing with girls and their belongings. Miss Moseley flitted up and down the platform, marshalling her charges like a faithful collie, the one porter did his slow best, and after a few agitated returns to the compartments for forgotten articles, everything was successfully collected, and the train went steaming away down the valley in the direction of Craigwen. It seemed to take the last link of civilization with it, and to leave only the pure, unsullied country behind. The girls crossed the line and walked through the white station gate with pleased anticipation writ large on their faces. It was the cult at The Woodlands to idolize nature and the picturesque, and they had reached a part of their journey which was a particular source of pride to the school.
Any admirer of scenery would have been struck with the lovely and romantic view which burst upon the eye as the travellers left the platform at Glanafon and walked down the short, grassy road that led to the ferry. To the south stretched the wide pool of the river, blue as the heaven above where it caught the reflection of the September sky, but dark and mysterious where it mirrored the thick woods that shaded its banks. Near at hand towered the tall, heather-crowned crag of Cwm Dinas, while the rugged peaks of Penllwyd and Penglaslyn frowned in majesty of clouds beyond. The ferry itself was one of those delightful survivals of mediævalism which linger here and there in a few fortunate corners of our isles. A large flat-bottomed boat was slung on chains which spanned the river, and could be worked slowly across the water by means of a small windlass. Though it was perfectly possible, and often even more convenient, to drive to the school direct from Llangarmon Junction, so great was the popular feeling in favour of arrival by the ferry that at the autumn and spring reunions the girls were allowed to avail themselves of the branch railway and approach The Woodlands by way of the river.
They now hurried on to the boat as if anticipating a pleasure-jaunt. The capacities of the flat were designed to accommodate a flock of sheep or a farm wagon and horses, so there was room and to spare even for thirty-seven girls and their hand luggage. Evan Davis, the crusty old ferryman, greeted them with his usual inarticulate grunt, a kind of "Oh, here you are again, are you !" form of welcome which was more forceful than gracious. He linked the protecting chains carefully across the end of the boat, called out a remark in Welsh to his son, Griffith, and, seizing the handle, began to work the windlass. Very slowly and leisurely the flat swung out into the river. The tide was at the full and the wide expanse of water seemed like a lake. The clanking chains brought up bunches of seaweed and river grass which fell with an oozy thud upon the deck. The mountain air, blowing straight from Penllwyd, was tinged with ozone from the tide. The girls stood looking up the reach of water towards the hills, and tasting the salt on their lips with supreme gratification. It was not every school that assembled by such a romantic means of conveyance as an ancient flat-bottomed ferry-boat, and they rejoiced over their privileges.
"I'm glad the tide's full; it makes the crossing so much wider," murmured Helen Cooper, with an eye of admiration on the woods.
"Don't suppose Evan shares your enthusiasm," laughed Marjorie Earnshaw. "He's paid the same, whatever the length of the journey."
"Old Grumps gets half a crown for his job, so he needn't grumble," put in Doris Deane.
"Oh, trust him! He'd look sour at a pound note."
"What makes him so cross ?"
"Oh, he's old and lame, I suppose, and has a crotchety temper."
"Here we are at last !"
The boat was grating on the shore. Griffith was unfastening the movable end, and in another moment the girls were springing out gingerly, one by one, on to the decidedly muddy stepping-stones that formed a rough causeway to the bank. A cart was waiting to convey the handbags (all boxes had been sent as "advance luggage" two days before), so, disencumbered of their numerous possessions, the girls started to walk the steep uphill mile that led to The Woodlands.
Miss Bowes and Miss Teddington, the partners who owned the school, had been exceptionally fortunate in their choice of a house. If, as runs the modern theory, beautiful surroundings in our early youth are of the utmost importance in training our perceptions and aiding the growth of our higher selves, then surely nowhere in the British Isles could a more suitable setting have been found for a home of education. The long terrace commanded a view of the whole of the Craigwen Valley, an expanse of about sixteen miles. The river, like a silver ribbon, wound through woods and marshland till it widened into a broad tidal estuary as it neared the sea. The mountains, which rose tier after tier from the level green meadows, had their lower slopes thickly clothed with pines and larches; but where they towered above the level of a thousand feet the forest growth gave way to gorse and bracken, and their jagged summits, bare of all vegetation save a few clumps of coarse grass, showed a splintered, weather-worn outline against the sky. Penllwyd, Penglaslyn, and Glyder Garmon, those lofty peaks like three strong Welsh giants, seemed to guard the entrance to the enchanted valley, and to keep it a place apart, a last fortress of nature, a sanctuary for birds and flowers, a paradise of green shade and leaping waters, and a breathing-space for body and soul.
The house, named "The Woodlands" by Miss Bowes in place of its older but rather unpronounceable name of Llwyngwrydd (the green grove), took both its Welsh and English appellations from a beautiful glade, planted with oaks, which formed the southern boundary of the property. Through this park-like dell flowed a mountain stream, tumbling in little white cascades between the big boulders that formed its bed, and pouring in quite a waterfall over a ledge of rock into a wide pool. Its steady rippling murmur never stopped, and could be heard day and night through the ever-open windows, gentle and subdued in dry weather, but rising to a roar when rain in the hills brought the flood down in a turbulent torrent.
Through lessons, play, or dreams this sound of many waters was ever present; it gave an atmosphere to the school which, if passed unnoticed through extreme familiarity, would have been instantly missed if it could have stopped. To the girls this stream was a kind of guardian deity, with the glade for its sacred grove. They loved every rock and stone and cataract, almost every patch of brown moss upon its boulders. Each morning of the summer term they bathed before breakfast in the pool where a big oak-tree shaded the cataract. It was so close to the house that they could run out in mackintoshes, and so retired that it resembled a private swimming-bath. Here they enjoyed themselves like water-nymphs, splashing in the shallows, plunging in the pool, swinging from the boughs of the oak-tree, and scrambling over the lichened boulders. It was a source of deep regret to the hardier spirits that they were not allowed to take their morning dip in the stream all the year round; but on that score mistresses were adamant, and with the close of September the naiads perforce withdrew from their favourite element till it was warmed again by the May sunshine.
The house itself had originally been an ancient Welsh dwelling of the days of the Tudors, but had been largely added to in later times. The straight front, with its rows of windows, classic doorway, and stone-balustraded terrace, was certainly Georgian in type, and the tower, an architectural eyesore, was plainly Victorian. The taste of the early nineteenth century had not been faultless, and all the best part of the building, from an artistic point of view, lay at the back. This mainly consisted of kitchens and servants' quarters, but there still remained a large hall, which was the chief glory of the establishment. It was very lofty, for in common with other specimens of the period it had no upper story, the roof being timbered like that of a church. The walls were panelled with oak to a height of about eight feet, and above that were decorated with elaborate designs in plaster relief, representing lions, wild boars, stags, unicorns, and other heraldic devices from the coat-of-arms of the original owner of the estate. A narrow winding staircase led to a minstrels' gallery, from which was suspended a wooden shield emblazoned with the Welsh dragon and the national motto, "Cymru am byth" ("Wales for ever").
If the hall was the main picturesque asset of the building, it must be admitted that the unromantic front portion was highly convenient, and had been most readily adaptable for a school. The large light rooms of the ground floor made excellent classrooms, and the upper story was so lavishly provided with windows that it had been possible, by means of wooden partitions, to turn the great bedrooms into rows of small dormitories, each capable of accommodating two girls.
The bright airy house, the terrace with its glorious view of the valley, the large old-fashioned garden, and, above all, the stream and the glade made a very pleasant setting for the school life of the forty-eight pupils at The Woodlands. The two principals worked together in perfect harmony. Each had her own department. Miss Bowes, who was short, stout, grey-haired, and motherly, looked after the housekeeping, the hygiene, and the business side. She wrote letters to parents, kept the accounts, interviewed tradespeople, superintended the mending, and was the final referee in all matters pertaining to health and general conduct. "Dear Old Rainbow", as the girls nicknamed her, was frankly popular, for she was sympathetic and usually disposed to listen, in reason, to the various plaints which were brought to the sanctum of her private sitting-room. Her authority alone could excuse preparation, order breakfast in bed, remit practising, dispense jujubes, allow special festivities, and grant half-holidays. It was rumoured that she thought of retiring and leaving the school to her partner, and such a report always drew from parents the opinion that she would be greatly missed.
Miss Teddington, younger by many years, took a more active part in the teaching, and superintended the games and outdoor sports. She was tall and athletic, a good mathematician, and interested in archæology and nature study. She led the walks and rambles, taught the Sixth Form, and represented the more scholastic and modern element. Her enterprise initiated all fresh undertakings, and her enthusiasm carried them forward with success. "Hard-as-nails" the girls sometimes called her, for she coddled nobody and expected the utmost from each one's capacity. If she was rather uncompromising, however, she was just, and a strong vein of humour toned down much of the severity of her remarks. To be chided by a person whose eye is capable of twinkling takes part of the sting from the reprimand, and the general verdict of the school was to the effect that "Teddie was a keen old watch-dog, but her bark was worse than her bite."
Of the other mistresses and girls we will say more anon. Having introduced my readers to The Woodlands, it is time for the story to begin.
A Country School - painting by Edward Lamson Henry