Book name: Eustacia Goes to the Chalet School
Author: Elinor Brent-Dyer
Publisher: W & R Chambers
Genre: School stories, vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1930
Star Rating: 5/5
Not every girl who gets sent away to boarding school finds it easy to fit in. In fact, it’s a staple theme of many a boarding-school story that the newcomer must adapt their ways to the school they’ve joined.
This can take time, and (in the case of Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Eustacia Benson) a whole new personality.
Eustacia Goes to the Chalet School opens with the death of Eustacia’s parents in quick succession and her move to live with her aunt and uncle. There she encounters her male cousins, all of whom are typical boys ready for teasing and playing around.
Eustacia has been raised to be a strong academic contender in classics and maths, but the poor girl has experienced little or no socialisation with other children. Soon weary of her niece’s arrogant and difficult behaviour, Eustacia’s aunt considers sending her away to school.
She’s friends with the stepmother of one of the Chalet School’s former pupils. We all remember feeling incredibly sorry for Grizel Cochrane when her stepmother couldn’t wait to be rid of her.
Grizel’s stepmother describes the Chalet School in glowing terms, and Eustacia’s aunt decides to send her niece out to the Austrian Tyrol.
Eustacia arrives at the Chalet School just after the wedding of one of the school’s old girls, Bernhilda Mensch. We met the Mensch family at home in Jo of the Chalet School when the Bettanys went to spend Christmas there. In particular, we were introduced to the grandmother of the family.
Sadly, the old lady dies peacefully at home when the wedding celebration is happening and this throws a cloud over the festivities.
Much of Eustacia Goes to the Chalet School involves Eustacia behaving appallingly towards her fellow pupils and is even rude to the teachers. Elinor Brent-Dyer pulls out all the stops when it comes to making her antagonist as unlikeable as possible.
Yet, always full of sympathy and understanding, she also shows us precisely why Eustacia’s upbringing was at fault and explains the consequences of poor parenting choices in terms of its effect on Eustacia’s character.
We are also reminded of earlier pupils who were difficult or challenging when they arrived at the Chalet School and of how Madge and Mademoiselle helped them develop into girls who embraced the ethos of the school and settled down to be happy there.
Jo and the others try everything possible to challenge Eustacia, from loving kindness to coldly pretending she doesn’t exist. The teachers punish her arrogance and rudeness with consistent discipline, but they make only limited progress.
Hope is on the horizon for Eustacia in the form of a growing love of music. However, she takes a big step backwards when the English girls go with ‘Bill’ Wilson and ‘Charlie’ Stewart for a half-term holiday to Fulpmes for some Alpine walking.
Jo speaks out of turn to Eustacia and this triggers a uniquely resentful determination to cause pain to everyone at the Chalet School, a terrible plan that Eustacia sees through with characteristic stubbornness and disregard for her own safety.
The emphasis on Eustacia Goes to the Chalet School was firmly on the psychology behind fitting in at boarding school and why earlier training in life can make that hard to achieve.
There is all the compassion and humanity we expect from Elinor Brent-Dyer, and we understand that the intention is not to blame the individual but to understand how and why the parental failings contributed to the problem.
In a typically perceptive comment, Elinor Brent-Dyer tells us that a new name can help contribute to forming an entirely new personality, and this is what she delivers for her heroine in Eustacia Goes to the Chalet School.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of The Chalet School in Exile by Elinor Brent Dyer.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of For the Sake of the School by Angela Brazil.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Occupied.