Book name: The Chalet School in Exile
Author: Elinor Brent-Dyer
Genre: Children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1940
I agonized over which Chalet School story to review here at Memories for Mondays because I wanted my first review of one of Elinor Brent-Dyer’s much-loved boarding school stories to be very special.
It’s never easy to narrow down which story from an incredibly popular series to choose, because everyone has their personal favourites, but I went for The Chalet School in Exile because in many ways it offered something a little different to the others in the series.
It’s just before war is declared, but in the Tyrol the pupils and staff of the Chalet School are already aware that they are threatened by the rise of German influence in Austria.
Plans are made to move the school up into the mountains, to Sonnalpe where Jem Russell is running a sanitorium. Even that precaution proves ineffective, and the school is forced to sell up and move to Guernsey.
The escape is pure action story. The school is already facing closure when a group of girls out shopping one day witness a threatening group surround an old Jewish man.
They rescue him, but he and his wife are later killed and the priest who helps the girls escape is murdered.
This was extraordinarily direct for a children’s story, perhaps especially within a market that was deliberately divided into fiction for girls and for boys.
However, as I read The Chalet School in Exile I admired the principled stance taken by the girls. Young people, many of whom were only a year or so older than the characters featured here, would play a central role in the fight against the Nazis and often at great personal cost. This is their story, too.
The Chalet School in Exile was published early in World War Two and Elinor Brent-Dyer elected to place the evils of Nazism at the centre of the story.
I recently read For the Sake of the School by Angela Brazil, and that book went in a different direction: although it was published early in World War One, the conflict was just a backdrop to the plot.
The Chalet School in Exile is entirely different, because the threat that the Nazis pose lies at the heart of the story. This was a first-class action story.
Children’s writers had to choose for themselves whether, in either conflict, to embrace the war as a subject for their books, and each found their own unique solution.
The narrative also provided opportunities for developments in the personal lives of the main characters. Joey’s relationship with Jack Maynard moves apace under the stress of running from the Nazis, but their existing friendship and regard proves a solid foundation for the bold step they take together.
Family, whether the immediate Bettany sisters or the wider family of the school, always lies at the heart of Elinor Brent-Dyer’s books, and this is no exception.
Thank you for reading my review of The Chalet School in Exile by Elinor Brent-Dyer. The comments section is open.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of Wartime by Juliet Gardiner.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of The Trebizon books by Anne Digby.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Watch the Girls by Jennifer Wolfe.