life stuff / reading

Boarding school and me

I never really got into boarding school stories when I was a girl. There were books and comic strips galore but it didn’t really appeal. I know this means I missed out on a whole bunch of well-loved books – Chalet School, Malory Towers, (Harry Potter had not happened yet) – but although I read lots of wish-fulfilment stories about ponies and skating and ballet and theatre, boarding school was NOT something I pined for. Apart from the midnight feasts.

Living away from home and family? And at school 24/7? Not for me.

I was the kid who came home for lunch all through infant and junior school. My house was only 4 minutes’ quick walk away, and the idea of staying to school dinners horrified me. In fact, I did have to stay on one occasion when my mother was doing something mysterious in London for the day, and my worst fears were confirmed. Furry cucumber, boiled potatoes with black bits in, bright pink tinned meat. Boys chomping everything and delighting to chew with their mouths open. Scary dinner ladies looming over me. Never again!

My actual experience of boarding school is limited to two things. One was aged 12, a trip with my Sunday School where we lodged in a girls’ boarding school in Somerset for a fortnight during the holidays. We had midnight feasts – great fun – but the other food was a trial (plastic white bread, yukky margarine, no butter), so were big shared dormitories, semi-public bathrooms, and so many people to cope with all the time!

The Four MarysThe second experience was in my mid-teens, when a friend had a Saturday morning job in the kitchen of a boys’ boarding school. I was going to stay with her for the weekend and met up with her (unofficially) at the school, where the lunch prep was going on in steamy, sweaty chaos. Somehow I got involved in working the massive automatic potato-peeling machine. All I can say is, it never happened to the Four Marys.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Puffin editionYet one of my favourite classic stories, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is set in a boarding school, of sorts. No uniforms, rival houses, or hockey matches: it is more like the kind of establishment Jane Austen would have known a century before, where a small number of girls lived almost as family, doing lessons and learning accomplishments in the schoolmistress’s home. After a reversal of fortune, our heroine, Sara Crewe, goes from cosseted favourite pupil to unpaid and hungry teaching assistant and skivvy. I read it again recently and the story was still entrancing.

So what have I been missing all these years?

Can you suggest any other school stories I might like?

I’m a fussy eater, like my own space, and never got picked for teams. Which fictional boarding school might I ever fit in at?

8 thoughts on “Boarding school and me

  1. I loved boarding school books when I was little! Especially the midnight feasts 🙂 I always thought I’d love going to one but then again I’m fairly sure that I would have hated it in practise.
    What about the boarding school from Etiquette and Epsionage? Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is a front for a school where they are taught to be… um spies 🙂 From the book’s description: “t’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.”

    • Yess! I’d love that. I put a knife-thrower in ‘The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth’ who plays a pivotal role in the book’s climax. He’s a runaway solicitor’s clerk who joins a travelling show. But knife-throwing girl spies sound excellent. My type of curriculum. Thank you!

  2. Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter is a girl’s boarding school for spies… And I think the food is pretty good there, though can’t quite remember! Will have to re-read now!

  3. I loved boarding school books. Madeline. The Worst Witch. Jennings. Antonia Forest’s Kingscote. The Chalet School. Witch Week (Diana Wynne Jones). Recently read Masha which was set at a boarding school for the nobility in Tsarist Russia! Don’t think I ever wanted to go to one, but reading about them – yes.

    • I’d forgotten I’ve read ‘The Worst Witch’ – but to my kids – so no childish longings or hatings there from me. Thanks for all those suggestions. I love Diana Wynne Jones. Thinking of Masha, there’s also a brief stay at a horrible boarding school in Eva Ibbotson’s ‘The Star of Kazan’ which ends in…well, I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Except to say Hurray!

  4. Great post! I loved Mallory Towers. And the copy of A Little Princess shown in your picture is the same one I had – I read it over and over! Yet I’d have hated being at a boarding school, as I am an introvert.

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