What popular series of books has spanned three generations and still continues to be sought today? What author was able to pen 58 full length hard back books (plus one shorter paperback story!) and retain the magic and character of these well loved tales?
Two words - Chalet School!
British born author, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was born and grew up in South Shields, an industrial town on Tyneside. Although her stories told of large, happy families, Elinor's own family was small and faced many difficulties particularly in Elinor's early years. She had only one brother (a year younger than herself) and two unknown half brothers. Her parent's marriage was short-lived.
Elinor was born in 1894, and her parents separated in 1897.In 1901 Elinor's grandmother, who had lived with her family, passed away. Finally, her brother Henzell, at the age of 17, was suddenly taken ill with meningitis and died a few days later.
Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's first school experience was at St. Nicholas's School in South Shields, where she was sent in 1900. By the year 1912 however, Elinor had become an 'unqualified teacher'. Her teaching career continued for many years culminating in her opening her own school in Hereford in the 1930's called The Margaret Roper School. This school finally closed its doors in 1948 allowing Elinor M. Brent-Dyer to give her undivided attention to the ever-popular Chalet School!
Elinor was 28 when her first book was accepted for publication. Two more books followed in the 'La Rochelle' series. However, the turning point came in her writing career when Elinor visited Austria in 1924 for a holiday. This holiday was to quite literally affect the whole future course of her life!
Based on the shores of the lake Tiernsee (this lake really does exist but is named Achensee) the Chalet school was established with just three pupils (Joey, Grizel, and Simone) in the stunning mountains of the North Tirol. However, by the first day of school the three pupils had been joined by six Tirolean girls, and so 'The School at the Chalet' begins!
Right from the beginning the Chalet School books had the advantage of being different from other children's series. The beautiful setting, it's mixture of nationalities and religious denominations, it's near family atmosphere and it's use of foreign phrases all made the
books an unforgettable read.
Although the story begins in Austria, and the reader sees the school expand and absorb St. Scholastika, there is an interesting twist when after about eight years of being happily settled at the Tiernsee, the book 'The Chalet School in Exile' sees the girls leaving Austria after the Nazi annexation. This eventually leads to the school being established on the island of Guernsey. However, their stay here is short as the war starts and the Channel Islands are no longer considered to be a safe refuge! The school is then established in Armishire (Herefordshire) where they spend a further happy eight school years. Finally, defective drains are found to be causing illness in the school and in the nick of time a large house is found on the island of St. Briavel, a fictional place said to beoff the coast of Wales. Eventually, the book entitled 'Changes for the Chalet School' sees about a hundred of the seniors and middles all set for travel to Switzerland. This is the final home for the Chalet School girls along with the island of St. Briavel which still houses the juniors.
Although Elinor M. Brent-Dyer wrote many other titles, the fact that the Chalet School continues to survive after more than seventy-eight years is mainly a tribute to the entertaining stories, the sense of comedy and
fun, and above all to the characterisation shown in the early books. They are a classic!
Elinor M. Brent-Dyer died in 1969 leaving a treasure trove of timeless stories from her lifetime for fans world-wide to enjoy reading, and
Now you can not only enjoy the books but also 'A collection of stories, articles and competitions' from the reference work entitled 'Elinor M. Brent-Dyer' Chalet School'. This book contains the answers to questions such as 'Are there any books missing from the Chalet School series?' and 'What about the school Elinor ran in Hereford - was it at all like the Chalet School?'. - Enjoy!
Contributed by Claire Waldron