Intertextuality and elitism in school stories – Julien on Darch

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Heather Julien writes: “As Sheila Ray and others have observed, most girls’ school stories written in the first half of the twentieth century centered on representations of boarding schools—an environment that did not reflect the education experience of most readers and writers. A prime example of this bias toward representations of an atypically elite education experience might be Elinor Brent-Dyer’s sixty-two-book-strong Chalet School series, which ran from 1925 to 1970. The fantasy of class privilege that Brent-Dyer’s books arguably offer does not, of course, mean that other aspects of the novels lack political and social valence. …Not only Brent-Dyer’s books, of course, are set in elite institutional environments. The boarding school setting is so central to the entire genre that Beverly Lyon Clark’s book-length genre study systematically excludes any representations of day schoolsDarch’s books bucked this tendency and demonstrate that stories set in day schools can be more intensely concerned with school life than boarding school stories, which commonly incorporate extra-generic elements of mystery, fantasy, and family stories (the three chief “intergenres” with the school story).” (pp.2-3)

“The intertextuality of Darch’s novels’ per se is not what distinguishes them. As is characteristic of much children’s literature, most school stories are intertextual and might be said to engage in what have been called “reading games” with their readers. In countless school stories—for adults as well as for children—the characters read, think about, quote, and refer ironically to school stories. Joanna Lloyd’s Audrey—A New Girl even contains a disclaimer: “The names of any girls’ school stories mentioned in this book are not, to the best of the author’s belief, those of existing books.” What distinguishes Darch’s novels is the degree to which they make sense of their own and their peers’ roles and identities in school via fictional representations. In her essay on intertextuality in children’s literature, Claudia Nelson examines texts that “use devices that may seem considerably more elaborate than the more usual practice of employing a protagonist who is said to enjoy the consumption or creation of literature but showing this enjoyment from the outside”. From this vantage point, Darch’s use of intertextuality—characters read and talk about books and magazines—is quite common.
However, while they most definitely do not fit any postmodern criteria for metatextuality, her evocations of girls reading contain more significance than simply the promotion of literacy, the provision of a bookworm heroine, the salute to fellow practitioners of the genre, or the pleasures of readerly recognition. They testify to and participate in an economy of self- and institution-building in which school narratives were the local currency. Newcomers to school are especially prone to rely on fiction as a sort of conduct book and key to mythologies.” (pp.10-11)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Julien, Heather. Learning to Be Modern Girls: Winifred Darch’s School Stories The Lion and the Unicorn 32,1 january (2008) 1–21  2008

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