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

Overworked teachers in W Darch’s school stories

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“[Winifred Darch’s] novels confront the myth of the underworked, overpaid woman teacher head-on especially with her description and narration of the embodied work of teachers.” (p.13)

“As is common in some adult school fiction, some of the most viscerally represented scenes of overwork involve grading homework and exams”  (p.13)

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

Winifred Darch’s school stories and the democratic possibilities of schooling for girls

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I’ve been reading Heather Julien’s study of Winifred Darch’s school stories. According to her: “Of all of the twentieth-century school story authors, Winifred Darch is perhaps the one most concerned with the democratic possibilities of schooling for girls. More than many writers in the genre, she wrote about state-funded schools and their role in the continuing democratization of social institutions. She was also interested in school as a workplace for women. Darch’s books connect conversations about teachers and education policy with representations of schoolgirls. As a career teacher herself, she was aware that professional “educationists”—librarians and theorists as well as school administrators and teachers—played a role (or at least attempted to) in the success or failure of school story writers.
As with other examples of the genre, her books—published by Oxford University Press’s juvenile division—targeted girl readers. Some books seem to be pitched to a young teenage or preteen audience. However, equally important is the possibility of an actual readership that included adults. …Consideration of Darch’s prolific output in the context of a crossover readership illustrates her complex negotiation of the politics of professionalism, workplace justice, institutional authority, and the training of “modern girls.”” (p.1)

Darch stands in a place of distinction among the most well-known, and many other school story authors for two reasons. First, she wrote about the new girls’ high schools that were created after the 1902 Education Act and that expanded in the first third of the twentieth century (Summerfield, Mitchell). Second, she wrote several main characters who were scholarship recipients. Typically, needy students appeared as minor characters in fiction by other school story authors. Darch’s more democratic subjects and settings distinguish her from many of the leading figures in the genre.” (p.2)

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