|From Crooked Sixpence. Penny catches a glimpse of the Tudor Boy.|
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Today's question is about the Susan books. Dotty Miss Johnson is a member of staff at St. Ronan's. Which subject does she teach?
The answer to yesterday's question: Penny's favourite sandwich is tomato (see Threepenny Bit, Chapter 1).
|At the moment I'm rereading The Moochers Abroad, most of which is set in Binic, Brittany, although the little town is called St. Brioc in this book. This is the bay of Binic today, a little bit more crowded than in Jane Shaw's books. You can see more pictures of this picturesque location by clicking here at the Trip Advisor site.|
Ever since Raymond had pointed them out to her - a dim outline on the horizon - from the cliff above the grève, the very thought of the islands had fascinated Sara, and her imagination, never unfertile, was stirred by those mysterious bare rocks which only became visible at low tide.
"Anything in the way of adventures might happen on such exciting islands," she enthused to Caroline.
"The most exciting thing will be if you go and get left behind again, and drown yourself," Caroline replied - rather unnecessarily, Sara considered.
From BRETON HOLIDAY, Chapter 6, Shrimping.
Friday, December 30, 2011
A new feature to allow readers to see how much they remember about Jane Shaw's stories and characters. We'll start off with one that isn't too difficult. The answer, and a new teaser, tomorrow.
What is Penny's favourite sandwich?
When they finally did row round to Luss Straits, the scene was even more lively than as described by Andy, via Elizabeth. The place seemed to be black with boats full of slightly hysterical people trying to pick up rather sodden pieces of paper: a quite serious row was developing between a scruffy-looking dinghy and an even scruffier canoe as to who had first seen a certain five-pound note: at least five people were in the water, two of their own accord, and though the drowning tale was pure rumour, as the girls watched, an ancient tub gently capsized and the three occupants began thrashing about in the water, yelling for help, which a well-meaning but inefficient little man in glasses and a bowler hat tried to give by sloshing one of them over the head with an oar, thus precipitating another first-class row. From all sides, vessels of various shapes and sizes could be seen approaching.
From THE CREW OF THE BELINDA, Chapter 14, Treasure on the Waters.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Fiona and Katherine waved Miss Barclay and Celia off in the ten o'clock bus and wondered how they would spend the morning. They discussed various possibilities, and then Fiona said, "Let's go and see Mrs. Pengelly," just as if the idea had that moment occurred to her.
"You're like Winnie the Pooh," said Katherine. "At even the distant approach of eleven o'clock you begin to feel the need of a little something--"
Fiona didn't deny it, and soon they were comfortably settled in the big, low, beamed kitchen of Little Nance, with its slate floor and great wide fireplace, enjoying glasses of creamy milk and splits spread with jam and cream.
From THE MOOCHERS ABROAD, Chapter 4, Curiouser and Curiouser.
Monday, December 26, 2011
NO TROUBLE FOR SUSAN
PART ONE: THE OPUS
PART ONE: THE OPUS
The eighth book in the Susan series begins on the first day of the Christmas holidays with Susan and the Carmichael family having their long, leisurely breakfast. During this meal, Midge delights in the fact that the dreaded Gascoigne family have gone skiing in Switzerland. However, there is a new enemy to be dealt with in Wichwood Village: Sir Arthur Symes, aka the Wicked Baronet, or Bad Bart for short. Susan is shocked to hear that this old miser is about to evict an elderly tenant, Mrs. Gregson, because she started a petition against him to prevent him tearing down the local theatre and building a block of flats on the site. And there are Bill’s new friends the Wichwood Players, the theatre company that is fighting tooth and nail to avoid eviction by the dastardly Bad Bart. All this news gives Susan two new crusades, but there is much more for her to heap on her plate before the morning is through. When the cousins call in on their friend Louella Foster at the local book shop, they find that she is having problems too. First of all, she is being plagued by a gang of urchins, led by Timmy the Terror, who come into her shop and knock things down and generally cause havoc. To make matters worse, Louella is also coming down with an illness and fears that she will be unable to keep on running her shop in the run-up to Christmas. Business is not so good because there is competition from a new book shop. Seizing an opportunity to help someone, Susan immediately offers to run the shop until Louella is back on her feet again. The indolent Carmichaels agree, albeit with much less enthusiasm than Susan.
The story now moves into top gear, with so many events that readers in later years find themselves surprised to discover that they all form part of the same story. Louella is diagnosed with mumps and ordered to take to bed, leaving the cousins in charge of the shop for far longer than they imagined. Susan dreams up a bargain bin and a lucky dip and tries out a number of ideas to generate new trade. The Wichwood Players visit the shop to borrow books as props. They are caricature theatre types, who call everyone dahling. They rope Charlotte into the play to replace a sick member of the cast. One of the series’ most memorable minor characters, the gossipy Mrs. Weatherby, storms into the shop one morning claiming that she lost her precious brooch there during an altercation with Timmy the Terror and his gang and insists that the children discover its whereabouts. Mrs. Gregson, the kind but rather dotty and forgetful widow, asks Susan to sell a valuable old book for her and the sly Sir Arthur tries to purchase it from the bargain bin. There is ice skating on the pond, with Timmy up to his usual nonsense and running afoul of Sir Arthur. A rival gang is out to get Timmy and cause even worse chaos in the village. But there is also the traditional carol singing, cozy meals and happy chatter. The story never slows down, and culminates with Charlotte’s premier night when she gets a pot stuck on her head and has to be replaced at the last minute by Midge, who falls asleep during the performance! Many minor characters give a touch of added flavour to the story: the tough Butch who tries a hold-up at the box office, the irascible producer, Jimmy Wilson, who shouts and seems incapable of anything else, and Charlotte’s potential suitors who all turn up to play Santa Claus at the shop on the same day. Further comedy is provided by Susan and Midge who, while acting as ushers at the theatre, send everyone to the wrong seats, incurring the wrath of the boisterous Mrs. Weatherby. But, as always, although there are many problems to be solved, we know that it is not a matter of if but how. How will Mrs. Gregson be spared eviction, how will the Players survive, how will the gang make a success of the book shop?
There are some developments in the lives of the characters. Bill’s policeman friend Joe Taylor is now a sergeant. Charlotte goes through not one but two new crazes. First of all, she informs a surprised Aunt Lucy that she has always wanted to work in a book shop. Then comes the acting, although this passion is extremely short-lived, the pot on her head dampening her enthusiasm. However, it is at the theatre that she discovers her niche in life: art. The book ends with Charlotte continuing at the theatre, but as a painter of scenery. This will lead to her going to Perugia the next year to study art. Susan and Midge, on the other hand, remain unchanged. Susan is the helpful busybody and Midge is the unenthusiastic sidekick who is dragged along for the ride. The author has clearly decided that allowing these girls, especially Susan, to “grow up” would take away some of the essence of their personalities. Another character that really breathes life into the tale is Wichwood Village itself. The whole story is set here but with so much variety and so much action that the reader never feels boxed in.
No Trouble for Susan is an excellent book and a joy to read. It was published in 1962 by Collins, is 192 pages long and lavishly illustrated by R. A. Branton, with a beautiful coloured frontispiece. It is easily one of the best not only of the Susan series but of all of Jane Shaw’s works. I would rate it at 9 out of 10, with a couple of reservations which are outlined below.
PART TWO: THE TURNING POINT
This publication was the last book of Jane Shaw’s to enjoy high sales. There would be no more Susan books for three years (after many years of almost regular annual publication), and the last three books, despite keeping to an incredibly high standard for so long a series, did not fare as well as their predecessors. The reason for this was the changing society of Great Britain in the mid 1960s and Jane Shaw’s unwillingness to conform to it in her books. No Trouble for Susan, despite all its laudable qualities and high standard of plotting and writing, was aimed at an audience that made up only a part of her potential readership: upper middle class children living in a semi-Victorian cocoon. Her portrayal of the working class children in the story as delinquents and thugs makes the book appear dated even for its time. All the working class people employ shocking grammar and dropped aitches and claim that they’ve done “nuffink”. They are rude and cruel for no other reason than that this is how they are expected to behave. Yes, there are working class children who behave this way, but the author has made it a rule that they must all do so (at least in this book; little Sid the orphan in the Penny stories is somewhat of an exception). Unlike her middle class characters, some of whom are nice and others not so pleasant, there is very little room for maneuver here. As a working class person myself, I can attest to the fact that there were indeed a number of Timmys at my school and in my neighbourhood, but there were also others who wanted to get on in life. Yes, there were the truants and vandals, but conversely many of us went on to be engineers, teachers, doctors and stockbrokers, and still more went on to “ordinary” jobs without turning to a life of crime or brawling in pubs. In the 1960s, The Beatles and Rolling Stones were showing that people from a less privileged background could be talented. Michael Caine and other actors were out to show that Cockneys could do more in the movies than touch their caps and say “Aw right, guvn’r”. This seems to be something Jane Shaw could never get to grips with or was simply unwilling to address. This may have been due to her living so far away in South Africa, only remotely aware of the changes and unable to observe them enough to write about them convincingly; or it may simply have been that now that she was comfortably into her fifties it was too late for her to change. However that may be, she was losing ground. Books like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators were pouring in from America with heroes that did not go to public schools or have titled relatives. Children’s programmes on television were carefully crafted to be inclusive. Legendary BBC presenter Brian Cant recalls that he was instructed to avoid saying things like “you can do this at home on the lawn” because children in high-rise flats didn’t have lawns. In fact, roles were reversed. In the 1970s, politicians strove to be men of the people and downplayed any upper class connections they may have had. Aristocrats in the media were assigned comic roles, and anyone who employed the term “old boy” inevitably turned out to be a crook. The press began to take delight in stories about cash-strapped royals such as Princess Michael of Kent and barons who could no longer afford the upkeep of their stately homes. Although these portrayals were no less fair than depicting the working classes as unwashed, foul-mouthed yobs had been in the 1950s, they are examples of how society changes. And if you can’t keep up with the changes, you find yourself shunted aside. If Jane Shaw had been living in the UK in the 1960s, she may have been able to accompany these changes and avoid the stereotypes. Sid was based on a school friend of her son Ian’s, a boy named Johnny Orpen. This showed that when she had a chance to observe people, she could move away from the stereotypes. But she was far away in South Africa and No Trouble for Susan did indeed mark the beginning of her waning years as an author.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
|Timmy the Terror knocks down Sir Arthur Symes, the Wicked Baronet or Bad Bart, in No Trouble for Susan while skating on the pond in Wichwood Village.|
Friday, December 23, 2011
"Now then, now then," cried Joe, who was always trying to sound like a proper policeman, "what's all this 'ere?" He ran towards the black figure which was still on its knees - and stopped as abruptly as if he had come up against a brick wall. "Sir Arthur!" he exclaimed.
Susan stopped too, wishing she had never started. Sir Arthur Symes was the terror of the neighbourhood.
Midge unobtrusively kicked the bowler again, a little harder this time, striking a blow for the widows and orphans. Tessa, still clutching the umbrella, looked on in terror at what she had done.
Sir Arthur was obviously in a flaming temper, muttering furiously, "Disgraceful... quiet stroll round the garden... set upon... dangerous young thugs... gang... set upon... HELP ME UP, TAYLOR, YOU FOOL!"
From A JOB FOR SUSAN, Chapter 3, Encounter with an Ogre.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Of course, many of the customers knew the Carmichaels, and had to have the full story of Louella's illness and the girls' efforts to help her; and most of them were quite polite and patient except a terrifying old lady called Mrs. Weatherby who told them that they were obviously no possible use to Louella who would have been better advised to seek the help of Mrs. Weatherby herself.
"I can't understand why she didn't think of me," said Mrs. Weatherby, "she knows that I'm a real book-worm and that I should have been delighted to help her. I'm amazed that she didn't think of me. I've often hinted that I should consider a partnership if she wanted some expert help, but all she said was that Mrs. Telford has a B.A. degree. A degree! Everybody knows that all the degrees in the world won't give you the feeling for books. You young people," she boomed, while the other customers in the shop listened with interest, "you young people know nothing about books these days. Used to nothing but comic strips and television, whereas as a child my dear father used to read Kipling and Dickens and Sir Walter Scott to us every Sunday evening-"
From NO TROUBLE FOR SUSAN, Chapter 2, Crisis. The gang's first encounter with the infamous Mrs. Weatherby.
Monday, December 19, 2011
There had been a slight difference of opinion among the carol-singers as to what they should sing, some voting for the old favourites like The Holly and the Ivy and Good King Wenceslas; the others, particularly the Hepburns, suggesting that something a little more unusual should be tried. Jennifer had shuddered in her affected way. "No, no," she said, "I couldn't, simply couldn't, sing Good King Wenceslas. David has some heavenly carols that they sang in his college choir. Go on, David, sing some of them-"
"Yes, well, they're jolly nice," said Midge after they had listened, "but don't forget that half the people to whom we'll be singing are expecting Good King Wenceslas and so on, and they won't realise that these are carols-"
"We could have some of each," said Charlotte.
From NO TROUBLE FOR SUSAN, Chapter 8, Carol-singing.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Bill, who had cut holly before, was not quite so enthusiastic. However, he cut away cheerfully enough, climbed into the holly trees, climbed up the steps, reached for the branches with the most berries; while Susan gathered the cut branches and tied them together and piled high the wheeelbarrow.
They had trundled two loads down to St. Francis's where they had been greeted most warmly by the people who were decorating the church and they had decided that another load would be just about enough or there would be no holly left on the trees for horrible Sir Arthur - not to mention the fact that they were getting jolly tired. It was no joke climbing in among all those prickles, Bill pointed out...
From A JOB FOR SUSAN, Chapter 14, Heigh-ho the Holly.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Susan was doing her homework. And doing it rather well too, she thought complacently, drawing a line under the theorem that she had just proved. "I quite like geometry," she thought. "If you have a decent point on your pencil. And algebra's not bad. But I don't like arithmetic-"
From SUSAN PULLS THE STRINGS, Chapter 1, Changes. In this opening paragraph of the very first book in the series, Susan seems to be a little bit more dedicated to her school work at her school in Glasgow than she proves to be at St. Ronan's the next year!
Saturday, December 3, 2011
The story chronicles the transition of the Eliot family from their home in a comfortable London suburb to Johannesburg. The central character is fourteen-year-old Jennifer, who from the very beginning detests the idea of moving away from England. But her father’s doctors have told him that his fragile health requires him to live in a drier, warmer climate than muggy London. So, along with her mother, her cousin Eleanor and her little brother Mike (12) and sister Belinda (10), whose nickname is Blinky, they set sail on the Dumbarton Castle.
Three whole chapters are dedicated to the voyage on the ship. Along the way the children enjoy good meals, the swimming pool and games. They meet the Rivett twins, Candy and Peter, who become their new friends, although Jennifer, against everything South African, takes an instant dislike to Candy. They visit their dog, Susan, in the ship’s kennel. And along the way they stop at Las Palmas, where Belinda and Mike try to cheer Jennifer up by getting her a little white puppy and smuggling it on board. Jennifer loves the dog, whom the children name Little Black Sambo, but she is determined not to like South Africa, which they reach a few days later.
Dr. Eliot greets his family in Cape Town. Having managed by good fortune to smuggle Sambo through customs, the family set off for the long drive to Johannesburg. All of the family are impressed by the new country, although some things about Johannesburg surprise them, e.g., people resting on the roadside at lunchtime. Their lives are documented as they find a place to live, schools, a social life, extra-curricular activities, such as riding and swimming, and friends. Regular riding classes and swimming all year round are things that Jennifer finds hard to resist, and it is obvious that she enjoys them, but she has set her mind on criticizing South Africa at every opportunity. She deliberately gets bad marks at school and picks fights with the other girls in her class whenever they mention British rule.
But the family in general, even Jennifer (secretly), love the visits to the Game Reserve and Loch Vaal, all lovingly described. They enjoy braaivleis, a South African form of barbecue. The younger children happily adopt the local dialect, with words like dabby and gee. Jennifer, of course, refuses to make use of this “ridiculous” form of speech. Mike and Blinky, in their last desperate attempt to improve Jennifer’s mood, buy her a pony from a ragged native boy, with inevitable disastrous consequences. At Christmas they love shopping in Johannesburg and comparing Christmas in the blazing hot sun of South Africa with the festive season back in the freezing United Kingdom. But the underlying theme of Jennifer’s misery permeates the whole story, and in the end even her family tire of her attitude until there is a dramatic showdown between her and her mother that apparently opens her eyes at last.
Like all Jane Shaw stories, this one is well plotted and very consistent in characterization. The descriptions of South Africa are detailed but not overstretched to the point where the reader becomes bored by it. There is the usual comedy and carefree banter between the children and lots of excitement as the new vistas of life in another country are revealed and the family have to adapt to the ways of others and learn to respect them. We learn a great deal about South Africa in the same way that we learn about Brittany in Breton Adventure and Switzerland in Crooks Tour and Susan Interferes, more so as a matter of fact, as the other books are not quite so rich in detail. There is also drama when a lion sits on the bonnet of the Eliots’ car and when Jennifer is confronted by Candy after a gymkhana in a dispute over her pony.
However, there are also differences. This book is one of only four single titles (the others being The House of the Glimmering Light, The Crew of the Belinda and Crooks Tour) in the Jane Shaw oeuvre. And while most of her characters happily blunder along, this story is perhaps the only one where we see a leading character in absolute misery (even for Belle in Susan's Helping Hand things turn out well in the end). It is also unusual in that the ending is not such a happy one. Jennifer reaches the end of the story in a reflective mood and with thoughts that are not exactly joyful; in fact they are quite solemn. That is not to say that there have not been other books where not all has ended well for the main characters. Let us take a look at the closing lines of Susan Muddles Through, when Aunt Lucy receives a letter from Selina Gascoigne:
Darling Gabrielle has been so happy with Midge and Susan that I think it would be nice for them to see more of her. So I have written to their headmistress in Kent to ask if she can squeeze Gabrielle in next term… I’m sure Miss Phillimore will find a place for her. Tell Midge and Susan, I know they’ll be pleased.
Is this a “happy” ending for Susan and Midge? Of course not. But the reader laughs, imagining the conflicts and comic situations that lie ahead. Let us also consider the end of New House at Northmead:
To have restored his picture to Lord Claire was some consolation. There weren’t many others; for in the end-of-term results New House came bottom in every House competition with unfailing regularity.
“Gosh, it’s bad,” said Nicky. “Bottom in everything.”
“Never mind,” said Kay, joyfully throwing clothes, shoes, books into her trunk, “next term we’ll fix it.”
Again, the girls have worked throughout the story to make something of New House and failed miserably. But now they’re off on holiday without a care and the reader doesn’t feel sorry for them. Quite a contrast to Jennifer’s final thoughts in Venture to South Africa as she accepts that living in South Africa isn’t so bad after all but she can’t help pining for her homeland.
What also sets this book apart from the rest is that it is clearly the most autobiographical of Jane Shaw’s works. Jennifer Eliot’s initials, J.E., might also stand for Jean Evans (in 1937 Jean Patrick married Robert Evans). Jennifer went to South Africa because of her father; Jean Evans went because of her husband. The story was written in 1952-53; Jean Evans moved to South Africa in 1952. Jennifer sailed on the Dumbarton Castle; Jean Evans sailed on the Warwick Castle. Jennifer never gives up her dream of returning to Britain; neither does Jean Evans. When Robert retired in 1978, their first move was to return to Scotland, setting up house on Arran. Of course, other books of Jane Shaw’s were based on trips she had made. Highland Holiday is a return to her youthful days holidaying on Arran. The trips to Switzerland that feature in her stories follow routes she took with friends and family and on her honeymoon. But all her other characters returned home and none of these books have such a personal feel about them as does the story of the Eliot family. Jane Shaw learned to love South Africa and it was used as a location in three other stories: Fivepenny Mystery, the opening of which is set in Johannesburg; The Matchmakers, a short story published in the Collins’ Girls’ Annual 1960; and Nothing Happened After All, the second Dizzy and Alison novel. Jennifer’s story is also told in reverse in New House at Northmead, when Lynette has trouble adapting to England after spending most of her life in Rhodesia.
I enjoyed Venture to South Africa a great deal and highly recommend this realistic and honest story, which provides some insight into the feelings of Jane Shaw herself as she underwent the experience of leaving everything behind to go overseas at a time when travelling to South Africa took weeks rather than hours and visits home were few and far between. An excellent story, and I give it nine out of ten.
And all this time Christmas was rapidly approaching; the shops broke out in a perfect rash of reindeer and tinsel, Christmas cards appeared on the counters, and the schools broke up for the long summer holidays. Dr. and Mrs. Eliot had told the family long ago that there would be no seaside holiday this year, but Uncle Alec had promised them the cottage at Loch Vaal for as long as they liked; and also a visit to the Kruger National Park was promised, although all their friends objected that it was not the proper season; so these were delights to look forward to when Christmas was over.
From VENTURE TO SOUTH AFRICA, Chapter 10, Christmas Holidays.
Jane Shaw was born Jeanie Bell Shaw Patrick in Glasgow on 3 December 1910, the youngest child of Dr. John Patrick and his wife Margaret (née Shaw). Jean, as she was known, was born into a professional, middle-class family; like his father William, John had studied medicine at Glasgow University, graduating MB, CM in 1893... Jean was first taught at home by a governess, but when she was eight her parents sent her to Park School at 25 Lynedoch Street, about five minutes' walk from their home.
From A GLASGOW GIRL, by Alison J. Lindsay, Chapter 2 of Susan and Friends: The Jane Shaw Companion.
Yes, today is Jane Shaw's 101st birthday. Although she passed away in 2000, just a few days short of turning ninety, she is fondly remembered by thousands of readers around the world who enjoyed the Susan and Penny books and the many others she wrote. Susan and Friends was in preparation when she passed away and she was pleased that her works would enjoy a bit of a revival, although she was reportedly very modest about her achievements as an author. All that aside, I for one feel that the Jane Shaw experience has really brightened up the past two years and provided me with many fun moments, which was the purpose of her books to begin with. Sometimes we get carried away with concerns about a writer's place in history and their literary legacy. But at the end of the day, it's all about telling a good story. And nobody does that better than Jane Shaw. So happy birthday Jane!