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Chalet School

REREAD: Chudleigh Hold

Chudleigh Hold: Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Chambers, 1954

I’ve owned this copy since books were sold in charity shops for 30p, although all I remembered about it was that it was about a family gifted with outlandish names who seemed to have no connection to the Chalet School. As I’ve ordered the second book in the series from Girls Gone By, I thought it’d be a good idea to reread this in advance of its arrival.

Chudleigh Hold is the seat of the Chudleigh family. I though it was a bit of cheek that one of their number exclaimed over an ancestor having seventeen children when they number eight. Sir Godfrey, aged 26, is the eldest and the guardian of the rest since their father’s early demise. Next in age is Merle, like him, owner of a family name – she’s really Merrill, then come nineteen year-old twins Charles, injured in the car accident that orphaned them, and Charlotte, this generation’s beauty, known as Cherry. After them come seventeen year old Peregrine, aka Hawk, sixteen year old Venancy, who got the name from their mother’s Cornish family and who goes by Ven, twelve year old Arminel, who is called Crumpet, and finally Benedict, who answers to Benny or Ben abd who is soon to go to prep school. Their mother died when he was born.

The story starts on the day of Merle’s twenty-first, a day of picnicking by the nearby sea, and a day when the family is convulsed by a letter full of surprising news and a request. A cousin none of them knew about before, another Merrill, writes, claiming to be the daughter of the family black sheep, Uncle Miles and asking to come visit. Before agreeing, they must consult Nanny, a personage who is described as ‘austere’ more than anything else, who rules the roost at Chudleigh Hold, although Merle is housekeeper and Godfrey feels his responsibility towards the younger ones.

For the most part, it is a story about the whole family, much like Gwendoline Courtney’s family stories, which I like a lot, if skewing a little older. There is a little tension in that Cherry seems set on squashing her more sensitive younger sister Crumpet, whom the elders are rather worried about healthwise – Godfrey and Merle are surrogate parents, rather. There are also money worries, with death duties and taxes pressing so much on Godfrey that he feels he has to leave for Argentina to try to sell their pedigree cattle there. Ven and Crumpet are educated at home by a family friend. Merle is uneasy about the lack of his protection, for most of the family haven’t taken to Swiss-born Cousin Merrill, whose relations have mumps, meaning her stay at Chudleigh Hold is prolonged.

Indeed, the longer she stays, the more that plucky Crumpet realises there is a mystery about her, even though Cherry has taken Merle up as a great friend. Fortunately, the Chudleighs’ great-aunt, the redoubtable Aunt Merrill, decides to come stay with them. In her seventies, she likes to create a sensation, although the modern reader can’t approve of her attitude towards cigarettes (they are poisonous!), and her family is generally very entertained by her if never sure what she’ll do next, which is a great burden to her old-fashioned paid companion, Miss Molesley. But you get the feeling that, spinster with a tragic history aside, this is the sort of old lady that Jo Maynard would like to become.

This is a family-centric thriller, with a large and varied cast. Brent-Dyer is concerned with their characters to some degree – Crumpet is described as a sinner for some night walking – but there is, arguably, an anti-foreigners thread that is somewhat surprising from this author. The female characters are in the thick of things, although Hawk manages to stop incipient hysteria in his sister by telling her to stop being such a girl at one point, and those things include the sort of escapades that you’d see at the Chalet School as well as the main plot, which is not unfamiliar in these sorts of tales of adventure. If there is a lesson, it is that family members cannot, should not, act alone.

This entry was originally posted at http://feather-ghyll.dreamwidth.org/120258.html. Please comment wherever you prefer to.

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