The Girls' Boarding School Story

By Eva Margareta Löfgren

The Boarding School Story
Collecting Girls' Fiction
Children's Literature Research in Stockholm
Collection of Boarding School Stories
Annuals and Anthologies
Dorita Fairlie Bruce Homepage
Links to Other Writers and Societies
The School at the Chalet in Swedish
Dolls houses and Paper Dolls (Swedish)
Eva's Homepage
Bokmamsell - mainly Swedish books for sale

Why does Swedish woman make a web site about the traditional British boarding school story for girls ? The basic answer is that many of these books were translated into Swedish, and I used to read them as a child in the 1950s. Like many other Swedish girls I was fascinated by the setting and longed to go to boarding school in England. As boarding schools are very few and very exclusive in our country, this setting naturally seemed very exotic to us.

It all started more than forty years ago with the bookcase of my aunt's stepdaughter, Monika, including many translations of English girls' boarding school stories, among them the first four 'Dimsie' books by Dorita Fairlie Bruce, which had been translated into Swedish between 1950 and 1953. It started again in 1976, when I was a student at the Library School in Borås and during a practice period at one of the older branches of the City Library in Stockholm found Enid Blyton's St. Clare's books, which I had for some reason never read. That discovery was to change my life. Within a couple of days I'd made up my mind to start collecting girls' boarding school stories and write a Ph. D. thesis on them.

The second hand bookshops yielded a number of translations of writers like Enid Blyton and Phyllis Matthewman, but still no Dimsie books. - 'Oh, Dimsie,' said an elderly members of the library staff. 'They used to be very popular. I think the author's name was Bruce.' Armed with that valuable information I was at least able to read the 'Dimsie' books in the Royal Library, the Swedish National Library, but it took over a year before I'd found my own copies of all those four books. I have since then acquired a fairly large collection of boarding school stories both in English and Swedish, and a few books in other languages.

My first study on the boarding school story was a paper at the Library School, a short essay followed by a bibliography of boarding school stories in Swedish during the interesting period 1940-60. That was the first step towards what was to become my Ph.D. thesis at Stockholm University, Schoolmates of the Long-Ago (1993).
I started to read everything about English boarding school stories in sources then available, mainly general handbooks on children's literature, noted the names of every writer and looked them up in the British Museum (British Library) Catalogues - we had a complete set of them at the Library School - writing down every title with bibliographical details on little catalogue cards. That was the origin of the catalogue of my Collection.

The first school story for girls is The Governess by Sarah Fielding (1749), set in a small boarding school for girls. During the 19th C most British boarding school stores are boys' stories, like the famous classics Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes (1857) and Eric by Frederick W. Farrar (1858). The best known school story for girls from that period is American, What Katy Did at School by Susan Coolidge (1873), but there are a few British titles, like Mrs Molesworth's Hermy (1880).
The really classical boarding school story might be said to have started with Talbot Baines Reed in the last decades of the 19th C, but was to flourish in the first half of the 20th C, mainly within girl's fiction. There is a line of development running from L. T. Meade (1854-1914) in the 1880s and 90s, Angela Brazil (1868-1947) in the first decades of our century, to Dorita Fairlie Bruce in the 20s and 30s. Behind this new school story lies the pride and happiness of the new educational opportunities for for girls. Not only public exams and teachers with academic degrees, but novelties like uniforms and team games - including cricket - borrowed from the world of the boys' school. The question whether boarding school is good for young people in real life is wholly irrelevant to the literary historian; as a literary setting its unsurpassed, a "world of girls", a female collective with plots about friendship and rivalry, pranks and small adventures.

Elinor Brent-Dyer's popular and extensive series about the 'Chalet School' (1925-1970) was for some reason never published in Swedish, but here is one chapter from The School at the Chalet in my translation.

It is impossible here to mention more than a very few of all those writers of school stories - most of them boarding school stories - for girls in the first half of this century: Ethel Talbot, Evelyn Smith, Christine Chaundler, Dorothea Moore, Doris A. Pocock, among names well known among collectors. You'll find books by most of them in the Catalogue of my Colletion of Boarding Schools. The 1920s are often seen as the Golden Age of the genre, but the classical school stories lived on even after WW2, not only with Enid Blyton but also with writers like Nancy Breary, or Antonia Forest with her more modern kind of psychological realism. And the girl's boarding school story is far from dead even the very recent years, as witness both Anne Digby's extensive Trebizon series and Jill Murphy's four witty books about The Worst Witch, set in fantasy school for young witches.

The boarding school story in Sweden is not a great chapter. Eva Berlins Elsas pensionsår (1922) is a typical example of a few stories from small finishing schools. Lilian Kjellbergs two books about a Swedish girl at school in England and Germany, Ulla i Ivy House (1924) och Ulla i Villa Martha (1925) are more interesting. The best known boarding school stories in Swedish are boys' stories, the seven Singleton books (1929-54) by Louis de Geer, about a Swedish boy at an English public school and his progress from new junior to headmaster! De Geer also wrote three stories about a Swedish school.

Numerous short school stories appeared in various annuals and anthologies for girls and boys. There were in the earlier part of the 20th C in the UK several juvenile magazines more or less devoted to perennial stories of fictional schools, the most famous are

Dorita Fairlie Bruce Homepage
Collection of Boarding School Stories
Annuals and Anthologies

There is an ever growing interest in collecting traditional girls' fiction, and there are now literary societies about many of the leading writers. There are at least two specialized publishers associated with the girls' story collecting network, both publishing non-fiction about girls' fiction, reprints of old books, and new stories written  as sequels or filler-ins of old popular of books.

Girls Gone By Publishers republish attractive, unabridged paperback editions of rare girls' classics, with original illustrations and cover art. Already published, books by Elinor Brent-Dyer, Elsie J. Oxenham, Dorita Fairlie Bruce, Antonia Forest, Lorna Hill, Gwendoliner Courtney, Susan Coolidge. And non-fiction about girls' fiction and authors.

Bettany Press also publish handbooks and other non-fiction on girls' fiction, reprints and new stories.

Other important websites on girls' fiction:

Girlsown is mainly a mailing list about girls' fiction and related subjects, but also an interesting site with information about literary societies and magazines in this field.

Collecting Books & Magazines, is a valuable site with biographies and bibliographies of a large number of authors of girls' fiction, literary societies.

Juliet Gosling's Ph. D. thesis Virtual World of Girls (1997) must be one of the very first wholly electronic academic theses about children's literature, now also available on CD-ROM.

FOLLY (Fans of Light Literature for the Young) - now with a new website! - is the magazine for people who enjoy the lighter side of children's literature, especially girls' books girls' and other collectable children's books

Links to a few other Writers in my Collection:

Enid Blyton
Enid Blyton Society
Blyton Books
Elinor Brent-Dyer :
Friends of the Chalet School
New Chalet Club
Angela Brazil
Dorita Fairlie Bruce
Sarah Fielding
Antonia Forest
Jill Murphy
Elsie Jeanette Oxenham:
The Abbey Chronicle
The Abbey Girls Series
Joanne K. Rowlings:
The Unofficial Harry Potter Fan Club
Scholastic's Harry Potter Site
Helen Wells and Julie Tatham, The Cherry Ames Page

Children's Literature Research in Stockholm:

Stockholm has for many years been a centre for academic and other serious research in Children's Literature. Svenska barnboksinstitutet (Swedish Institute of Children's Literature) has a comprehensive library of handbooks on the history and theory of Children's Literature, and a very complete collection of children's books in Swedish (legal deposits) and translations of Swedish children's books into other languages; and also valuable data bases with references to articles and other sources to children's literature.

The Department of Comperative Literature (Litteraturvetenskapliga institutionen) at Stockholm University has had a special section for Children's Literature since the mid-70s, with a special chair since 1983. This section has produced several Ph D theses, including my own, on very wide aspects of Children's Literature from Sweden and abroad.
The Swedish National Bibliography, Libris, including foreign language books in Swedish research libraries, has been free on the web since 1997.
Parts of the British Library catalogues are now easily available, too.

Bibliography of my publications and printed essays

Works in Progress:

Database of Swedish children's literature 1910-1960
Swedish children's literature 1940-1960
Stockholm in older children's literature
Female succession to the throne in fiction and history (Ruritania, fantasy, fairy tale)
The Ruritanian novel
Poetry in Advent Calendars

Back to Top
Collection of Boarding School Stories
Annuals and Anthologies
Fairlie Bruce Homepage
Dolls houses and Paper Dolls (in Swedish, with captions in English)
Eva's Homepage
Eva Margareta Löfgren
Latest updated 15 April 2007, but in need of further revision.