Book and Magazine Collector No. 181 - April 1999
Previous BMC articles on Elinor Brent-Dyer (1894-1969) have, in the main, concentrated on her 'Chalet School' series, and readers might be forgiven for assuming that her other books are of much less interest to collectors. But this is far from the truth. Although Brent-Dyer is best known for the 62 'Chalet School' books - and, indeed, the two Brent-Dyer fan clubs are known as Friends of the Chalet School and The New Chalet Club - there is considerable interet in her 'miscellaneous works', and an article on them is long overdue.
Probably the best known, and most important, of EBD's 'other' titles are the seven novels which make up the 'La Rochelle' series: Gerry Goes to School (1922), A Head Girl's Difficulties (1923), The Maids of La Rochelle (1924), Seven Scamps (1927), Heather Leaves School (1929), Janie of La Rochelle (1932) and Janie Steps In (1953). These were not known as the 'La Rochelle' series until the 1950s, when they were described as such on the dustjackets of the Chambers reprints (in a red-and-white box or a yellow-and-red circle printed on the spines).
The name 'La Rochelle' comes from the cottage in which the main characters live in The Maids of La Rochelle. Although the books are linked, they did not really tie together as a series until Janie of La Rochelle, as each of the previous books had been about a new set of characters, with the earlier set(s) appearing later in the narrative. The series is also connected with the 'Chalet School' books in that it features many of the characters from this series (or their children).
Gerry Goes to School was Brent-Dyer's first book. Its heroine Gerry Challoner, who subsequently plays a fairly large part in A Head Girl's Difficulties, receives a mention in Seven Scamps, and makes a brief appearance in The Rivals of the Chalet School (1929), only to then disappear. However, on her first day at St Peter's High, Gerry meets the Atherton girls who are to play a much larger part in both the 'La Rochelle' and 'Chalet School' series. Rosamund Atherton is head girl of St Peter's High in A Head Girl's Difficulties. She goes on to become the mother of Blossom and Judy Willoughby in the 'Chalet School' series.
At the end of the book, we learn that the Athertons are going to Guernsey for a holiday. In the third 'La Rochelle' book, The Maids of La Rochelle (1924), which is set entirely on Guernsey, the three 'maids' are the Temple sisters: Anne, Elizabeth and their younger half sister, Janie. 'Chalet School' readers will known the as Anne Chester, mother of Beth, Nancy, Barbara and Janice; Elizabeth Ozanne, mother of Vanna and Nella; and Janie Lucy, mother of Juli, Betsy, Vi and Kitten.
Seven Scamps (1927) tells the story of the Willoughby family. It is their uncle Nigel who marries Rosamund Atherton and on whose boat Joey and Co escape from Guernsey in The Chalet School Goes To It. The Scamps meet the Temple sisters and the Athertons when they go to Guernsey for a holiday, and Mrs Atherton's much younger stepsister, Ceca, gets engaged to the curate from the Willoughby's village. They subsequently become the parents of Nita and Edmund Eltringham. In Heather Leaves School (1929), Heather Raphael becomes a good friend of Janie Lucy when she meets her on the boat to St Peter Port in Guernsey. It is in this book that Janie Temple becomes engaged to Julian Lucy, a friend whom she meets in Guernsey (in The Maids of La Rochelle) and who also features in Seven Scamps.
Janie of La Rochelle (1923) describes the first year of Janie and Julian's marriage when they are living in La Rochelle, the Guernsey cottage first occupied by the Temple girls in Maids. Janie Steps In (1953) is set just before The Chalet School in Exile and, although it was not published until 1953, it must, I feel, have been written between The Chalet School in Exile (1940) and Highland Twins at the Chalet School (1942), since one of the heroines is Nan Blakney, who becomes engaged to David Willoughby in Highland Twins. Nan is obviously a character whom one is supposed to know well - perhaps Brent-Dyer had forgotten that the book in which she featured had not yet been published. The 'La Rochelle' books are a delight in themselves, and not just because of their links with the better-known 'Chalet School' series.
The first edition of Gerry Goes to School (1922) contained four plates by Gordon Browne, who also provided the dustjacket illustration. The decorated (blue) boards were illustrated by Mabel Lucie Atwell (see BMC 112), originally in red, white, blue and black. The book was later reissued in brown cloth, with the illustration printed in darker brown. This edition included all four of Gordon Browne's plates, but was not dated, although I know of a copy inscribed '1929'.
The 1934 reprint was bound in either red or pale blue cloth, with only one plate, used as the frontispiece. However, it was issued in a different dustjacket, featuring an illustration by Rene Cloke which was originally commissioned for May Baldwin's Spoilt Cynthia at School. Chambers were particularly found of re-using jacket artwork - sometimes just the front or spine, sometimes the whole dustjacket. It didn't seem to worry them that the illustrations didn't fit the story, or that there might be several books on the market at one time with the same jacket picture. Indeed, the original dustjacket spine illustration for Gerry Goes to School was later reused for a 1930 edition of Elsie Oxenham's A Go Ahead School-Girl.
The Rene Cloke jacket for Gerry was still in use in 1940. To the best of my knowledge, there were no further reprints of the book until the 1950s. At this stage, Brent-Dyer's popularity was probably at its height, and the published 'La Rochelle' titles were all reprinted. Gerry Goes to School was reissud in 1952 with a new jacket illustration by Nina K. Brisley, but there were no inside illustrations. This edition was reprinted in 1957.
Nina K. Brisley provided all the illustrations for the first edition of A Head Girl's Difficulties (1923) - that is, the jacket, the decorated boards, and four black-and-white plates. The boards were bron, with dark brown lettering, and the illustrations printed in green and brown. (The same board illustrations were used - in dark blue outline on plain blue boards - for May Baldwin's Muriel and Her Aunt Lu, while the front jacket design was recycled for Baldwin's Sunset Rock, and the spine illustrations for the same author's The Girls of St Gabriel's.)
This edition of A Head Girl's Difficulties was reprinted in the 1920s with brown decorated boards, and in 1934 and 1941 with plain boards. The last two editions each contained a single plate. A new edition of A Head Girl's Difficulties was pblished in 1952, featuring a jacket illustration by Nina K. Brisley. This was reprinted in 1955 an 1957.
The first edition of Maids of La Rochelle (1924) was also illustrated by Nina K. Brisley, who provided the jacket illustration, the board decorations and four black-and-white plates. The boards were brown, with the illustrations and lettering printed in dark brown. This ediion was reprinted in 1941, with one plate and plain boards. The dustjacket was re-used for the edition of Muriel and Her Aunt Lu mentioned above. A new edition of Maids of La Rochelle was issued in 1952, and this was reprinted in 1955 and 1957. Once again, Nina K. Brisley provided a new dustjacket picture for this book, although there were no inside illustrations.
Seven Scamps (with its wonderful sub-title, 'Who Are Not All Boys') was first published in 1927, with a dustjacket and eight black-and-white plates by Percy Tarrant. The boards were plain blue with the distinctive Chambers gold lettering (which seems to have been introduced in 1926). It was priced at 5/- as opposed to 3/6 for the first three 'La Rochelle' books (and also the first three 'Chalet School' titles). An early, undated reprinted had buff or blue boards with black lettering, and featured all eight plates. A later, also undated, reprint was bound in red cloth with black lettering, but included only six plates. It is possible that there was a 1941 edition with one plate, as with the other titles, but I have yet to find a copy. Seven Scamps was reissued in a new edition in 1952 (reprinted in 1955, 1956 and 1957), featuring a specially-commissioned jacket picture by Nina K. Brisley, and no inside illustrations.
The first edition of Heather Leaves School (1929) featured a dustjacket illustration and four black-and-white plates by Percy Tarrant. It was bound in plain red cloth with gold lettering. The book was reissud in 1941, with one black-and-white plate. The reprint was priced at 2/6, compared to 3/6 for the original edition. Again, Heather Leaves School was reissued in 1952 in a new jacket by Nina K. Brisley, but with no inside illustrations. This edition was reprinted in 1955, 1956 and 1957.
Janie of La Rochelle was first published in September 1932 with a jacket illustration and four black-and-white plates by Percy Tarrant. The binding was red, with gold lettering. The 1941 reprint (one plate) was listed as the third impression, and so presumably there was another printing, probably in the mid-1930s. Unusually, the 1952 reprint featured the original Percy Tarrant dustjacket, although there were no inside illustrations. It was not until 1957 that a new edition was produced. This had a jacket by an unknown artist, and no inside illustrations.
The final title in the series, Janie Steps In, was first published in 1953 at six shillings. It had a jacket by an unknown artist, and no inside illustration. It was reprinted in 1956 and 1957.
The 1950s reprints (and the first of Janie Steps In) are fairly easy to find, and they fetch around £15-£25 (Very Good), or £25-£45 with the jackets. The original editions of the first six titles sell for £75-£100 in Very Good condition, and £125-£200 with the jackets, with reprinted changing hands for about 30% less.
Of Elinor Brent-Dyer's other books, the majority were school stories, published between 1927 and 1963. Most of these were single titles, but some were pairs.
A Thrilling Term at Janeways was first published by Nelson in 1927, and was illustrated by Florence Mary Anderson. The book was issued in lovely decorated boards (showing a group of girls) which are not credited, and I suspect that these may be by another artist. I have never seen a dustjacket for this edition. The book was reprinted both in th 1930s and 1950s, although none of the reprints are dated. The inside illustrations remained unchanged, but the boards of the 1930s edition(s) show the same girls reproduced in black-and-white line only, and with no background, while the boards of the 1950s edition(s) are plain.
Until recently, I had always thought that the dustjacket for the 1950s edition(s) was contemporary, since it looks very much of that era. However, I recently purchased a 1930s edition bearing the same jacket - which, moreover, carried advertisements for other 1930s titles on the back. It is therefore possible that this jacket was also used for the first edition. The first edition now sells for £40-£60 in Very Good condition, or £80-£100 with the jacket. Reprints are worth £15-£30, or £30-£40 with the jacket.
The sequel to Janeways, Caroline the Second, was published by The Girl's Own Paper Office in 1937, and was never reprinted. It is one of Elinor Brent-Dyer's rarest books, and fetches up to £250 without a jacket. The dustjacket is incredibly rare, and I have never heard of a copy coming on the market. The book was issued with a colour frontispiece, and the boards feature a small black-and-white picture of a girl reading. No artist is credited.
Judy, the Guide was also published by Nelson, in 1928. I have never seen a first edition, but the early reprint in my collection is illustrated by Lilian Govey, with a black-and-white frontispiece, decorated boards in black on blue, and a dustjacket featuring the same illustration. I suspect that this jacket may also have been used for the first edition, although it is possible tat the original boards were more fully decorated. A first edition in a jacket might fetch as much as £120.
Elinor Brent-Dyer stayed with Nelson for the publication of The New House-Mistress which also came out in 1928. The first edition was issued in decorated boards, with the same Florence Mary Anderson illustration being used for the boards, jacket (both two-color) and frontispiece (black-and-white). This edition was reprinted in the 1930s with the same frontispiece and jacket, but with a repeated black-line motif of a girl reading on the front board, and some flowers on the spine. For some reason, Nelson reprinted the book twice in the 1950s in ther 'Peerless' series, but with different dustjacket illustrations - the more common by Valerie Sweet (or Sweek), and the other not credited.
The New House-Mistress is generally regarded as one of Brent-Dyer's weaker books, and reprints are easy to find. Not so the first edition, which now sells for up to £10 in Very Good condition, or £15-£20 in the jacket. Editions from the 1950s sell for no more than £10 (Very Good, in dustjacket).
The School by the River (1930) is Elinor Brent-Dyer's second rarest titl. There are only nine recorded copies, although two of these were found on market stalls in the last few years selling for around twenty pence! It was one of two Brent-Dyer books published by Burns, Oates & Washbourne. No complete jacket is known to exist, although part of a jacket is pasted down inside one of the surviving copies. The book has never appeared in a dealer's catalogue, but fortunately Bettany Press will be reissuing the novel later this year in paperback form.
The Girl's Own Paper Office published three more of Brent-Dyer's school stories in the 1930s, all at 2/-. All of these editions featured coloured frontispieces and jackets and - but for some line decoration around the titles - they were issued in plain boards.
The first of these books was The Feud in the Fifth Remove (1931). The original edition was illustrated by Ellis Silas, but when the book was reissued in 1949 it featured artwork by a new and uncredited artist. It was followed by Carnation of the Upper Fourth, which came out in 1934. The artist responsible for the frontispiece and jacket illustration was again uncredited. A new edition appeared in 1958, with artwork by another, also uncredited, illustrator. Collectors should be wary of this edition as its text is severely abridged.
The artist for the third of these books, Monica Turns Up Trumps (1936), was also uncredited. This novel was reissued in 1944 with new illustrations b L. Otway, and a new, larger impression came out in 1952 with the same illustrations. Monica Turns Up Trumps is connected to the 'Chalet school' series in that Monica is mentioned as a pupil in Lavender Laughs in the Chalet School. First editions of these three books currently command up to £80 (Very Good, in dustjackets), whereas reprints cost around £15. All are good stories, and are well worth adding to your collection.
As well as reprinting the above titles, Lutterworth Press published the first edition of Lorna at Wynyards in 1947. With a black-and-white frontispiece and two-colour jacket by Victor J. Bertegblan (although it is impossible to be sure of the spelling as his signature is difficult to read!)m this book now fetches as much as £120 in Very Good condition. For some reason, the sequel, Stepsisters for Lorna (1948), was published by C. & J. Temple and illustrated by John Bruce. It also commands up to £120 (Very Good, in dustjacket).
Max Parrish published what were to be Elinor's last non-'Chalet School' titles, The School at Skelton Hall (1962) and Trouble at Skelton Hall (1963). Although not rated highly by fans, these books are surprisingly elusive and can cost as much as £120 in their Geoffrey Whittam jackets.
Brent-Dyer's three 'Oliphants' books - Nesta Steps Out (1954), Beechy of the Harbour School (1955) and Leader in Spite of Herself (1956) - don't strictly come under the category of 'school stories' as they were intended as Sunday School prizes. Brent-Dyer is generally regarded as handling 'religion' well in the 'Chalet School' series, but almost all her modern readers find these books uncomfortably evangelical in tone, and as a result they are only collected by completists.
The artist for Nesta Steps Out is unknown, but the other two novels were illustrated by Wardill. The boards for Beechy of the Harbour School are plain white and unlaminated, which means that copies are often rather dirty. Leader in Spite of Herself was issued in card boards, but without a jacket. All three books were printed on very cheap paper which has a tendency to become brown and brittle. The books all fetch up to £50 in Very Good condition, or £75-£100 with the jackets (where applicable).
In 1951, Chambers published four education readers by Elinor Brent-Dyer. They were: Bess on Her Own in Canada, A Quintette in Queensland, Sharlie's Kenya Diary and Verena Visits New Zealand. Each book was illustrated with a few line drawings and diagrams, as well as black-and-white photographs. The cover illustrations (there were no jackets) were drawn by the Edinburgh artist, John Mackay, who died earlier this year. In these books, Brent-Dyer attempted - not very successfully (some of the information is not very accurate!) - to introduce her readers to new countries using fictional travelogues. They ought to turn up regularly at sales in piles of school readers for a few pence, but that doesn't seem to happen. The last quartet to be offered in a catalogue sold for £180 each.
Elinor Brent-Dyer was fond of dogs, and knew a lot about them, as is evident from her two books on the subject: They Both Liked Dogs (The Girl's Own Paper Office, 1938) and Kennelmaid Nan (Lutterworth, 1953). The former, which was originally priced at 3/6, now sells for as much as £250, or £350 with the very scarce jacket. The boards share the sam illustration as those for Caroline the Second, published the year before. The artist responsible for the frontispiece and dustjacket is not known, although the letters 'EV' can just be made out on the jacket. The second title is much less rare, fetching up to £60 in its Alice Bush dustjacket.
Brent-Dyer's three historical novels are among her least read works, and two of them are among her very rarest titles. Indeed, The Little Marie-Jose (Burns Oates, 1932), a Roman Catholic 'piety' book, is the scarcest of all her works. Only five copies are known to be in collectors' hands, and of these none has even a glimmer of a jacket. (It is not clear why the two books published by Burns Oates should be so rare. It is true that the company's warehouse was bombed out of existence during the Blitz, but what has happened to all the copies sold in the eight years or so before the war?)
The second of Brent-Dyer's historical novels, Elizabeth the Gallant, was published in 1935 by Thornton Butterworth. The book is not thought to have been reprinted, but some copies have the publisher's stamp on the otherwise plain boards, and some do not. There were no inside illustrations, and the very rare dustjacket features a two-colour (mainly turquoise and white) illustration by Lance Cattermole. The book fetches up to £250 in Very Good condition, or up to £350 with the jacket. An abridged version of the story appeare in The Second Coronet Annual for Girls under the title, 'Cavalier Maid'.
Brent-Dyer's last historical novel was The Little Missus, which was published by Chambers in 1942, with a frontispiece and jacket illustration by John Mackay. It fetched up to £100 in Very Good condition with the jacket.
Two of Brent-Dyer's 'miscellanous' works are mentioned in the 'Chalet School' series as books which are to be written by the leading character, Josephine M. Bettany. The first of these is The Lost Staircase (chambers, 1946), which is mentioned in Lavender Laughs at the Chalet School (1943). The book features a black-and-white frontispiece and a full-colour jacket by Nina K. Brisley. (Looking at the latter, readers might be forgiven for thinking that the work is an historical novel, as two of the characters are in 'period' fancy dress.) Both because of its 'Chalet School' connections and its artist, The Lost Staircase is a favourite book with many collectors, and it now fetches up to £75 in Very Good condition with the jacket. The second of these is Chudleigh Hold, which I discuss below.
Brent-Dyer produced one other linked set of novels: the 'Chudleigh Hold' series. The series consists of three 'core' titles - Chudleigh Hold, The Condor Crags ADventure (both 1954) and Top Secret (1955) - and two other related books: Fardingales (1950) and The Susannah Adventure (1953). Although Chudleigh Hold was not published until 1954, Brent-Dyer certanly had the idea for the book a good ten years earlier, since it was 'advertised' in Gay from China at the Chalet School, which was published in 1944. (Although the sectio containing the reference to Chudleigh Hold is omitted from the 1989 paperback version of the book, Gay Lambert at the Chalet School.) The plot is neatly summarised, and Brent-Dyer clearly had most of the book in her head, if not set down on paper. I suspect that she may have written it fairly soon after Gay from China at the Chalet School, and that for one reason or another publication was delayed for nearly ten years. For this reason, I take Chudleigh Hold to be the first title in the 'series'.
Next in reading order, I would choose Fardingales, which was actually the first book in the series to be published. Interestingly, it ws not issued by Chambers, as were the other titles in the series, but by Latimer House. Fardingales is the rarest of these titles and it can sell for as much as £120 in its Louis Ward dustjacket. An abridged version was published in The Sceptre Girls Story Annual under the title, 'The House of Secrets'.
The next book in the series (both in chronological and 'reading' order) was The Susannah Adventure, published by Chambers in 1953. It was followed by Chudleigh Hold, The Condor Crags Adventure (both 1954) and Top Secret (1955). The Susannah Adventure was illustrated by Nina K. Brisley, Chudleigh Hold by W.E. Spence, and Top Secret by D. Brook. The illustrations in The Condor Crags Adventure are similar to those in A Chalet Girl from Kenya, which are credited to D. Brook. However, both the jacket illustration and the frontispiece of Condor Crags are signed with the letter 'V', which is not an initial used by D. Brook to the best of my knowledge.
With the possible exception of Chudleigh Hold, these books are not very popular with Brent-Dyer fans, since they are really adventure stories in the manner of W.E. Johns. (Johns was almost an exact contemporary of Elinor - she was born in 1894 and died in 1969, he was born in 1893 and died in 1968.) When met himin 1994, Tony Chambers told me that Brent-Dyer's thrillers had not been a success, and indeed Chambers' lack of confidence in the books is reflected in the terms of their contracts for them. At the time, Elinor was being paid an advance of £200 for her 'Chalet School' stories, and a royalty of five per cent on the published price once 20,000 copies had been sold. For the four thrillers contracted by Chambers, the terms were an advance of £100, and a mere £7.10s per 1,000 copies after sales of 10,000 books. The Chambers titles in this series fetch up to £15-£20 in Very Good condition, or £30-£40 with the dustjackets.
The last of Elinor Brent-Dyer's non-'Chalet School' titles is Jean of Storms, which was first serialised in 1930 in the Shields Gazette. Rediscovered in 1995, it was published in book-form the following year by Bettany Press, and is still in print. It is quite different from Elinor's other works in that it is a light romance for adult readers. Opinions differ as to its merits!
Elinor Brent-Dyer's short stories are quickly dealt with, since - unlike most of her peers - she wrote very few, and they are fairly easily collected. Her first recorded short story was 'Jack's Revenge', published in Sunday in 1913 under the name 'May Dyer'. 'Carlotta to the Rescue' was included in a collection which was pblished under three different titles: The Circus Book, The Children's Circus Book and the pamphlet-style Stories of the Circus Book 4. Apart from the two abridged novels mentioned above, her other short stories are: 'The Robins Make Good' published in Volume 57 of The Girl's Own Annual; 'The Lady in the Yellow Gown', included in the 1925 Big Book for Girls; and 'Rescue in the Snows', printed in My Favourite Story. None of these is very difficult to find, although prices vary quite significantly from dealer to dealer.
Although they are less popular than the 'Chalet School' books, Brent-Dyer's
'miscellaneous' titles are unquestionably sought after by aficionados,
as is evidenced by the frequency with which they are borrowed from the
Friends of the Chalet School lending library. Most collectors are
anxious to own copies of the 'La Rochelle' books, Monica Turns Up
Trumps, The Lost Staircase and Chudleigh Hold, simply
because of their links with the 'Chalet School' series. As for the
other titles, they are largely of interest to the completist, but there
are enough of them around to ensure that the scarcer books fetch very
healthy prices on the rare occasions that they do turn up.
Friends of the Chalet School can be contacted at: 4 Rock Terrace, Coleford, Bath, Somerset BA3 5NF.
(Tel: 01373-812705; Fax: 01373-813517; e-mail: email@example.com)
The New Chalet Club can be contacted: at 1 Carpenter Court, Neath Hill, Milton Keynes, MK14 6JP.
Please send an SAE, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Bettany Press can be contacted at: 34 Upper 3rd Avenue, Frinton-on-Sea, Essex CO13 9LH.