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Angela Brazil's School Girl Novels
Angela Brazil wrote nearly 50 novels between 1899 and 1946, all of them for and about middle-class English school girls. The novels tend to consist of a series of events centered on a slow-moving plot and lasting for the duration of one school year. A common theme was the acclimation of a new student to the life of a school, and the transformation this sparks in her.
The books were immensely popular among school girls, who recognized themselves and their schools in them. Some schools banned them, because the characters in the books tended to be fallible little humans who they did not consider to be perfect role models for English girls - though role models they were. Brazil's novels crawled with moral lessons encouraging good conduct, self-sacrifice, and helpfulness.
These days, an Angela Brazil novel functions as a fascinating time capsule, and it's still an entertaining read, though a parent intending to read one to their child might want to vet it first for old-timey racism and xenophobia. It wasn't all sunshine and daisies back in the good old days!
I was personally drawn to the novels because I love old novels, children's books, female leads, and novels where nearly the entire cast is female. These were practically custom-made for my light reading!
About Angela Brazil
Angela Brazil was born to a British cotton manufacturer and a half-Spanish daughter of a shipping industry family - so they were quite well-off and middle-class. Her mother, who had endured a strict Victorian upbringing, brought Angela and her three other children up to speak their minds and act freely. Angela's school experience must have been a shock, since schools in the late 19th century tended towards the strict and formal. However, Angela's school days were to become some of her happiest years, which she spent her life recreating in fiction.
Angela never married, but lived with her mother and later, after her death, with her sister Amy and brother Walter in Coventry. She became an enthusiastic hostess, also known for throwing parties for children. Her other interests, after writing and collecting children's literature, was nature conversation - somewhat unusual at the time - and working for the Coventry Cathedral.
Read more about Angela Brazil on Collecting Books and Magazines.
Examples of the novels
I have yet to read all of Brazil's novels, but here are a few to give you an idea.
The New Girl at St. Chad's (published 1911)
Honor Fitzpatrick is an upper-class Irish girl who's never had to worry about too many rules. Her temper gets her in trouble in the strictly controlled world of a large public school, but she learns to modify her behaviour, and through a friend's example, even begins the hard task of becoming an other-oriented, caring individual, rather than the flighty wild girl she was.
Personal note: As a naturally repressed person, I can never really like a novel that has as it's central moral lesson "be less yourself".
The Madcap of the School (published 1917)
This story follows the school year of "madcap" Raymonde and her equally naughty friends. Raymonde and her friends downright bully other girls to make them toe the school's line, which was a bit of a surprise! Raymonde is definitely the most disobedient of Brazil's heroines, at least the ones I've met, along the lines of a lot of boy's adventure heroes.
For the Sake of the School (published 1918)
Ulyth is conscientious and kind, but a bit too particular. When her unpolished "backwoods" pen pal from New Zealand arrives in Ulyth's remote public school, Ulyth makes the noble sacrifice of attempting to be friends with and teach deportment to the new girl, whose manners make her cringe.
A Patriotic School Girl (published 1918)
Marjorie has two brothers in the front and is madly patriotic. Just transferred to a new school, she now has to juggle both a higher standard of deportment than in her old school (no throwing snowballs! no asking for autographs in public!) and the troubling suspicion that one of the mistresses might be... a spy!
The Head Girl at the Gables (published 1919)
Nobody expected Lorraine Anderson to become the head girl. As such, the quiet girl has to deal with other sixth form girls' jealousy as well as reforming the school schedule. At the same time she is discovering her budding artistic talents.
Angela Brazil's novels... for free!
The lovely thing about out of copyright books is that they're available through a lot of sources as free e-books. The best place for out of copyright books is Project Gutenberg, but if you're a Kindle user, there are some Kindle versions available, too - and, of course, traditional print books.
Angela Brazil on Amazon
Had you ever heard of Angela Brazil before?
Reading the novels, I was struck with a similarity to the other British school novel series I'm familiar with - Harry Potter! Though Brazil's schools are always girls-only and generally no magic is worked, the novel-per-school-year format, the smaller happenings and lessons worked into the larger, slow-moving plot, and the arrival to school by train or carriage or boat all reminded me of Rowling's novels. It's hardly surprising, since Brazil is considered to have been a major influence in British children's fiction in general, and could be expected to have shaped Rowling's school story narrative.
Do you know what other children's stories bear a striking resemblance to Brazil's earlier novels? Let me know in the comments!
Angela Brazil's novels on eBay
For the collectors among us who want a piece of children's literature history on their shelves.
Kivitasku Designs on Zazzle
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Did you read these books as a child? Or is this the first time you've heard of them?