Claudine at St Clare’s


2005 Egmont, not illustrated, cover by David Roberts

2005 Egmont, not illustrated, cover by David Roberts

This is the fifth Blyton written St Clare’s novel (it’s sixth if you include the Pamela Cox books) and it’s certainly a roller coaster of a read. There are several new girls in this novel, a  higher number than before I would guess.

There is the honourable Angela Favorleigh, Eileen Paterson (the new matron’s daughter), Pauline Bingham-Jones and then Claudine, who is Mam’zelle’s niece.  None of the girls sell themselves very well – there are plenty of corners that need to be rubbed off, and this is difficult for the old girls to deal with as they’re in the fourth form now and are supposed to be a little more dignified. This does not seem to apply to tricks however, as the girls break their unspoken code about being dignified to play a smelly trick on Mam’zelle.

The Claudine of the title is Mam’zelle’s niece, and we see an affectionate side of Mam’zelle as she tries to look after the girl, who turns out to be quite a mischievous character. She is quite happy to go against the sensible English girls and do daring things to impress them. Claudine is rather like Carlotta in a way, she is happy to do as she pleases within reason, be fierce, and even go as far as to lock the new matron away in a cupboard.

I do find that Claudine and Carlotta are incredibly similar, personality wise. They also share similar temperaments, mannerisms, and a certain disregard for English ways. If I’m honest, although Claudine is an amusing and merry character to have in the form, I feel she is unnecessary as you already have Carlotta.

One of my small points about St Clare’s, a niggle if you like, is that  we never seem to see the girls we spend each book getting to know again. They all fade into the background. In fact I can’t even remember some of the characters I thought were really brilliant and well written, they make an impression but because you hardly ever see them again, or follow their development you forget about them. You only get glimpses into their school life as  the odd point to make the story stick.

I think this is one of the reasons I do enjoy the Malory Towers stories more, and that would be because you get to follow their journey up the school in much more detail.

Anyway, given the comings and goings that seem to be going on this term at St Clare’s, and so many new girls, I do feel a bit overwhelmed about it all. There’s another pretty airhead, Angela, who is Alison’s favourite, there’s matron’s daughter Eileen, and Pauline, a plain but supposedly rich girl. All have their own cross to bear and problems to over come.

Eileen’s is an over domineering mother, which makes her unpopular with the girls, especially when they suspect her of sneaking to matron every time one of them is rude to her. The begin to shun her, making her lonely and without a friend. At Malory Towers, Eileen wouldn’t have been left alone in such a way, I feel the girls were more mature and would have made more of an effort with her.

Pauline is another mystery to add to the long line of mystery girls that Miss Theobald seems to take on at St Clares. People don’t like her much because of her boastful attitude and soon her boasts unravel as the truth slips out, and Pauline finds herself having to face some unfortunate home truths.

Angela, the last girl is… well, there is no other way to describe her, but as a complete and utter snob. Unlike Alison’s former pretty friend, Sadie, who at least was good natured, Angela’s beauty only serves as a façade to her sly and devious nature. She thinks everyone below her, and won’t even talk to Eileen,  Claudine or Carlotta because she believes the former two should not be at St Clare’s because they have relatives working there and shouldn’t be allowed to mix with her class of people, and the latter because of her roots in the circus. Out of all the new girls I found the Honourable Angela the most tedious! If she’d been at Malory Towers, Alicia would have cut her down to size with her sharp tongue in an instant, Darrell would have lost her temper and shaken her silly and the girls would just not have ignored her, but put her in her place! If you ask me, Angela and Gwendoline Lacey are made for each other. I wonder if they met at finishing school?

Well this St Clare’s novel, although interesting, covered a lot of the same ground as previous books, stolen property, deceitfulness, midnight feasts, and much more. There wasn’t anything new, there wasn’t anything really that I felt I could connect to. I liked Claudine, but then I liked Carlotta as well, and they really do feel like similar characters to me. I don’t know, perhaps I’m too old for St Clare’s, all I can seem to do is find fault in it. I don’t mean to, I can’t help myself. Perhaps if I reread them, some of the Blytonian magic will engulf me, what do you think?

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4 Responses to Claudine at St Clare’s

  1. ReReadingBlyton says:

    Thanks for the review. I think you probably only like, or like most, the Blytons that you first read as a child. I know this is true for me – I read St Clare’s but not Malory Towers when I was young and still like St C’s, but when I have tried to read Malory Towers it doesn’t really appeal to me at all.

    Anyway, as regards Claudine I agree she is quite similar as a character to Carlotta (both are ‘exotic’ outsiders) but Claudine goes about her rebellion in a very quiet way, and is much less confrontational than Carlotta who is liable to ‘box the ears’ of anyone who gets in her way which Claudine would never do. And overall I find her a more realistic character than Carlotta, perhaps because Carlotta’s circus background seems a bit contrived.

    Claudine at St Clare’s is very good on social class issues of the time, and it’s interesting to see how ‘good form’ is always the middle ground between pretentiousness (Pauline) and snobbishness or ‘swankiness’ (Angela). Claudine, and Carlotta, of course don’t fit into this carefully calibrated scale (they’re not English, you see) though in due course some of the St Clare’s spirit rubs off on them! As for Angela, fear not, she gets her comeuppance in Fifth Formers at St Clare’s, at the hands of Toni, Claudine’s younger sister, in one of the best episodes in the whole series. But I won’t spoil that by telling you what happens … Chris.

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    • fiona says:

      I agree the nostalgia factor plays a big part – but there are plenty of Blytons I first read as an adult and liked. They may never be my ultimate favourites but I do like them. I didn’t read the St Clare’s as a child – I had one paperback and it never appealed to me. But as an adult I enjoyed them – I loved Claudine and Antoinette. The locking people in boot cupboards in the middle of the night fiasco always makes me laugh, as does Claudine (I think it was her – her or Antoinette) “falling” into the pool and soaking ?Angela’s mother. I really must re-read them as I’ve only read the series once.

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  2. Francis says:

    Interesting to hear about books I have never read and also how you prefer Malory Towers, Stef.
    Many thanks.
    Francis

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  3. I do remember reading Claudine at St. Clares in my teen years and would still like to read it if I can find it at the age of 74. The character of Claudine is well depicted as a rather delicate French girl , with a horror of spots and sun on her sensitive skin. She is most loyal to her aunt and splashes Angela’s mother for being rude to Mamzelle. That is indeed a funny scene. As for Angella herself, the girl is an out and out snob, thinking no end of her looks and money. Some how i feel sorry for Pauline as she suffers from an acute inferiority complex and therefore tries to pass herself off as a rich girl. Her poor mother is even more pitiable and Angela should be whipped for the way she treats unfortunate people. May be some such stern measures may make her see sense for though she has a sensible father , she is burdened by a mother who is as fickle as her. As for the tittle -tattle Eileen, she too seems to feel she cannot match up to the uppity girls and thus resorts to tale telling. Carlotta ofcourse is fun through and through, and a mad little monkey but good hearted all the same. As for Alison, she is a silly little goose , forever losing her heart to anyone who is pretty and shallow like herself. In this book, we come across girls from all social and economic stratas and it does seem to be a very class conscieous society in England at that time. I really enjoyed reading that book and would love to do so again if I can find it.

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