Friday, August 31, 2012

Major Banks versus the Bad Bart

When Susan first arrives in Wichwood Village in Susan Pulls the Strings, she makes the mistake of poking her nose into a car owned by Major Banks, inciting the wrath of this hot-tempered neighbour. She and Bill run away in terror and take refuge in the park. Bill explains that his father and the major have been “at daggers drawn” for years because of the children’s mischief. Major Banks is notable as the first enemy to crop up in the series. However, he was too one-dimensional, seemingly capable of nothing but bellowing and roaring empty threats. Although he would resurface in No Trouble for Susan, when Midge, Bill and Susan climb through the window of his house by mistake and find themselves on the receiving end of another diatribe, his role as the gentry menace was usurped by a more sinister and multi-layered character, Sir Arthur Symes. Known to the children as the Wicked Baronet or Bad Bart, this man is one of those people in society who, no matter how awful they are, always have the law on their side. They evict elderly women, trample mercilessly on the vulnerable and exploit people. But it’s always legal and they always get away with it. Like the major, Sir Arthur loses his temper, as he does when Tessa conks him over the head with an umbrella and Susan and Midge kick his bowler hat. But there is a more sinister side to him that makes the children’s blood run cold. However, their accusation that he is a crook is not quite fair. When he finds a 1951 penny that belongs to Susan, he has the grace to return it to her. He is not a thief, but he does try to take advantage of people given half a chance. Rather than steal something, he attempts to persuade the owner to sell it to him for as low a price as possible, as he does when he tries to buy Mrs. Gregson’s expensive book for peanuts after it has accidentally been placed in the bargain bin at Louella’s shop. He is also not above exploiting people, as he does when Bill works for him all day and receives only a pittance in exchange for his labours.

I think that Sir Arthur was definitely the best of the “bad” guys that Jane Shaw created. Major Banks didn’t have much substance with his terrible temper tantrums, and the Gascoignes had too much of it. With all their elitism and snobbery, it’s hard to understand how they amassed so many friends who were always lending them villas and gondolas and houses on the Riviera. In the end, Jane Shaw herself decided to write them out of most of the later stories because they had become so unbearable. Sir Arthur always strikes me as more realistic. He is a miserable old skinflint, but he seems to be content in his isolation, hoarding his collections and making lifelong enemies, an ideal bad guy for a children’s book.

Jane Shaw Quiz 77

In Wichwood Village, who lives at Owl Cottage?

The answer to Quiz 76: Susan's favourite chocolate is nut-milk.

Quote of the Day

Piet cautiously reconnoitred. This was a sight better than picking those foul blackberries, he thought. "No sign of them," he whispered.
"We'll keep on high ground," whispered John, "and make for those elder bushes. Careful at that open bit, keep behind the bracken. Come on."
The two boys wriggled happily off on their stomachs.

From THREEPENNY BIT, Chapter 11, Poor Mr. Port.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Buried Treasures 7

Miss Johnson is nearly run over by her own car.  Susan, Midge, Elizabeth and Tessa have to get to Moreton Grange for the hockey game.

A Timeline for Susan

Sorting out the timeline of the Susan series is not an easy task and it has to be admitted that there are insoluble problems. Unlike the Penny books, which were written and published over a period of five years and in a clear order, with numbers in their titles, the events in the Susan series did not occur in the order in which they were written, part of this complication lying in the four short stories. For example, the first story published about St. Ronan’s was Susan’s School Play. This takes place at the end of the school year and sees Susan and Midge upset with Aunt Lucy for bringing Selina and Peregrine Gascoigne to the show. The story ends with Lord Dulwich announcing that a new hall will be built on the school grounds. The second story about the school was Susan at School, which was the fourth book in the series but the second one chronologically, as Jane Shaw and her publishers decided to go back in time and show Susan’s introduction to St. Ronan’s immediately after her first Christmas in England, as portrayed in Susan Pulls the Strings. Then, after Susan Muddles Through, set about eight months later, it is announced that Gabrielle Gascoigne will become a pupil at St. Ronan’s too, meaning that by the time of the school play at Christmas, Selina should be going along as Gabrielle’s mother rather than a guest of Aunt Lucy. However, there is a different play staged at the end of Susan’s Trying Term and the money raised is to be used to help pay for the new hall, which has already been built! So it is impossible to reconcile the short story and the novels. One solution could be to ignore the short stories, but a clear reference to The Wilsons Won’t Mind is made in Susan at School, when Midge mentions that after her enthusiasm for nursing, Charlotte had become keen on baking. Furthermore, in Susan and the Spae Wife, there is a reference to the events in Susan Muddles Through. This is proof that the original intention was for the short stories to be considered part of the canon. However, the same cannot be said for Susan's School Play and Susan and the Home-made Bomb, which do not blend in with the novels. As mentioned above, the former cannot possibly be reconciled with the novels; the latter stands on its own. Another confusing point is the children’s ages. When Susan goes to live with the Carmichaels, she is fourteen years old. She spends three summers without her parents and yet she is only fifteen in the last book of the series. On top of that, despite the three summers away from her parents, we are told in A Job for Susan that she retained much of her Scottish dialect despite a “two-year sojourn" in England. In the first book, Bill is 10, Susan and Midge are 14 and Charlotte is 16. In the last book, Charlotte is 18, Bill is 12 and Susan and Midge are 15. In fact, Susan and Midge celebrate two Christmases at the age of 15, as clearly stated in No Trouble for Susan and A Job for Susan. This, of course, was necessary to allow the characters to retain their endearing traits. It would be hard to imagine Susan, Midge and Tessa at the age of 17 behaving in the rather childish way that they do. Another point worth mentioning has to do with the changes that take place in society. As the stories were written over a period of eighteen years, it is hard to chronicle the books over any specific space of time. In A Job for Susan there are very casual references to watching television. In the early 1950s, when the series began, much more would be made of having a television in the house, as very few people actually had one. Therefore, total coherence in the Susan stories is not possible. But, just for fun, I’ve had a go at putting the jigsaw together.

Year 1:

Circa November: In Susan Pulls the Strings, 13-year-old Susan is informed by her mother that she will be going to live with her cousins the Carmichaels in London while her parents go to Africa to build a bridge. On 23 December Susan, now 14, arrives in London to live with the Carmichaels. Susan Pulls the Strings chronicles her first Christmas and New Year in London, during which Susan helps to smash a smuggling ring. The events of The Wilsons won’t Mind also take place during this holiday, with Aunt Lucy’s friend Madame Polinskaya springing to the aid of the hitherto down-on-their-luck Wilson family.

Year 2:

January: Susan at School. Susan is a new pupil at St. Ronan’s, where she befriends fellow new girl Tessa, gets a respectable place on the hockey team and hunts for Ronan’s Heap.

Easter: In Susan’s Helping Hand, Susan and Midge return to Wichwood, but they have caught chicken-pox and the family go to Cousin Barbara’s farm in Kent. Susan’s Helping Hand chronicles their adventures with the mysterious Belle and the criminal activities of the Mad Collector.

Summer: Susan Rushes In. Susan and Midge come home for the holidays and meet the Gascoignes, to whom they take an immediate dislike. Susan sets out to save an elderly lady, Mrs. Thorne, from eviction. Midge and Charlotte publish a book about a dragon. The packed summer continues with the trip to Switzerland in Susan Interferes and is immediately followed by Susan Muddles Through on the island of Arran, with the gang getting caught up in Cold War adventures. In the former story, they help the son of a Czechoslovakian dissident seek refuge in London and in the latter they find themselves trying to stop a scientist from defecting to the Soviet Union. They are also obliged to take the Gascoignes to Arran. At the very beginning of the story, Selina marries Sam Pilkington, but the nanny who was meant to look after Gabrielle and Peregrine during the honeymoon breaks her leg, and Aunt Lucy comes to the rescue by offering to take them on holiday for two weeks. When the two weeks are up, the Gascoignes leave. It is after their departure that the short story Susan and the Spae-wife takes place. We know this because the holiday lasts a month and the Gascoignes only stay for two weeks, allowing plenty of time for the arrival of Mr. Rock Carlisle on the island and the robbery at the post office before the fête. Furthermore, when Susan reads Charlotte's fortune, she makes references to Andrew Macphail, the archaeologist Charlotte spends a great deal of time with in Susan Muddles Through. So we can see that The Wilsons Won't Mind and Susan and the Spae-wife fit neatly into the chronology.

September: Gabrielle Gascoigne joins Midge and Susan at St. Ronan’s in Susan’s Trying Term. Susan becomes captain of the hockey team. There is a school play at the end of the term, with Selina and Peregrine taking along some bigwigs from the entertainment industry. It is here that the first broken link in the series occurs.

Christmas: In No Trouble for Susan, Midge and Susan, now 15, return to Wichwood for the holidays. They help out Louella at her book shop and get involved in a play with the Wichwood Players. Susan also helps to save another elderly widow, Mrs. Gregson, from eviction and deals with a gang of Cockney trouble makers. In this book, we are also introduced to Sir Arthur Symes, Mrs. Gregson’s skinflint landlord.

Year 3:

Easter? In Susan and the Home-made Bomb, the gang are back in Wichwood Village, perhaps during the Easter holiday, and help Jennifer Harding take up the offer of a scholarship at the Sloane School of Art. We can imagine that this story is set around Easter time because of the references to the coming school year, which begins in September, explaining why Jennifer is in such a hurry to guarantee her place at the Sloane. We can place the story at Easter time for two reasons: first, this holiday would be just about the only opportunity for the girls to be home from St. Ronan's; and there is a reference to the weather, with the winter being "not far behind" them. Easter usually occurs in the early spring.

Summer: Susan’s Kind Heart. Following their all-time low marks in French, Susan and Midge are sent to Brittany with Charlotte, who has now left school, to improve their French. This story affords Susan and the Carmichael sisters an opportunity to have their own Breton adventure, with all of Jane Shaw's main characters now having visited Binic. There are echoes of the Moochers stories, with the girls tackling a smuggling operation and a ghost, in the shape of a phantom horseman.

Christmas: The Christmas of this year is not recorded, with the series jumping ahead to the end of the next school year.

Year 4:

September: Susan and Midge fly to Venice to meet Susan’s parents on their way back from Africa in Where is Susan? Charlotte is now studying in Perugia and Mr and Mrs Lyle are stuck on their ship due to fears of an outbreak of a contagious disease. There is also a mysterious “Russian spy” following Susan and Midge all over Venice.

Christmas: In A Job for Susan, Mr and Mrs Lyle have rented a house in Wichwood Village and Susan and Tessa are staying there for Christmas. Bill has to earn ten pounds to donate to Oxfam after making a rash promise to one of his teachers. He gets a job as a cleaner and paper boy to achieve this. Susan believes she can hit the jack-pot by finding and selling valuable old coins. And dastardly Sir Arthur is up to his old tricks, trying to buy what he believes to be a valuable painting for a very low price. Susan wants to help Maggie Zimmerli, her landlady, to raise money to go to Paris and train to be a cook.

Year 5:

Easter: In the incomplete twelfth book, Susan in Trouble, Tessa finds out she is going to spend the summer in the USA and Mexico. Susan and her parents are going too and Susan wants to find a way to raise money for Midge to go with them. Susan suggests that Midge should write another story and Midge is not very enthusiastic. The manuscript comes to an abrupt halt at this point.

So there we have it. The events of Susan’s School Play cannot be worked into the timeline at all and no clear explanation is offered regarding when the events in Susan and the Home-made Bomb take place. No attempt was made to reconcile all the short stories with the novels. It is strange that from the summer adventures of Susan’s Kind Heart, the author decided to jump forward a year in Where is Susan? when there was room for more St. Ronan's stories. Her correspondence with her publishers showed that the original plan was to write four or five stories set at the school. There are two reasons why they never materialized, although they are not entirely convincing. First of all, Jane Shaw claimed that she disliked writing school stories. Secondly, by the 1960s, school stories in general were in decline. But that does little to explain why she undertook the Northmead stories for Nelson and A Girl with Ideas for Collins in the 1960s. The huge gap in time in the Susan books may also be accounted for by the fact that two Christmas novels were already part of the series and to add a third one so quickly might seem repetitive. This actually happened later in any case. Readers today often confuse No Trouble for Susan with A Job for Susan. Another consideration is that the content of the stories might be determined by the time of year they were set to be published. Christmas stories may go down as good presents in the festive season, but not if the book is published in time for the summer holidays. I also suspect that the author wished to reunite Susan with her parents and thought that a trip to Venice in summer would be the best way to do this. It would not be a good idea to set this story in the middle of winter, so it was necessary to jump forward a year so that Susan and Midge could enjoy their gondola rides and sightseeing in the summer sunshine.

I often wonder how the series might have continued and what Susan's trip to America would have been like. The series may have got its second wind if the plans to reissue the stories in Armada paperbacks had gone ahead. These paperbacks certainly breathed new life into other series like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators. We could have had a very 1970s Susan, perhaps emigrating to Australia, which might have been fun. But perhaps it was best to have the series end when it did, with Mr. and Mrs. Lyle back from Africa and settling in London. In the end, that seemed the right way to do it.

Fula Fiskar, Fifi!

Here's another of the Swedish covers, this time Susan Muddles Through, depicting the dramatic scene when Dr. Maxwell attempts to defect to a "Foreign Power" behind the Iron Curtain with a hoard of atomic secrets after faking his death. The title in Swedish, according to Eva Löfgren in Susan and Friends, means Ugly Fish or Ugly Customers.

Jane Shaw Guide: Miss Pershore

Miss Pershore, nicknamed Miss Plum or The Plum by the Carmichaels, is a character in Susan Pulls the Strings. She lives at Number 14 Tollgate Road. She is a petite woman who is always very elegantly dressed and uses a blue rinse in her hair. A culture vulture, she frequently attends the ballet and theatre and visits art galleries, appreciating modern art in particular. At the beginning of the story, Susan discovers that Miss Pershore has become a close friend of Aunt Lucy, whom she calls Lucia (pronounced Loocher), and that Aunt Lucy has come under her spell and is becoming something of a culture vulture herself, buying alternative-style Christmas cards and hanging strange paintings around the house. Although Miss Plum lavishes expensive Christmas presents like puppets and paintings on Susan and the Carmichaels, the children do not care much for her. Susan is especially put off her because of her blue hair. The Plum makes constant short visits to Paris, ostensibly to soak up the culture. However, Susan accidentally stumbles on a cache of smuggled watches and discovers that Miss Pershore is a member of an elaborate smuggling ring, the proceeds of which finance her expensive lifestyle. When Miss Pershore discovers that Susan knows about her criminal activities, she pretends she has a gun and ties Susan up, leaving her bound and gagged while she makes her escape. But Miss Pershore, for all her skill in the underworld, seems to be of limited intelligence and blabs her escape route to Susan before she leaves, making it easy for the police to arrest her. When she is arrested and out of their lives, the Carmichaels are happy that her cultural influence on Aunt Lucy is removed and life can go back to normal. Polite, well-to-do and thoroughly middle-class, Miss Pershore is the first of a long line of unlikely crooks in the Susan series. Her nickname is derived from the market town of Pershore in Worcestershire, famous for its plums.

Jane Shaw Quiz 76

What is Susan's favourite kind of chocolate?

The answer to Quiz 75: Midge plays the recorder.

Quote of the Day

But after a time things began to sort themselves out and Susan suddenly found that she knew the way to the dormitory without asking Midge or to the various form-rooms without feeling that she would never find her way back and that she would be discovered, days later, still wandering round crazed with cold and hunger. She went to her first house meeting; she heard about the school societies - the Dramatic Club, the Debating Society, Birdwatchers' Club, Puppet Club, Stamp Club - and joined them all.
"You can't," said Midge, "not even a busybody like you can attend all the meetings because half of them are held on the same evening at the same time."
"Well, I'll leave out the Birdwatchers," said Susan. "As a matter of fact I'm not so keen on that because the only bird I know is a sparrow and I'd get jolly sick of watching sparrows. I'll leave out the Birdwatchers-"

From SUSAN AT SCHOOL, Chapter 2, Super Fags.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Anything Can Happen

A different angle of the front cover of the first Dizzy and Alison story, Anything Can Happen. At the age of 18, these girls are the oldest of Jane Shaw's leading characters. The book was illustrated by Thelma Lambert.

Jane Shaw Quiz 75

Which musical instrument does Midge play when the cousins relax in their schoolroom?

The answer to Quiz 74: Peregrine takes an air-gun to Switzerland in Susan Interferes.

Quote of the Day

"Oh, there's Cracknell, you know - I like Cracknell. I think he's a rogue, but I like him. He's a comic turn in himself, and keeps me amused, but he's too often away at the garage on the mainland tinkering with the car. Look, Sir Henry thinks he's a heaven-sent humourist, and if you don't laugh your head off at his jokes he thinks you're being deliberately rude."
Fanny slackened her pace. "Father," she said, "I don't think I feel like going to lunch with him."
"Come on," said Pips.  "I expect the food's gorgeous. Is it, Father?"
"The food is magnificent," her father assured her.
"There you are then, Fanny. Don't be so soft."

From THE CREW OF THE BELINDA, Chapter 15, Re-union.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Cable-car to Wissifluh

This is the little red cable-car that conveyed Susan and the Carmichaels from Vitznau to Wissifluh and back. Only Bill enjoyed the sheer drops and hanging over empty space in this contraption. Midge, especially, was terrified, claiming that she had "seen a more substantial door on a toy motor-car". When the cable-car arrived for the return journey, the gang were amazed that it came up with a large length of drainpipe tied to the roof and carrying a man and an Alsatian dog that "jumped out nonchalantly, followed by the man, who then leant dizzily over open space and untied his drainpipe". The text then goes on to say that "For perhaps the first time in her life, Susan didn't offer to help". When Susan later suggested a return to Wissifluh, she was met with a firm No from Midge, who for once could not be browbeaten into falling in with Susan's plan. The terror of the Carmichaels and Susan on this trip is very convincing, and that is because Jane Shaw went through the same experience herself and recorded it in detail in her journal.

Jane Shaw Quiz 74

In Susan Interferes, which "toy" does Pea-green take to Switzerland?

The answer to Quiz 73: In Susan Interferes, she discovers that she has a fear of heights.

Quote of the Day

What happened was that in a very few minutes a tiny speck began to swing down the thin silver thread and eventually there arrived at their feet a small red tin box.
Susan felt quite faint. She glanced at the others and was relieved to find rather anxious expressions on all their faces, which gave her courage to say, "Are we supposed to go up a sheer mountain-side in that tin can?"
"I expect it's stronger than it looks," said Charlotte in a quavering voice.
"It had better be," said Midge.

From SUSAN INTERFERES, Chapter 5, Looking for Fräulein Amacher.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Griselda Makes Toffee

A scene from The Magic Basket.

Jane Shaw Quiz 73

In Susan Interferes, which phobia does Susan discover she has?

The answer to Quiz 72: Susan's favourite pantomime is Cinderella.

Quote of the Day

"Oh, Madame Bertholet," I said, "Raoul didn't mind a bit once he got his taxi back. He was a nice boy. Let's forget about these things, we all make mistakes sometimes, let's talk about something else." I cast around in my mind for something to cheer the old lady up, and as usual on these occasions, my mind went completely blank.

From ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, Chapter 13, Surfeit of Bracelets.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Susan's Kind Heart cover

Sara and Caroline visited Brittany in 1939 in Breton Adventure. The Moochers sailed over to Binic in 1951, and Penny paid a visit in 1954. In 1965, Jane Shaw decided that it was time for her most popular character Susan to visit the north of France. The result was Susan's Kind Heart. In this book, the name of Binic is changed to St. Clos. The cover is unique in that it does not depict a scene from the story and has an enticer that makes use of alliteration. The dark-haired girl is Damienne, whom Susan and Midge befriend at the villa. Like its predecessors, Susan's Kind Heart has painstaking descriptions of the region. There are some signs of modernization such as faster cars, more electricity and improved indoor plumbing. But the activities that the previous characters enjoyed like swimming in the grève, long walks round the shops and feasting at the pâtisserie are all part of Susan's holiday too. And, like Caroline and Sara, the original purpose of Susan and Midge's trip to France is to improve their French. The story begins with Aunt Lucy "shuddering" at the girls' report cards from St. Ronan's. She follows Charlotte's suggestion that Susan and Midge should accompany her to Brittany, where she is going to stay with a French family. Predictably, like Caroline and Sara, the girls make very little (if any) improvement to their French. When they arrive in Brittany, they find that the other people they encounter are either English themselves or are foreigners eager to improve their own mastery of our native tongue. As a result, the girls have very little need to actually speak French. It is hard to understand how the families of Jane Shaw's characters are willing to spend so much on their education when virtually no progress is made in any subject.

Jane Shaw Quiz 72

What is Susan's favourite pantomime?

The answer to Quiz 71: Miss Bracken is Uncle Charles's receptionist.

Quote of the Day

And as if things weren't awkward enough, the next day was wet, with a real Blackwaterfoot special which blotted out the whole valley with its steady grey downpour. The domestic arrangements of the cottage being in the hands of Sara at the moment, the girls had been forced over to the Renasay drawing-room for warmth, where a huge fire glowed pleasantly and sent its peaty smell round the room.

From HIGHLAND HOLIDAY, Chapter 7, Sara's Familiar Spirit.