A World of Girls, by L.T. MeadeApril 5, 2009
I suspect that A World of Girls was one of L.T. Meade’s most popular books, because it’s the one that shows up most frequently on the title pages of her other books — you know: “by Mrs. L.T. Meade, author of A World of Girls, A Sweet Girl Graduate, etc.” — and that’s kind of why I hadn’t read it until now.
But if it was one of her most popular, there’s a reason: it’s pretty good. I kind of love L.T. Meade’s school stories. They’re from a generation or so before the classic English school stories by people like Angela Brazil or, later, Enid Blyton, so the school environment is completely different, with fewer students, a less formal atmosphere, and different kinds of activities. In A World of Girls, the big school playroom is lined with little partitions diivided from the rest of the room by railings and curtains, and older girls who are very good get their own partitions to furnish as they like and invite other girls to drink tea in.
The only one of the main characters who is good enough to have her own mini-drawing room is Cecil Temple. Cecil is pretty much perfect, but since she’s not actually the story’s heroine, she can be perfect and likeable at the same time. Meade never makes her heroines perfect — I think she realizes that they would be pretty boring if she did. It’s a lesson other novelists of her era would have done well to learn.
I’m not altogether sure I like the way Meade does deal with her heroines, though. Often, as in A World of Girls, there’s a fairly ordinary girl from whose point of view we see the first part of the story. Here that is Hester Thornton, whose mother is recently dead and whose emotionally distant father has sent her off to school, in spite of the fact that her only consolation since her mother’s death is her baby sister Nan.
Then there’s the second main character, a girl who is beautiful and charismatic but prone to get in trouble, who sometimes has an antagonistic relationship with the other heroine. These girls are impossible not to like, but even knowing how Meade writes, I always get caught up in the story of the first girl, and I get frustrated when the second turns out to be the real heroine. In A World of Girls that second girl is Annie Forest, who is simultaneously the most disobedient and the most well-liked girl at Mrs. Willis’ school.
Neither Annie nor Hester turns out to be all that wonderful, but they’re nothing compared to the troublemaker whose pranks are blamed on Annie for most of the book. Susy Drummond seems dull and stupid, but causes a surprisingly large amount of trouble. And when she’s discovered at last, she shows no signs of remorse. I guess she’d fit most definitions of a sociopath. She’s a very strange character, and not one that I would have expected Meade to write.
This is my normal reaction to Meade, though. Except for A Sweet Girl Graduate and How it All Came Round, both of which I love to much to be critical of, her books puzzle me and annoy me and make me feel nitpicky and also make me ridiculously happy. And A World of Girls is one of the good ones.