Friday, 1 May 2015

Dimsie Moves Up Again

Dimsie Moves Up Again: Dorita Fairlie Bruce (1922)

'Well,' said Rosamund, doubtfully, 'we always have set our faces against the persecution of new girls, even if they're senior to ourselves.'
'Humpf!' said Jean Gordon. 'I've come gradually to the conclusion that the persecution never occurs unless it's deserved, and it usually does a lot of good in the end."
'Oh, but Jean!' objected Dimsie, 'it all depends on the reason. A girl shouldn't be ragged or snubbed because she's different from everybody else, and doesn't know any better.'
'She's come to school to learn,' returned Jean, conclusively.
Finding a new school story at a charity shop is always a little like winning the lottery for me. A recent trip came back with two new prizes, Dimsie Moves Up Again and Celia Wins.
Dimsie Moves Up Again is only new in a certain sense. I have foggy childhood memories of this one that became more clear as I read. One thing that remained intact from being a little girl: the impression that the Headmistress of the Jane Willard Foundation is an absolute monster. But more on that later.
DFB is one of my favourite school story authors, and she is reliably excellent when it comes to serious examinarions of school politics and loads of girls with boyish nicknames, two of my favourite things.
Her Dimsie series is notorious for being about the Anti Soppist League, the existence of which gives the impression that Jane's is a hothouse of lesbian desire that needs to be continually repressed, much like, I suppose, Fernleigh Manor. This gains added hilarity by Dimsie expressing the need to be down on soppiness while sitting with her head on the beautiful Rosamund's lap, for example, and the tendency of her girls to act like walking together to church is a date or a ball dance ("Are you already engaged elsewhere?") or to make exceptions when it's perfectly acceptable to kiss.
This is a little unfair, of course. The "soppy" behaviour Dimsie and her friends are determined to stamp out is more widely expressed as false emotion, airs and graces, and sentimentality of all kinds, including the "wrong" kind of bullying, i.e. that not intended to knock someone's corners off and force her to act like all the conventional girls she's with. (See the quote above about the unfortunate Fenella Postlethwaite in this book.) Sentimentality, effusive affection and other vaguely sapphic behaviour is simply a subset of "soppiness" that the girls will eventually grow out of anyway.
Never mind. In a universe in which Dimsie Grows Up never existed, I'm sure Dimsie and Rosamund, who is stated to be able to "get more out of Dimsie" than anyone else if she wants to, are together forever.
Back to the monstrosity of Miss Yorke, Jane's headmistress.
Tony, a senior girl who is immediately likeable because of her nickname, is a shoe-in to be voted Head Girl, which is done on democratic lines. Tony is a "thoroughly straight, good-all-round sort of girl" and has "the qualities that would make a capital Head Girl". She's adorable. The only other possibility is the wishy-washy, sensitive, musical Ursula Grey (let's take a moment to admire DFB's character naming, which is always perfect) who is not as popular, but is Dimsie's protegee. Yes, Dimsie has protegees who are older than her. She's annoying that way. Dimsie starts going around making girls promise to vote for Ursula.
So Miss Yorke calls in Tony, tells her that she doesn't have the right to order this, only request it, but Tony is not to stand for Head Girl. For the Sake of the School. Because, um... She has too many irons in the fire and lacks concentration.
'It is a great pity, Tony. I wish with all my heart I could let the election take its course, but it wouldn't be safe, so--' she paused, and looked at the tall straight girl before her with a little sigh '--so I must appeal to a principle which I know is strong in all you girls who have been long at the school. Will you think first of what is best for Jane's, Tony?'
My outrage, it still burns.
There is of course, other stuff going on. Ursula must be allowed to learn to play the cello instead of the piano (I would care more if not for my burning loyalty to Tony), people think terrible shabby things of Dimsie because of a purely altruistic attempt to delay another girl getting her hockey colours, some younger girls are wicked low-down rulebreakers. It's all quite glorious. Five stars.
But I shall leave you with another classic moment:
'Thanks, awfully, for the flowers, Dimsie dear. I shall play all the better because you gave them to me.'
'I'm not sure,' said Dimsie, doubtfully, as she followed her down, 'whether that's a speech that should be listened to by a conscientous Anti-Soppist--but never mind!"

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