Nursing, flower-arranging and the importance of Bovril

Nursing skills are an important character trait in determining whether a girl is a good sort, one of the ways in which Haverfield uses injury as a means of bringing two girls together as friends.

In The Discovery of Kate, Dilys StOswald, isolated by the Grammar School girls as being "stuck up", crashes her bicycle into a herd of cows and is taken unconscious to Kate's house nearby, where she stays in Kate's bedroom until she has recovered, Kate's mother handily being a trained nurse. The accident starts the process of bringing Kate and Dilys together although Kate first has to choke off the attentions of the unpleasant, dog-beating and distinctly lower-class Magdalene Russell. During her stay at Kate's home Dilys realises that Kate cannot be "bird of a feather" with her friend Magdalene and is attracted by her cheery face, her care and thoughtfulness to the sick and her flower arranging skills.

In The Luck of Lois her nursing expertise also indicates that there is more to Ann Craig the headmistress' daughter, than meets the eye. "Sphinx-like" Ann saves Lois from drowning with cramp and then reluctantly accompanies Lois back to school when Lois' friend Zoe fails to jump at the chance to go with her, as all good friends should when one is ill. Ann, who has always held herself aloof from the girls who have invaded her home, then tucks Lois up with a rug, takes off her shoes and brings her a hot water bottle and a cup of hot Bovril. Zoe's ignoring Lois when she faints marks the shift in Zoe's affections as she transfers her friendship from Lois to Lois' newly-arrived sister, the beautiful and accomplished Vivian. When Lois goes up to bed, her room-mates fail to notice that she needs help and again Ann comes to the rescue; "I thought you had a sister and a friend here to help you or I would have come up before." Later she sends up a "temptingly set" tray (Does anyone know what a cup of Benger is?) decorated with a red rose, although she is "very particular" about flowers being removed from sick-rooms at night and Lois is not allowed to keep it. Ann's solicitousness when Lois is ill is a hint to the reader that the silent Ann cares for Lois, something Lois herself fails to realise until the final chapter.

In Blind Loyalty, Alison spends a night in the dormitory placing cool bandages on Georgie's head and EsmÃ's lack of sympathy for Georgie is the first hint that Esmà might not be the perfect friend Alison has thought her, "I was conscious of something other than the confiding love I had given to this beautiful girl". In Our Vow, hated Cousin Evelyn sits up all night bathing the face of Alison who has covered herself in shoe blacking while playing missionaries and heathen (did children do this all the time or is this where EBD got the idea from?) and although Alison is not yet reconciled to her cousin, the reader realises that Alison is wrong.

Stoicism and the power of delirium

Haverfield heroines are brave to the point of insanity when in pain. Hilary Walford in The Girl From the Bush, set alight by a Christmas tree candle, refuses to be examined until her rescuer Dorothy's hands have been bandaged and is told by the doctor that she is "pretty plucky". All night long "she was unable to sleep for the pain where the flames had scorched her but she allowed neither groan nor sigh to escape her". Dorothy herself lies with her lips closed tight "in the endeavour to crush back a single murmur, though she was white with the agony she was forced to endure".

The Girl from the Bush also introduces 11 year-old Leslie who is having the "open-air cure" sleeping alone in a hut in the woods. Her disease, presumably TB, is not stated but the cure specifically involves breathing pine air. Her parents were with her until her father caught influenza and her mother had to stay with him instead (obviously!). Despite being frightened to death at night she says her parents would be disappointed if she asked to join them in their cottage. This seems to be taking stoicism a little too far.

When faced with pain, sympathetic characters soldier on while unsympathetic ones go to pieces. The eponymous heroine of Dauntless Patty responds to being hit in the eye by a tennis ball with "don't mention it, accidents will happen. It will be all right in a moment or two," but turns out to have been half-blinded, faints and is sick with concussion. Similarly Margaret MacDonald "felled to the ground" by a golf ball in The Girls of St Olave's is determined to continue playing with a "supreme effort" until forced by staff to return home to rest. Snobbish Phyllis Staunton-Taylor in Sylvia's Victory, on the other hand, makes a fuss "groaning and covering her face with her arm" when hit on the ankle at hockey, while Zoe in The Luck of Lois is proved not worthy of Lois' friendship when, caught in a forest fire on a walk (pupils in The Luck of Lois encounter disaster every time they step outside the school gates), she collapses, refuses to move and begs Lois to stay because she doesn't want to die alone. Her behaviour is contrasted with that of Ann, who tells Lois to leave her after she has banged her head on a tree, which Lois of course refuses to do.

Indeed, Haverfield's self-sacrificing heroines are often so stoical that the only time they can express their true feelings is when they are delirious. In Just a Jolly Girl , Dixie Harding, told by her nurse that she was ugly, is jealous of her prettier schoolmates and becoming bitter and warped. For years she has believed that her adored mother is disappointed in her. It is only when she is delirious after being knocked down by a car on a school walk that she pours out all her bottled-up emotions: "I'm not a little dwarf, it isn't trueâ" This is the first her mother, sitting by her bedside, knows of her daughter's thoughts. "Dixie, what kind of a mother do you take me for? Don't you think that I love you?" And after years of misunderstanding, all is resolved.

Similarly, in The Luck of Lois when Ann is unconscious in bed following the forest fire, Lois overhears her saying "What do you think of your precious friend now? Plucky isn't she? Wanting you to die with her! You didn't ask me to die with you." Lois, who can be rather dense at times, can't make sense of this at all, but the astute reader will realise that Ann cares for her. In Our Vow too, Alison's "ravings" after being burned in the fire gain her some sympathy from her aunt, who has previously dismissed her as a naughty child. "She must have been most miserable for months, and we none of us understood her at all or knew of it." In The Happy Comrade, two girls are expelled as bullies after one of their victims, who has refused to tell her parents why she did not wish to return to school, reveals all in "delirious ramblings".

Kate Lambert
Girlsown mailing list
For self-administration and access to archives see
For FAQs see

Reply via email to