EBD portrays a very different kind of disabled character in her depiction of Naomi Elton, a central figure in "Trials for the Chalet School". Naomi is a sixteen year old girl who has a crooked shoulder and walks with a stick as a result of an accident some years earlier. Allied with this, the reader is told as the book opens, "her mind has become slightly warped", although it is not clear exactly how it is warped.
When Naomi appears in the second chapter, the first thing we are told, apart from her deformity, is that she has a beautiful face, with "cloudy fair hair framing perfect features". Her voice is musical, but "there was a hardness about it", while the "perfectly cut mouth was set in thin lines and there was a crooked twist to the smile which accompanied the words". As she meets the other girls, it quickly becomes clear that she gets pleasure out of making them uncomfortable. She refers to herself frequently as 'a cripple', remarking that she can not carry much herself, and that "Being a cripple means that one is able to do so little of that sort of thing". The girls are uneasy with such comments, not knowing what to say, and Naomi is well aware of this fact: "Naomi knew it quite well and her eyes gleamed as she saw their discomfort". When Mary-Lou rushes to help her, she rejects the assistance: "Thank you but I can manage for myself. I am not entirely helpless", a rebuke that causes even the dauntless Mary-Lou to blush. Clearly Naomi's deformity goes deeper than her physical difficulty. A significant factor is then revealed; Naomi is an agnostic, who has never been baptized and is to attend C of E prayers for this term and then "decide for herself" which to attend. She is described as a "young pagan", who "didn't believe in it"; as prayers go on, some hint is given as to why this is the case. Sensing the devotion of the other girls, and realizing that they really did believe, "for the first time, she was moved to wonder what it was like to be so sure of help and comfort". The fact that help and comfort are what she focuses on, indicate that these are what she lacks, and this is surely because of the accident which left her body twisted. Such circumstances make it hard for Naomi to believe in a merciful god. Her real problem then is not her physical condition, but rather a spiritual one, in that her experiences have caused a lack of faith. This is emphasized as the book continues. There are glimmerings of Naomi's spiritual growth in the first half of the term, firstly as she laughs aloud, for the first time, on hearing the story of Con's howler over Daniel in the Lion's den ; secondly when she offers to help type letters during the scarlet fever epidemic. This, we are told is "the first time almost in her life, certainly since her accident", that she was moved to help someone in difficulties. The real development comes, however, at half term. On the half term trip for the seniors, Naomi and Mary-Lou have a philosophical discussion one afternoon, in which Naomi explains her religious feelings, as she talks about her accident. "Before it happened I was as straight as anyone. I was keen on dancing and my people promised me I should have my chance to train as a ballet dancer..Dreadful? You can't begin to know how dreadful. Because my parents died in the same fire. I lost my father and my mother and my power to dance all at once. Do you wonder.that I don't believe in God? Or if He really is there, then He just doesn't care?"  The issue is set out clearly here. EBD is not only addressing deformity, or the question of living with disability, she is also trying to address the question of how to cope spiritually with misfortune.  Naomi's dilemma is a vehicle for her to explore this idea, and to set forth some kind of answer to it. During the course of this conversation, Naomi's behaviour towards others is also discussed. Mary-Lou asks her why she always goes around as if 'you always had your arm up to protect your head against having your ears boxed', to which Naomi explains that she hates being pitied and stared at. Mary-Lou 's answer - and presumably EBD's -is to declare that no one would do that if she behaved naturally, and that people "are awfully given to taking you as you think of yourself. Of course if that's your idea of yourself, you can't very well expect them to think differently". Naomi accepts this in silence, and the implication is that Mary-Lou is right and she does pity herself, an attitude which seems to be connected to her lack of faith in god. Because she feels sorry for herself she resents her situation, and therefore cannot or will not believe - and therefore is unable to receive the consolation faith would bring her. This had already been indicated earlier, when Mary-Lou mused to herself: "She has a big load to carry with her lameness and apparently, she hasn't anything to fall back on but herself". In EBD's world, for a disabled person, faith, although possibly harder to achieve, is even more necessary, and a greater comfort than it is to someone without handicap. In order for Naomi to achieve 'salvation', she must be cured spiritually as well as physically, and the two issues are intertwined. Naomi agrees that if a cure were to be found for her lameness and deformity, she would believe in God. It appears a chapter later, however, that the influence of Mary-Lou and co. has had effect and that the 'conversion' has already taken place. On the last day of the holiday, the Chalet party is caught by an avalanche, and take shelter in a hut, in which they are trapped for twenty-four hours. Mary-Lou heroically saves Naomi by pulling her into the hut as they dash for it in the snowfall, and strains her back in the process, although EBD does not emphasise this point unduly ; rather, this episode is a chance for Naomi to reveal her growing - although wrongly conceived - faith, and to have her misunderstandings corrected. Naomi admits to being afraid - "terribly afraid", and the root of her fear is that the avalanche is God's means of punishing her, presumably for her lack of faith. Mary-Lou dismisses that at once, for if it were so then God would be punishing everyone else as well, and that would be unfair: "God's never unfair, let me tell you" she insists, and once again her certainty seems to impress Naomi who doesn't sleep, "turning over in her mind what the Head Girl had said to her during that eventful weekend". No more is said of Naomi's religious doubts, but from her question to Mary-Lou it seems that after her first conversation with the Head Girl, she already does believe in God enough to fear him; the next stage is rather to love him, and 'truly believe' as the other girls do. This will be followed by the fulfilment of her wish to be physically cured, (despite the fact that she had laid this down as a precondition for true belief). >From half term onwards, the impression that Naomi is on the road to spiritual reformation is maintained. It is Naomi who comes up with the punishment meted out to the middles who are behind the Lost Property prank . She is much applauded for this, and as she undresses that night she "realised she was beginning to feel one with the others", something that had not happened for several years, and that is attributed to Mary-Lou's straight talking. Uplifted by this fact, she decides to talk to Dr. Maynard to see if anything could be done for her, and then, dramatically, she "very solemnly prayed that this new happiness which seemed to be coming to her might help her for the future to be like other girls in some things if not all". -- ________________________________________ Girlsown mailing list [EMAIL PROTECTED] For self-administration and access to archives see http://home.it.net.au/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/girlsown For FAQs see http://www.club-web.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/girlsown/faq-0.htm