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Dimsie and the Jane Willard Foundation (The Dimsie short stories): Dorita Fairlie Bruce, Girls Gone By, 2011

I first came across Dorita Fairlie Bruce via the Springdale books, and until I bought this collection, I owned an equal amount of Dimsie and Springdale books. If I ever do get a complete collection of the Dimsie books, I should probably read them in order!

Anyway, this is a complete collection of the stories about Dimsie and her school written by Fairlie Bruce for various annuals. They are presented in the order in which they were set, not in which they were written. Usually, they feature a self-contained episode that you’d find in the longer books. As Vivien Hornby Northcote writes in the preface, most of these stories feature ‘a mishap or misunderstanding causing strained relationships…the theme of reconciliation and harmony is in tune with her [Dorita Fairlie Bruce’s] positive outlook on life.’

I left all the introductions for after I’d read the stories. Sheila Ray’s piece on the locations that inspired the settings of the story, accompanied by photographs was the most informative – Westover is Dover, apparently.

The first three stories predate Dimsie’s arrival at the Jane Willard Foundation, but feature the familiar names of older girls. ‘The Jane-Willard Election’ is about the turmoil caused by a vacancy in the head girl’s position, involving Meg Flynn, Primrose Garth and Sylvia Drummond. The resolution, where the right girl gets the post, involved a bit of laxness from the headmistress, a Miss Darrel and not the more familiar Miss Yorke, that I found hard to swallow. The reason for the misunderstanding in ‘The Terra-Cotta Coat’ that causes a shadow to fall over a friendship is rather convoluted, while tragedy, intractableness and a bad influence leads to young Jean Gordon being caught up in a plot involving German spies and needing to be rescued by Sylvia, who seemed to have been head girl for quite a long time in ‘For Mona’s Sake’.

In ‘Leave it to Dimsie’, Dimsie and the Anti-Soppists are now at Jane’s. To extricate Rosamund from a jam, Dimsie manages to break bounds (which featured in the last two stories) and rescue a waif whom the school adopts. Sylvia is still head girl in that story as well as in the shorter and more straightforward ‘The Umpire’, which is about the importance of fair play to the school girl. Sylvia plays Solomon.

In ‘Erica the Ever-Right’, it takes misadventures at, unfortunately, Primrose Garth’s wedding to curb Erica’s absolute conviction of her rightness. Dimsie suffers a little, but Erica ‘is a sport and a gentleman’ as she apologises for being ‘an awful ass’. Her catchphrase of ‘Am I or am I not…?’ gets an airing. ‘Dimsie Wins Through’ has a quaint illustrated title on each page, the book making use of the original illustrations of the stories. In this story, Dimsie takes on a future Janeite who is accused of animal cruelty – the two girls come to a better understanding of each other because of a fire.

‘Stuffable Stephanie’ is very short. Dimsie is a prefect now and Stephanie is a gullible new girl, whose dorm-mates decide to ‘stuff her full of nonsense.’ In ‘All Fools’ Day’, Hilary Garth and co. come up with a series of rags that cause chaos to the whole school until Hilary over-reaches herself in front of Dimsie and Rosamund, which leads to Dimsie having reason not to believe Hilary later over a rare opportunity to play for the school (but if Dimsie was good enough to be a reserve, why wasn’t she in the second eleven?) This hurts Dimsie and Hilary, who hero worships her, but it all comes right in the end.

‘Dimsie Takes Charge’ features strange things afoot the school’s old smugglers’ cave, Dimsie having the wit to see that a law-breaking Middle isn’t involved (being a step ahead of head girl Erica there). Without the benefit of reading coast-set boarding schools, they never made the jump to smugglers in their day, leading to adventures for Dimsie and friends.

The rest of the stories are set after Dimsie’s school days, but not the end of her connection with the school. I didn’t know Dimsie had gone back to Jane’s as a secretary. In ‘The Secretary’s Keys’, Vi, the lawless Middle of the last story, is now head girl and falls into error, as Sylvia once did, wrongly believing a fellow senior lied (for selfless motives!?) It all comes right, because Dimsie is there – the disbelieved senior is Hilary. The story also features a school dog, which others may find charming.

Finally, in ‘The Monster of Loch Shee’ a now engaged Dimsie plays hostess to Hilary (a Hilary who has regressed in age because it’s the holidays, perhaps). Dimsie is too busy to entertain Hilary, so her guest makes her own fun, which involves mocking up a version of the mythic monster, winding up Dimsie’s doctor fiancé’s more nervous patients. But is there a real life monster in the vicinity? We end with Hilary approving of Dimsie’s choice of future husband, which works as a cap to the collection.

It’s probably best read in spurts by people who know and love the (whole) series well. I might have had less to say if I hadn’t scrawled notes after reading each story, but because I did, I used the word ‘convoluted’ a lot – more than got into this review, even though I know I’ve read plenty of full length school stories where equally preposterous events happen and not batted an eyelash. But, without getting into it, I generally prefer long stories/novels to short stories.

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