‘End of Term’, Part Three

Chapter Four: Altogether Unexpected

This is a short but dramatic chapter in which Lois proves to be even more odious than usual. It begins with Miss Craven, Miss Redmond and Lois having a meeting to decide who should be in the Junior netball team. Lois finds some of the tasks of Games Captain tedious but she’s enjoying hanging out with the staff and lording it over younger pupils. Miss Craven assumes Nicola will be Captain and Centre, but Miss Redmond makes a tart remark about Nicola’s self-confidence. Because heavens above, we can’t have a Kingscote girl with self-confidence! This is Lois’s chance to contribute her opinion of Nicola:

“That conversation, overheard and rearranged – was she going to repeat it? She didn’t want to, yet she felt helplessly that she almost certainly would …”

Not only does Lois give in to temptation and repeat her mostly-fictional story about Nicola, she tells an outright lie by saying Nicola’s “turned up late to practices”, plural. Still, it’s not just Lois – Miss Redmond is just as petty, taking her revenge for Nicola turning down her Guides offer: “What that young woman needs, it seems to me, is a really good jolt.”

Miss Craven, who’s also told that Nicola has enough to do already with the Christmas play and her hawk, goes along with it. It’s not really Miss Craven’s fault – she’s been fed misinformation by Lois and Miss Redmond.

Oh, the other thing is that the three of them put hopeless Marie in the team, not because she can play, but because Miss Keith is concerned that Marie is struggling at school and needs a boost of confidence. So, Kingscote girls do need to have self-confidence, just a very specific and limited amount of it. Except I don’t see how putting Marie in a team where she’s going to fail will make her any more popular with the other girls or help her self-confidence.

Poor Nicola finds she’s been left off the team before everyone else, then has to pretend not to mind about it all through breakfast. There’s a small distraction when she’s offered a chance to buy a new pony and the others discuss this. It turns out Miranda not only rides in the holidays, but also skates and fences (“Mummy likes me to have millions of things to do to keep me out from under her feet when she’s got refugee committees”). But then Lawrie, Tim and the others find out about Nicola and are outraged. As Miranda says, “It’s just so – so – so unjust when they do things like this and no one knows what or why or anything.” Janice Scott tactfully changes the subject when she sees Nicola on the verge of tears, then later consoles her: “They do these things from time to time, you know. And there’s rarely any rational explanation.”

I think Nicola may have joined Miranda’s Janice Admiration Society, which seems completely reasonable to me. Apart from being a kind and thoughtful person, Janice is also beautiful, like a “Dresden figurine”, all “glassy, cool, translucent”. Janice is eminently crush-worthy.

The rest of the netball team tries and fails to convince Miss Craven to put Nicola in the team. Jenny Cardigan (who has the best name ever for an English schoolgirl), even proposes they go on strike:

“Just for a moment, the possibility of behaving as if they were characters in a book called, perhaps, ‘That Term at St Faith’s’ seemed not only fabulous, but plausible.”

I know End of Term, despite having the form of a conventional girls’ boarding school book, isn’t really like most of those books, but this struck the wrong note to me – as if Antonia Forest needed to remind us, in rather snobby way, how trashy those books are and how superior her writing is. Her characters often do talk about what “people in books” do and that usually comes across as amusing and astute, but this threw me out of the story for a moment.

Anyway, obviously the girls don’t go on strike (but Miranda does snub Lois when Lois congratulates her, calling Lois a “hammer-toed, pot-bellied, copper-bottomed heel” once Lois is out of earshot). And the netball team goes on to lose their first two games. Well, that’s what happens when you choose players on the basis of ill-informed character judgments, rather than ball-throwing skills.

Next, Chapter Five: Half-Term at Trennels

4 thoughts on “‘End of Term’, Part Three”

  1. God, this chapter is painful. Maybe not getting onto the netball team isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone, but Nicola’s disappointment is so immediate, and her determination to not let it show is so heroic.
    Reading this as a child I just felt Nicola’s pain, but now I wonder what was going through Miss Craven’s head. Didn’t she want her teams to win? Wouldn’t it be better for the school’s reputation if they won things? Most modern PE teachers don’t seem to care what horrible characters they have in their teams as long as they are doing well!

    1. I know, poor Nicola. She doesn’t even want to be a soloist in the play – netball has always been the thing she’s wanted to do. They could have at least put her in the team, even if she couldn’t be Captain. She isn’t even a sub!
      I suspect the school’s reputation rests on turning out nice young ladies, so they don’t care that much if the netball teams lose. I bet it would be entirely different if it was a boys’ school and their rugby team.

  2. Lois and Redmond are such satisfying villains — not really evil just for the sake of it, but with specific grudges against Nicola and semi-plausible self-justifications for taking their revenge. So horribly human. Miss Craven is helpless before their machinations.

    Poor Marie Dobson. She tries so hard but she is so unlikeable. Forest handles embarrassment, for oneself and others, so supremely well, also repressed emotion. Poor Nicola is so brave! Still can’t help feeling it might do them all some good to express a feeling occasionally. Lawrie lets it all out but then she gets over it!

    1. Lois is even worse here than in the Court of Honour scene! At least then, she was trying to deflect the blame so she wouldn’t lose her patrol leader position. Here, it’s just petty revenge. There’s absolutely nothing she gains from keeping Nicola out of the team, except momentary satisfaction. Mind you, she only succeeds because Miss Redmond backs her up. I think that’s the really horrifying part, that the authorities, the ones making moral judgements about the students, are so deeply flawed.

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