May Baldwin

Over the years, since I was a child, I have amassed a very large collection of Girls fiction, especially Girls School fiction from the early to middle Twentieth Century. My collection includes all books by the Big Three writers - Elinor M Brent Dyer, Elsie J Oxenham and Dorita Fairlie Bruce, although I have always thought it unfair that it isn't the Big Four, including Angel Brazil. Angela Brazil was my first love in the schoolgirl fiction genre and will always hold a special place in my heart. I suspect the reason it is the Big Three and not Four, is because all of the Big Three wrote long serials and Brazil tended to prefer stand alone novels. Certainly, in terms of sales, Brazil was easily on a par with the other three, and the quality of her writing compares well.

However, at the same time as I was collecting and reading the Big Four (as I've decided to rename these writers) I was also searching for less well known authors. Over the years I have enjoyed Mary Gervaise, Irene Mossop, Ethel Talbot, May Wynne and Christine Chaundler, to name but a small number of the authors on my bookshelves. They all produced excellent and very readable novels, and I have loved all of their books. 

I also have a collection of May Baldwin novels. I have to confess that I bought these books more for their covers and dustwrappers than with any intention of reading and enjoying them. So I was really surprised when I dipped into High Jinks at the Priory School recently to discover that it was a fantastic read. I'm sure none of the Big Four would have approved of Baldwin's style and storytelling. The "middlers" are giving the school a bad reputation for being "fast". There is smoking in the dorm on the first night of term and such a lot of breaking bounds to purchase illicit chocolates and attend parties! I can't imagine this behaviour would have been tolerated at the Chalet School or the Abbey!

But, having read my first Baldwin novel, I don't think it will be my last. I'm checking all of her novels on my shelves, to select the next one to read. I'm drawn to The Tarletons in Brittany and Not an Ordinary Girl, I think. Both of these were written in the early 1930s, towards the end of Baldwin's writing career, and will probably be written in a similar style to High Jinks.

Although most of May Baldwin's books are on my shelves, I probably won't read them all. I suspect the earlier books, written before the First World War, will be too Edwardian for me to enjoy. However, I will actively seek out any of her later novels and enjoy reading them. I'm currently eyeing up a copy of The Brilliant Girls of the School, which isn't in my possession! It certainly sounds like another ripping read.

I think that May Baldwin is a bit too variable and unpredictable in her writing style to make it into the Big Four, but she certainly stands up well to comparison with many of her contemporaries including Ethel Talbot and May Wynne. 

According to Sue Sims and Hilary Clare in "The Encyclopedia of Girls' School Stories"  Baldwin's work "is far less nationalistic than that of other early contributors to the genre, perhaps owing to her own international education, and frequent travel to see her many friends, worldwide".