I am a collector of the Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer. There are 66 Chalet School books which were written and published from 1925 to 1970, which follow the exploits of two sisters who move from England to Austria to start a girl’s school. I could assume that most people, within my generation at least, will not have heard of them as other children’s series such as by C.S. Lewis and Enid Blyton were more popular. And of course children want to read more grown up books so these old fashioned books were passed over by my friends in favour of more modern novels. Despite my assumption that the Chalet School books are were less favoured, I know that I am one of a great many who treasure these books. There are a few societies, such as Friends of the Chalet School, which are dedicated to everything ‘Chaletian’.
I’m not entirely sure how I got interested in these books however I think it is likely that the cover designs would have been what made me want to read them. Not long after I started to read these in the small local library they started to became harder and harder to find and so I started collecting them whenever I found one for sale. My dad also had a big influence in this collection as he himself is an avid collector of stuff (stamps, coins, Lilliput houses, model aircraft kits, trains, gadgets etc.) and had for years tried (not very successfully) to get me and my brother into collecting stamps and coins.
My collection at the moment stands at about 50 books, of which several are doubles, so I still have some collecting to do. I also own a rather rare hardback 1st edition of the twenty-third novel in the series ‘Carola Storms the Chalet School’ which of course I treasure. I have only ever found a few hardback copies of these books and was exceptionally pleased that I found this edition and happily forked out all my pocket money with a little in advance from my Dad. This however is not my favourite of the collection. My favourite is a 1988 hardback reprint of ‘The Princess of the Chalet School’ which has a lovely dust slip of the original cover design that has kept the book in excellent condition. This design is based on the 'big' adventure in this lovely story where Jo, the younger founding sister who has frail health, ventures out into the Tyrolean mountains to find her fellow student, the Princess, who has run away from the School.
With these books the older the better in my opinion and in line with my belief that it was the covers which originally got me interested in these books I will not buy a copy if the cover is of the more recent mid-late 90s styles. They just don’t fit my idea of treasured old stories of a time and place where things were never that bad and the worst thing kids did to each other was put snails on their rival’s window. Despite that old saying ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ it is the covers job sell the book so I feel no shame in being short sighted and judging by pretty picture alone. Psychology informs us that in the first few seconds of meeting a new person you have formed an opinion of them so I would propose this could be applied to object also.
It is a strange thing collecting, something which I hadn’t actually thought about in relation to myself for ages until Amy’s email, and then I realised how much it is still a part of my life now. I still cannot leave a charity shop or second-hand book shop without looking to see if there is by chance a lonely book waiting to be part of my collection. Also, partially as a result of my love of these stories, I have visited the real life location that was used for the setting of the fictional Chalet School twice. Pertisau am Achensee in Austria is beautiful little town set on the banks of the Achensee lake and it is not hard to see why it as chosen by Brent-Dyer as the perfect place to base these stories.
I am now off to search for the books which are missing from my collection on Amazon and eBay!