Sunday, 9 March 2014

War Among Ladies - Eleanor Scott (1928). Not much changes

I came across an odd and very purple book recently about staff-room quarrels and a complete unravelling of a workplace. I can't remember another staff-room in Girl's Own fiction apart from New Mistress at the Chalet School where there is a place for everything and everything is in its place whether that's your bedroom where the bed can be turned into a sofa during the day or in the staff room where you have your own desk and bookshelf. I do remember wondering why it was so important to turn your bed into a sofa during the day on first reading as a child. Perhaps I was always laid-back and felt that was necessary effort - wouldn't you just make the bed and leave until the working day was over? It seemed rather pointless for a single woman as she couldn't really invite guests in. I expect I'm muddling up the inevitably floral bedroom and the study, but I keep imagining a floral desk set and no clutter allowed. In my more evil moments I wonder if Matron even inspected the drawers of the academic staff and think she probably did. Just to keep an eye on things.

It was, though, a friendly staff-room as a rule. Lots of coffee-drinking, biscuit-eating and enjoyment with jigsaws, card games and pleasant conversation. War Among Ladies (1928) by Eleanor Scott is probably more realistic in its portrayal of inter-staff rivalries where the staff-room is the centre of conflict rather than a comfortable place to have a break. These staff are drudges, desperate to escape teaching and fearing a poverty-stricken retirement. I'm rather glad that banks now give mortgages to single women when the alternative is living in rented rooms, mainly of the miserable variety at the mercy of petty landladies. It's almost impossible for them to have an outside social life as they're judged by the clubs they belong to and the clubs they don't join. They are concerned with exam results, the Education Department, local council, parents and standing. Most especially about appearances and standing. It's petty morality at its most entertaining. It's also a pretty good reflection of most workplaces: not everyone likes all their colleagues and there's usually someone weak who isn't doing anything about improving their skills, but they are self-pityingly wafting about doing very little. Then, the School Inspector called. Sadly, there's no consideration of career development and learning new skills, but everyone's scrambling to survive. It's professional death by politeness and a fantastic example of verbal communication and the power of suggestion.

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