Sunday, 14 July 2013

The problem with Gwendoline Mary Lacey

Everyone who’s read the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton will at once perceive the venom all the girls (plus the creator) has for Gwendoline Mary Lacey. She is sly, deceitful, a sneak and a mother’s girl. She is spoiled by mother and governess, and is selfish and thoughtless. She also says nasty things about her schoolmates.
And yet Gwen is very real and vivid, and I cannot hate her. Blyton tried to make her horrible and hateful, but she couldn’t fully succeed because she made Gwen more complex than she meant her to be. Gwen is bullied by everyone and hasn’t got any friends in school, because they say she is a liar and a nasty piece of work. But the problem started on the first day of school when she was laughed at and jeered at because she cried when her parents left her at boarding school. They gave her no sympathy.
Gwen tried vainly to make friends but no one liked her - the poor thing had no charisma, no charm for friendship. This made her frustrated and vicious - and she vented it out by gossiping about everyone else. To her, everyone is nasty, because no one acknowledges her as a human being, and Alicia Johns bullies her. Of course she thinks the whole school is evil. To make friends she bullied a shy girl and tried to frame other people, so that the shy girl would like her and so she would get revenge on the whole school. The shy girl at first tried to accept Gwen’s advances of friendship, but she never liked her, never truly gave her a chance at friendship.
Another charge against her is she is a snob. She wants to be friends with Clarissa Carter because she’s the daughter of a lord. But there are many snobs, and they are liked and respected because they are fashionable, so ostracising a girl just for being a snob is going too far. Also, Gwen is not fully snobbish as you think. She tries to befriend Mary-Lou and others who are less socially superior, which means that she is fine with ordinary middle-class friends. The reason she thinks she’s superior is this: being ostracised by everyone, she tries to compensate for her inferiority complex by telling herself she’s superior to everyone else, and admiring her own golden hair. She ignores the others from then on because they have been unkind to her, under the false reason that they’re vulgar (but the unconscious reason is her inferiority complex) and so tries to befriend Clarissa. Clarissa is shy and quiet, so she thinks Clarissa will accept her, and she wants to have a “cool" friend so the rest won’t despise her. This goes awry, and Gwen’s ending is tragic. and she ends up friendless. Poor Gwen. I know lots of people far worse than her but her fate is miserable.
Alicia is far worse. She is a spiteful bully who sees Gwen as a weak target, and wants her way in everything. She is less deceitful and she doesn’t do the underhanded manipulations Gwen does because she’s popular - there is no need for her to destroy friendships on purpose or frame people for crimes they didn’t do, and besides Alicia IS a snob. She thinks she’s better than everyone else because of personality, charm and brilliance.

3 comments:

  1. I often wondered if I was alone in feeling just a little bit sorry for Gwendoline? I don't think I've ever met any male fans of Maolry Towers TBH but as a someone who was a bit of a loner when I was a boy I think I'd have liked to try and be her friend if I'd known her in real life... I'm of the school of thought who believes she had no chance at the school, as she was written off by the other girls and Miss Potts before she even got on the train!!! Yes, she was spoilt, selfish etc. , but reading the books back with my young son and daughter recently I picked up on a few things that I didn't notice when I was young - and I have to say that, unlike some other characters who started badly but were later accepted (Mavis, Daphne, Bill - even Sally initially), Gwen was not really given a fair chance to redeem herself. You find out a lot about many of the other characters' home lives, but not Gwen's, despite her being one of the few characters to last right through the books. Unlike with say Darrell (her father a surgeon, her mother a housewife, her sister Felicity comes to the school) or Alicia (her brothers play pranks in school, her mother came to MT years before her), you only find out that she'd never been to school before (all the others had been to a prep school before and have siblings unlike Gwen who was an only child who seemingly was kept out of sight of other children growing up), that her father - who worked away a lot - was often annoyed with her (perhaps he secretly longed for a son or didn't want children at all), and her mother and governess doted over her. By modern standards these traits are all hallmarks of a troubled family - who knows what tragedies and heartbreaks they may have been concealing? To be fair to her, her behaviour towards Darrell and Mary-Lou in the first book was petty but not unforgiveable (Darrell hit Gwen and attacked Sally, both in temper, but these were both overlooked), and she was clearly unhappy and lonely but as I said earlier the girls and even Miss Potts laughed and jeered at her, and wrote her off even before she got on the train. Miss Potts had Alicia take Darrell under her wing - why did she not ask an older girl to do likewise with Gwen? Unlike Darrell, she'd never been to school or away from home before and it was perfectly forgiveable and understandable for her to be tearful and upset on the train in those circumstances

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    1. (Continued) by today's standards her behaviour that first term could be seen as rebelliousness and immaturity, or even a cry for help. In the second book, Daphne (Gwen's best friend that book) was the one who told lies and stole from others and put the cream on that cake, she deliberately set another girl who was already ill and on the verge of a nervous breakdown up to take the fall - but she was instantly forgiven. Despite being the one who both tried to warn Mary-Lou about Daphne AND then reported that Mary-Lou had gone missing in the storm, Gwen - who did nothing wrong this time - was STILL shunned by all the others and expected to just suck it up and forgive Daphne, even though she was the main victim of Daphne's lies and theft. Similarly in the fifth book, Gwen was trying genuinely to be sensible and be more involved with the others but they shunned her again. Blyton said that the girls had given her many chances, but none were ever really given at all. Her pretence of a weak heart in the fourth book was a vile act yes, but it didn't directly harm any of the other girls or mistresses and she had the telling off of her life by her father at home - she only knocked herself down, humiliated herself and knew that full well. Wasn't that punishment enough? For all her faults, she never bullied other pupils (a la Alicia), stole from others of victimised a girl who was il and vulnerable (a la Daphne), hit another girl (a la Darrell), she never ran away from school (a la Jo), domineered over the others (a la Moira), or wrote anonymous letters (a la June). All of those got a chance to do better and redeem themselves! Perhaps had Gwen been given such an opportunity earlier on (a clean slate into the second form for instance) she may have turned out a lot better than she did.

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