In the summer of 1994 I took my family on a literary pilgrimage to the town of Pertisau am Achensee in the Austrian Tyrol. We were on our way to the wedding of family friends in Hungary, and the detour to Pertisau entailed hours of additional driving on the part of my father. Lesser parents might have refused to spend a day and a half of a packed holiday acceding to the whims of a 13-year-old. I, however, was the possessor of an endlessly kind and patient father, and a mother who was quietly almost as keen on visiting Pertisau as I was.
Pertisau doesn’t feature on most Tyrolean itineraries, but every year it nevertheless receives a trickle of English visitors. These visitors – mostly women – all head to the deserted Alpenhof Hotel, and it was there my parents took the photograph I’m looking at now, of me holding a copy of The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer.
Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was a teacher from South Shields who visited Pertisau in the early 1920s. The first of her school stories set at the Alpenhof Hotel, which she transformed into the setting for her Chalet School, was published in 1925. Fifty-eight Chalet books followed, the last appearing posthumously in 1970. The books have been continuously in print ever since. Today you can become a Friend of the Chalet School or join the New Chalet Club; or, if you prefer your fandom in virtual form, you can join in lively and daily-updated debates about the books on the online Chalet School Bulletin Board. At the precise moment that I’m writing this, the Chalet School Bulletin Board tells me that it has 1,452 registered members, 21 of whom are online and in discussion about the series as I type.
In my teens I was a paid-up junior member of the Friends of the Chalet School, although my courage always failed me when it came to attending social Chalet School gatherings. Looking back I’m not sure I really wanted to meet other devotees, so vivid was my relationship with the books. The Chalet School was my solitary pleasure and its orderly systems offered a refuge from the emotional chaos of adolescence. I can’t quite remember what I thought as I stood outside the Alpenhof Hotel, and looking at photographs of it now I wonder whether I was disappointed in its dilapidated grandeur. This summer I’ve been rereading the Chalet School books to try to understand why I dragged my father and my cross 9-year-old sister to look at an empty building in a sleepy lakes
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in