‘Maxtone Graham’s book – with, I should add, my favourite title of the year; I love an artfully-constructed pun – is rigorously unacademic. There is no index, and there are no footnotes . . .
Very little attempt is given to elaborating on partial anecdotes (she mentions a teacher, for instance, who received a bucket of water over the head every day – which can’t possibly be true), and none at all to verifying them. It doesn’t seem to cross Maxtone Graham’s mind that any of the stories might be untrue. And her sources? The ‘girls’ she tracks down; the women – many of them now extremely old – who tell stories of their experiences, relayed with the breathless excitement of the schoolchild and often with the same level of exaggeration, for better or worse. Unkind teachers loom large, as do the freezing nights or bitter homesickness or lacrosse triumphs. Everything is writ large. And everything is reported without question, and with affable humour. It is not at all difficult to envisage Maxtone Graham (herself a boarding school girl in her day) chattering happily with every old girl over a glass of wine or mug of cocoa, swapping stories, and scribbling down the best bits for inclusion. This is not academic writing or journalism – this is storytelling, and Terms and Conditions is all the more enjoyable for it. The audience for a scholarly discussion of girls’ boarding schools is slim; the audience for this sort of chatty, witty collection of tales is much larger . . .
The strength of Maxtone Graham’s books is that she matches this devotion without any of the boredom. There is a touching exuberance throughout Terms and Conditions that made even me, lefty cynic about private education and particularly boarding schools, love every moment and throw my concerns out of the window. It’s a perfect stocking filler – and is one of the first books in the Plain Foxed series, which don’t have the same limited print run of the Slightly Foxed Editions, while being equally beautiful objects. This one will have you or your loved one giggling all through Boxing Day, sharing anecdotes and marvelling at the extravagances both of youth and of recollections of youth.’