Erica refuses to accept a governess when her brother goes to school and their tutor departs. Her behaviour becomes so appalling that her father decrees that she must go to school, despite his conviction that girls’ schools turn out hooligans – ‘Your aunt says you will be a monster if you stay at home. On the whole, I prefer hooligans.’
Click here to see some pages from Erica Wins Through.
So Erica arrives at Greystones with cropped hair (one of her acts of rebellion has been to cut off her long curls) and a bad reputation, which is unfortunately picked up by the two leaders of her form. Her curt behaviour and unnatural facility with Latin make Betty and Joan pursue her with a whispering campaign of downright bullying, and only when the head of house takes a hand and shows how groundless their accusations are does Erica even begin to gain ground. Then she finds two real friends, joins with them in some splendidly realistic schoolgirl fooling, redeems her Latin by developing a turn for hockey, and finally takes unexpected control of the scenery for the house play, with excellent results. In the course of the term she decides that she wants to become a doctor, buckles down to work, and ends up third in form order. The final scene shows her comparing notes with her brother, who has run up against some of the same problems at his school, and shows that she has won through in her own way without sacrificing any of her individuality.
With this, her first book, Josephine Elder immediately won a place in the top rank of girls’ school story writers. If it is not quite on the level of her superb Evelyn Finds Herself, Erica’s story is memorable for its psychological realism, making the plot turn entirely on character development and owing nothing at all to melodrama or unreal coincidence. We can thoroughly sympathise with Erica’s predicaments and follow her gradual integration with her peers with real interest, shuddering no doubt at her enthusiastic dissection of a dead cat but recognising that it is a real part of her development. Perhaps rather too much happens in one term, but Erica Wins Through is the unmistakeable work of a talented writer who was under no illusions about schoolgirls and their behaviour.
For the GGBP edition, Hilary Clare has written an extremely helpful and interesting introduction about Josephine Elder and the writing of Erica Wins Through.
This is the first title in a series of three, followed by The Scholarship Girl and The Scholarship Girl at Cambridge.
GGBP published Erica Wins Through on 6th July 2010.
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