Girls Gone By, 1999
The Marjorie series
Marjorie & Co
Castle in Northumbria
No Medals for Guy
Summary and critique (Diane Janes)
Northern Lights is the fourth Marjorie story, coming after Border Peel and before Castle in Northumbria. It was rejected for publication because it was considerd that by the late 1940s the war-weary public would not be interested in children’s books which mentioned World War 2. The war does feature but does not really impinge once the story gets going. The children manage to organise a Christmas holiday in a rather well appointed vicarage, safe in the country as a result of a near-miss bomb falling on Pan, Peter and Esme’s parents’ neighbour’s garden. On the way there the children have to navigate Newcastle in the blackout; rather well done and atmospheric, this chapter, and later see tank training and manouevres during which Marjorie is caught in a tank with a bunch of soldiers and smoking a cigarette with apparently practised ease. There is the usual and realistic obsessive interest in food but rationing does not feature at all.
Guy is staying in the vicarage to mug up his Latin with the Vicar and is also teaching at a local riding school (the regular staff being at war or doing war work). After the adventure of getting there Pan and Peter are dismayed to find they have to take tea with some dreary children whose parents are friends of their parents. Coincidentally Guy has to teach Avril the arrogant girl to ride. He does of course win her over and teaches her some humility and thoughtfulness in her dealings with her downtrodden governess. There is, as usual, a battle between Guy and Marjorie with honours fairly even at the end but this is less of a theme than in some of the other books as Avril is pretty obnoxious and Gina the polish refugee reappears and is fairly impossible, too so the emphasis is off Marjorie. Gina’s behaviour results in the loss of the pony she has been loaned for the holidays – quite right too as she is not prepared to look after it properly – and her running away leading to the set piece ending with the children being marooned in a snow bound cottage and living on snared rabbits and cocoa which causes animal loving Esme an anguished conscience. The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights foretell the hard weather and the book ends with the children watching their beauty unrolling over the snowy landscape.
There is no strong plot in this story but the each character is developed through a number of incidents. A lot of the apalling Gina’s behaviour is attributable to her disrupted childhood, loss of Mother and Country: particularly poignant at Christmas. On Christmas Day Marjorie receives a big cheque from her absent parents whereas Peter, Pan and Esme get visits and carefully chosen moderate gifts from theirs. Peter, who is rather a weak boy who tries unsuccessfully to imitate Guy and constantly denigrates girl’s abilities, comes into his own at a WI Christmas Show as an ace horse noise imitator and saves the show. The evening is beautifully realised. Surely Lorna Hill must have attended many such! Guy is a keen foxhunter as are Marjorie and Peter but Esme is instinctively and vehemently anti which leads to a clash with neither side attempting to comprehend the other’s point of view over the Boxing Day meet and the subsequent saving of a hunted fox. Pan is thoughtful and struggles with the dilemma of loving the tradition and spectacle and respecting the participants but knowing it is cruel and wrong. I really like Pan; I want her to be my friend – and I can see Esme turning into a batty (and unwashed!) Bridgitte Bardot type of animal rights fanatic – especially as the introduction to the book tells me that Guy grows up to marry a ballet dancer (Yuk!) when clearly he is destined to spend his life being adored by Esme.