Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The Outsider

Before I get any further, this is nothing whatsoever to do with Monica Edwards' Outsider. I've been reading Mary Gervaise's A Pony for Belinda, which I found a gentle and undemanding read. Belinda is portrayed right from the off as an outsider and oddity: she is going through agonies at a tea party, in which the children there are dressed in jeans, while she is in a frilly dress. They go to school: she is educated by her grandmother and the Vicar. They are easy in each other's company: she sees almost nothing of other children and sees no reason why she should.

It turns out that Belinda is living with her grandmother after an horrific accident when Belinda was a baby. Her mother took her down to the beach but was caught by the tide. Belinda was rescued but her mother was not. Belinda was all her grandmother had left, so stayed with her rather than rejoin her father, brother and two sisters, and so they all stay, separated, until her family moved to the country and then had room for her.

So there Belinda is: a stiff little person, thrown into a modern family. This wasn't a new theme for Mary Gervaise: Patience in her G for Georgia series is brought up by an elderly and old-fashioned Guardian, until she finds her true family. This theme of the outsider crashing into a different world and adapting is a very common one in the school story genre (Mary Gervaise used variations of it in her school stories - Tiger's First Term for one). The Chalet School's Eustacia was another whose upbringing was challenged. And of course in children's literature generally there's The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson-Burnett where spiky Mary finds two different ways of life, both of them completely different from her Indian upbringing.

All this made me wonder about the theme of the outsider in pony books. Initially I couldn't think of any books which make use of it in the same way as Mary Gervaise, but in Jill there is Dinah Dean. She is brought up by a distant and unhelpful father, but she never becomes a conventional pony girl. Dinah in fact is headed for boarding school, and is reading school stories in preparation when we leave her. I did wonder about Mercy Dulbottle, but she's awkward and ineffective; not really an outsider from upbringing.


Now I think about it, there are other plots which use nearly the same device: spoiled rich child is helped by enobling contact with the horse (Angela Peabody in They Bought Her a Pony); backward seat proponent converted to the forward seat (June Cresswell and John Manners in the Noel and Henry series), and there must be others.

3 comments:

Fiona said...

There's Christabel RAffington in I had Two Ponies. Her stay with the Westlakes changes her outlook andfind the ponies she allowed her Father to sell.

Jane said...

Yes, that's true. She's a good example.

mutterings and meanderings said...

Jill herself in an outsider at the beginning, dad dead, she and fiancially-challenged mummy move to Chatton ..