These photographic covers, with their casual, Seventies children, were a world away from those depicted in the books. Georgia, Susan and Gerry seem irredeemably lodged in a version of the 1950s where women don't work, the family is central, and everything always does seem to work out. Other pony stories written at the same time, like Ruby Ferguson's Jill books, don't seem as firmly lodged in time and place. Ruby Ferguson, whatever her real opinion on careers for girls, always left you with the sense that Jill was going somewhere. Georgia, although a decent enough character, was forever stuck in early teenagerhood. When I read the books, only 20 years after they were written, they already seemed part of a fantasy world, albeit an attractive one.
In the 1950s, she started writing the G for Georgia series. Heroine Georgia is worried and upset by life generally in A Pony of Your Own (1950), but one of her major fears is horses. She manages to overcome her fears enough to help a man and horse who have an accident outside her house, but the experience isn't a turning point for her: she doesn't suddenly develop a love of horses and charge off to the gymkhana. Georgia’s family are well aware of how badly her life is affected by her fears, and decide to send her off to The Grange, a new small school where pupils ride as well as learn. Georgia is appalled by the thought, and at first, almost sinks.
“Miss Primrose smiled and sighed at the same time. This girl baffled her. Georgie was terrified of horses, yet she had gone to the rescue that frosty night and had probably saved Firefly’s life...Matron had told Miss Primrose privately that Georgie came in for a good deal of ill-natured teasing from Barbara and her friends, and the headmistress was sorry to hear that this difficult girl was quite unable to stand up for herself.”
But slowly, with the occasional prompting of friends and staff, Georgia grows in self confidence. It's not a straightforward process, and much of the interest in the first book comes from wondering whether she will manage to overcome her fears. However, in true school (and pony) story tradition, she does - fortunately, as it would have been tricky to have sustained a long pony book series where the heroine was too scared to go near a pony.
Once Georgia has joined the majority in the school who ride, that left a gap for an author who liked an outsider. They crop up in her school stories, and in her other pony series. Georgia is an outsider because she does not share the other girls’ enthusiasms, but other characters suffer because they don't have the happy family life Georgia does. Susan Walker, Georgia’s great friend, rarely sees her parents, who work abroad, and lives with an academic uncle. Georgia’s cousin Gerry lives with the Kane family as her own family are in Singapore, and seem to want little to do with her. Both girls find a harbour (even if they do not like it much at times) with the Kane family.
Fellow pupil at The Grange, Patience, was brought up in a loving but constricted atmosphere with a guardian whose ideas of child rearing would have been perfectly acceptable to the Victorians (Ponies and Holidays, 1950). When Patience arrives at the Grange she says: “We’ve led a very quiet life, and I’m afraid I shall find this youthful atmosphere extremely trying at first.” She does. Poor Patience, hauled out of the last century and thrown into this:
“A strange house is horrid, just at first,” said Georgie, very sorry for her. “I know what you feel like—“
“You don’t.” Patience spoke in a desperate little whisper, quite unlike her usually sedate tones.”No one can possibly know. You see, I’ve never been inside a real home before, let alone stayed in one... It makes me feel—odd.”
Outsiders crop up in Mary Gervaise's other pony stories too. Perhaps the best of them is Belinda. Belinda is a pony book character you either love or loathe. There is something of the Fotherington Thomas about her: when reading the books, you do rather expect her to dance off singing "Hello sky! Hello trees!", but I like her despite this. She is portrayed right from the off in the first book, A Pony for Belinda (1959) as an outsider and oddity: she is going through agonies at a tea party. The other children are dressed in jeans: she's 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. Then Belinda, that stiff little person, is thrown into a modern family. It does not go well.
Mary Gervaise benefited hugely from the popularity of pony books. Without her Georgia series, she would probably have faded from view in the 1950s, remembered for her school stories. In a period when Collins were keen to reprint anything with a pony in it in order to shore up their Armada paperback imprint, she was lucky.
Mary Gervaise's books in full and glorious colour on my website