Claudine and Mam'zelle
THE FRENCH GIRL
Claudine has her own faults, but is still adorable and
In many of Enid Blyton's school stories [St
Clare's, (Deux jumelles in the French series), Malory Towers, (Malory
school), and the Naughtiest Girl (Betty)], wecome across French
characters : both pupils as well as teachers.
In the title : 'Claudine at St Clare's', the young
French girl's character is clearly brought out by Enid
Blyton. And naturally, it is quite interesting to read the differences
of behaviour between young French
girls and their English counterparts.
Isabel is the first one to make a comment :
'Claudine', said Isabel. 'What a pretty name
! I like it.'
Mam'zelle then informs us :
...'There never was such a child for happiness.
Always she smiles and laughs, and always she plays the trick and the
And Claudine arrives at last. The young English
girls find her good fun as she says and does exactly what she likes...
As she discovers St Clare, the French girl feels neither lost nor
homesick among the
English. Claudine also thoroughly enjoys the general sympathy on
her. But soon, her faults come out.
Claudine makes out to be a rebellious character,
and doesn't care a penny for the rules of the English
boarding school. She also turns out to be lazy... She takes extra care
of her looks, copies down homework from some one else's books...
Enid Blyton has already begun sketching the French
For the French, discipline is in no way a sacred thing. Being docile
neither. French people are rebellious by nature, and for them,
disobeying the law is more of a national sport... And most certainly,
France needs as many rules and regulations as there of citizens ! Who
has never seen the French drive imprudently, or cheat to get a front
place in a queue ?
As for the Frenchwomen, they are stylish... nobody needs to say this !
They love to charm, to seduce. And Claudine for one particularly good at
that. And if the girl copies down work from her English companions'
notes, it is more out of laziness that by fraud.
She is of course a live wire who can hardly hide her feelings. Much to
the surprise of her English friends, Claudine enjoys stitching and
knitting better than playing
You English girls, you prefer the tennis rackets
and lacrosse sticks.
Claudine gets her
In chapter 7, 'Claudine gets her own way'
summarizes in a nutshell a behaviour which is very French. But this
neither surprises, nor shocks us !
Claudine wants to take a sun-shade with her for going out in the
sunshine ! She is not at all keen in
growing one single freckle. She hates getting her faire skin tanned !
For this purpose, she is going to
make use of all her resources of feminity, and of her state of a naughty
little French girl. Claudine
behaves in a very funny manner, and gives out shrill squeals every time
an insect flies near her. She even removes her suspender... much to the
other's disgust !
Claudine is warned of a punishment. Claudine enjoys herself. She goes so
far as to make the teacher send her in-doors. The French girl is only
too glad !
'Claudine, this behaviour is intolerable ! Go
indoors at once...'
Claudine hides her joy...
Miss Ellis does not stand any nonsense from the French girl.
Claudine meets ... Mam'zelle. The poor child, with down-cast eyes and
sad look has good fun, narrates her unhappiness... And makes complaints
In France, such a behaviour amuses people with a soft heart, and while
blaming under the breath, Claudine is applauded, this good little girl,
so very happy and natural.
As Bobby puts it :
...'My word,' said Bobby, when the maths lesson
came to an end and the girls packed up their books. 'That little monkey
of a Claudine can do anything she likes and gets away with it !'
Claudine is a one for modesty. This is, among
others, a quality I find is common with the French. We like it when we
are praised, yet we don't do anything to get sugary words of praise !
This character is shown in a very amusing manner by Enid Blyton,
especially during the school exhibition held at half term, where the
pupils' works are displayed. Mam'zelle tells her niece that
she would praise to the
skies about the "work" done by Claudine. The girl is filled
with horror, and is even ashamed. So, during the exhibition, Claudine
does her best to keep out of her aunt's way. Claudine herself finds that
her work is not really exceptional :
'I have three sisters who do much more beautiful
work than I do... My mother would say, ''Ah ! The little Claudine is
improving ! This is not bad for a beginning." '
punishment and frankness.
Claudine has yet another fault ! Greediness. In
France, this is almost a quality ! As they say, it is a 'sweet sin'.
The young English girls enjoy eating raspberries... But Claudine takes a
step further and goes to tasting strawberries.
Isabel warns her that she would be punished... :
'You go and taste them,' said Claudine, running
her little pink tongue round her crimson lips. 'They are
so sweet and juicy !'
An unimaginable thing for the young English girls
are not used to disobeying !
--You're awful, Claudine,' said Angela, screwing up her nose. You do
exactly as you like. I'm glad I'm not as dishonourable as you are !
This, however, seems to me, a little too much !
It seems to the French that the sense of duty, of accepted punishment,
are one of the fundamentals of
the English education system. A young French boy will not have the least
smartness to get away from a row ! On the other hand, his friends will
felicitate him for his craftiness or his luck. As regards duty, he will
judge for himself as to which he needs to accept, and will turn a blind
eye to what his masters would impose as a tradition or a fantasy. In a
recent television programme, I saw a report about
the suppression of certain physical punishments in Scottish schools ! It
came as a surprise to me, as I
was under the impression that this had been abolished since long !
A school master administrating a slap is not really condemned in
France... but, on the contrary, a system made up of punishments could
have never ever existed !
When one does not respect one's aunt, Claudine
forgets her hatred for water, and plots, with Pat, to takerevenge : by
falling into the swimming pool and soaking Angela's mother from head to
foot. With her habitual sense of humour, she cannot furnish any
explanation as to how she fell in or how she could have been so careless...
With a wicked twinkle in her eye, the unscrupulous
Claudine walked off...
For, Claudine is someone who you just can't help
Claudine was a success with Allice's parents.
Mam-zelle's niece was a very well brought up child and
a fun-loving person...
As far as she is concerned, Claudine is concious
of her responsibilities, in the sense that she takes
plenty of risks, and quite willingly accepts theirconsequences.
When decisions are taken about Matron, it is again the French girl who
locks up the Matron in a cupboard. Her friend Pat tells her to do what
she pleases. And Claudine takes it all upon herself. She is not in the
least scared of punishments when she cannot avoid
them. There is a huge fuss about the whole affair, Matron is infuriated,
and Claudine's got to own up.
And at last, the French girl goes up to her, and confesses...
She seemed to have a regretfull look, speaks in a meek voice... The Head
Mistress doesn't believe a word of it, but :
Miss Theobald thought that no one could help
liking the naughty little girl, clever as she was at always
getting her own way !
The punishment was to get out of playing hockey,
and instead, spend her spare time mending the school linen...
There is a flash of joy in Claudine's downcast eyes...What luck to be
able to escape from playing this
But when Claudine is accused of theft... everything goes wrong !
Now, how was the French girl going to react ?
Claudine looked round the little group, intense
anger in her small face. She saw Isabel's earnest face,
Pat's scared one, Bobby's watchful one : and then, to the enormous
ashtonishment of the listening girls, the anger in her face melted away.
Claudine is gifted with the capacity of quickly changing her moods :
from laughter to tears, drama to
hilarity, to mad laughing, all just in a few seconds !
Claudine is certainly a continuous source of excitement to her English
You English girls, you are so serious and solemn
and so very, very honourable.
Blyton is fond of Claudine
Now, as my book is coming to an end, Claudine
promises to be a good girl. Let's hope that she continues to be so ; the
same old Claudine that we all love so much...
How to end ? Firstly, it seems to me that Enid Blyton must have quite
loved this sweet little Claudine, yet so impétueuse and different from
Claudine is also (in France) the famous "George" of the Famous
George Kirrin (or Claude Dorsel as she is known in the French version),
if she doesn't ressemble Claudine as far as fashion or style is
concerned, is like her, in the sense that both of them are a funny
mixture of honesty, capable of getting into fits of temper and getting
out of them too !, and who don't like much discipline. George, or
Claude, hates obeying... Quite a lot of common features with our
Can't we make out a little of Enid Blyton herself in these two marked
I remember having read somewhere that Claudine was the result of the
inspiration of one of Enid Blyton's school friends, a young Belgian
Personally, the character, and even the very name
of Claudine makes me think, without the least hesitation, of a character
in French litterature :
the first story of the great Colette, translated into several foreign
languages as 'Claudine at School'.
This story does not take place during the same period, neither in the
same conditions... But the rebellious, comic, stylish, bold, honest and
tender, but also cruel Claudine is of the same type. Right until the
name which is the same. And finally, Colette's works are known worldwide,
as it is the first book of a famous lady author.
In yet another of Enid Blyton's title appears a young French girl called
Was it pure coincidence ? Could Enid Blyton have read Colette ?
Beginners will always enjoy reading this book about school stories. All
the same, let me make a small
correction here : this book is not a children's book. It was a matter of
hot topic in France, during the
1900s. But was nevertheless a great success. These days, you can read
this book while you are
between 15 and 16 years of age... Times are changing !
by : Serge Sohier.
English translation by : Srikrishnan Srinivasan.
* Texts appearing in red are extracted from the book
'Claudine at St Clare's.'
Srikrishnan Srinivasan pour son excellente traduction.