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Literature / The Marlow Series

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A series of ten books by Antonia Forest, about a family of eight children (six girls and two boys) beginning with the two youngest girls, Nicola and Lawrie, starting their first term at the girls' school Kingscote that all four of their older sisters go to, continuing over the next two and a half years (book time) with four novels set at Kingscote and six novels set in the holidays, mostly at the Marlows' ancestral home Trennels.

The novels were published between 1948 and 1982, and each novel is set in the time in which it was written and published: so in the early novels World War II is a very recent memory, but by The Attic Term (1976) the schoolgirls at Kingscote are watching Star Trek in their TV hour.

Books in the series:

Conveniently, the order of publication is also the chronological order of the series.

  1. Autumn Term (1948)
  2. The Marlows and the Traitor (1953)
  3. Falconer's Lure (1957)
  4. End of Term (1959)
  5. Peter's Room (1961)
  6. The Thuggery Affair (1965)
  7. The Ready-Made Family (1967)
  8. The Cricket Term (1974)
  9. The Attic Term (1976)
  10. Run Away Home (1982)

Antonia Forest said she was working on a sequel to Run Away Home, but when she died in 2003, no manuscript was found in her papers.

Forest also wrote two novels about the Marlow family set in Elizabethan times, in which a boy called Nicholas seems to be a male avatar of Nicola Marlow in modern Elizabethan times. Although they were published after The Ready-Made Family, references to characters and events from the two novels are found in that novel and in The Cricket Term.

  1. The Player's Boy (1970)
  2. The Players and the Rebels (1971)

The Marlow Series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • All Girls Like Ponies: Rowan, Ginty, Mrs Marlow and the twins are all enthusiastic riders and participate in a few hunts, as well as owning their own ponies.
  • Attention Whore / It's All About Me: Lawrie, who is the Marlow family's drama queen (figuratively and literally). Miranda calls her out for crying when she doesn't get her way, while others point out that Lawrie can be very self-centred.
  • Author Avatar: Patrick Merrick in The Attic Term, for Antonia Forest's views on Vatican II.
  • Butt-Monkey: Marie Dobson and new girl Pomona Todd in Autumn Term, although Pomona eventually does make friends and plays on the cricket team. Marie never does.
  • Character Death: Marie Dobson dies suddenly in The Cricket Term, when her heart stops. Her form mates write a letter of condolence to her family, though Tim has to be pressured into it and Nicola feels guilty as she never liked Marie in the first place. (Lawrie is hiding in a tree while this takes place.)
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to most schoolgirl literature in general; Forest originally wanted to write for adults, and it shows. As well as the above mentioned Character Death, the books also feature discussions of religion (Judaism and Catholicism), sex, Zionism, death, teenage crime (especially in The Thuggery Affair), and drugs.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Rowan is the snarkiest of the Marlow sisters, and Tim has her moments, especially in Autumn Term when she rips the piss out of the twins for just wanting to be special. Miss Cromwell also has her moments.
  • Determinator: Rowan and Nicola. Rowan has a reputation for playing well on a losing team, and Nicola gets the form cricket team up early and practising for the school cricket tournament, especially when Lois tries to sabotage the form's practice by not letting them use the nets and trying to complain about them to the Games mistress (who ignores her). It pays off.
  • The Fundamentalist: Patrick is a mild example; his hatred of the Vatican II reforms gets him into major trouble in The Attic Term when he refuses to participate in school services, and says he'd rather go to a Protestant school than a Catholic one which adopts modern practices.
  • Interrupted Suicide: In Peter's Room, Patrick decides that his character is going to kill himself and points a gun at his head, assuming it isn't loaded. Nicola knocks it out of his hand and it goes off. Played with in that it isn't Patrick himself who is suicidal but the character he's playing; Patrick is a devout Catholic and suicide is against his religion.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Miranda West, and Tim to a lesser extent, once the twins are moved up a form. Miranda is closer to Nicola, while Tim is Lawrie's friend, but both girls can be quite cliquey towards outsiders.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Lois Sanger. Rowan complains that Lois will deliberately get injured before matches in order to avoid any culpability if the team loses, and while Rowan is biased, she does have a point, as Lois is very charismatic and good at manipulating people. She also engineers Nicola being dropped from the netball team in End of Term.
  • Massively Numbered Siblings: There are eight Marlow children. In age order: Giles (who is in the Navy and barely appears in the books, except Run Away Home), Karen, Rowan, Ann, Ginty, Peter, Nicola and Lawrie.
  • May–December Romance: Karen and her husband, Edwin Dodd, who is much older and has three children from a previous relationship.
  • Oh, Crap!: Ginty has a moment of this in The Attic Term when Mrs Lambert, the new secretary walks in while she's on the phone to Patrick and reading him the answers for his O-Level papers.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Ginty's real name is Virginia, but barely anyone calls her that (unless she's in big trouble).
  • Pet the Dog: In Autumn Term Lois Sanger, the Marlow twins' arch nemesis, who gets them both kicked out of Guides earlier in the book, and makes trouble for Nicola Marlow later on in the series. Their form opt to put on a production of The Prince and the Pauper for the school festival, and Tim Keith, who writes the play, wants to narrate. However, Tim is terrible and Lawrie Marlow panics about the play being a failure. Tim remembers hearing that Lois is a good reader, and when she shows her the script, Lois is impressed with it and offers to do the narration herself, effectively saving the play.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Nicola and Lawrie Marlow - physically identical but very unalike in character, personality, mannerisms, and talents.
  • "Reading Is Cool" Aesop: Nicola Marlow is a passionate and involved reader. She's stricken by the end of Flying Colours, enjoys Ramage because he knew Hornblower, reads The Cruel Sea because it's about the Navy, reads Hakluyt because it's in her family library, and reads Persuasion because she's been told every other male character is in the Navy. She also discovers and relishes Mary Renault's The Mask Of Apollo in her local library in 1974. One novel in the series, Peter's Room is structured as an exploration of the Brontë sisters invention of an imaginary world. How many readers of the Marlow books were led to read Hornblower because Forester was right next to Forest on the shelves?
  • School Play: In three out of the four school novels the School Play is an important plot strand - Lawrie Marlow, the youngest of the Marlow children, is discovered to have an astonishing talent for acting in her form's performance of The Prince and the Pauper in Autumn Term, in End of Term she plays St Stephen in the school nativity play, and The Cricket Term a plot strand turns on her being given the part of Ariel and wanting to do Caliban in The Tempest. And in Run Away Home, Lawrie plays a monkey in another child's school play.
  • Shout-Out: The Attic Term mentions a Chalet School book (it's The Chalet School Does It Again), along with Elsie J Oxenham's Abbey series.
    • Nicola's form are big fans of Star Trek.
    • The attic room where Ginty and the twins are housed in The Attic Term is nicknamed 'Sara Crewe', although the twins don't get the reference.
    • Peter's Room is one big shout-out to the Bronte sisters' imaginary world of Gondal, with Patrick and the younger Marlows all playing characters from that world (though Nicola tires of it).
  • Shrinking Violet: Esther Frewen, a very shy girl who runs away from school in End of Term. She volunteers to sing Nicola's solo in The Attic Term, but ultimately can't do it as her nerves kick in.
  • Team Mom: Ann is this both to her younger siblings and juniors at Kingscote, though Nicola resents having Ann run around after her, while Ginty treats her like a skivvy.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Peter shooting the Admiral in The Marlows and the Traitor, Nicola stabbing a paedophile who is attempting to kidnap Rose in The Ready-Made Family and Patrick pointing a pistol, which turns out to be loaded, at his head and only being saved by Nicola knocking it out of his hand in Peter's Room.
  • Twin Switch: Pulled by Nicola and Lawrie in End of Term.
  • Ungrateful Bitch: Lawrie is awarded the Prosser Scholarship in The Cricket Term for giving up her part in The Tempest and letting Miranda play Ariel. Nicola is glad as it means she can stay on at Kingscote, as Mrs Marlow was considering taking her out of school as she couldn't afford to pay for four girls (despite spunking a load of money on horses). Lawrie, however, is miserable and has a tantrum because she wanted to play Caliban.