Virgilia Peterson

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 190

Readers of Sylvia Ashton-Warner's earlier and uniquely germinal books, "Spinster" and "Teacher," will not be surprised that in her new novel, "Bell Call", she is still concerned with education. Once again the geographical center of the book is a school in her native New Zealand. This time, however, the conflict is not within the school itself. It is between vested authority and one mother who goes to almost inconceivable lengths, in defiance of the law and in the name of freedom, to keep her 6-year-old son out of the school….

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"Bell Call" is primarily the story of this demon of tenacity … and of her stand against the Philistines….

As an argument over the relative values of discipline and freedom, "Bell Call" is inconclusive. As a novel, it is too reiterative and static. Miss Ashton-Warner is still the passionate pedagogue of "Spinster" and "Teacher." She still has her strange cadences and bright bursts of imagination, but in this latest of her books, she is less of an artist.

Virgilia Peterson, "Bennie Wasn't Ready," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1965 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 14, 1965, p. 40.

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