Remembering Enid Blyton
I was born in the Sixties and some of my oldest memories were the Enid Blyton books I used to love so much. As a child, it wasn’t the author that attracted me to the books but looking back all my favourites were written by Enid Blyton, even though the books were all very different.
I put together some of my favourites, with the original covers if I could find them.
The strange thing was I was a massive fan of The Secret Seven series but never got into The Famous Five. The one I loved most was The Naughtiest Girl in the School probably because I was a quiet, shy child and just wanted to rebel but didn’t have the courage. I actually asked if I could change my name to Amelia Jane because she was everything I wanted to be. Strangely, I always found Noddy a little scary and I have no idea why!
I remember being offered different authors by aunties and uncles who worried about my very narrow taste in reading, but as a young child, I could not be swayed. Enid Blyton’s books were the first ones that I actually read myself instead of having them read to me. The books got very dog-eared because they were read so much but I still remember the covers of every one of them.
I always read bedtime stories to my daughter and she has grown up to love books almost as much as I do. Even now, if I get the chance, I love to review children’s books. Nowadays there is always an educational element or moral lesson which can only be a good thing.
I know that you can still buy Enid Blyton books today but wonder if they have the same appeal to the younger generation?
(11 August 1897 – 28 November 1968)
Enid Blyton was born in London in 1897, the oldest of three children. She was very close to her father and was devastated when he left home, when Enid was thirteen, to live with another woman.
After leaving school she worked as a teacher and later as a nursery governess. In 1949 the first Secret Seven edition was published as well as Noddy Goes To Toyland. She wrote prolifically throughout the 1950s often publishing more than fifty books a year.
This is a quote from Enid Blyton which describes her writing technique.
I shut my eyes for a few minutes, with my portable typewriter on my knee – I make my mind a blank and wait – and then, as clearly as I would see real children, my characters stand before me in my mind’s eye … The first sentence comes straight into my mind, I don’t have to think of it – I don’t have to think of anything
She married Major Hugh Alexander Pollock and the couple went on to have two daughters Gillian and Imogen. They divorced and she married her second husband, Darrell Waters in 1943.
In 1960 Enid began to show signs of dementia, she died in 1968 aged 71.
The Controversial Side to Enid Blyton.
Enid Blyton’s writing has been strongly criticised, she has been accused of being racist and sexist. Some of the stories have been changed since the 1990s to make them more politically correct.
Here are some examples:-
The original Noddy books featured Golliwogs, which were black faced characters which stole Noddy’s car and were perceived as a little more mean than other characters.
Enid Blyton wrote a book called ‘The Little Black Doll’ in which the doll was called ‘ugly’ by her owner. ‘Sambo’ the black doll was so upset she ran away, then the rain washed her face clean. With a pink face, the doll was welcomed back into the family.
In the ‘Famous Five’ stories, one of the characters was a girl called George. She was portrayed as a tomboy who wore boys clothes and people showed confusion about her gender. The other girl Anne was given a demure, homely image which lead to criticism that Enid Blyton gave the impression that boys were a more important part of society than girls.
In the ‘Secret Seven’ stories, Peter makes a claim that girls could never be as good as boys at solving mysteries and always rejected Janet’s suggestions, just because she was a girl.
In the Faraway Tree series, there was a teacher called Dame Slap who slapped her pupils. Concerns were raised that children would become damaged by the treatment Dame Slap gave out and turn into a generation of psychopaths. The character was changed to Dame Snap and she shouted rather than slapped the children.
Also, in this series were characters called Fanny and Dick, these were later changed in the 1990s to Frannie and Rick. The original names had to be changed because, forty years after the books were written, the names were considered vulgar.
Her books were also criticised as too simplistic, with limited vocabulary and transparent plots.
A festival planned for her hometown of Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, to commemorate seventy-five years since she moved there, was actually opposed by critics.
Enid Blyton wrote so prolifically that she was accused of using ghostwriters, she always denied this.
She is believed to have had several affairs including a lesbian relationship with her children’s nanny.
She was a big tennis fan, especially naked tennis which was quite common amongst the middle classes of this era.
Enid’s daughter Imogen wrote a biography about her mother in 1989 called A Childhood at Green Hedges. In this biography, she describes how her mother was arrogant, pretentious and lacking in maternal instinct. However, Enid’s other daughter Gillian described her mother as a fascinating companion and a fair and loving mother.
Imogen Smallwood (Blyton’s daughter) said that her mother possessed childlike qualities, and could be spiteful and cold.
Barbara Stoney, another biographer said that she believed Enid was so severely traumatised by arguments between her mother and father that she froze emotionally, which explained her ‘teenage’ like behaviour.
Enid’s brother Hanly also described the terrible distress suffered by his sister when their father left the family home.
Interestingly, Enid didn’t even attend her mother’s funeral when she died in 1950.
In 2009 a film about Enid Blyton’s life was produced. It was simply titled ‘Enid’ and starred Helena Bonham Carter. Her first husband Hugh Pollock was played by Matthew Macfadyen
In Enid’s Defence…
Could it not be true that Enid Blyton was describing early feminism when she described George the ‘tomboy’, a girl who refused to conform to a stereotypical perception? Blyton always insisted that George was based on a real person and later admitted that it was actually herself.
Also, the books which were written between 1920 and 1960 portray the way that middle-class women of that time thought.
It could be said that although the books were not literary masterpieces, they encouraged children to read and that could only be applauded.
The stories can be used as teaching tools to discuss controversial topics with children, in a way that they can fully understand.
My Thoughts on the Censorship of Enid Blyton books.
Obviously, some of the stories must be changed, especially the racist undertones in Noddy, The Golliwogs, and The Little Black Doll. However, with the sexist and classism issues, I feel that children should be given the credit to judge for themselves. Adults reading the books to a child should make the child aware that the stories were written in a bygone age and certain things are undoubtedly unacceptable now. I don’t want to see the ‘lashings of ginger beer’ terminology changed because it has such a vintage style which I feel should be preserved and not censored.
Although J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series are firm favourites with children today, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five remains the favourite children’s book for adults.
Her books have sold more than five hundred million copies Worldwide.
Finally a quote from the lady herself
Do you have fond memories of Enid Blyton books as a child?
Do you feel that Enid Blyton’s writing was racist and sexist or just from a generation prior to political correctness?
Would you feel happy to read one of her books to a child today?
Thank you for reading.