Wednesday 15 May 2019

The Blyton in my suitcase

When I first went to boarding school I took one of my favourite books with me, packed in my overnight case. It was one of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers books, or it could have been St Clare’s. It’s been a long time since I was devoted to them and they all blend into one in my mind. I suspect it was the one about the French girl who polished an older girl’s shoes with anchovy paste. Claudine she was called. In fact, yes, Claudine at St Clare’s seems very likely.
This is not my original copy - all my Blytons went to a secondhand bookshop when I needed money to buy more books.

By the time I was in bed that night, the book was firmly hidden at the bottom one of the two drawers I’d been assigned. It would not emerge until I sneaked it out to take it home at half-term. I lay on my thin horsehair mattress on my iron bedstead between cotton sheets and woollen blankets (bear in mind this was 1975 and we used duvets and polycotton fitted sheets at home). My deep love of Enid Blyton was over. At my new boarding school, they did not approve of Enid Blyton.

It was another girl who told me that Claudine at St Clare’s wouldn’t do. My whole idea of boarding school came from those pages. Those books were why I’d been so keen to go. I suspect by the time the nameless girl told me this, I’d already realised my picture was wrong and felt that to have the book would be to demonstrate my ignorance. 

But it was true that there was not a single Enid Blyton book in the library. No teacher ever explicitly told me that they had something against her. Not that I would have given them a chance. That book and my previous devotion stayed firmly in the past when I was at school. Didn’t stop me Blyton-cramming the moment I got home, of course. There were lots of home things that you simply didn’t mention at school. Blyton was one of them.

I do wonder how Enid Blyton became such a one-woman story production line. There have been many authors who produce many books in a series or two, but Blyton was so prolific in so many areas. I have no great affection for the Famous Five or Secret Seven, but I loved the Five Find-outers of the ‘The Mystery of…’ books, and the kids in the ‘… of Adventure’ series. The Wishing Chair passed me by, which is odd because magical fantasy was much more up my street as a child than anything realistic. When I’ve reread Enid Blyton in recent years I find that they are so mind-bogglingly racist, sexist and classist it makes my head and heart ache. That’s not why my school didn’t approve of Blyton of course. She was right at the heart of the mainstream in the 1970s. They had judged her on the quality of her prose and found her wanting. I have no argument with this. What I would say though is that it was probably Enid Blyton who made me a reader. I knew every time I picked up one of her books and I would find a story that would easily move from words on the page to action in my mind. I have to think this is a valuable quality in a writer for children.

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