Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Enid Blyton

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Last night I watched a BBC documentary recreation of the life of Enid Blyton. I was a huge Enid Blyton fan as a child - I had the entire Famous Five series, and most of the Secret Sevens, plus Mallory Towers and St. Clare's. At one stage I remember I modelled my signature on Blyton's with two little lines under my name - I think I was about ten. I noticed that things seemed a little different in her books; I didn't have servants, didn't eat tongue sandwiches or drink ginger beer, and I didn't know anyone who went to boarding school (although it sounded so fun and exciting!) but the outcry against Enid Blyton's books went over my head. I was incenced when libraries and schools banned them. I loved her books, and hadn't noticed that they were racist, or that all the working class characters were criminals.

Sadly, having watched the documentary about her life, my sympathies are now firmly with the libraries, and those who want to rewrite her 750+ books to fit in better with the modern age. I suppose to some extent she's the product of a different age, but she was a shockingly bad mother. She worked in her study all day, seeing her two daughters for an hour each evening. If they had misbehaved in any way, their punishment was to lose that hour with their parents.

The scene that sticks in my mind is that of Enid telling her eight-year-0ld daughter that she was remarrying. She had been having an affair with the surgeon Kenneth Darrell Waters for some time and it had led to the break-up of her marriage (although she divorced on the grounds of her husband's adultery, in order that she might save face). Enid chose to break the news of her impending marriage to little Imogen by cheerfully and abruptly telling her that "Uncle Kenneth" would be her father now, and she was to call him Daddy. When Imogen tearfully asked about her real father, she was told "Oh, he's gone off to war; I doubt we'll see him again." When the little girl became upset, her mother scolded her and sent her to bed without supper.

Later, Imogen saw her mother talking to a man in the garden (Blyton's estranged brother, Hanly, who had come to inform her of their mother's death) and asked innocently who it was. Blyton declared her "a little sneak" and sent her off to boarding school. Neither of her two daughters featured in the film again. Little Imogen is now 74 and I wonder whether she contributed to the research for the film.

There are many authors who lead lives which we, as Latter-day Saints, might consider unconventional or dubious. My question is, does knowing something about the author's personal life affect your enjoyment of their books? If you disapprove of an author's lifestyle, do you boycott their work? Alternatively, if you admire an author on a personal level, do you make an extra effort to buy their books even if you find them uninspiring? Knowing Enid Blyton to have put more time into writing for other people's children than mothering her own, would you buy her books for your children?


Jennie said...

No, I probably wouldn't buy books for my children that were written by someone I knew was a rotter. I think there's too much of a person's inner character that creeps into a person's writing to want to risk giving my children those underlying messages. Different political views, religions, ethnic backgrounds okay, but basic moral character, I don't think so.

Melanie Goldmund said...

I started watching this show about Enid Blyton, too, but I switched off before the end because it was just too depressing. I certainly will never look at her books in the same way again! I don't think I have to worry about whether or not to buy them for my children, as neither of my sons read anything without me practically flogging and/or bribing them to do it, and there are so many other books I can use in my attempts to get them to love reading for its own sake.

Yes, I think that knowing about the author's personal life does affect my enjoyment of their books. Once I heard about Philip Pullman's rabid atheism, for instance, I determined that I would never read any of his books, nor let my children do so. (I only wish I'd found out about it after we'd seen the film The Golden Compass.) I'm sure that kind of thing seeps into his writing and affects your soul, whether you're aware of it or not.

As for going in the opposite direction, though ... well, not so much. (Part of that is financial, though, I have to admit.)

Valerie said...

I have found it difficult to read and enjoy books when I know negative things about the writer, and there are actors as well I don't care for when I learn things about them. Loved Kevin Kostner's early work but after he left his wife...didn't care for him. On the other hand, I love knowing that Pierce Brosnan stayed with his wife through her cancer, but I don't go out of my way to see him in movies. Sean Penn is another actor I don't care for because of his personal life.

But we get a lot more news about actors. Harder to learn about authors' personal lives. But if I learned that any of my favorite writers had Enid's life, I probably wouldn't enjoy them anymore. I do believe that a person's character, sensitivity, faith, charity, and other qualities influence the spirit of the writing, regardless of the literary quality.

Eni said...

Enid Blyton's public and personal life does not my profound admiration for her books, which explains why I have written a book on her titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (www.bbotw.com.)

Stephen Isabirye

tayokarate said...

I don't think anyone should not want to read Enid's books because of her personal life. Though I felt she would be a lover of children and I don't think she wasn't because of all these things are said about her (Aftr'all its still hearsay). I doubt if anybody can hate children and put so much work and imagination into such creative work it's just not compatible.Perhaps the manner in which children were brought up in those days was different.Love was tough, I guess the way children are brought up these days is responsible for some really dysfunctional adults we have today. People always want to blame something in their past for how they turned out 2day if your mother was tough on you, well u probably turned out tough and u won't remember to thank her for being that way to you.The proactive way is to see the good side and look at how u can improve your present life. When I hear a child can call the police on his parents, it sounds strange to us in Africa cos we are brought up very tough and we still love our parents all the same. Whatever anyone says Enid was a lovely writer and I believe her love of children was real and reflected in her books and that u cannot fake in a million write-ups .