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I watched the BBC4 programme on Enid Blyton at the weekend, which was excellent. Helena Bonham Carter was superb as Blyton - with a chilling, horribly believable portrayal of a deeply-flawed woman, whose emotional development had frozen at the age of about 12 - the age she was when her womanising father left her mother, walking out on their young family. (Interesting article about this here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/6570310/Why-Enid-Blytons-greatest-creation-was-herself.html)

The script (based heavily on her second daughter, Imogen's, account of life with Enid as a mother) did a fantastic job of showing how Blyton was trapped as essentially an immature 12-year-old in a woman's body - the casual spitefulness and petty cruelties, the inability to empathise with anyone else's feelings, the terrible - literally unbearable - rollercoaster of her own uncontrollable emotions - making me-as-viewer pity her whilst finding her deeply unpleasant – were all powerfully portrayed.

More uniquely characteristic to Blyton, however, was her great reliance on the protective powers of escapism and fantasy, which resulted in the almost complete rewriting of any facts that didn’t fit to the way she wanted the world to have been. A counsellor acquaintance of mine from a few years back, had a theory that people who developed Alzheimers and other memory issues, were those who had relied on ‘forgetting’ as a coping mechanism earlier on in their lives – which I don’t think is accurate, but certainly Blyton would be a case for the prosecution on this, as she did indeed go on to develop Alzheimers before her death at the age of 71.

I was never a massive Enid Blyton fan – despite the fact that my mum was extremely anti-Blyton, thinking them “common”!! I found the Far Away Tree deeply creepy, her school story books were pervaded by a nasty odour of authorially-sanctioned peer bullying, and the Famous Five/Secret Seven books seemed both simultaneously unbelievable and unimaginative… However, it is a “formula” that did (and does) seem to work for an incredible number of people, and Blyton is still a best-selling, and multiply-translated, author, which is quite an achievement!

The quote in the subject line comes from Helena B-C, who said that she used it as the key to getting into Blyton's character... Again, deeply chilling!

Joyce Grenfell's hilarious skit "Writer of Children's Books" is well worth seeking out: 'A wickedly funny piece in which a writer of children's books talks in twee terms about how she writes her almost identical books by going into her Hidey-Hole and visiting the Land of Make-Believe is obviously based on Enid Blyton. "Now my husband has his own Hidey-Hole," she says, "where he adds up."' (See here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/accidental-heroes-of-the-20th-century-25--joyce-grenfell-actor-1077057.html)

Similarly, Radio 4's "Incredible Women" series with Rebecca Front had an interview with the spurious children's author, Eleanor Fane-Gore, who also seems to have been a parody of Blyton, including a chilling snippet about sucking the meat off hares' ears, and fictionalising her own daughter (under the same name!) as a rightfully-bullied "wet" character in Fane-Gore's school stories! (See here: http://www.comedy.co.uk/guide/radio/incredible_women/episodes/1/1/ and here: http://www.wivenhoebooks.com/747/)

Date: 2011-05-24 01:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] green-knight.livejournal.com
That's a chilling account, particularly the 'Enid Blyton had tea with her visitors while her children were locked in the house.'

And... yes. I guess her books make a lot more sense when you consider them to have been written by someone who was emotionally twelve. I don't think I've quite realised just how escapist her books _had always been_.

And it wasn't until I _had_ grown up a bit that I realised that her protagonists are, quite often, bullies, and that the unease I'd felt as a child reading her school stories was very well founded.

Date: 2011-05-24 02:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
Yes! And the moment in the programme when she quite calmly and faux-rationally explained to her 4 year old (?) daughter that her old daddy had been replaced and she was going to have a new daddy now, and wasn't that lovely! :S Just gruesome.

Yes - I didn't realise before this, how escapist her books had been for _her_ which is quite interesting...

And definite agreement also on the unease felt reading her books as a child - I think one has a sense, even as a child, that though the targets for authorial disdain and punishment in the books are ostensibly "other" and "deserving of punishment" - yet there is a real sense that at any moment that could be you-the-reader, if you step in the wrong place... Very unnerving.

Date: 2011-05-24 02:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] green-knight.livejournal.com
(The thing with the daughters is just... ugh.)

which is quite interesting...

I think it partly explains why the books are so popular - they are full of that fire, of wishfulfillment, stripped down of most relationships (parents and siblings are kept at arms' length) - they strike me as extremely _simplified_ worlds. And I suppose that makes them suitable for people wishing to escape their own, complex lives.

I was bullied at school. When I first read them, I wanted to be Bill - loving horses and otherwise mostly left alone. These days, I suspect I'll be more of a Gwendolyn Mary - shunted to the side whatever I do. I'm having a lot more sympathy for her, because nobody reaches out to her; being a fat kid who does not like to get dirty and who would like to be grown-up (hmm) isn't very heroic. These days, I wonder what came first: her passive-agressive ways or the bullying, and I'm tending towards the second, because she is at best mocked gently; but _never_ accepted as part of the community.

who would like to be grown-up

Now that I've said that, and in the light of the article, I wonder whether that isn't part of the reason Blyton bullies Gwendolyn Mary so badly. And it's not just Gwendolyn Mary, but everybody - the American student who wants to be a filmstar, various scholarship girls who want to work hard and leave school and go to university and have lives, and basically anyone who has an interest in _becoming things_ rather than 'being a schoolgirl'. If people are willing to use their talent frivolously and live in hte moment, they get a free pass, if they think about future careers, they get cut down to size - the opera singer, the swimmer, and I'm certain a couple more.

In the light of everything else, this is taking on a more sinister character...

Date: 2011-05-24 08:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
Very interesting - I think the antipathy to characters who want to 'grow up' is a very good point and very chilling when you see it in the light of her experiences above!

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