Friday, 7 November 2014
Giants of Academia & the Arts
… but, then again, nobody is perfect
Enid Mary Blyton (11 August 1897 – 28 November 1968)
people living on the planet today. Quite a lot, in other words. And yet, no matter what you might have fondly believed, never once amongst any of it did she ever use the phrase, “lashings of ginger beer.” Now, if you’re all sitting comfortably, then we’ll begin.
Enid Mary Blyton was born on 11 August 1897 above a shop in East Dulwich, South London, the eldest of three children, to Thomas Carey Blyton and Theresa Mary Harrison. The dad was originally in the cutlery trade as a salesman so, what with both of our female Giants so far having had a paternal connection with that particular line, there’s probably something of a tip to be inferred for any young girls out there with aspirations towards greatness: get the old men selling spoons and you’ll be halfway there already (oh, and being named after your mum is worth thinking about too).
Having learned nothing whatsoever from that particular experience, on 28 August 1924 she plunged into wedlock herself, with Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Alexander Pollock DSO, a man who would serve with distinction in two world wars, though at the time they met he was editor of the book department with publishing firm George Newnes. But already Blyton was treading familiar territory because his first marriage had ended when his wife had an affair and he had to obtain a divorce to marry Enid. No member of either of their families attended the wedding. They had trouble starting a family and a visit to a gynaecologist revealed that the new Mrs Pollock had an underdeveloped uterus, “like that of a thirteen year old girl.” Hormone injections eventually did the trick and along came daughters Gillian (1931) and Imogen (1935). Pollock it was that offered her a commission, encouraged her in her writing and even gave her the typewriter that would form part of her infamous creative process, for all of which she would later thank him in her own inimitable Blyton style.
When writing, Blyton had her own very individual 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 ... I don't have to think of anything”. Not even a plot, it would seem. She never researched or planned before commencing a work, relying instead on her “under-mind”, though the method is highly prone to the risk that, unconsciously, she would plagiarise books she had read, which she did and which actually included her own. Blyton would talk about the stories “coming from her mind’s eye,” just as Wordsworth and Dickens did, which is where such comparison abruptly ends. Her daily routine was almost invariable over the years, beginning writing soon after breakfast and then stopping only for a swift lunch before hammering away at the keys again until five, by which time she would have banged out between six and ten thousand words. She once wrote a sixty thousand word novel in five days. It was a fundamental belief of hers that she had a responsibility to provide her readers with a positive moral framework. Presumably so that they might avoid the pitfalls of adultery, divorce scandals and Sapphic relationships with nanny.
Intriguingly, the names of Famous Five (1910) and The Secret Seven (1934) had already been used by Charles Hamilton (writing as Frank Richards) in his Billy Bunter stories.
Also in 1949, Noddy put in his first appearance and became an instant hit. Even that idea wasn’t her own, coming from a Dutch illustrator, Harmsen van der Beek, who showed her how Toyland would look. Four days later she had produced the first two books. So, in that much of a rush, you could hardly expect Noddy to be a fully-rounded character, now could you? Well, except for his big round head, that is, and his big round friend, of course. Perhaps that’s being a bit unfair because Noddy does have a full history behind him, one well worth examination.
Blyton's health began to deteriorate in 1957 and by 1960 she was displaying signs of dementia. In 1967, her husband died, by which time her great works were already behind her. She would die herself on 28 November 1968, aged seventy one. Like her or loathe her, as recently as 2008 she was voted Britain’s Best Loved Author and she still sells about eight million books a year; her books have been banned from more public libraries than any other writer, and from the BBC between 1930 and 1950; her works have been translated into almost ninety languages, putting her in all-time fourth behind only Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, and Shakespeare. Nowadays it is de rigueur to despise and disparage her works. Is it perhaps because, in these enlightened times, when there is no more racism, no more sexism, that we feel a little shame for ever having loved the stories Enid Blyton wrote? Because we all most certainly did, didn’t we, boys and girls?
School Group: http://www.beckenhamheritagegroup.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/enidblyton1-1024x576.jpeg
Famous Five and Secret Seven: enidblytonsociety.co.uk
Child Whispers: Phyllis Chase (c.1897- c.1977)http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/book-details.php?id=885