Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1897, was born Enid Blyton.

Blyton was a teacher and author who wrote searing stories for children, with didactic plots and clearly delineated characters, with palpable titles such as The Famous Five and The Secret Seven.

Enid Mary Blyton was born on 11th August 1897, at East Dulwich, the daughter of a prosperous manufacturer and a minor society lady. In 1898, the family moved to leafy Beckenham, a middle class retreat for the well to do. The young Blyton was given the basic elements of a decent education with a particular emphasis on music in the hope that she would become a concert pianist, but at the age of nineteen, she announced that she wished to take up the teaching profession.

Blyton was retained as a teacher at Ipswich High School, an institution of some repute, where, by all accounts, she performed her duties in a satisfactory manner and filled in her vacant time with the writing of children’s stories. In 1924, Blyton made a good marriage to Major H A Pollock D S O and, in accordance with the mores of the time, retired from teaching to become a housewife and mother. The couple had two children, but the marriage was neither happy nor successful.

The less than onerous duties of a suburban housewife, allowed more vacant time than had the teaching profession and this allowed Blyton to write more productively. Her major works had an overriding theme of a group of children, bound together by fate or family circumstances, who find themselves involved in a confrontation with a set of villains, and heroically, despite every adversity, overcome the evil gang and emerge triumphant, where the efforts of adults, parents and police alike, had failed through lack of imagination. Amongst this genre, groups with such transparently alliterative names as The Famous Five and The Secret Seven, comprised a variety of characters, which allowed the reader to identify with the one to whom they felt closest.

In addition to this genre, Blyton created what was to become her most famous character of Little Noddy, a naïve puppet like figure, of early school age, whose calamitous misadventures land him in a succession of scrapes from which he is extricated by his mentors, Big Ears the gnome, and the onomatopoeically apt, Mr Plod the policeman.

Blyton’s characteristics were a narrow vocabulary with a minimalist prose style, which made her work accessible to novice readers.  Her work was much criticised for being racist, the ‘gollywogs’ dark skinned, wide lipped characters inhabiting a jungle-like forest appearing as villains, while the paler skinned, better dressed characters inhabit the bourgeois and respectable Toytown. Her story, The Little Black Doll, in which the eponymous black character wishes to become pink, came in for particular criticism, but ironically when the text was rewritten posthumously and the storyline inverted, it became the epitome of sound political correctness.

Blyton’s unassuming style led to certain risible interpretations, such as Noddy ‘jumping into bed with’ Big Ears, which was capable of misinterpretation by the lewd, minded. Characters in The Magic Faraway Tree called Dick and Fanny are open to Freudian misinterpretation but the character of George in The Famous Five, a girl who acts like and is taken for a boy, far from being indicative of the character’s sexual orientation, was a political statement, ahead of its time in terms of women’s liberation.

In 1939, Blyton became involved with a London surgeon, Dr Kenneth Darrell-Waters and, after divorcing her husband, married him in 1943. Blyton continued to write prolifically until she was struck by a nervous complaint in 1967 and was obliged to move into a rest home. She died on 28th November 1968 and her funeral took place at Putney Vale Crematorium. [Stag Lane, London SW15 3DZ].

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