Blyton. Bourne End. Birthday!

(Another phase of The Spectacularly Self-Indulgent Birthday Weekend!)

Enid Blyton is a thing of wonder. I’m sure we can all agree on this? And on Sunday I visited her old house. Old Thatch is located just outside of Bourne End, Bucks. There’s a nice part about it here and the official website here.

Guys, I have a confession. I think, at last, I get Enid Blyton.

The thing is, to understand Enid, you need to go all method. You need to be the Blyton. You need to look at moss on top of a wall and see mountains, you need to hold conversations with fish and know that their silence isn’t because they don’t understand you it’s because they’re being rude, and you need to be able to see the world in the curve of a flower stem.

Enjoy the pictures.

And Be The Blyton.

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The Secret Life Of Anne

I’ve been reading a lot of Enid Blyton recently. From her gloriously mad autobiography through to the Famous Five, her mark on children’s literature remains arguably unsurpassed. And when I was on holiday in France recently, I was startled and then greatly pleased to see rows and rows of freshly issued Blyton books in the supermarkets.

I’ve been reading a lot of very excellent articles recently on the nature of women characters. Zoe Marriott is very interesting on the topic. In a post titled “REAL GIRLS, FAKE GIRLS, EVERYBODY HATES GIRLS”, she talks about the nature of female characters in children’s literature and the reaction to them in comparison to the male characters. It’s a heartfelt, passionate read and one worth dwelling on.

It seems to have been a bit of a week for passionate oratory. In “I hate strong female characters”, Sophia McDougall talks about how male characters such as Sherlock Holmes get to be  “brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.”

And all that leads me to think about Anne.

TVTropes defines her as The Chick and the official website refers to her as being “a little bit absent minded but loves to look after the other members of the Famous Five especially if it involves making them a delicious picnic!”.

Want to know the truth?

It’s all lies.

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The Story of My Life : Enid Blyton

The Story Of My LifeThe Story Of My Life by Enid Blyton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book. This strange and terrifying and amazing book.

The first thing to say is that it sort of defies rating. The five stars I’ve given it reflect, mainly, the outstanding audacity of it. It is supremely constructed in order to reveal very little. It’s a tour-de-force in autobiographical artifice. Written in short, breezy chapters it talks about her house, her pets, “How do you write stories Enid Blyton?”, and everything she wants us to hear and nothing that she doesn’t.

It’s fascinatingly jaw-dropping at points. I had a slight breakdown on Twitter about it and still haven’t quite recovered. I think it all began at the chapter where she tamed the goldfish…

This book is almost propaganda in a way. It propagates a very specific (and very spectacular) image of The Blyton that dominates whatever may actually be said in this book. And what she does say is so very carefully chosen, so very ‘on point’, it sort of reveals a whole lot more than I think it may have ever been intended to.

Don’t fight The Blyton. You will be assimilated. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go and buy some ginger beer.

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Children’s literature, food, and frenchwomen

Food is a central theme in children’s literature and school stories in particular. It’s something which has stayed eternally present from the cookery lessons of  the Chalet School, the roundness of Billy Bunter through to the chocolate frogs of Harry Potter. Food is a magical device and it’s particularly magical when used in the school story.

As part of my blog birthday celebrations, I thought we’d have a look at three of my favourite foodiest moments in school story history.

‘Angela lifted the toast on to the table. “I got Antoinette to make anchovy toast for us,” she said’                                 Fifth Formers of St Clares by Enid Blyton.
Image: wallyg (Flickr)

Why has this moment had such an indelible impact on me? I think because it’s one of the key moments in St Clares, a very ‘prank-aware’ school, that food and pranks combine. Fifth Formers at St Clare’s was published in 1945, right at the end of the Second World War. Food was being rationed. The school story was increasingly becoming an idyll of escapism. Right from the train / plane / bus journey to the relevant school, through to their exotic locales (Austria, Islands, romantic manors in the countryside), these stories were havens to the increasingly under attack populace.

The scene in question involves Angela, one of the snobbier girls in the school, and the new girl Antoinette. Angela is under fire from most of her form-mates for using her prettiness and letting the younger girls run after her in a manner unbecoming to that of a senior. Antoinette, the young sister of Claudine – a member of Angela’s form, is a girl who decides to not follow the attitude of the other young girls. Asked to make anchovy toast, Antoinette swaps the anchovy paste for bootpolish, and spreads the toast with this. Angela and her friends are of course sent to Matron for a cautionary dose and Antoinette has wangled her way out of ever doing jobs for Angela again.

There’s obviously several levels in this incident. A little bit of class commentary – the upper class Angela getting her comeuppance – and a level of the younger child winning out against the elder one. But what I really love is the final moment of the episode which involves Antoinette being so upset (oh, don’t worry, she’s really not!) she is given a square of chocolate from Matron in order to calm her soul. Brilliant. How can you not root for Antoinette throughout all of this?

“But there is no need to cook it,” said Thekla calmly. “It is smoked—see!”And she held it so that that they saw the rind was a rich red-brown.                                                                                                                                                                                  From: The Chalet School and the Lintons by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer                                                                                          Image: Hendry (Flickr)

And then there’s Thekla. Thekla von Stift makes her first appearance in Exploits of the Chalet Girls (1933) and has a stormy time before ending as one of only two girls the Chalet School ever expels. She seals her fate when she decides to have a go at Joyce Linton in the effort to break up the younger girl’s friendship with Joey Bettany.

Thekla’s defining ‘foodie’ moment comes in The Chalet School and the Lintons (1934) . Joyce, tearaway new girl, has decided to throw a midnight feast to which everybody has to bring something. We have sardines, and cake, and all the normal foodstuffs you’d expect schoolgirls to be able to procure.

And then Thekla brings “raw smoked bacon” which she calmly chomps down on in the middle of the midnight feast.

It’s an amazing moment that reinforces Thekla’s rampant role as ‘Other’ in the series and one that has lasting impact. The midnight feast ends up with illness for Thekla and Mary Shaw, and Joyce Linton, the instigator, “almost dies” with a billious attack. A bilious attack that’s very much helped on its way by Thekla’s calm eating of the bacon.

I love this. Despite Thekla’s obvious awfulness, there’s something rather epic about a stolid Prussian snob eating bacon in the middle of the night.

Image: Great British Chefs (Flickr)

What’s the thing you want most after a shock? A hot sugary cup of tea? Nope.

You want an omelette aux fines herbes cooked by a Frenchwoman who has a bit of a crush on you. This is the fate of Joey Bettany  in The Chalet Girls in Camp (1932). Following an incident in the book which Joey, naturally, is heavily involved in, she is recovering back in camp. Simone Lecoutier (who’s always had a bit of a pash for Joey) decides to cook an omelette aux fines herbes to aid the recovery process.

It’s an incredibly romantic moment. The Chalet Girls have been camping in the Baumersee; an area of intense beauty and full of all the magic Brent-Dyer could possibly imbue it with. Simone is a neat, nimble-fingered, French woman of great charm and the image of her making an omelette  on the camp-fire, seasoning it with herbs, flipping it in the pan, whilst her beloved best friend is recovering from shock is something that borders on almost sensual.

I think I’m going to have to do a follow up post on this! I mean, I’ve not even begun to talk about Guernsey cut and come again cake, watered down wine, garlic cloves vs normal cloves, ginger beer, chocolate frogs  …. ;)

(I am indebted to @wonderlanded for sourcing me the Thekla quote – many thanks!)