Recently, it was proposed to put Enid Blyton, the children’s author, onto the 50p coin. This was rejected on the grounds that she was a racist, homophobic and sexist.
This worries me slightly because we are judging someone from a different era in the light of our own. Admittedly, the three things she has been accused of are deeply unpleasant—at least to our more enlightened eyes. I personally abhor all these things.
She has also been condemned and removed from libraries, not because of this, but because some people thought that she used too simple language and did not stretch children’s vocabulary.
When I was a child, I loved her books. I read them avidly. They were exciting. Her Famous Five books, her Mallory Towers books, the Adventure books, the Faraway tree books, the Secret Seven, and my favourite as a child, Shadow the Sheepdog were all read with great pleasure.
Now let us examine the accusations.
She certainly had golliwogs in the Noddy books, and they were the baddies. But golliwogs were common toys in the 40s and 50s and no one thought anything was wrong with them. There was The Black and White Minstrel Show on the TV, and the blacking up of white men as black minstrels was accepted.
Now I’m not saying it was right, Clearly it must have been deeply offensive to black people. What I am saying, is that when she was writing, golliwogs were not considered to be offensive, and so to brand her as racist on the grounds of having gollisogs in the Noddy books, and making them bad, was acceptable at the time.
Was she sexist? At that time, it women usually stopped working when they married. They then devoted their time to looking after the home and raising the children. That was how it was.
Because Anne, in the Famous Five, did the cooking when they were camping does not make Miss Blyton a sexist. She was reflecting the way things were at that time. Boys simply did not cook.
That they do now, shows how far we’ve come. When she was writing, boys didn’t learn cooking and needlework at school, neither did girls do woodwork and metalwork. Now they are all merged together under the title of Technology, or Design and Technology.
Homosexual acts were illegal in England and Wales until 1967, but only between consenting adults over the age of 21, and even then, not in the armed forces, It was illegal in Scotland until 1980 and Northern Ireland until 1982. Thus, during the time when Enid Nlyton was writing, homosexuality was frowned upon by the state.
Having said that, reading the Famous Five books, Miss Blyton had a transexual (although the term was not used in those days.) Georgina, one of the five, and known as George, always dressed as a boy and had her hair cut short (unlike Anne who had long hair). She also expressed the desire to be a boy and behaved as a boy. That sounds very much like a transexual to me.
To conclude, I think that it is unfair to judge someone from a totally different era, with a totally different mindset by our much more enlightened and liberal standards.
Miss Blyton was very important as an author. She got many children interested in reading. I am one of them. I devoured her books, as I said at the beginning of this post.
Some of her works, I understand, have been reworked. Things that we now consider wrong, why can’t they be altered. Noddy’s golliwogs could easily be changed into something else. Her baddies in the Famous Five, Sevret Seven and Adventure series, if people don’t think having them as foreign is right, could have their nationality changed.
The very first story I wrote was based on Shadow the Sheepdog. I was only about seven at the time. Would I have become a writer if I’d not had that early inspiration?
I think it’s wrong to judge people by today’s standards when the standards they lived in were so different.
I would love to hear what you think of this. Please post your comments in the comments box.