The Naughtiest Girl by Enid Blyton

The Naughtiest Girl books then, eh? Let’s talk about them and what riots of weirdness they are. I’ve been rereading them for an article and I have thoughts noodling around in my brain about them.

Blyton’s fascinating like that. She makes me noodle (is that a verb? Let’s make it one if it isn’t.). I’ve written a lot about her before because she is worth writing about in that endless ‘wow, the canon really is constructed by white men who know very little about anything other than the books white men like’. And as somebody who has one foot in academia, and finds much of the research about Blyton to vastly miss the mark, I think it’s worth writing about her from that angle. Enid Blyton, enigma. Everything to everybody and yet never quite herself.

That’s interesting, isn’t it? An author so well known – so intimately and globally and comprehensively – and yet, none of us quite grasp her at all. I don’t think I do. I don’t think I ever will however much I try. She’d quite like that, I suspect, and I rather like that thought. Complicated people are interesting. Complicated authors, in particular, moreso. They give so much of themselves into their work and yet, when it comes down to it, we don’t know them at all.

I’m scattered. There’s so much I want to say, and I’m not quite figuring out how to find the meaning in it.

Perhaps we turn to Elizabeth and her father and the way he does not ever talk to her. That’s interesting. Fiercely, utterly sad too. Elizabeth worries about her mum, talks to her mum, and yet she does not talk to her dad. Not one bit. And Blyton did not lack for strong male characters in her work (perhaps too strong, whispers a voice in the back of my head, a voice with meaning and relevance). Something changed here; something that the ‘works’ are unafraid to collect and record. This is women’s work, this book, messy and complex and occasionally deeply scarring.

I speak here of the estrangement between Joan and her mother, a key subplot of the first book. The Naughtiest Girl makes friends with Joan, circumstances spiral out of control – inevitably, always – and the truth comes out. Joan had a twin brother who lived while Joan did not. Her mother has held a resentment to her ever since. And Joan deals with all of this pretty well considering the lifetime of neglect she’s had. Child abuse, plainly. Let us be plain; this is a subplot of abuse and everyone just.

moves.

on.

But that’s Blyton, I think. The dark things happen, the world splits, and she keeps writing. The words hold her together when the world would not, could not, did not even know how. There’s a safety to be found in these books, even if they do touch on some disturbing issues. The children are free, they are fine, they are safe. Children drown, they come back to life. Children are smacked with tennis rackets but are pretty cool with it all. (How do you know you are in an Enid Blyton school story? Somebody lamps somebody else…). The story must go on. The story never stops.

And maybe that’s it; maybe that’s why she keeps being read.

Maybe we never stopped.

(Like I said, I have thoughts. )

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4 comments

  1. Joan’s parents are the worst. They are aware of her existence enough to ship her off to school every term (presumably on time), but they can’t remember her birthday — which she shares with her brother, who they mourn 24/7 (how does this make any sense?). They can’t be bothered to write Joan, unless it’s to reply to a thank-you note to remind her that they don’t care about her. This poor sweet child has spent her entire life chasing their attention and affection. Shame on them.

  2. When I was at primary school, I’m afraid that my friend and I went through a phase of trying to stick notes with things like “Bold Bad Girl” on them on people’s backs. They always just fell off, though! The Whyteleafe books are very odd – the school set-up’s strange, and I feel so sorry for Joan.

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