(What are heatwaves made for if not to enjoy books that are eighty-eight years old?)
If you’ve never come across a Girl’s Own Annual, you’re missing out. They were yearly bindups of the Girl’s Own paper – a publication that ran from 1880 – 1956 – and included work from authors as legendary as Noel Streatfeild, Richmal Crompton, Angela Brazil and many more. The contents of the annual were a mixture of non-fiction and fiction, with moral content sitting alongside career guidance and – in the case of the 1933 annual – a lesson on how to keep a pet earwig. The index alone is basically the very definition of eclecticism. I love it. SO much.
These annuals tell us an enormous amount about what it meant to be a girl at that time in the world. To be more specific, they tell us about the expectations of girlhood at that time – the things that the people in power expected you, the girl, to be able to do and think and act like. For example, in 1933 you are a girl who knows how to ‘play the game’ and how to make a camping rug out of an old mackintosh. You are not to worry if you get too many handkerchiefs for Christmas as you know that you can make them into a lovely collar. If you grow out of your old dress, you’re not to worry about that either as you can simply cut out the sleeves and replace them with great swathes of organza. You’re also an absolute dab hand at running across the road and pushing professors out of the way so that you get knocked over and they don’t.
(Not even kidding about this last one – the accident leaves her in bed for months and her only comfort comes from the fact that her actions inspire the professor to come to a great discovery that very same day. Where does one even begin with that?).
I really loved Would You Like To Be A Detective by Norah Cameron – it’s a career guide to being a shop detective (in! 1933!) and talks about how girls are much better at seeing this sort of thing. Cameron interviews two young women who run an academy devoted to training young detectives – and although she’d only spoken to one of them six weeks ago, she is stunned at how swiftly that girl recollects everything about her. (Amazing, my god, I love it). The students at this academy learn about on shoplifting (less ‘how to do it’ and rather ‘what to look for’) and the importance of accosting thieves beyond the shop boundary and not within.
The illustrations on this article are STUNNING. They’re by an artist called Joan Burr and I cannot get over the fabulous dynamics of her style. I’ll put a slideshow at the end of this piece with some of my favourites. Look at how delicious her line work is! And how fiercely modern that abstraction is? It’s SO fabulous, I cannot.
Burr pops up again in the annual in an article all about The Civil Service For Girls by D. W Hughes. Hughes seemed to have a bit of a thing about writing Career Things For Girls as you can see by the index on him. The article here isn’t particularly amazing (it looks like it was the first thing he wrote for the paper), but the illustrations are everything. Joan Burr is my new hero. Let’s leave it at that.