Enid Blyton (11.8.1897 to 28.11.1968) must surely be in the running for the title best children’s author ever. A prolific writer who produced a daily average of 6,000 to 10,000 words and wrote over 750 books in her life time. During the early 1950’s she achieved her peak output, writing 50 books a year. Think about that – 50 books in one year. Even though they were books for children, that is a phenomenal amount of writing.
It came at a cost though. Even though children loved her books and the characters she created, and that most of her stories were centred around happy and stable family situations, AND that she loved to entertain and teach children….she had little time for her own daughters. Prior to finding success as a writer, she was employed as a nanny and a teacher and developed a fondness for children…other peoples children. Once she became a well known author, her obsession with writing and self promotion took priority over her own children, and her husband, who were pushed into the background. Her writing occupied most of her waking hours and the children were left in the care of nannies, or when old enough, shipped off to boarding school. Photos of her with her children were posed for the press photo-ops, such as this one below. See how the older girl manages to smile for the camera but the younger daughter appears sullen….unwilling to play her mothers game of ‘happy family’.
Blyton is probably most famous for her stories about Noddy and Big Ears, The Secret Seven, and The Famous Five, but these were only a small selection from her vast number of story books. She also wrote poetry books, volumes of books for the teaching community, series of books based on ancient myths and legends such as the Knights of the Round Table and the adventures of Robin Hood as well as magazine articles. Such was her output that many in the literary business accused her of using ghost writers to produce such a large and constant out flowing of books. Many believed it impossible for such a volume of work to be produced by a single writer. This was strenuously denied by Blyton and in 1955 she successfully sued a librarian for spreading such rumours.
Her stories and writing style were criticised by librarians and teachers because of the limited use of language and the recycling of story lines or themes in many of her books. Schools refused to allow her books into their teaching syllabus. She was also accused of being racist and sexist in her choice of language and the actions and diction of her characters, as well as being out of touch and too middle class. Her response was that she was only interested in what people under the age of 12 thought……and those people, those children, loved everything that she wrote. Books were flying off the shelves making her and her publishers a small fortune.
Many of the stories she wrote were of strong morals and the victory (eventually) of right over wrong, good over evil. But, rumours not only in her professional life as a writer, but also in her personal life were rife.
She was a very self centred person, selfish even, who put her life as a writer above everything and everyone else, even her family. This was probably brought about by the separation of her mother and father when she was a child of 13. She worshipped her father, refused to accept that he had many flaws…including chasing anything in a skirt….and blamed her mother 100% for the breakdown of the marriage. She more or less escaped into her own mind – into an idealistic world of perfect parents and ideal family situations. This came through in her books, but not in her personal life.
She severed ties with her two younger brothers, didn’t attend the funerals of either her mother or her father, shipped her own daughters off to boarding school at the earliest chance, cheated on her husband with other men…..and it’s rumoured with at least one of her children’s nannies. Yes, rumour has it that Enid batted for both sides.
Her first husband Hugh worked for the publishing company which produced her first books. Driven to drink, presumably by being shut out of his wife’s life, although he may also have been suffering from post traumatic stress as a result of memories of his experiences in world war one being revived while working on a book with Churchill. He went away from the family home during world war 2 to serve in the British Home Guard and it was during this time that Blyton had an affair with the man who would eventually become her 2nd husband – and Hugh began an affair with a much younger female author.
After Hugh had agreed to a divorce, as long as he could have full access to his children, Blyton then contacted his publishing company and told them that under no circumstances would she continue to do business with them if they continued to employ Hugh. She would take her vast back catalogue of books and any new ones to another publisher. As a result, Hugh was fired, and indeed ruined as far as the publishing business was concerned. He sank lower into alcoholism and eventually declared bankruptcy. Blyton also went back on her word and refused to let Hugh have access to his daughters. In effect, she ruined the man she once loved.
After marrying her 2nd husband she was surprised to find herself, in late middle age, pregnant but fell (accidentally or possibly deliberately if a recent drama based on her life is to be believed) from a ladder in the garden early in the pregnancy and lost the baby. It would have been a boy. Her first son and her second husbands first ever child.
Her second husband died in 1967 by which time Blyton was deep in the grips of dementia and no longer writing. Her death in 1968 came soon after his.
She wasn’t totally selfish though. She did support several children’s charities and set up her own foundation to help children in need. Her granddaughter Sophie Smallwood has revived the Noddy character and penned a new story Noddy’s Birthday Surprise.
Even though she died in 1968, Enid Blyton was still voted “best British children’s author” in 2008 – even beating J K Rowling – the creator of Harry Potter. She is also the 4th most translated author ever….behind Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare. Her books have been turned into TV series and movies and are still popular with children in many countries.
I was a huge Enid Blyton fan when I was a child, and still am. Finding out about her failings as a mother, wife and of her general selfishness has soured my memories of her somewhat, but has not detracted from the escapism and adventure I found in her books.