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  • Writer's pictureAtomicRakshasi

My Favourite Children’s Lit Author Was a Raging Narcissist



(copyright enidblytonsociety.co.uk)
(copyright enidblytonsociety.co.uk)


Ever been shocked to find out that a celebrity figure you thought you knew might be narcissistic, petty and vindictive?


In any respectable library in post-colonial India Enid Blyton’s books were in high demand. Her books inspired me to write shoddy versions at the age of nine (may those childhood drafts burn in eternal hellfire). My friends and I swapped and re-read tattered copies of The Secret Island, The Boy Next Door, The Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair books and Malory Towers. Her writing heavily influenced our misguided attempts at starting our own clubs and, I suspect, our morality. After that, childhood was pretty much over and so were any thoughts of adventure or escaping one’s overbearing parents. Although her popularity has decreased because of the emergence of new writers and politically correct children’s lit, she’s still going strong.


I watched the BBC movie Enid, based on Enid Blyton’s life, with sober enthusiasm. Helena Bonham Carter gives a riveting performance, although the real Enid didn’t sound quite so severe. Either way, just to be sure, I read a few articles, watched a couple of interviews of relatives, friends and acquaintances and an old documentary on her life and work and they all seemed to add up.



(copyright enidblytonsociety.co.uk)
(copyright enidblytonsociety.co.uk)


To know why Enid was the way she was, the movie connects to her father’s abandonment of the family when she was thirteen. The psychic trauma led her to turn cold and distant towards her brothers and harried mother, who had a lot on her plate after her father left. This didn’t seem to garner much sympathy from Enid, who left at nineteen to make her own way in the world. She never attempted to connect with them again and also chose not to attend either of her parent’s funerals. She made, according to her husband’s second wife, an opportunistic move when she married someone in the publishing industry. Whatever they did worked, and soon she was the country’s most beloved and bestselling children’s author.


I don’t want to get into the tawdry details of her affairs or the parties. Although her kids were well-cared for by nannies, it’s safe to say that after she had them she wanted to have nothing much to do with them, unless it was for a photo op. Her husband insisted on enlisting for the war effort which she resented. She eventually divorced him and to save her reputation, manipulated him into an agreement where she could initiate a divorce based on his adultery (they were both adulterous), as long as he could still see his daughters. After that, she went back on her promise, and he would never meet his daughters again.


Her vindictiveness didn’t end there: she used her clout to have her husband removed from his contract with their publisher. All this behaviour points to childhood abandonment, which her poor husband unwittingly had to pay for. Her father, whom she adored, initiated her psychic trauma, leading to her mental fantasies of endless childhood, leading to her single-minded pursuit of a career, leading to the books we read as children. In the process of reinventing her childhood, she created new ones for children all over the world.


Enid Blyton was unreasonably protective about her reputation because the persona of the maternal figure was a necessary one. Her leaving her family at the age of nineteen too, saved her from the more predictable outcome of the eldest female child being pushed into mothering her younger siblings, forced to put her family's needs above hers.


I’m not shattered with the knowledge of Enid Blyton’s complicated life and personality, as much as fascinated. It’s worth criticising her sexism and racism, which somehow doesn’t come up in the BBC show. Publishing is, after all, a commercial enterprise and the racist stuff was removed (they tried that recently with Roald Dahl and it didn’t work). Had she been alive, I’m confident she would have approved the changes because of the businesslike way she went about her career. As much as she loved children, her love for them apparently only extended to her audience, reliving the perfect childhood she should have had while her own daughters intruded into a very packed schedule of 6000-10,000 words a day.


I feel old and tired enough to embrace this contradiction with a sigh and just appreciate her work. Celebrating her work would be hypocrisy, but learning from it, well, I think it's okay. Any racist, misogynist writer would probably be rolling in their grave if they knew how much their work inspired me. If she hadn’t been this ruthless, her books would never have taken off or endured the way they did and instead, become remnants of the past.




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