Enid Blyton, Prolific & Controversial Children’s Book Author

Enid Blyton (August 11, 1897 – November 28, 1968) was a prolific British writer of children’s stories. Her most famous books include The Famous Five  and Secret Seven series, The Faraway Tree, and the Noddy books.

It is estimated that she wrote some seven hundred books, along with hundreds of short stories, magazine articles, and poems.

Blyton’s work is controversial for its sometimes dated and offensive views, yet decades after her death she remains one of the most popular children’s authors in the world.

 

Early life and education

Enid Mary Blyton was born in East Dulwich, London. She had two younger brothers, Hanly and Carey

Her father, Thomas, was a clothing wholesaler. She had a close and loving relationship with him, sharing his love of the outdoors, the theatre, art, music, and literature. In her 1952 autobiography, The Story of My Life, she describes her father’s willingness to take her for walks, writing that they were:

“… marvelous to me. It’s the very best way of learning about nature if you can go for walks with someone who really knows,” and recalled these times as “the happiest times, when looking back it seems the days were always warm and sunny and the skies were deeply blue.”

Her mother, Theresa, was a housewife. Enid’s relationship with her was more difficult, partly because her mother didn’t share the love of art and the outdoors and resented how Thomas encouraged Enid to spend time on these pursuits. Instead, she expected Enid to help with housework.

Shortly after Enid was born, the family moved to Beckenham in Kent. It was here that Enid went to school, initially to a small school run by two sisters in a house called Tresco, and then later to St. Christopher’s School for Girls, where she was Head Girl in her final two years. She was, by all accounts, bright and popular, and excelled at art and literature.

Despite her warm relationship with her father, Enid’s home life, wasn’t so happy. Her parents’ marriage was full of anger and frustration. When Enid was not quite thirteen her father announced that he was leaving. He moved out and took up residence with another woman, Florence Agnes Delattre.

Since separation and divorce were considered scandalous at the time, especially in the conventional English Kent countryside, Theresa forced Enid and her brothers to pretend that their father was simply away for a short while. This pretense, which the family kept up for years, had a lasting effect on Enid, who took her father’s departure as a rejection of her personally.

With the atmosphere at home strained, she spent more and more time writing in her room. Her mother despaired of her efforts at writing, which were rarely published and which she deemed a waste of time.

 

Teaching, and a writer’s beginnings

It was assumed Enid would attend music college and become a professional musician like her aunt (her father’s sister, May Crossland). However, feeling that her talents lay in writing, she determined to train as a teacher instead, where she would be in constant contact with children — her future audience of readers.

In September 1916, she enrolled in a teacher training course at Ipswich High School. It was around this time that she broke ties completely with her mother, spending holidays with friends rather than returning home. Although she kept in touch with her father, she was never able to accept his new family, and they were never as close as they once were.

After completing her teacher training in December 1918, Enid taught for a year at a boys’ school in Kent before becoming a governess to four young boys in Surbiton, Surrey. She remained there for four years, and later said it was “one of the happiest times of my life” despite the death of her father in 1920 from a stroke.

By the early 1920s, Enid was also beginning to have some success with her writing. Stories and articles were accepted for publication in various magazines, and she also wrote verses for greeting cards. By 1923 she had written and published more than a hundred stories, reviews, and poems.

 

Marriage and family life

On August 28, 1924, Enid married Hugh Alexander Pollock, an editor at the publishing company George Newnes. The wedding took place at Bromley Register Office, with neither Enid’s family nor Hugh’s family in attendance.

The couple honeymooned in Jersey. Later, Enid would base Kirrin Island (one of the places in the Famous Five series) on this island experience.

The early years of the marriage were happy and serene, spent mostly at Elfin Cottage in Beckenham. Hugh was supportive of Enid’s work and instrumental in publishing her stories at Newnes. In 1927, he also persuaded her to begin using a typewriter; before that, she had written all her stories in longhand.

In 1929 they moved to Old Thatch, a 16th-century thatched cottage in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, very close to the River Thames. Enid described it as “a house in a fairy tale” and with the large gardens was able to indulge her passion for pets (which she had never been allowed as a child). At various times there were dogs, cats, hedgehogs, goldfish, pigeons, hens, and ducks roaming around the grounds.

In July 1931, the couple had a daughter, Gillian. After a miscarriage in 1934, a second daughter, Imogen, was born in October 1935.

Neither Enid nor Hugh spent much time with the children. Enid was busy with her writing and relied on domestic help for things like gardening, childcare, and cooking. Hugh had been working with Winston Churchill on his writings about World War I. He increasingly fell into depression as he realized how close the world was to entering another war.

Hugh began to drink, doing so while hiding in a cupboard underneath the stairs, and Enid retreated ever further into her writing. Her only real friend and confidante was Dorothy Richards, a maternity nurse who had helped with Imogen’s birth.

In August 1938, perhaps thinking that a move would help to give the family a chance, Enid bought a new house in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire — a much larger, newer eight-bedroom house, designed in a mockTudor style, which she called Green Hedges.

 

Second marriage

During the war years, Enid continued to write, while Hugh rejoined his old regiment, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and was sent to Dorking in Surrey to train new officers. The separation put another strain on the marriage. While on holiday with Dorothy in Devon in 1941, Enid met Kenneth Waters, a surgeon.

In 1942, she and Hugh were divorced, and she married Kenneth in the City of Westminster Register Office in October 1943. Although she had promised that Hugh would be able to see his two daughters after the divorce, she went back on her word inexplicably, and the two girls never saw their father again.

In The Story of My Life, photographs of the family include Enid, Kenneth, Gillian, and Imogen. There is no mention of Hugh at all — as if he’d never existed.

Enid and Kenneth were largely happy together, but later, Enid’s daughters would each have very different recollections of their childhood and their mother.

In an interview with the author Gyles Brandreth, Gillian said that Enid could “communicate with children in a quite remarkable way… She was a fair and loving mother and a fascinating companion.”

Imogen, on the other hand, while acknowledging that “what [Enid] did as a writer was brilliant,” remembered her mother as “arrogant, insecure, pretentious, very skilled at putting difficult or unpleasant things out of her mind, and without a trace of maternal instinct.”

The family spent most of their holidays in Dorset, where they bought a farm in the 1950s, Manor Farm in Stourton Caundle. This setting provided much of the inspiration for the Famous Five books later on.

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The famous five by Enid Blyton

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Making a successful career

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Enid worked mostly on educational books. She began writing and editing a fortnightly magazine, Sunny Stories for Little Folks and published her first full-length novel, The Enid Blyton Book of Bunnies (later renamed The Adventures of Binkle and Flip) in 1925.

By the 1940s she had given up much of her magazine writing and was concentrating on books. Her first full-length novel for children, The Secret Island, was published in 1938 and became the start of a series.

While her daughters were at boarding school, she began most of what would become her most famous series of books, such as The Famous Five books, the Adventure series, the St Clare’s series, the Faraway Tree, and the Wishing Chair series.

Later, these would be joined by the Secret Seven series, Malory Towers, and the Six Cousins books. Often Enid would publish up to twenty books in a single year.

1949 saw the appearance of the first Noddy book, Noddy Goes to Toyland, about a little wooden boy and his companion, Big Ears. It was the first of at least two dozen books in the same series that was enormously popular during the 1950s, with an extensive range of spin-offs, comic strips, and merchandise.

In 1950, she established a company, Darrell Waters Ltd. (taking Kenneth’s middle and last names) to deal with the financial and business side of things. Her prolific output remained constant, and by 1955 she had published the fourteenth Famous Five novel (Five Have Plenty of Fun), the eighth book in the Adventure series (The River of Adventure), and the seventh Secret Seven novel (Secret Seven Win Through).

Enid intended her books and stories for a wide range of ages, children between the ages of two and fourteen. She wrote adventure and mystery stories, school stories, animal stories, fantasy, fairytales, and nursery stories. Altogether, it’s estimated that she wrote about 700 books for children and about 2,000 short stories, as well as poems and magazine articles.

In a letter to the psychologist Peter McKellar, Enid described her writing technique:

“I shut my eyes for a few minutes, with my portable typewriter on my knee — I make my mind a blank … and then, as clearly as I would see real children, my characters stand before me … The first sentence comes straight into my mind, I don’t have to think of it — I don’t have to think of anything.”

The sheer volume of writings that she produced led to rumors that she employed an army of ghostwriters, a charge that she vehemently denied and that she eventually took legal action on.

She believed her stories came from her “under-mind” as opposed to her conscious mind, although her daughter Gillian also said that it was important for Enid to give her young readers a “strong moral framework in which bravery and loyalty are (eventually) rewarded.

 

Charity work

In 1953 Enid launched an eponymous fortnightly magazine, Enid Blyton’s Magazine. She wrote all the contents herself, except for paid advertisements, and the magazine launched four clubs that readers could join: the Busy Bees (which raised money for the PDSA pet charity), the Famous Five club (which raised money for a children’s home), the Sunbeam Society (which helped blind children) and the Magazine Club (which helped children with cerebral palsy).

The magazine folded in 1959, but in those six years, the clubs had a total of around half a million members and had raised about £35,000 (almost £1.5 million today).

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Enid Blyton biography

When the Present Clashes with the Past:
Reminiscences of Enid Blyton

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Controversy and criticism

Despite Enid’s popularity, she was not without her critics. Many teachers and parents (along with literary critics) were dismissive of her work even at the time it was published, saying that it didn’t challenge young readers enough and that its literary merit was limited.

Later, particularly in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when a more progressive society was beginning to emerge, her books were also criticized for being elitist, sexist, racist, and xenophobic. They were banned by many libraries and schools that removed them from shelves.  The children’s book critic Margery Fisher likened Enid’s books to “slow poison.”

These accusations have grown over the years. According to the academic Nicholas Tucker, Enid’s works have been “banned from more public libraries over the years than is the case with any other adult or children’s author.”

From the 1930s until the 1950s, the BBC refused to broadcast her stories: Jean Sutcliffe of the BBC Schools Broadcast department wrote that Enid’s books were “mediocre material” that were churned out too fast, and that “her capacity to do so amounts to genius … anyone else would have died of boredom long ago.”

Not long ago, some revisions were made to modernize some of the language in Enid Blyton books, notably the Famous Five series. These revisions proved to be a flop, and the original language was restoreed. 

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Enid Blyton

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Final years

By the time that Enid Blyton’s Magazine ended, she was writing less and spending more time with Kenneth, who had retired as a surgeon in 1957. He suffered from arthritis, and the medicine he took damaged his kidneys. He died in 1967, while Enid herself was struggling with poor physical health. She had experienced bouts of breathlessness, had suffered a heart attack, and descended into dementia.

Enid continued to live at Green Hedges, cared for by staff, until this was no longer possible. She was transferred to a Hampstead nursing home in the summer of 1968. She died in her sleep on November 28, 1968, and was cremated at Golders Green in North London.

Her home, Green Hedges, was demolished in 1973, and the street of houses built on the site is called Blyton Close. In 2014, a plaque commemorating her time living in Beaconsfield was unveiled in the town hall gardens, along with small statues of Noddy and Big Ears.

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Enid Blyton plaque

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Enid Blyton’s legacy

The majority of Enid’s books are still in print, with sales of more than 500 million copies. Her works have been translated into some ninety languages.

Several of her series have been continued by other authors, and some have been successfully adapted for television, film, and the stage, including Malory Towers, The Famous Five, Noddy, and The Faraway Tree.

Her life was itself the subject of a BBC film, broadcast in 2009, starring Helena Bonham Carter in the title role.

However, many of her books have also been heavily edited in recent years to remove offensive terms about race, appearance, and class. The criticism that she faced at the time of publication is even stronger today.

In 2016, the Royal Mint blocked a proposal to honor Enid Blyton with a commemorative 50p coin owing to her reconsideration as a “racist, a sexist and a homophobe.” It’s a conflicting legacy for the writer who introduced — and continues to introduce — generations of children to the joys of reading.

Today, the bulk of Enid’s collection of manuscripts and papers is held by the Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Enid Blyton Society was formed in 1995. It issues the Enid Blyton Society Journal three times a year, holds an annual Enid Blyton Day, and has a comprehensive website which delves into the different series of books and includes forums and quizzes.

Contributed by Elodie Barnes. Elodie is a writer and editor with a serious case of wanderlust. Her short fiction has been widely published online and is included in the Best Small Fictions 2022 Anthology published by Sonder Press. She is Books & Creative Writing Editor at Lucy Writers Platform, she is also co-facilitating What the Water Gave Us, an Arts Council England-funded anthology of emerging women writers from migrant backgrounds. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, and when not writing can usually be found planning the next trip abroad, or daydreaming her way back to 1920s Paris. Find her online at  Elodie Rose Barnes


More about Enid Blyton

 On this site

Major works

Almost all of Enid Blyton’s books for children are still in print (although many have been edited from the original versions). See a complete bibliography here.

Biographies

  • Enid Blyton: The Biography by Barbara Stoney (2006)
  • 101 Amazing Facts About Enid Blyton by Jack Goldstein (2020)
  • Enid Blyton: A Literary Life by Andrew Maunder (2021)
  • The Real Enid Blyton by Nadia Cohen (2022)

Controversy

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