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Enid Blyton - A Magic World
The Wishing Chair
On 11 August 1897, a baby girl was born in a tiny flat above a shop in Lordship Lane, East Dulwich. Her delighted parents, Thomas and Theresa Blyton named the squalling infant Enid Mary, little knowing that she would grow up to become one of the most prolific children’s authors of all time.
From a very tender age, little Enid showed herself to have a very strong will and it was this iron will which often came into conflict with her equally strong-minded mother.
When she was six months old, Enid became seriously ill with scarlet fever. A grave faced doctor predicted that she was unlikely to survive the night. Taking the desperately sick child in his arms, Thomas spent the entire night cradling her and willing her to live. By morning the crisis had passed and an elated Thomas claimed that he had saved his daughter’s life. This may well have been the beginning of the intense bond which existed between Enid and her father, while she grew increasingly distant from her mother.
As she grew older, Enid developed a keen interest in nature, much to Thomas’ delight and Theresa’s annoyance. Thomas encouraged his little daughter by taking her on long country walks where he pointed out various plants and animals to her. This inevitably led to disagreements between husband and wife as Theresa felt that Enid’s role in life was to be a wife and mother and that she needed to be learning the necessary housekeeping skills in order to fulfil that destiny.
When Enid was three years old, her mother gave birth to her second child, a son named Hanly and after that baby brother Carey was born.
The three Blyton children grew up in the stormy and tempestuous environment created by the constant quarrels and arguments of their parents, which often culminated in the door slamming violently and the sound of their father’s angry footsteps echoing down the road.
It was this domestic turbulence which set the stage for Enid to become the writer who would enjoy such popularity, for it was during these violent disagreements that she found comfort in telling herself stories and departing to the safe place of sunshine and happiness which she created in her mind,.
It was when she was 13 years old that Thomas, weary of the constant discord, left home for good and the devastated Enid had to come to terms with the fact that her father would not be returning. For this she blamed her mother and the rift between them grew even wider.
At the age of 19 Enid followed her father’s example and left home. Mother and daughter were never to see each other again.
Starting a new life away from her mother’s strictures, Enid trained to become a school teacher. Her natural storytelling talent and ability to relate to small children stood her in good stead and she was commended by her superiors for being an outstanding teacher.
After teaching for just one year, Enid was offered a post as governess to 4 children, which she gladly accepted. In time, hearing of her innovative teaching methods, neighbours began to send their children for lessons as well. So it was that her little school developed which at one stage had 12 pupils. All the while, Enid had been devoting her spare time to writing stories, poems and plays which appealed greatly to her young pupils.
Initially after receiving numerous rejection slips for her work, publishers were finally starting to take an interest and she was commissioned to write weekly contributions for Teacher’s World, a magazine providing educational resources for teachers.
In 1923 Enid had her first book published. Real Fairies was a book of poems which she had written and her friend, Phyllis Chase had illustrated.
Young Mrs Pollock
But it was in her dealings with Newnes that she met her first husband, Hugh Pollock. At the age of 27 she married Hugh and so began the next stage of her career. That of wife and full time writer.
A full 10 years her senior, Hugh was enchanted with his young and child-like wife and proud of her literary achievements. Together they bought their first home, a newly built house in the then rural Shortlands Road, Bromley, Kent – a house which Enid had spotted on one of her numerous country walks, “peeping at me from behind a large Chestnut tree”. She fell in love with it at once and named it Elfin Cottage. The Pollocks spent nearly 5 happy years there and transformed the undeveloped land behind the house into a beautiful garden.
She was sad to leave this first home which she and Hugh had tended with such loving care, but excited to move on to the next chapter of her life, A chapter which began at Old Thatch, a 16th century house in the Thames Valley village of Bourne End, Buckinghamshire. It was here that her 2 daughters, Gillian and Imogen were born and sadly, it was here that her marriage to Hugh Alexander Pollock began to deteriorate.
Old Thatch, home of Hugh and Enid Pollock
With increasing writing commitments, Enid was perhaps not as mindful of her husband and children as she could have been. Hugh, too was away from home a lot, working with Winston Churchill on his writings of the First World War. Hugh began to suffer depression with the realisation that Europe was destined to fight yet another war, and turned to alcohol to drown his sorrows. In 1938 he became seriously ill and had to be hospitalised. With her husband incapacitated, Enid took the opportunity to purchase her third and final house. Green Hedges, in the more suburban Beaconsfield, was a house which Hugh detested, and although he lived there, he never truly felt at home.
It was possibly the outbreak of the 2nd World War which sounded the final death knell of the Pollock’s disintegrating marriage.
With Hugh away for much of the time training Home Guard officers, Enid began to cast her eyes elsewhere and when she met the dashing London surgeon, Kenneth Darrell Waters, there was no turning back.
Hugh too had met someone else. A young writer named Ida Crowe who seemed infinitely more understanding and sympathetic than his cold-hearted wife.
The divorce which followed was both inevitable and acrimonious, with Enid ruthlessly severing all ties of her children with their father. Nine year old Gillian said a tearful goodbye to her father, never to see him again. Five year old Imogen had less clear memories of Hugh but she too had no further contact with him. Kenneth Darrell Waters became their new father and the children even took his name, thus denying Hugh all paternal rights over his children.
Enid’s writing career went from strength the strength and most of her popular adventure stories were published during the 30 years that she lived at Green Hedges. Many of her stories were set in places where she had either lived or taken holidays. Bourne End was called Peterswood in her Find-Outer series, the amusing stories of 5 children who pit their wits against the rather dim-witted village policeman, Mr Goon. Frequent holidays in Dorset provided fertile ground for her ever active imagination and a visit to the medieval village of Corfe Castle which stands at the foot of the ruined castle, is widely believed to have been the inspiration for Kirren Island of possibly her most popular adventure stories, The Famous Five.
As popular as her books proved to be amongst children, there were many librarians and teachers who did not share their enthusiasm. Blyton books were generally frowned upon, so much so that many libraries removed her books from their shelves, citing their ‘lack of literary value’ as a reason. Of all her books, perhaps the most maligned were the Noddy series, first published in 1949. Noddy’s relationship with Big Ears was called into question and the golliwogs which appeared in several of her books were considered to be offensive and politically incorrect, despite the fact that they were a popular nursery toy at the time.
In spite of the controversy surrounding her life and her work, Enid Blyton remains to this day, one of the most widely read children’s authors of all time. Perhaps it is time to set aside the prejudices and acknowledge once and for all the significant contribution which she made to 20th century children’s literature and the fact that her books instilled in so many children a life-long love of reading.