Enid Blyton: Why seeing sexism, racism in her work should not make us unsee her

 

Charity English Heritage, an organisation that installs blue plaques at sites that were once the working or living quarters of Britain’s canonical literary figures, recently updated the information associated with Blyton’s plaque.

Charity English Heritage, an organisation that installs blue plaques at sites that were once the working or living quarters of Britain’s canonical literary figures, recently updated the information associated with Blyton’s plaque.

Enid Blyton, the beloved children's author who touched millions of lives with her writing, was never a stranger to controversy. Her work, though received with unprecedented love, was called out for its problematic aspects by critics.

Blyton wrote over 700 books and 4,500 short stories in her lifetime. Her works were translated into 90 languages and sold over 600 million copies, moulding the childhoods of many children across the world, and in the process, shaping their fragile minds. Stories of Noddy and Sambo were engraved on the hearts of those who grew up reading them and the mark that they left gave a direction to the children's thoughts.

Why now?

Charity English Heritage, an organisation that installs blue plaques at sites that were once the working or living quarters of Britain’s canonical literary figures, recently updated the information associated with Blyton’s plaque.

“Blyton’s work has been criticised during her lifetime and after for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit. A 1966 Guardian article noted the racism of The Little Black Doll (1966), in which the doll of the title, Sambo, is only accepted by his owner once his ‘ugly black face’ is washed ‘clean’ by rain. In 1960 the publisher Macmillan refused to publish her story The Mystery That Never Was for what it called its ‘faint but unattractive touch of old-fashioned xenophobia’…” the update read.

However, the organisation has confirmed it has ‘no plans whatsoever’ to remove the blue plaque.

Instances of racism, xenophobia and sexism in her work

One of Blyton's most famous works, the Famous Five series, has been criticised for dividing the world into the domains of the feminine and masculine. In the 21-novel-series, characters have very defined gender roles. While George's mother Fanny remains the epitome of maternal love and is idealised in her kind and easy-going demeanor, George's father Quentin is a world-famous scientist, who is shown to lack tolerance for the children on school holidays. Such a dichotomy between the feminine and masculine is represented throughout the series.

Meanwhile, in almost all her books, gypsies and foreigners are often cast as dishonest, leaving bare the tinge of xenophobia in her writing. For example, in her very famous and well-received series Noddy, the antagonists are almost always golliwogs — doll-like racial caricatures. The fictional character was created by cartoonist and author Florence Kate Upton and first appeared in children's books in the late 19th century. Upton's The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwog describes the doll as “a horrid sight, the blackest gnome”.

Acknowledgement of shortcomings vs rejection

Even as Blyton's body of work was submitted to scrutiny over the decades, she remains a favourite with children; the reason being her ability to capture their world, and through it, their hearts.

While it is important to acknowledge the shortcomings of her works, it is equally significant to put her writing in context. Take the Golliwog character for example. The Golliwog gained popularity in the 20th century as a children’s toy, but the later decades started associating it with racism. It began to be recognised as a crude depiction of people with African roots. The character is considered offensive today, but we cannot ignore its existence in context of the time in which it originated.

Same goes for Blyton's work.

Source: https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/enid-blyton-why-seeing-sexism-racism-in-her-work-should-not-make-us-unsee-her-101624701380321.html

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