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  Enid Mary Blyton (1897–1968), by John Gay, 1949 [right, with her daughter Imogen Pollock] Enid Mary Blyton (1897–1968), by John Gay, 1949 [right, with her daughter Imogen Pollock]
Blyton [married names Pollock, Darrell Waters], Enid Mary (1897–1968), children's writer, was born on 11 August 1897 at 354 Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, London, the eldest child of Thomas Carey Blyton (1870–1920), a salesman, and his wife, Theresa Mary, née Harrison (1874–1950). There were two younger brothers, Hanly (b. 1899), and Carey (b. 1902), who were born after the family had moved to the neighbouring suburb of Beckenham. Enid Blyton was very close to her father, who encouraged her musical talents and inspired her lifelong interest in natural history. The fact that he left the family for another woman in 1910 affected her deeply. From 1907 to 1915 Enid Blyton attended St Christopher's School for Girls in Beckenham. It had been intended that she should pursue a musical career and attend the Guildhall School of Music. However, her gift for story-telling was already apparent and, convinced that she was unsuited to a career in music and that she needed to leave home, she went to stay with the Hunt family on their farm near Woodbridge in Suffolk. Ida Hunt taught at Ipswich high school, which included a kindergarten where teachers were trained. Recognizing that Enid Blyton had an obvious flair for handling young children, she encouraged her to think of teaching as a possible career and Enid Blyton embarked on a training course at the high school in September 1916. In January 1919 she began teaching at Bickley Park, a small independent school for boys in Kent, and a year later became a nursery governess to the four Thompson boys in Surbiton. It was while she was there that she had her first success as a writer. After contributing poems, stories, and articles to various magazines, her first book, Child Whispers, a collection of poems, was published in 1922. During the 1920s much of her work had an educational bias, and she became a regular contributor to Teachers' World, establishing a favourable reputation among teachers. In 1923 five of her poems were used in a special issue, which also included work by John Drinkwater, John Masefield, Walter de la Mare, and Rudyard Kipling.

On 28 August 1924 Enid Blyton married Major Hugh Alexander Pollock DSO (1888–1971), editor of the book department in the publishing firm of George Newnes, which published two of her books that year. Hugh Pollock had been married before but his first wife had left him during the war and they divorced in 1924. After her marriage, she devoted herself to the writing, which was by then providing a steady income, estimated at over £500 in 1924. Hugh and Enid Pollock began married life in a Chelsea flat, moved to Elfin Cottage in Beckenham in 1926, and to Old Thatch, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire in 1929. They had two daughters: Gillian, born on 15 July 1931 and later the wife of , the television producer, and Imogen Mary, born on 27 October 1935. In 1938 the family moved to Green Hedges in Beaconsfield, an address that was to become familiar to English-speaking children around the world as the home of their favourite author.

However, life in reality was very different from the ideal portrayed by Enid Blyton in her letters to readers. By 1939 her marriage to Hugh Pollock was in difficulties, and in 1941 she met Kenneth Fraser Darrell Waters (1892–1967), a London surgeon, with whom she began a friendship which quickly developed into something deeper. After each had dissolved their marriage, on 20 October 1943 they married at the City of Westminster register office, and she subsequently changed the surname of her two daughters to Darrell Waters. Hugh Pollock remarried and had little contact with his daughters thereafter. Enid Blyton's second marriage was very happy and, as far as her public was concerned, she moved smoothly into her role as a devoted doctor's wife, living with him and her two daughters at Green Hedges.

As a writer, Enid Blyton was both controversial and a phenomenon. In 1974 she was the fourth most translated author in the world. She produced so much work that her total output can only be estimated as being between 600 and 700 books. The publication that first established her reputation as a children's writer was the magazine Sunny Stories, which she began to edit for Newnes in 1926. Until 1937 this consisted mainly of retellings of traditional stories and informative articles, but then the title was changed to Enid Blyton's Sunny Stories and it took a new direction. The emphasis shifted to original fiction and many of Enid Blyton's most famous books first appeared as serials in its pages. In April 1942 the magazine became a fortnightly publication, initially, perhaps, because of wartime paper shortages, and in June the title changed back to Sunny Stories, the last issue of which appeared in February 1953. A month later Enid Blyton's Magazine, also a fortnightly magazine in a similar format, was launched and ran for six and a half years until September 1959.

Producing material for a regular magazine undoubtedly influenced Enid Blyton's style, as she had to make the content attractive enough to encourage the child or adult guardian to buy the next issue. The serials, in particular, required each instalment to end on a note of suspense, and even when she wrote fiction that was not destined for serial publication, the habit of providing cliff-hanging chapter endings often prevailed. Each issue of the magazine normally contained an editor's letter, a chapter of a serial, three short stories, a poem, and a picture-strip story for younger children. Favourite characters such as Amelia Jane, a doll, and Mister Meddle, a pixie who cannot mind his own business, made regular appearances in short stories, later gathered together to make a book, while tales of Brer Rabbit, based on Joel Chandler Harris's retellings of traditional tales from the American south, were retold in language which made them comprehensible to young children.

The first serial story, Adventures of the Wishing Chair, published as Enid Blyton's first full-length story-book in 1937, and The Enchanted Wood (1939), which introduced the magic Faraway Tree, are both fantasies that reflect the influence of the Norse myths she enjoyed as a child. In The Secret Island (1938) four children live a Robinson Crusoe type of existence on an island in a lake. The Naughtiest Girl in the School (1940), her first school story, is unusual in that it is set in a co-educational, somewhat progressive, boarding-school. The Adventurous Four (1941), one of her few books set firmly in time and place, is a wartime adventure about children involved with German ships secretly hidden off an island on the Scottish coast. Shadow the Sheep Dog (1942) is written from the animal's viewpoint. These early books illustrate the wide range of genres in which Blyton wrote and represent some of her best work.

The series for which Enid Blyton is most famous now began to appear. The first book about the Famous Five, Five on a Treasure Island (1942), introduced Julian, Dick, and Anne, their cousin Georgina, always known as George, and George's dog, Timmy, characters so popular with readers that they appeared in twenty further titles. These books are the most filmed and televised, with adaptations by the Children's Film Foundation (1957, 1964), Southern Television (1978, 1979), and Zenith Films (1995, 1997). There was a stage play based on a Famous Five adventure in 1955 and, to celebrate Blyton's centenary in 1997, a musical. Another series of mystery and adventure began with The Island of Adventure (1944); this is more complex in terms of plot and characterization. Younger children were catered for by The Secret Seven (1949) and the other stories in this series in which adventure and mystery are set in a more domestic environment. Little Noddy Goes to Toyland (1949), a picture story-book for even younger children, and its successors owe much of their popularity to the coloured illustrations by the Dutch artist Harmsen van der Beek, with whom Blyton worked closely. Noddy inspired a major industry, with many spin-offs in clothing, toys, games, soft furnishings, nursery equipment, television programmes, and videos. Meanwhile First Term at Malory Towers (1946) had introduced Darrell Rivers, a schoolgirl whose name is clearly based on that of Enid Blyton's second husband. Her progress through six books, from new girl to head girl, has been keenly followed by several generations of schoolgirls.

Although Enid Blyton was business-like in her contacts with publishers, her income was so great that by 1950 it was necessary to establish a company, Darrell Waters Ltd, to deal with her business affairs. Her work became controversial in the 1950s, by which time she was writing for children of all ages. Three factors led to reassessment of her writing. First, with the end of the Second World War with its restrictions on publishing, the number of books for children increased and new writers emerged. Second, teachers, librarians, and parents began to take a more critical look at what children were actually reading in their leisure time; and, third, children's public libraries and school libraries were developing and, since money was limited, decisions about how to spend it to the best advantage had to be taken. Children's librarians faced the problem of balancing the demand for Blyton's books against the need to provide a wide range of authors. The fact that they limited the number of Blyton titles or did not buy any eventually became widely known in 1964 when there were well publicized cases of ‘banning Blyton’ at Nottingham and St Pancras (London) libraries. By the early 1960s it was nearly impossible to find any journalist who did not know the name of Enid Blyton and stories of her being criticized were exploited by the press, not only in Britain but in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Criticism of Enid Blyton's work at first focused upon what was seen as her impoverished style and vocabulary, lack of imagination, stereotyped characterization, snobbery, and xenophobia. Later, as Britain became more of a multicultural society, she was condemned for her racism, and, with the coming of the feminist movement, her sexism. Colin Welch, in an article in Encounter (1958), commented, ‘It is hard to see how a diet of Miss Blyton could help with the 11-plus or even with the Cambridge English Tripos’ (Welch). In 1973 Margery Fisher, a leading critic of children's literature, described Blyton's work as ‘slow poison’ (Fisher).

Enid Blyton wrote very simply, aware of the needs and abilities of her audience; to her, the story was all-important and she possessed an undoubted talent for making readers turn over the page to find out what happens next. There are many tributes to the part played by her books in creating readers. Some of her attitudes are outdated, but they were shared by many of her contemporaries; the problem is that her work survived, although some titles have been edited to make them politically correct.

Afflicted by presenile dementia, Enid Blyton was moved into a nursing home three months before her death; she died at the Greenways Nursing Home, 11 Fellows Road, Hampstead, London, on 28 November 1968, and was cremated at Golders Green. Photographs taken of her at the peak of her career show a woman of above average height, with dark curly hair, often portrayed with children and animals. Through the magazines that she wrote and edited, she encouraged her readers to raise money for animal and children's charities. In 1985 the National Library for the Handicapped Child was set up by the Enid Blyton Trust for Children to provide a source of information and advice. In 1996 Darrell Waters Ltd was sold to the Trocadero, which set up a subsidiary, Enid Blyton Ltd, to handle the vast business, including reprints, new editions, audiotapes, videos, and films, that her work had generated. In her centenary year, Enid Blyton was as widely read and as popular as she had ever been; a set of British postage stamps depicted her most famous series: Noddy, the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, the Faraway Tree, and Malory Towers.

Sheila Ray

Sources  

B. Stoney, Enid Blyton: a biography (1974); rev. edn (1992); 2nd edn (1997) · S. Ray, The Blyton phenomenon (1982) · I. Smallwood, A childhood at Green Hedges (1989) · T. Summerfield, A comprehensive bibliography of the books of Enid Blyton, 1922–1970 (1997) · E. Blyton, The story of my life (1952) · D. Rudd, Enid Blyton and the mystery of children's literature (2000) · d. cert. · C. Welch, ‘Dear little Noddy’, Encounter, 10/1 (1958), 18–22 · M. Fisher, review, Growing Point, 12 (1973), 2230–31

Archives  

NRA, corresp.  

FILM

 

BFINA, Bookmark, BBC2, 26 Dec 1996 · BFINA, Secret lives, Channel 4, 16 Dec 1996 · BL NSA, Secret lives, Channel 4, 16 Dec 1996, V3852/4

 

SOUND

 

BL NSA, ‘Enid Blyton’, BBC Radio 4, T5067R · BL NSA, performance recordings


Likenesses  

photographs, c.1945–1962, Hult. Arch. · J. Gay, double portrait, photograph, 1949, NPG [see illus.] · T. Adams, portrait (after photograph); Sothebys, 29 Oct 1997 · D. Houston, oils, priv. coll. · photographs, repro. in Stoney, Enid Blyton · photographs, repro. in Smallwood, Childhood at Green Hedges · photographs, repro. in Blyton, Story of my life

Wealth at death  

£330,946: probate, 15 July 1969, CGPLA Eng. & Wales