You may remember the outrage in June when English Heritage updated their page on Enid Blyton. I had some thoughts on that, which I shared here.
If you missed it, and don’t feel like reading the 1800 words I wrote on the subject, what happened was:
English Heritage added a couple of paragraphs to their Enid Blyton page, which highlighted some of the criticisms she has faced. Of course those were of racism, xenophobia and a lack of literary merit.
The backlash was swift, with thousands of comments on social media decrying the woke, the pc brigade and cancel culture. English Heritage had to make it clear that they weren’t going to be removing her plaque, while many threatened to cancel or not renew their memberships.
So all in all it was probably a draw. English Heritage faced a lot of angry comments, but after all, isn’t any publicity good publicity? Blyton’s reputation probably wasn’t significantly harmed as these accusations were nothing new, but I doubt any of those ‘avid’ and furious fans went out and bought any of her books.
Round two: Enid 1, English Heritage 0
And so, on to just last week when English Heritage updated the Blyton page for a second time.
The page has gone from 425 words (with 130 being made up of the criticisms) to 739 words, with around the same number as before being critical – though this is now spread over separate sections.
The main criticisms section has been cut down from:
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 book, however, was later published by William Collins.
In 2016, Blyton was rejected by the Royal Mint for commemoration on a 50p coin because, the advisory committee minutes record, she was ‘a racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer’. Others have argued that while these charges can’t be dismissed, her work still played a vital role in encouraging a generation of children to read.
Both during her lifetime and after, Blyton’s work has been criticised for various aspects of its content. Its formulaic plots and deliberate use of simple language irked some educators.
Others took exception to what they perceived as social snobbery, racism and sexism embedded in Blyton’s storylines. 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 book, however, was later published by William Collins. In recent years, references to ‘gollywogs’ in Blyton’s stories have been replaced by goblins.
The new wording, I feel, further distances English Heritage from the accusations. They have also added a stronger rebuttal to the accusations:
To those who objected to elements of her work, Blyton replied that the opinion of any critic over 12 years old did not interest her, and she successfully took legal action against a librarian who repeated the persistent story that her prolific output was enabled by a squad of ghost writers.
The article still includes the fact that the Royal Mint decided against featuring Blyton on a new 50p but ends with:
While criticisms of Blyton cannot be entirely dismissed, her work has encouraged generations of children to read. It continues – sometimes in revised form – to sell in considerable quantities. According to UNESCO, she remains the fourth most translated author in the world, after Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and Shakespeare.
The first sentence there previously read Others have argued that while these charges can’t be dismissed, her work still played a vital role in encouraging a generation of children to read. English Heritage appear to be standing behind Blyton now, and making that assertation (the addition of entirely even suggesting that some criticisms could be!) for themselves.
There is also some new information added to the page regarding her books. The entire Success section is new, and the Commemoration section is mostly new except for the sentence about the Royal Mint.
The furore, part two
Well, there isn’t any. The updates to the page have, as far as I have seen, gone almost completely unnoticed by the media and the general public.
The updated page has been shared on the Enid Blyton Society forums, with many members commenting to say how pleased they are.
Other than that, though, nothing. Somehow the softening of the accusations, along with adding more positive information is not considered news-worthy. It probably wouldn’t whip people into foaming at the mouth over political correctness gone mad, so it hasn’t been covered – despite the fact that English Heritage have backtracked somewhat on their earlier stance.
I wonder how many people actually cancelled/did not renew their memberships, and of those, how many would reconsider based on the new page? I imagine that as the accusations of racism etc are still there plenty of people will still be bizarrely offended.
I hope that Blyton fans will be pleased with this latest development – one which has occurred in time for the 124th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s birth, which is today! So happy birthday, Enid.
I always agreed with the addition of the criticisms, though even without those I felt the page was too short and lacking in information. The new page is, although still short (and containing an error regarding the title of her first proper book) is much better all-round.
Another excellently written piece, Fiona. Thank you! Suzy Howlett
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