Enid Blyton, George, and Feminism

A couple of nights ago, I was pounding the streets for exercise with a friend. We’d been chatting to distract ourselves while we scaled some of the steeper streets, and were discussing the books we loved as children. Our conversation turned to our shared love of Enid Blyton.

As we headed towards home, we were discussing The Famous Five, and my friend asked: “Do you think George was Enid Blyton’s way of sneaking lesbianism into kids’ stories?” For a moment I was slightly gobsmacked, but then I could see where she was coming from, looking backwards from today’s perspectives. So, as per my usual thing, I thought about what my friend had asked, wondered about it a bit, looked around the internet and then had a great desire to write this post. I don’t think George was meant to be a lesbian, (despite the many comments on the internet) but I do think she was an early forerunner of feminism, particularly when you realise that the first book was published in 1942 – the second world war, when women took over many tasks previously performed by men. This is, of course, my completely personal take on her.

As a kid, I hoarded my pocket money so that I could buy more books. Usually Famous Five books, but generally anything that was adventurous, fantasy, or science fiction.

I LOVED George when I was a kid. I probably began my Famous Five obsession when I was six or seven, just after I’d graduated from The Secret Seven. George was everything I wanted to be as a girl growing up in the early seventies, and as I look back now, I can see that my stance on “what girls can do” was heavily influenced by George. For those who’ve never read a Famous Five book, George was a girl who “was as good as a boy” and didn’t want to be a girl. She had a wonderful dog, Timmy, who often saved the day, and she climbed ropes, wore shorts, swam, sailed, rowed boats, and owned an island.

Although feminism had begun in the sixties, in the early seventies and even into the eighties, there was stuff that women and girls were routinely excluded from doing. In my opinion, it was usually the fun stuff.

I remember modelling myself quite a lot on George. I liked having short hair. I wore shorts and trousers as often as possible (and am still known for this – apparently some of my friends thought I might wear trousers, rather than a dress, to my wedding) and competed vigorously with the boys in physical tasks. George was my introduction to the idea that I could avoid gender stereotyping. George was my introduction to feminism.

Looking back, I’m able to say “Thank heavens for George, or I would have missed out on a lot of life.” Probably, I should say “Thank heavens that Enid Blyton wrote a character like George, to inspire me to look outside the box.”

Looking back, I can see that my reading habits shaped me in many ways. Obviously I had a wonderfully supportive family, who coped with a girl who didn’t want to wear dresses, at the same time that their other daughter refused to wear anything that wasn’t pink – poor Mum and Dad! In later conversation with Mum, she spoke of her desire to become a medical doctor – she had been the dux of her high school, but she was the second eldest of eight, and a daughter, and it was the middle of the second world war, so she did as those days prescribed, won a scholarship to secretarial school, and ended up working for the Commonwealth Bank, helping her family make ends meet. Having said that, apparently she was the first female secretary of the Bank Officers Union. (Go Mum!)

From George, I learnt that girls could do anything as well as a boy, despite what girls were often told. To a certain extent, those ideas made me fret when organisations or groups that I was involved in demarcated activities by sex. I remember going on a camp and being ‘forced’ to do marching drill and cut out dolls’ clothes to stick on paper dolls while the boys canoed and hiked. I remember being quite angry. I also remember my mother making sure that that injustice never happened again. I believe that the issue had a lot to do with swimming – apparently we girls weren’t as good at it. At that point in time, I was swimming at state level (never won, but usually made a final), and I remember thinking, “Show me the boy who can beat me, then.” There wouldn’t have been one in that group. I think that episode crystallised my desire to never be constrained by gender.

Thanks to George/Enid Blyton, I’ve been able to do so many things that I might never have considered, had George not sat so clearly in my mind. Thanks to George I’ve hiked, abseiled, fought fires, camped, ridden horses, trained camels and rescued injured tourists. George also inspires my writing, and reminds me that gender shouldn’t constrain a character if I don’t want it to.

So now I’m tempted to sit back, crack open a ginger beer, contemplate exotic foods such as chunks of pineapple eaten straight from the tin, and lashings of butter, and take a trip down memory lane with the Famous Five. But I’d better not. There’s a novel waiting to be written. I wonder if the settlers of Frontier might like ginger beer…

 

 

 

About Leonie

Growing up in Western Australia, Leonie was an avid reader from an early age. Her mother vividly recalls her stating “I can read faster with my eyes than you can with your mouth, Mum…” at around the age of six. Her parents and great aunt encouraged her interest in literature, providing her with books of many different genres, and . She began writing during high school, placing in the Western Australian Young Writers Award in 1980, and she fondly remembers several of her English teachers, who encouraged her to write, both fiction and poetry. Leonie trained at Curtin University as a physiotherapist and moved to the remote north west of Western Australia, as a new graduate, in late 1986. She continued to write poetry for herself and for friends. Living in the remote northwest, she had the opportunity to work with camels, fight fires as a volunteer fire fighter, and develop vertical rescue and cyclone operation skills with the State Emergency Service. After relocating to NSW with her husband and two children, Leonie continued to work as a physiotherapist, while still dabbling with writing. Finally deciding to stop procrastinating, Leonie decided to write the novel she’d had sitting in the back of her head for the last twenty years. Her husband and two teenage children have been extremely tolerant of the amount of time she has devoted to writing in the last few years. View all posts by Leonie

9 responses to “Enid Blyton, George, and Feminism

  • janishill

    I never thought George was a lesbian, simply a strong willed equal rights sort of girl. Being a tom boy myself I could relate to her more than the fluttering Nancy Drew and friends. She got to do the stuff I enjoyed doing so good on her.

    Being a reader of a lot of books written in the 1940’s or earlier, I do dislike how such ‘strong minded’ female characters are then portrayed in movie/TV remakes AS being lesbians. As it seems to be the only way to explain (to some people) WHY they acted the way they did. Rather than that they were the reason we can be how we are now… lesbian or straight.

    We forget that, for a very long time, women were just a commodity to be sold/ married off for the right price and standing in society. And were then there just are moving ornaments and heir makers… or that could just be my take on things from my love of regency novellas. ;-)

  • Leonie

    Yes! I completely agree with your thoughts, Janis. We should be able to be strong minded, competent women or girls. Not because of our sexuality, not because of our gender, but because that’s who we actually are.

    I used to read Georgette Heyer novels when I was about ten or eleven, despite my addiction to The Famous Five, and that was very much what they were about – being an appropriate ornament, and attracting the appropriate type of man. There were only a couple of heroines I could imagine being – one was actually called Leonie, but even she ended up in a dress at the end being married, and eventually gave up trousers and sword fighting.

  • janishill

    Growing up I couldn’t stand books on love, romance or the women being all frilly and just there to attract a man. I felt it detracted from a good story. I also didn’t have that many female fiction role models. Says a lot about my personality. ;-) These days, I can cope with a light romance, but do prefer one that has humour in it too. Nothing says ‘let’s get it on’ than a sarcastic tone.

  • Brian Carter

    Hi Leonie,
    I came across your blog while surfing the web for updates about Enid Blyton and could not resist reading it right to the end. It’s amazing how a conversation between two friends has led to a wonderful piece about George, Enid Blyton’s strong-willed character, in her first Famous Five book: Five on a Treasure Island.
    It’s nice of you to express the view that George was not meant to be a lesbian. As the author of a forthcoming book about Enid Blyton: Enid Blyton – The Untold Story, I would agree with your view wholeheartedly.
    Enid Blyton wrote her stories subconsciously. The title of the first Famous Five book: Five on a Treasure Island was based on her reading of her brother’s book: R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island and the strong-willed character, Georgina, is based on Louisa Alcott’s Little Women, a book she said she had read over and over again.
    Let’s compare the following two passages to bring home the point:
    In Little Women by Louisa Alcott, Josephine, one of four sisters, hates being a girl: “…I can’t get over my disappointment at not being a boy.”
    In Five on a Treasure Island, Enid made Georgina, the cousin of Julian, Dick and Anne, express the same sentiment, but with different words: “I hate being a girl … I like doing the things that boys do…”
    So you can see that the idea of Georgina’s gender had never entered Enid Blyton’s mind. It flowed into the story spontaneously, and Enid had no control over how the story would evolve and end.
    Nevertheless it did bring to the fore the fact that many girls – before our time – were like Georgina and Josephine – they all dislike their not being able to do the things that boys do.
    To find out what Enid Blyton – The Untold Story is all about, please visit my website: http://www.enidblytonbio.co.uk
    So thanks for writing the blog which, I’m sure, will cause many of your readers to reflect on how Enid Blyton’s character had paved the way for girls to do what they are capable of doing instead of their having being regulated to doing what society, in the past, thought they should only be doing – girly things!
    Brian Carter

    • Leonie

      Thanks so much for your comment Brian! It’s great to hear that my thoughts were actually in tune with what history tells us about Enid Blyton and George. I’ll pop over and have a look at your site – good luck with your book!

  • Harliqueen

    I have never read the Famous Five, though I watched the tv series as a kid, I always enjoyed that :D

  • Mariam Tsaturyan

    Hello! I became a fan of your blog, and nominated you to receive Liebster Award. The link is on my page if you are interested in participating. All the best to you! http://myauthorwithin.wordpress.com.

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