Enid Blyton: The Biography

Enid Blyton: The Biography

by Barbara Stoney


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Enid Blyton is known throughout the world for her imaginative children’s books and her enduring characters such as Noddy and the Famous Five. She is one of the most borrowed authors from
British libraries and still holds a fascination for readers old and young alike.

Yet until 1974, when Barbara Stoney first published her official biography, little was known about this most private author,
even by members of her own family. The woman who emerged from Barbara Stoney’s remarkable research was hardworking,
complex, often difficult and, in many ways, childlike.

Now this widely praised classic biography has been fully updated for the twenty-first century and, with the addition of new color illustrations and a comprehensive list of Enid Blyton’s writings, documents the growing appeal of this extraordinary woman throughout the world. The fascinating story of one of the world’s most famous authors will intrigue and delight all those with an interest in her timeless books.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752440309
Publisher: Tempus Publishing, Limited
Publication date: 05/01/2007
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

Barbara Stoney is an author and biographer whose previous books include Sybil, Dame of Sark and Henry Ford, the Motor Man.

Read an Excerpt

Enid Blyton: The Biography

By Barbara Stoney

The History Press

Copyright © 2011 Gillian Baverstock
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-6957-7


It is sad to watch the demolition of a house, the tearing away at walls which once enclosed the joys, sorrows and triumphs of its former occupants. When this has also been a home known to millions and around which many dreams were spun, such a scene takes on an added poignancy.

So it was on a warm, sunny day in the late summer of 1973, when the last of Green Hedges at Beaconsfield came tumbling down. Here, for thirty eventful years, lived Enid Blyton – the most prolific, successful, yet controversial children's writer of all time. It was to this house that hundreds of her readers from all over the world continued to address their letters long after she died in 1968, and from which many thousands once received her distinctive, hand-written replies. Under its roof most of the characters from her books were created and many of the dramas of her own private life enacted – a life which began some thirty miles away, in 1897, at East Dulwich in South London.

Enid Blyton's early forebears are believed to have come over to England at the time of the Norman Conquest and to have settled in Lincolnshire, where the name appears under various spellings in many of the early chronicles for that county. There is a village called Blyton in the Lincolnshire Wolds and a chantry was founded in Lincoln Cathedral in 1327, apparently bequeathed by a de Bliton who was the mayor of the city four years earlier. For several centuries the family were concerned with farming or the wool and cloth trade – but George Blyton, Enid's great-grandfather, was a cordwainer.

George Blyton was thought by his relations to be something of an eccentric. He spent much of his spare time tramping through his home county of Lincolnshire preaching to all who cared to listen and it was said that it had always been his ambition to go to the Fiji Isles to 'convert the heathen'. Instead, he stayed at home in Swinderby making fine boots and shoes and raising a large family. With such aspirations, however, it is not surprising that he gave his elder son, Thomas, the second name of Carey, after one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society. Thomas Carey, Enid's grandfather, eventually left Swinderby to become a linen draper in Sheffield, but there is no record to show how he came to meet and marry his Irish-born wife, Mary Ann Hanly, in Camberwell in 1864.

Family rumour has it that Mary Ann was descended from the Dukes of Hamilton and was born at the house of her grandfather – a Doctor Hamilton of County Tyrone – but little is known of her background prior to her marriage. By all accounts she was a surprisingly well-educated woman and made a great impression on all who met her, including the young Enid on the few occasions she visited her grandmother at Swinderby.

Enid's father, Thomas Carey junior, was born in 1870 and was the fourth of Mary Ann's seven children. One of his sisters became a professional musician, another an elocutionist and a creative, artistic thread seemed to run throughout the family. Thomas himself had many talents and an engaging personality. There was nothing particularly striking about his appearance. He was short in stature, had a large nose and a sallow complexion but his eyes – dark brown and arresting – gave a hint of his restless personality. At the time of his marriage in 1896 to Theresa Mary Harrison, a pretty, raven-haired girl from his home town of Sheffield, he was a salesman with a cutlery firm, but his interests outside his work were many and varied. Even in those days his thirst for knowledge led him into studying astronomy, teaching himself French, German and shorthand and learning to play both the piano and banjo. He painted in water colours, was no mean photographer, sang with a fine baritone voice, wrote poetry – and read voraciously. Books were his great love and he acquired new ones whenever he could. During his courting days he would each week allot one sixpence towards a box of chocolates for his future wife and another to buy one of a series of 'sixpenny classics' then being published by Cassells. In this way he was able to accumulate almost the complete set and these books, along with many hundreds of others on a wide variety of subjects, were to delight the young Enid in later years.

Soon after his marriage Thomas moved from Sheffield to represent his company in London and it was on 11 August 1897 at 354 Lordship Lane, a small, two-bedroom apartment above a shop in East Dulwich, that his first child, Enid Mary, was born. A few months before the birth, his job with the cutlery manufacturer had come to an end and at the suggestion of an uncle he joined his two older brothers in the family 'mantle warehousing' business of Fisher and Nephews, which was also based in London. This proved a happy change for Thomas and from then on his fortunes improved – as did the houses rented by him for his growing family.

His first move, when Enid was only a few months old, was into the neighbouring suburb of Beckenham in Kent where, in 1899, at a semidetached villa in Chaffinch Road, Theresa gave birth to a son, Hanly. Three years later, at a slightly larger house in nearby Clockhouse Road, a second boy – Carey – arrived.

There had been little more than a back-yard at Chaffinch Road, so the garden at the new home was a delight for the two older children. Here they could play contentedly for hours, providing they kept off Thomas's well-kept borders. Hanly's memory of that first garden at Clockhouse Road was of a front privet hedge behind iron railings, with irises and lots of snails. But his sister was to remember far more, especially of the small patch allotted to her by her father in which she invested most of her pocket money. Many years later she described this garden as being square in shape, running from the path to the wall. In it she planted Virginia stock, candytuft, mignonette, clarkia, poppies and 'many hardy nasturtiums that climbed high over the wall, thick with orange flowers.' Her father understood her excitement when the first green shoots appeared from the carefully bought seeds for he, too, loved his garden and working there together was only one of the many interests they shared.

Thomas delighted in his young daughter, so like himself both in appearance and temperament. She had the same dark hair, alert brown eyes and sensitive, highly-strung nature, intent upon seeking out all life had to offer. Almost from the beginning he felt a special bond had been welded between them, and he was often to tell her of the occasion on which he was convinced he had saved her life. She was barely three months old at the time and dangerously ill with whooping cough. The doctor, when called on that cold November evening, had looked grave. Shaking his head sadly, he had told Thomas and Theresa that he doubted if their baby girl would survive until the morning, but Thomas refused to accept the doctor's opinion. He took the sick infant from his wife's arms and all through that long winter night sat cradling her to him, keeping out the cold and willing her to stay alive. In the early hours when the crisis had passed and he had finally been persuaded to go to bed he had lain awake for some time, exhilarated by the thought that he had undoubtedly saved his daughter's life.

Enid loved hearing this story and would ask him to repeat it to her many times. She enjoyed listening to all her father's tales – whether of his own boyhood in Sheffield, of the leprechauns, fairies and 'little people' once told him by his Irish mother, or those based on history or the classics. Many of these he would relate to her on the long walks they took together through fields and woodland when Thomas, also a keen, self-taught naturalist, would enthusiastically air his knowledge of the countryside to his eager companion.

'He knew more about flowers, birds and wild animals than anyone I had ever met and was always willing to share his knowledge with me,' Enid wrote years later, adding wistfully, 'These were the happiest times, when looking back it seems the days were always warm and sunny and the skies deeply blue.'

Often her father would quote extracts of poetry as they walked and sometimes they would make up little rhymes of their own, laughing over the nonsense of these when they finally returned for tea at the well-kept house in Clockhouse Road. Afterwards Thomas would take out his banjo and sing popular songs or nursery rhymes to amuse his family and then, when the children were in bed, he would seat himself at his much cherished piano and play long into the night. For most of her life, Enid could never listen to certain sonatas by Beethoven or works by Chopin, Liszt, Mozart and Rachmaninoff without recalling the days of her childhood, when she would lie in bed, almost asleep, listening to her father playing hour after hour downstairs.

He gave Enid her first piano lesson when she was six years old and, as with everything else, she was quick to learn. He nevertheless insisted that she practise daily, and this she did religiously. She and Hanly had by then started school – a small nursery class run by two spinster sisters at a house called 'Tresco', on the corner of Clockhouse and Cedar Roads, almost opposite the Blyton home. The Misses Read found Enid a bright and alert pupil, who appeared to enjoy every minute of her schooling. Although she found even the simplest of sums difficult, she wrote, read and sang well and, due no doubt to Thomas's influence, was one of the best pupils at art and nature study.

From the moment she learned to read, it was rare to see her without a book and her father's bookcase in the small sitting room was her treasure trove. She read all Arthur Mee's encyclopaedias, memorising some of the more curious facts she found there. She always enjoyed books by this writer and his influence on her thought as she became older is apparent from the many pencilled observations and underlinings, made in her teens, throughout a copy of his Letters to Girls. Her reading tastes in those early years were fairly general. She loved mythology and fantasy, but not of the horrific kind – Grimms' Fairy Tales she found particularly cruel and frightening. The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald was her favourite book for a long while and she relished the humour of Alice in Wonderland and the excitement of The Coral Island. Although she found it sad, she also enjoyed Black Beauty and Little Women she read many times over because she felt it was about 'real children' whom she could understand. It was not long before she was reading many of her father's adult books and he was quite annoyed one day to find her engrossed in a volume he felt to be far too advanced for a ten-year-old child. Later, however, when he realised that his young daughter's interest in literature was as keen as his own, she was allowed to choose freely from his shelves.

Her visual memory, like her father's, was exceptional. At the age of nine, she could scan a page once, shut her eyes and then repeat the whole of it almost word for word. Years later she was able to describe 'Tresco' and remember clearly 'the room, the garden, the pictures on the wall, the little chairs, the dog there, and the lovely smells that used to creep out from the kitchen into our classroom when we sat doing dictation.'

In 1907 Enid became a pupil at St Christopher's School for Girls in Beckenham and around this time the family moved yet again to a larger house a few doors away in Clockhouse Road. It was at this new home that she was to experience some of the unhappiest days of her life.

Tension had been growing between Thomas and his wife, Theresa, for some years. The dark good looks which had first attracted him to her were not now of themselves sufficient for this mercurial man. Apart from the children, they had little in common, for Theresa had never shared her husband's interests – indeed most of them she barely tolerated. The family, house and kitchen had always constituted her entire world. Tall and upright in bearing, she ruled her children with a rigidity not easy for the strong-willed Enid to accept, whereas Hanly, always of a gentler nature, and her 'baby Carey' she found easier to understand. To her mind, Thomas spoilt Enid and she had little time for their music, poetry, painting and 'other nonsense'. She felt that, as her only daughter, the girl should help about the house and spend more time learning to cook and sew, instead of 'sitting around reading books' or going off with her father on some excursion or other. Apart from training the young Enid for what she considered to be the only proper future for a girl – marriage, home and children – Theresa felt that her daughter should give more help with the domestic tasks. Very house-proud, she coped with all the cooking and most of the chores not dealt with by the young general maid, and as she had no time nor need for any other activity, it exasperated her that Enid had no similar inclinations. Thomas aggravated the situation by supporting his daughter's resistance to Theresa's disciplining and this, in turn, only added to the already growing discontent of their life together.

As time went on the wranglings between them became more frequent, for a new aspect had now crept into the relationship. Enid and Hanly, tiptoeing one night out of their bedrooms to listen at the top of the stairs, wide-eyed and frightened, to the heated argument taking place below, heard mention for the first time of another woman's name. Enid could not bring herself to believe what she had heard: that her mother and father could behave to each other in this way was bad enough, but that her beloved father could ever consider bestowing his love on anyone outside the family – let alone another woman – was something she found impossible to accept. When she and Hanly eventually returned to their beds that night, she tried to put the thought from her and to take comfort from the little stories that she had for some time been able to conjure up out of what she called her 'mind's eye'.

These semi-conscious 'thoughts' would come to her most evenings just before she fell asleep. They were made up of many things, gleaned from stories she had read or heard and often concerned people she had met or places she had seen, but always they sorted themselves into definite patterns which had beginnings, middles and ends. These fantasies increasingly became her escape from the harsh reality of the violent scenes enacted downstairs, for in the happy, carefree stories she wove, there was no room for the angry voices or the slam of the front door which invariably seemed to terminate the quarrels.

Inevitably there came a time, not long before her thirteenth birthday when, after another of the all too familiar clashes, Thomas left the house and did not return and Theresa was forced to tell the children that their father had gone away. He had also left Uncle Fisher's firm and was branching out on his own, starting a new life altogether.

Although this marked the end of the troubled atmosphere within the household, the shock to the highly-strung girl of what she felt to be her father's rejection of her for someone else was incalculable. With her chief ally and confidant no longer there under the same roof to encourage her with her music, painting and first exploratory efforts at writing down the stories and verses which came to her so easily, life seemed suddenly empty. Hanly was a good companion when it came to swimming together in the local baths or taking occasional cycle rides, but beyond these more sporting activities they had little in common and she considered Carey, closer to her in temperament, too young to understand her needs. If she could have shed a few tears it might have helped her to face up to and eventually accept the situation but she could not bring herself to tell anyone of her real thoughts and feelings. Perhaps if Theresa had not been so preoccupied with her own troubles and had possessed some true understanding of her eldest child, Enid's future might have been very different. As it was, she was the one who unwittingly made it easier for her daughter to resort to the only means she knew of counteracting the hurt – ignore its very existence.

'Keeping up appearances' was a very real factor in 1910 suburban Beckenham, or so Theresa thought. She had seen the treatment meted out to a divorced woman living in the same road and upon whom 'nobody, of course, would think of calling' and had no intention of letting this happen to her. Divorce, she decided, was out of the question for the Blytons and no one in Clockhouse Road must be aware of the true situation. The children were instructed to tell everyone that their father was 'away on a visit' and in this subterfuge Enid was a more than willing participant.


Excerpted from Enid Blyton: The Biography by Barbara Stoney. Copyright © 2011 Gillian Baverstock. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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