Sunday, December 20, 2009

Enid Blyton: The Girl Who Never Grew Up

Enid Blyton was recently selected as one of the most beloved writers of all tie. A J. K. Rowling of her day, she wrote nearly 750 books in a writing career that spanned half a century. Her books have been translated into several languages, and her imagination continues to inspire generations of children all over the world. A new biopic, starring Helena Bonham Carter, seeks to complicated our understanding of Blyton by tactfully examining the universal conflict between art and mother, ambition and service.

Bonham Carter's succint portral of Blyton reveals the dual nature of the writer. On the surface, she appears to be a petite, slender and matronly woman. Her hair is neatly combed, she wears plain dowdy dresses and sensible flat shoes, and she speaks in a monotone, addressing suitable epithets to the people around her. However, in her private moments, we see a different side of her. Alone in her bedroom, she is careless about her appearance and wards off her husband. When she writers alone, her brow furrows with concentration and her face darkens. Indeed, when she is interrupted by the maid or the children, the visible sign of anger conveys a sense of bieng possessed by writing. She insists that she must be left alone in order to craft her stories and takes great measures to shut out the world. In this way, Bonham Carter sympathetically unravels a woman much like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a woman whose dual personality is compounded by the way she wrestles her own childhood demons.

While childhood is the central theme in all her works, it is one that is ironically shunned in her personal life. Blyton's childhood was an unhappy one after her beloved father left the famaily when she was still a child. But by burrowing into her work for comfort, her children's childhoods were also unhappy. Blyton did not love her children the same way she did her "fans"--other children who wrote to her and even came to her house for tea while her own daughters were admonished to the nursery. It appears that her art, and her fans, demanded more of her, occupied so much of her time, that, by not being a good mother or caring for her children, she unwittingly inflicted wounds on their own childhoods. But perhaps it is this conflict, this difficulty to grapple with childhood and its myriad forms, which infuses Blyton's works with the poignancy and reality of childhood. For in childhood are our joys and sorrows, and art, inevitably is created out of loss--even if the price of that is motherhood and service to one's own children.