17 April 2011

The question of appeasement in the nursery

Amelia Jane was published from 1937 (first book in 1939), on the cusp of WWII. Enid was famous for never EVER referring to the war, but re-reading the first AJ story, I couldn’t help wondering whether AJ sprang from the idea of an anarchic outsider threatening “Our Way of Life”. Though unschooled in the ways of polite society and a nuisance to “Our” day-to-day life, AJ (the outsider) mayn’t be all bad in enid’s eyes ...

The Plot of the story: Amelia Jane is running around the toy room with a pair of scissors, cutting holes in everything she finds, including bunny’s tale. The toys get angry and get the brownies to lock her in the toy cupboard until the toys feel like letting her out. After a while though, the brownies get attacked by goblins and only Amelia Jane can fly the toy plane to attack the goblins and save the brownies. When she does so, she promises not to be naughty again …

Where’s the politics? Well, I found it on Wikipedia. What’s happening in Europe when Enid writes her first story of the naughty doll? It’s 1937, and Europe is gearing up for WWII: Hitler is building up the German Army in the Rhineland, Spain is degenerating into civil war, and Ideology is the governing principle of the day.

I will note that the Anschluss and the occupation of Czechoslovakia did not happen until after this story was written, but the remilitarisation of the Rhineland had (an event in 1936 that pretty much did what it said on the box. Germany armed itself; Europe debated it but eventually stood back, lacking funds and/or will to demilitarise them again).

Enid could not have failed to hear about the debate. In the UK, the Rhineland topic was much debated (understandable, given recent history). Further, Enid’s first husband, a WWI veteran, was working on a book with Churchill and becoming increasingly depressed by the prospect of a new war (he began drinking as a consequence, which was part of the reason the marriage ended), so it would have been a topic that interested him, particularly in light of another crucial event taking place ...

In a nasty foreign country that Enid never visited, there was a civil war going on. Now, children, we all know that the Spanish are fiery people who are sometimes very badly behaved (Carlotta in St Clares anyone?), but some of them were almost good enough to be considered English (or at least they would be if they weren’t so Spanish). The bad Spanish people won an election, so the good Spanish people under a man called Franco decided to take over the country and make sure all the people were part of the right-thinking element. Well, the bad people didn’t like that at all and so they started a war in Spain. Nasty, unwashed people from all over the world went to help the good Spanish and the bad Spanish, and there were lots of newsmen covering the story too. Even that strange little artist Picasso painted a picture with a foreign name about the people dropping bombs in the war (the Guernica was displayed in 1937).

That charming German fellow, Mr Hitler (the Germans are so very orderly and clean and white, aren’t they?) sent the good Spanish people help: he sent planes to bomb the bad Spanish people. And that was after everyone got so annoyed at him building up his army the year before … wasn’t it silly of them to worry?

I think you have an idea bout where I’m going with this. Look at the significance of the imagery in the story: AJ, the perennially naughty doll, has armed herself and is playing with her new weapon = Germany arming itself. The toys and magic brownies (side note: magic brownies sound like something from Amsterdam) disarm her and lock her up: one option for the international community (alternately, these two elements symbolise WWI and the consequences for Germany. Brownies attacked by goblins? Well all good international people think like Enid, and bad ones are … communist (communism was fearfully on the nose). Amelia Jane rearmed and sent in to help … do I need to spell the whole damn thing out for you? This is not a children’s story, this is as close as Enid could get to joining in the grown-ups’ discussion.

What do I draw from this? Well, it’s not a big leap to say that Enid had fascist tendencies. Xenophobia, Uniforms and Discipline (or at least, marching)? Totally up her alley. Aryan race over foreign looking people? Give her a black shirt and introduce her to Oswald Mosely. If Hitler had made her books required reading, she would have led the army across Europe.

Enid was famous for not ever mentioning the war in her stories. She drew a lot from her own life, however, and so it isn’t surprising that there may be hints of the world around her in the stories she writes. After all, you can’t divorce yourself entirely from the era in which you live.

Or I might just be reading too much into this. I really do like the idea of Amelia Jane as Hitler …


  1. Hee! I like it too. I will never think about Amelia Jane - or WWII - the same way again...

    I must point out though, that the war definitely intrudes in 'The Adventurous Four'. I mean, the villains are evil (and massively gullible) Nazis. The book even mentions the "crooked cross, the sign of the enemy".

  2. It's absolutely fascinating, actually. I rather like the idea of Enid trying to make sense of things through her stories. Of course, Enid being Enid, they couldn't just be stories - they had to "educate" in some way.

    Enid always handled the war in a fascinating way - as though she would only deal with it via long-handled tongs if she absolutely had to. I remember one curious mention of rationing in a Famous Five book (which confused the seven-year-old who had yet to learn about the World Wars). Of course, there's The Adventurous Four, too, which is obviously about WWII and Nazis, although it's never specifically mentioned. It's fascinating to think about why she did things that way.

  3. I'll have to read the adventurous four. Enid being Enid, though, she would never have dealt with the yucky stuff associated with war. Gullible nazis can be dealt with by Enid's Mary-Sues; but Germans bombing London?

    Massive casualties, air-raids, food rationing, evacuation of London ... these were not spoken of (or at least, she didn't deal with how people had to live with these things) as she probably considered them too low-brow. Proper children had parents with country houses and gardening staff who produced enough fresh food to not have to worry about rationing. they also had enough money to buy luxuries like sugar on the black market.