27 October 2011

Venus Fly trap

So we come to chapter three: Elizabeth makes a bad beginning.

We left our abandoned puppy spurning the affections of a teacher (that sounds sooooo dodgy) as she stared up at the kennel she was to call home. I assume it had kennel-like aspects to it, as Enid never bothers to describe the place (not like the castle of Malory towers, where you were subjected to a minute description every time Enid ran out of storyline).

Predictably, the first thing they do is eat. This is an Enid Blyton story, after all. And I have it on good authority (Enid's) that not liking rice pudding makes you a bad person:

“There was hot soup first, then beef, carrots, dumplings, onions and potatoes, then rice pudding and golden syrup. Elizabeth was so hungry that she ate everything, though at home she certainly would have pushed away the rice pudding.”

That kinda makes me wish that I didn’t throw away the rice pudding I bought the other week when I was shopping (although in my defence, it was artificially sweetened and tasted like crap – I’m not bad, honest I’m not).

So all the kids sit around eating and discussing the inappropriate and irresponsible presents that their parents gave them at Easter (what kind of moron gives a child a PUPPY, when the child lives at boarding school and can’t take the pet with them? Call the RSPCA!). Elizabeth, eating rice pudding (which makes you good) remembers that she wants to be thought of as bad, so takes the opportunity to compare a teacher to a guinea pig.

Whoa – living life on the edge, aren’t we?

Anyway, all the other kids get all pissy about that, then the fun comes. Elizabeth gets shown to her dorm. We’re given, of course, a lengthy description of polished floor boards and blue rugs and trunks that the menials have lugged up the stairs for these little brats.

And we meet Nora.

Do you want to know what Nora is like? She’s Irish. Seriously, that’s Enid’s most used adjective with Nora O’Sullivan (Irish name – check). I am not kidding. The first time there is any description of her, it’s a description of her “blue Irish eyes”. Because all blue eyes are automatically Irish, of course. Of course this sly little adjective colours the way you see Nora (later on, she’s described as “the angry Irish girl” and another time Elizabeth is frightened of her because she’s “big and strong” – so I see a rugby forward with anger management issues). She is, however, heart and mind part of the establishment.

It’s Nora who tells the new girls what form the establishment takes. The school’s co-ed, which is a rarity, Enid liking her children segregated and all.
Anyway, we learn rules like:
- Only 6 things are allowed on your dressing table
- No matter how much money your parents give you, you have to put it in a box and the school shares it out by way of set pocket money
- The sharing of extra funds is determined at school meetings,
- Bad children are fined at school meetings
- School meetings are run by students (teacher participation is sporadic and rare – they’re probably off on holidays with Elizabeth’s parents ...)

You know, I thought the indoctrination by students was bad at Malory Towers where you had strict teachers doling out punishment. But trial by (Blyton) students? No ... just, no.

The school is a progressive school, based on an actual independent school in the UK called Summerhill. Summerhill is a democratic community, governed by school meetings run by the students, and where all classes are optional. The ethos of that school is “freedom, not licence”. The whole idea is that the child is meant to know best what how to learn. Incidentally, the school still runs.

I can see how Enid would be attracted to such an idea - kids governing themselves without pesky parents. I can also see where Enid struggled with it. She is a traditionalist at heart, with her school having compulsory uniforms, compulsory classes, and a militaristic feel from the student body that is slightly alarming. It’s as though the students are inches away from starting a cult or something, there’s just this menacing feel that I can’t quite like, as though all they need is one student to come along and promise more pocket money, harsher penalties for offenders and the extermination of the Jews or something ...

You know what it is? It’s the shadow of Lord of the Flies. There is this bullying feel to the whole place that dresses up as school spirit. The children feel obliged to teach each other lessons all the time, so they’re ALWAYS on other student’s backs to conform conform conform. And then there’s public humiliation – because ALL punishment and trials take place in front of the WHOLE school, which of course is the best way to deal with adolescents ...

In real life, Summerhill School apparently runs quite well, but we are in Blytonia, where, at the end of the day, children DON’T know best unless they are parroting what their absentee parents tell them (in an effort to win their love). And Blytonia, don’t forget, has the angry Irish girl working as an enforcer. The whole thing is just an endorsement of Enid’s idea of (lazy) parenting really – it’s taken it beyond mere absenteeism to actually having the children do all the work. Quite frankly, it’s Enid’s own personal wet dream.

Anyway, we end the chapter with Elizabeth saying to the others that she isn’t going to share her food. DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNN .....


  1. I can definitely see Enid having a love/hate affair with the idea of a student-run school. You just have to look at all of those books where kids run off and have adventures with smugglers and kidnappers and who knows what. Then you have the boarding school books, where the girls (always girls...) are told what to do and how to be properly English. And here we have an uneasy combination of the two!

    It's almost as though kids get in the way of parents having fun and vice versa.

  2. Enid hated domesticity and submissive femininity as a child but as soon as she's grown up, she shoves it down her girl reader's throats!

  3. True - Enid was all career focussed and "I'm going to be the greatest writer who ever lived"(seriously, check out her letters about herself in the BBC archives online - then check out what they wrote about her. It's priceless), yet all her female characters are submissive wenches when around the dominant males (look at the ridicule George faces in Famous Five for not conforming to gender roles).

    It's as though Enid is afraid of any female eclipsing her, so she sets them up to aim low in life.