This is my small collection of Enid Blyton biographies. I also have two biographies written for children by her daughter Gillian, and an autobiography published in 1952, The Story of My Life. For one of the world’s most famous and prolific authors it may not seem like a lot, and it really isn’t. Why is that?
I think there are two reasons for this. Firstly Barbara Stoney’s Enid Blyton – A Biography is considered the definitive biography, and deservedly so. Secondly there is a complete lack of personal papers to investigate much further. It’s likely everyone who has researched Enid Blyton had used this biography as a reference book. If you are interested in reading a factual account of Enid’s life then this is the book you need to begin with.
Stoney has produced the most comprehensive work on the author to date. Imogen Smallwood, Enid’s youngest daughter, commented in her autobiography that it “left many tactful gaps”. It was not, it seems, Stoney’s style to dredge up rumours and gossip just to discount them in the next paragraph. And, as Imogen went on to say “it is based on painstaking research and a deep and sympathetic understanding of my mother’s life”. I doubt there could have been a better biographer. This is a very balanced view of the author, neither making her a saint or demonising her.
Stoney had very little to work with. It is not only that Kenneth Waters (Enid’s second husband) destroyed the bulk of her personal diaries before he died. One box on top of a wardrobe went unnoticed, and was therefore saved and was the basis for her research. It is that Enid’s diaries were largely impersonal. Stoney recalls an incident when Enid, as a teenager, discovered her mother had found and read her personal diary. Enid vowed from then on that her diaries would only contain a brief outline of her day-to-day activities. Indeed what remained to us from her adult life were brief and impersonal entries, with few exceptions. Many people that were important in Enid’s life had died. It seems an impossible task, but Stoney mastered it. Along with a detailed chronology of her life, it includes a bibliography of her work, some poetry, personal letters and articles. It is a remarkable biography, an exhaustive work with an instinctual understanding of the subject, and an absolute wealth of information.
George Greenfield, on the other hand, produced a brief biography for Sutton’s Pocket Biographies. At 102 pages it is concise, but that’s not to say it is without merit. In is a good companion to Stoney’s biography, Greenfield was Enid’s agent and friend for over 20 years and there is some small snippets of interesting information regarding the business side of her writing, and the Darrell Waters Ltd company formed to protect her interests, which had a large amount of money embezzled from it after her death. This one is out-of-print but not too difficult to find. He has also discussed Enid in his autobiography A Smattering of Monsters (which I have been unable to get hold of yet.)
Lastly, A Childhood at Green Hedges, published in 1989, is the autobiography of her youngest daughter, Imogen Smallwood. This is long out-of-print and quite expensive, and really only recommended for committed collectors. I find it difficult to discuss this book without casting judgement, or sounding like I am, on a woman I do not know. It paints a miserable picture of an unhappy childhood. It has not been well-received by fans. It has been used as a reference point many times, in a malicious, gossipy and sensationalist way by the media. The media, as usual, are missing the point.
Paul Hodder-Williams asked me why I would want to write such a book. I replied that I would like to show a little piece of the truth. ‘What makes you think your view is more truthful than anyone else’s?’ he asked
Imogen paints a very negative picture of her childhood. This is the third time I have read the book, and when I read it last week I was determined to try and detach myself from the subjects in order to understand why she wrote it. As a book it does not really stand up, it is not well written, the chronology is muddled, and it is rather rambling. It is evident that Imogen had severe behavioural problems, and possibly a learning disability, further compounded by the fact that when Imogen discovered old school reports after her mother’s death she burned them. And it is painfully evident that Enid did not deal with Imogen’s issues well. Had Imogen truly wanted to demonise her mother she could have continued to do so after the publication of the book, but she has not. I couldn’t tell you if she regrets some of the things she said in the book, some of which purely speculative and rather uncomfortable. But I think she has closed this chapter in her life.
What the book really is, is a catharsis. It is her story, and one she had a right to tell.
Note: The copy of Enid Blyton – A Biography pictured is my personal copy, a first edition from 1974. I recommend the 2006 reprint for reading, it is the newest revised and updated edition.