I was completely hooked on The Famous Five books as a kid.
Some of it was wish fulfillment: I was a working class kid from the north of England, devouring these entrancing tales of four middle class children who rowed to the family-owned island, had delicious-sounding picnics and embarked on adventures-a-plenty.
But also, it was in these books that I was introduced to George “Don’t call me Georgina” Kirrin and her amazing dog, Timmy (so clever he counts as one of the Five.)
I wanted to be just like George. Firstly, because I desperately wanted a dog. Secondly, because George was fierce, brave, adventurous and, did I mention that she OWNED HER OWN ISLAND? And thirdly, because the only other female to aspire to was George’s cousin Anne. Anne said things like, ‘Oh yes – let’s have brunch! I love brunch.’ Anne was a sap. Just as Enid Blyton planned it, we all really hated Anne.
Though Anne had some competition in this from her older brother Julian, whose priggishness knew no bounds. Here’s Ju when George declares that she’s going to sleep in the barn, and she doesn’t care what he says:
‘Oh yes you do,’ said Julian, ‘You know quite well that if ever you go against the orders of the chief – that’s me, my girl, in case you didn’t know it – you won’t come out with us again. You may look like a boy and behave like a boy, but you’re a girl all the same. And like it or not, girls have got to be taken care of.’
You’ll be pleased to hear that George punches Julian immediately after this exchange, but alas, only playfully, and on the shoulder and not seriously, and in the face.
George had not yet worked out that she could be a girl AND have an interesting life. For George, it was one or the other, and she was resolutely opting for the other.
The final member of the Five was Dick. Dick was kind, likable, brave, loyal and crucial to his likability factor, not Anne or Julian.
But George was the character I admired. She was hot-tempered, strong-willed, adored her dog Timmy with a fierce passion, and wore her hair short in the hope that she’d be mistaken for a boy. George had not yet worked out that she could be a girl AND have an interesting life. For George, it was one or the other, and she was resolutely opting for the other.
There’s lots of discussion these days about whether George was gay or even trans but the most important thing about the character for me was that she was determined not to take on a role that society wanted to foist on her, something that spoke to my young, formative writer self.
What is known is that Blyton based George partly on herself, and a snippet from the Blyton biog on the The Enid Blyton Society website sheds more light:
Blyton apparently had a close relationship with her creative, nature-loving father but of her mother, it says:
“She was not creative and artistic like Thomas, and did not share his interests. She expected her daughter to help with household chores but gave her sons a lot more freedom, which Enid, who was not very domesticated, resented.”
Sounds a lot like George to me.
I’m afraid I’ll find them horribly sexist and racist and classist when looked at with a modern eye.
However, as dearly as I loved these books, and as important as they were to me, I haven’t gone back to re-read them in adulthood. I’m afraid I’ll find them horribly sexist and racist and classist when looked at with a modern eye. Besides, they’ve already worked their magic. I took the adventurous path and became a writer.
And for that, I’ll always be grateful to Enid Blyton for giving even working class children like me a model – a flawed one perhaps, but important, nonetheless – of a young, spirited girl with an appetite for something more in life than just brunch.