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» Ship of Fools   »   » Oblivion   » Enid Blyton - trouble in toyland (Page 3)

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Source: (consider it) Thread: Enid Blyton - trouble in toyland
Porridge
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Reasonable or not, lilBuddha, there's a problematic substrate to the OP which we've yet to touch upon. At some point in the last, dunno, 20-30 years, celebrity has apparently become a social value in and of itself, almost completely independent of the reasons for said celebrity. In short celebrity gets, well, celebrated. Maybe it's one of the characteristics of mainstream US culture which, like Coca-Cola, my countrymen have managed to foist upon the world, to the detriment of just about everybody.

While I could wish otherwise, the fact is that millions follow (for example) the Kardashians, who are, AFAICS, famous solely for being famous. Should we celebrate such people? I'd rather we didn't, but since the universe has so far failed to put me In Charge, I wasn't consulted in the matter.

I'm sure it's Blyton's "famousness" that's behind this festival, not her literary style, not her prolificity, and certainly not her racism. Is that a problem? I think it may be, but I'm sure many others don't. Becoming famous, even briefly, and even for nefarious reasons, now seems to confer some sort of credential or validity, all by itself. And few of us bother much any more about the backstory producing the "fame."

The festival in Blyton's long-time home is simply one manifestation of our fixation with celebrity. "Whoa, mates! We could do a plaque -- no, wait! Let's get up a whole week-long festival! Everybody's read old Enid's stuff. They'll come crawling out of the woodwork. We'll rake it in by the bucket-full!"

And that, after all, is almost certainly the real point of the festival.

Personally, I would not attend this festival in order to honor Blyton if it were held across the street from my front door. I might attend such a festival, though, in support of the local bed-and-breakfast, souvenir shop, and pub.

It may be that Beaconsfield has no other "celebrities" to celebrate. It's latched onto this chance at 15 semi-lucrative minutes of fame (since fame, regardless of how it's achieved, seems unfortunately to have become a social good within our culture).

Vocal objections, demonstrations, etc., will only draw bigger crowds -- and they too, after all, may need a pint, a memento, and perhaps a place to stay.

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Albertus
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Beaconsfield has Disraeli- I was always a Gladstone man myself but he would be well worth a festival, literary and historical/political. And Wikipedia also suggests, among others, Terry Pratchett, GK Chesterton, Edmund Burke, Robert Frost- so plenty to be going on with (and you could tie Burke, Disraeli and Chesterton together pretty well).
Come to think of it, has Pratchett ever parodied Enid Blyton? Now that would be worth reading.

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trouty
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Blyton's fiction was of a much higher literary merit than Leo's.
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leo
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quote:
Originally posted by trouty:
Blyton's fiction was of a much higher literary merit than Leo's.

Maybe I should write some racist stuff so that I can live off the royalties.

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Sleepwalker
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quote:
Originally posted by leo:
'Political correctness' is about good manners and care for other people.

It can also have the look of totalitarianism about it too.

In answer to the OP, I think Blyton's work and life should be celebrated. She was a very popular author of her time who appealed widely to children and was very successful. Any racism that may be there - and I haven't read her books so I cannot comment - is part of the package and should be seen within the context of her time just as the content of all books, historical and contemporary, are viewed within the context of their time.

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Porridge
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quote:
Originally posted by Albertus:
Beaconsfield has Disraeli- I was always a Gladstone man myself but he would be well worth a festival, literary and historical/political. And Wikipedia also suggests, among others, Terry Pratchett, GK Chesterton, Edmund Burke, Robert Frost- so plenty to be going on with (and you could tie Burke, Disraeli and Chesterton together pretty well).
Come to think of it, has Pratchett ever parodied Enid Blyton? Now that would be worth reading.

In light of this information (thank you, Albertus), I begin to wonder anew at the possible motives for the festival, and now suspect that racism may indeed be involved. With people like these to celebrate, why settle on Blyton?

As one result of time aboard this Ship, I've formed a general (and possibly faulty) impression that a US Joe-Six-Pack will fare poorly against his UK equivalent in having a grasp of general information about the history of the country from which he hails. Will the average UK Bloke know who Disraeli, Chesterton, and Burke are? I'm not sure what the US equivalents to these Illustrious Personages might be, but I suspect our Joe Six-Pack would be clueless about them.

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Enoch
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Porridge, with all due respect, I think, not being acquainted with the culture at first hand, you are off track.

I don't know whether Enid Blyton is known at all where you are, but here, she was, and still is, a very well known children's writer.

However, she's also been quite controversial since she died, for reasons that have varied over the years, poor style, complacency, lack of content, representing social attitudes that were outmoded even in their own time, and more recently, racism.

So commemorating her wouldn't be a gesture to celebrity. It's more, 'is this a writer you loved, your children love, and would you rather they did or they didn't?'

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the giant cheeseburger
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quote:
Originally posted by Porridge:
As one result of time aboard this Ship, I've formed a general (and possibly faulty) impression that a US Joe-Six-Pack will fare poorly against his UK equivalent in having a grasp of general information about the history of the country from which he hails. Will the average UK Bloke know who Disraeli, Chesterton, and Burke are? I'm not sure what the US equivalents to these Illustrious Personages might be, but I suspect our Joe Six-Pack would be clueless about them.

Really? My impression as neither a US or UK citizen is that the average person in the US has a disproportionately high understanding of basic US history and their significant figures.

It does seem to come at the expense of their education as global citizens though. I reckon that filling in countries on an unlabelled map of even Western Europe would be harder for a USian than doing the same on a map of Central/North America would be for a UKian.

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Moo

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quote:
Originally posted by Albertus:
Beaconsfield has Disraeli- I was always a Gladstone man myself but he would be well worth a festival, literary and historical/political. And Wikipedia also suggests, among others, Terry Pratchett, GK Chesterton, Edmund Burke, Robert Frost-

Robert Frost?

He was born in California and moved to Massachusetts at the age of eleven. He subsequently settled in New Hampshire; his poems give a good picture of rural New Hampshire life.

What does he have to do with Beaconsfield?

Moo

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Porridge
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quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
quote:
Originally posted by Albertus:
Beaconsfield has Disraeli- I was always a Gladstone man myself but he would be well worth a festival, literary and historical/political. And Wikipedia also suggests, among others, Terry Pratchett, GK Chesterton, Edmund Burke, Robert Frost-

Robert Frost?

He was born in California and moved to Massachusetts at the age of eleven. He subsequently settled in New Hampshire; his poems give a good picture of rural New Hampshire life.

What does he have to do with Beaconsfield?

Moo

Frost moved to Great Britain as a youngish man, and his first publications were in the UK.

Only after he made his chops there was he able to return to his native soil and gain respect for his verse, which was not then "fashionable" in poetic terms.

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Hawk

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quote:
Originally posted by Aggie:
what I did notice was her racism and stereotyping of gypsies and travellers, as being swarthy, head-scarf wearing thieves and fraudsters. Also, her class snobbery, as anyone with a "lower-class" accent who said "ain't" or "innit" - were either smelly or a crook or both.

No, Enid Blyton's books did not have any literary merit whatsoever. Her use of English, aside from her character stereotyping, was very poor and extremely cliched. I recall in one of her stories she wrote about someone going back to their "nice meal of fish and chips". I know she wrote for children, but there are better adjectives than "nice" to describe something pleasant.

I could provide many examples of the opposite. Lower class characters being good friends of the main characters such as Ernie in the Five Find-Outers, and Barney the orphaned boy who was poor and slept rough who was the de facto leader of the group in the 'R' mystery series. In other places her turn of phrase and use of language was excellent, and really brought scenes alive.

There is a great danger of judging someone based only on cherry-picked examples.

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Hawk

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quote:
Originally posted by Porridge:
In light of this information (thank you, Albertus), I begin to wonder anew at the possible motives for the festival, and now suspect that racism may indeed be involved. With people like these to celebrate, why settle on Blyton?

As one result of time aboard this Ship, I've formed a general (and possibly faulty) impression that a US Joe-Six-Pack will fare poorly against his UK equivalent in having a grasp of general information about the history of the country from which he hails. Will the average UK Bloke know who Disraeli, Chesterton, and Burke are? I'm not sure what the US equivalents to these Illustrious Personages might be, but I suspect our Joe Six-Pack would be clueless about them.

Or what about 6 year old Joe whose mother wants somewhere to take him out for the afternoon. Do you think little Joe would be interested in a week long festival about a nineteenth century politician? No. Well must be because he's racist then. That the only possible explanation.

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North East Quine

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Originally posted by Porridge:
quote:
In light of this information (thank you, Albertus), I begin to wonder anew at the possible motives for the festival, and now suspect that racism may indeed be involved. With people like these to celebrate, why settle on Blyton?

What would a festival of Disraeli involve? Or a Robert Frost festival?

Enid Blyton's books are full of descriptions of picnics and tea rooms. A Blyton festival would involve lots of "ices" and lashings of ginger-beer; sandwiches, macaroons, scones and jam. Attractions might include a gypsy caravan; circus performers, face-painting. There would be stalls selling books (dozens of titles still in print) and souvenirs, such as Noddy toys and Famous Five jigsaws. I've seen Noddy car merry-go-rounds. There might be fancy-dress. Perhaps an opportunity to try lacrosse (something I've never come across outwith Blyton's school stories).

A Blyton festival has the potential for a great family day out. What could a Disraeli festival have, that could possibly compete with a jolly good slap-up tea?

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Stetson
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quote:
It may be that Beaconsfield has no other "celebrities" to celebrate. It's latched onto this chance at 15 semi-lucrative minutes of fame (since fame, regardless of how it's achieved, seems unfortunately to have become a social good within our culture).


That's the way it is with mid-profile locales that are insecure about their place in the world.

My hometown of Edmonton tries to promote Marshall McLuhan's "boyhood home" as an important cultural asset. This despite the fact that McLuhan had moved away from Edmonton by the age of three, and does not seem to have spent any significant amount of time there afterwards.

"Oh, but it was in Edmonton that he saw a horse pulling a wagon in the distance, and wondered why it was so small, and that helped form his ideas on media!!" Maybe that's true, but I doubt that residents of London, Paris, or New York would bother with such barrel-scraping in order to boost their cities' claim to greatness.

(And yes, I got a minor thrill in writing this post, from letting everyone know that Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton.)

link

[ 18. February 2013, 22:42: Message edited by: Stetson ]

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Rosa Winkel

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The construction of enemy figures interest me. Why is it, that certain people or certain groups of people arouse ire? What does that say about those who construct those figures?

Let's start with the person who may or may not have (had) racist views, someone like Blyton or Jim Davidson. The ire that they arouse can be due to a desire to have someone who one can put an imprint on: This person is bad! That gives one security, knowing who is good and who is bad (with the one calling them bad, of course, being good). It gives orientation, as well as a playing out of inner conflicts; they can represent our own capacity for hate, or someone or some people from our pasts. That Luis Suarez for example was universally vilified despite the absence of proof of racism shows how this can also be linked to group-think.

Then we have the enemy figure of the "lefty" or "PC brigade". They form the function of being the one who, again, one can hate or dislike. I find it noteworthy that they often become vilified in discussions about racism*.

I believe this to be an unconscious mechanism, whereby people or things like Enid Blyton become part of something else, my past, my childhood, my school, my parents; in other words, things that have shaped our identities. (I myself read The Famous Five and The Secret Seven has a kind and loved them.) While one has probably never met that thing in question, they are tied up with our identity. Therefore suspicions about them become suspicions about us.

Hence the need for the "lefty" or "PC brigade". Questions about anyone about suspect areas of our pasts arouse defensiveness, and therefore an attack on what turns out to be a convenient figure.

This is also a feature of the "we cannot judge their actions/beliefs as that's what people did/thought then" get-out-of-jail card, used to try to do what in German is called a Totschlagargument, meaning saying something in order to kill off discussion. Context is indeed very important in order to understand why people did or thought certain things. It's the basis for historical analysis. A deeper look at context will show a more complex world than "everyone was racist then", but rather that it contained people who took responsibility for acting against racism in within that context, people like the scientist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the politician George Padmore and writer James Baldwin are just three examples of people acting against racism well before anti-racism work began to be more widespread.

I believe us all to have enemy figures of our own constructions, figures that serve various needs we have. I believe them to turn such threads as this one into theatre, theatre made largely by people speaking from a position of dominance in society.

Oh, and I find Lenin to be very suspect, to say the least.

* Only the mention of the words "black people" or "racism" can arouse defensiveness in some white people, but people who consider themselves to be liberal or anti-racist cannot allow themselves to be openly defensive or hostile towards black people. People on the left or other anti-racism campaigners therefore form a useful outlet for these feelings. Note that the likes of the EDL in England or NOP and ONR in Poland also rail against "lefties". I'm not calling anyone here an EDL members, just saying that, that they have a similar vocabulary should offer a pause for reflection.

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Saul the Apostle
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quote:
Originally posted by Rosa Winkel:
The construction of enemy figures interest me. Why is it, that certain people or certain groups of people arouse ire? What does that say about those who construct those figures?

Let's start with the person who may or may not have (had) racist views, someone like Blyton or Jim Davidson. The ire that they arouse can be due to a desire to have someone who one can put an imprint on: This person is bad! That gives one security, knowing who is good and who is bad (with the one calling them bad, of course, being good). It gives orientation, as well as a playing out of inner conflicts; they can represent our own capacity for hate, or someone or some people from our pasts. That Luis Suarez for example was universally vilified despite the absence of proof of racism shows how this can also be linked to group-think.

Then we have the enemy figure of the "lefty" or "PC brigade". They form the function of being the one who, again, one can hate or dislike. I find it noteworthy that they often become vilified in discussions about racism*.

I believe this to be an unconscious mechanism, whereby people or things like Enid Blyton become part of something else, my past, my childhood, my school, my parents; in other words, things that have shaped our identities. (I myself read The Famous Five and The Secret Seven has a kind and loved them.) While one has probably never met that thing in question, they are tied up with our identity. Therefore suspicions about them become suspicions about us.

Hence the need for the "lefty" or "PC brigade". Questions about anyone about suspect areas of our pasts arouse defensiveness, and therefore an attack on what turns out to be a convenient figure.

This is also a feature of the "we cannot judge their actions/beliefs as that's what people did/thought then" get-out-of-jail card, used to try to do what in German is called a Totschlagargument, meaning saying something in order to kill off discussion. Context is indeed very important in order to understand why people did or thought certain things. It's the basis for historical analysis. A deeper look at context will show a more complex world than "everyone was racist then", but rather that it contained people who took responsibility for acting against racism in within that context, people like the scientist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the politician George Padmore and writer James Baldwin are just three examples of people acting against racism well before anti-racism work began to be more widespread.

I believe us all to have enemy figures of our own constructions, figures that serve various needs we have. I believe them to turn such threads as this one into theatre, theatre made largely by people speaking from a position of dominance in society.

Oh, and I find Lenin to be very suspect, to say the least.

* Only the mention of the words "black people" or "racism" can arouse defensiveness in some white people, but people who consider themselves to be liberal or anti-racist cannot allow themselves to be openly defensive or hostile towards black people. People on the left or other anti-racism campaigners therefore form a useful outlet for these feelings. Note that the likes of the EDL in England or NOP and ONR in Poland also rail against "lefties". I'm not calling anyone here an EDL members, just saying that, that they have a similar vocabulary should offer a pause for reflection.

Some of us have ''enemies'' and tag the same as threats because they will harm us if we take no notice of them surely? If the German ruling class had taken a wee bit more notice (and done something about it), of an Austrian ex corporal and cheap jack painter, the world might have been a better place.

We put ''red flags'' on people often, not always, for very good reason.

Saul

[ 19. February 2013, 14:05: Message edited by: Saul the Apostle ]

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Saul the Apostle
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quote:
Originally posted by North East Quine:
Originally posted by Porridge:
quote:
In light of this information (thank you, Albertus), I begin to wonder anew at the possible motives for the festival, and now suspect that racism may indeed be involved. With people like these to celebrate, why settle on Blyton?

What would a festival of Disraeli involve? Or a Robert Frost festival?

Enid Blyton's books are full of descriptions of picnics and tea rooms. A Blyton festival would involve lots of "ices" and lashings of ginger-beer; sandwiches, macaroons, scones and jam. Attractions might include a gypsy caravan; circus performers, face-painting. There would be stalls selling books (dozens of titles still in print) and souvenirs, such as Noddy toys and Famous Five jigsaws. I've seen Noddy car merry-go-rounds. There might be fancy-dress. Perhaps an opportunity to try lacrosse (something I've never come across outwith Blyton's school stories).

A Blyton festival has the potential for a great family day out. What could a Disraeli festival have, that could possibly compete with a jolly good slap-up tea?

[Killing me] [Killing me] [Killing me]

I might ad a coconut noddy shy too. Plus a troupe of reformed golliwogs who teach children diversity and tolerance [Devil]

Saul

--------------------
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Rosa Winkel

Saint Anger round my neck
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I wasn't talking about enemy figures in general.

The role of the ruling classes with the Nazis is a matter for another thread.

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Albertus
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Yes, I'm sure that the reason they've picked Blyton for a festival is that she has a wider cultural footprint than any of the others I mentioned. A Chesterton Festival could be quite fun, though- Father Brown stories and the Napoleon of Notting Hill acted out in the streets, a recreation of the Battle of Lepanto on the local pond, and a very great deal of beer-drinking.

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Eigon
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Albertus - if you're looking for a Pratchett parody of Blyton, try Maurice and his Amazing Educated Rodents! It's a Discworld book for children, and one of the characters states at one point that, in order to solve the mystery, they ought to be four children and a dog!

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Signaller
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quote:
Originally posted by Stetson:
That's the way it is with mid-profile locales that are insecure about their place in the world.


Beaconsfield, insecure?

Hmmm. Perhaps some explanation of the place that Beaconsfield occupies in the finely-graded ranks of English outer suburban dormitory towns would be helpful. It has a very old, very picturesque High Street, and lots of very large and discreet houses lurking in the hinterland. It has the New Town, round the railway station, which is slightly less posh. But the essential thing about Beaconsfield (pronounced Beckons-field, never Beekons-field) is that it isn't Gerrards Cross: the next door neighbour that is a byword for new money and vulgarity. Beaconsfield is refined, discreet, and very rich, and its personality and prejudices fit perfectly with Enid Blyton. The nice people, in their nice houses, go up to Town on the nice trains from the nice station, and at the weekends they drive down the nice M40 to their lovely second homes in the nice Cotswolds, where their nice children would have jolly adventures if they could only they aren't allowed to cos Mummy and Daddy are terrified of the lower orders.

In short, Beaconsfield doesn't need Blyton, and most of the population would probably much rather no grubby festival-goers came to clutter it up. It doesn't even make much of the Disraeli connection, but leaves that to Hughenden, six miles away, where his house is.

I don't live in any of these places, I hasten to add.

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Penny S
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Joyce Grenfell, whose monologues are not usually unkind about the characters portrayed, had one called "Writer of Children's Books" which has the author addressing a group of her child fans, and it is wicked. Not in the street meaning. The author talks down to her audience, and describes her plots involving small groups of children, with dog, having adventures. It is possible to see this author as Blyton. Not quite a parody of the books, though.
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Saul the Apostle
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quote:
Originally posted by Penny S:
Joyce Grenfell, whose monologues are not usually unkind about the characters portrayed, had one called "Writer of Children's Books" which has the author addressing a group of her child fans, and it is wicked. Not in the street meaning. The author talks down to her audience, and describes her plots involving small groups of children, with dog, having adventures. It is possible to see this author as Blyton. Not quite a parody of the books, though.

Grenfell famously said about Jewish refugees:


quote:
there's something a bit un-cosy about a non-Aryan refugee in one's kitchen".
Saul

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Penny S
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quote:
Originally posted by Saul the Apostle:
Grenfell famously said about Jewish refugees:


quote:
there's something a bit un-cosy about a non-Aryan refugee in one's kitchen".
Saul
I was interested by that, and googled it. There were three references, one refering to one of the others, and none giving the source. Not quite famous, perhaps. I wondered about the context.

I have a book including letters by Grenfell, written between her and Katherine Moore, who was a member of the Friends Meeting I'm a member of, and who we used to give lifts to. I have spent the time since your post scan reading it.

Moore on two occasions refers to giving homes to Jewish refugees, but Grenfell does not respond in the selected letters, though one actually refers to a man who had been a refugee following Moore around in her kitchen and conversing while she was cooking.

Grenfell refers to Jacob Bronowski very positively for the characteristics of his Jewishness, and also writes positively of Bernard Levin.

In one place, Grenfell writes, while discussing religion "I think if only we didn't wear hats labelled Jewish-Quaker-R.C.-Anglican, etc., we could all meet far more simply in the same place. "

So it wasn't in any of these published letters that the quote comes from, and it appears from what has been selected for publication that Grenfell was not anti-semitic.

The reason I wanted the context for that quote, which I had never come across before, was that it does not make clear that it refers to someone who had had a non-Aryan refugee in their kitchen, which was not at any time compulsory, but was down to the choice of the kitchen owner. Giving a home to someone who needed to eat kosher would indeed present a challenge, would it not? But without the context, it is not possible to know what was intended. Was it in one of her monologues, perhaps? Google does not tell.

There is no trace in the writing I have just read of the sort of person who would have intended those words as racist.

Do you know the context? Could you let me know where I can find it, as I would be interested to know it.

[ 19. February 2013, 21:52: Message edited by: Penny S ]

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Penny S
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Further to the above, I find that Maureen Lipman, in conversation with David Aaronovitch, discussing playing Grenfell, said "Although she definitely had traces of the antisemitism of the time"...

In view of the rest of her interview, I don't think Lipman would have touched the monologues with a bargepole if she had thought there was more than a trace.

I couldn't find anything else.

[ 19. February 2013, 22:18: Message edited by: Penny S ]

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Honest Ron Bacardi
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Just out of interest, Penny S, I repeated the exercise and got a similar result. However, the paper in "Patterns of Prejudice" looks reasonably academic and may actually cite a reference. I can't check the text though as it needs payment. You could try to order an interlibrary loan. Of course, Saul may have a reference for you.

Your point about context is well-made IMHO.

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Penny S
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Honest Ron, I do hate it when tracking things down leads to academia. It is so frustrating. And a library off print would cost, as well.
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Honest Ron Bacardi
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Ah well - only trying to help! It's the best probability I could find as a non-combatant.

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Penny S

you are right to query that and I had been reminded of the Grenfell quote by this thread BUT I found reference to it only by this article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2001/jan/26/schools.comment

To be fair it may be the most famous quote that Grenfell never actually said.

I stand to be corrected or informed.

Certainly the context was Jewish immigration and it may have been referring to the period in the 1930s when a small number of Jewish refugees were allowed to settle in the UK (anti semitism was rife at that time).

Saul

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Saul the Apostle
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I also found this from Maureen Lipmann, the actress, who played Grenfell:

quote:
Maureen Lipman: Although she definitely had traces of the antisemitism of the time, I am attracted to very English people. I don’t know why that is, but where I justify my choice of Joyce Grenfell is that she was an outsider – and all great observers and commentators come from a world of outsiders, because you look in without joining. And she was an outsider because she came from the Astor family and was included in all the Astor things, the weekends and the dressing up and the parties, but she had no money. Her mother was a ‘bolter’ who ran off several times. So the standard idea of Joyce Grenfell, as coming from an absolutely rock-solid background, is wrong, she was a bit pillar to post. And her mother was American. But when it was announced that I was going to play her, I got some very nasty letters: ‘Keep your hands off! She was English!’ Just turn on LBC or go on a blog and you’ll find people like that who have nothing to do but air their fascist views.
Grenfell would have most probably said the comment about non aryan's in her kitchen as a slightly batty jibe, but aserbic barb, at Jews. This was at a time when anti Jewish feeling was widespread in the class that Grenfell came from. I suspect that as a performer it was a ''one off''.

Blyton's views on blacks, gypsies and the ''lower orders'' were all par for the course at the time.

Saul

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Penny S
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Honest Ron, that was not a comment about your contribution. It was exasperation at all the searches I have done which end up at JSTOR, or Wiley, or Pubmed, or Elsevier, or... Usually, these are not searches which justify the spend, and often the abstract is enough, but it is a pain.

Saul, I did find the Guardian reference, and the Lipman quote, which I referred to in my second post. It seemed interesting though that when Lipman referred to the nasty responses she had to the idea of her "doing" Grenfell, it was to presumably anti-semitic objections, and not to objections to her imitating an anti-semitic character.

Did you find the Youtube of Lipman doing the woman flying the Atlantic, in which an ordinary English woman comments on her neighbours' criticism about a mixed marriage with an African American? I was interested that that came up in the search I did for "Joyce Grenfell anti-semitic", very high up.

Meanwhile, back to the OP theme, here is an exchange early on in the book of letters which confirms my identification of the subject of the monologue:
Moore: "There was a wonderful number on Enid Blyton (not by that name) in your last show. I can't remember what it is called..." She goes on to ask about a recording.
Grenfell: "I'm afraid the "Writer of Children's Books" isn't recorded." She explains this is because she is still using the piece on her tours.
It really is the nastiest bit of Grenfell I've ever read, almost as if she knew Blyton and had formed a negative opinion from direct knowledge. I can't find a link to a version on the internet, but it is in the book "George, Don't Do That!", which contains a number of her nursery school monologues (she is quite destructive of a certain sort of teacherly attitude to small children, but not quite in the same way, and the teacher is not identifiable as a particular person). (I bought the book to read from in school - classes loved it. I was not up to Lipman's standard of "doing" Grenfell, though.)(I did not read the Blyton more than once, once I had spotted the target, and that the children did not get it anyway.)

[ 20. February 2013, 07:32: Message edited by: Penny S ]

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I saw the television drama of the life of Enid Blyton. I could not help getting an uncanny impression that Helena Bonham-Carter had found that the longer she played the central character, the more unlikeable she found her.

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quote:
Originally posted by Saul the Apostle:
Blyton's views on blacks, gypsies and the ''lower orders'' were all par for the course at the time.

This needs more nuance.

Being bigoted against blacks, gypsies etc could certainly pass in polite company with approving comment. But it was far from being universal, even in white, middle-class society.

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It might be worth noticing that gypsies haven't come under the PC radar yet - so it is still OK to hate them, if you want to.

I think the reason for this is the affect they have on property prices, so it is not economically viable to like them.

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Rosa Winkel

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Indeed, Doc Tor. As I said in my lengthy post earlier (if I may quote myself):

quote:
Originally posted by Rosa Winkel:

This is also a feature of the "we cannot judge their actions/beliefs as that's what people did/thought then" get-out-of-jail card, used to try to do what in German is called a Totschlagargument, meaning saying something in order to kill off discussion. Context is indeed very important in order to understand why people did or thought certain things. It's the basis for historical analysis. A deeper look at context will show a more complex world than "everyone was racist then", but rather that it contained people who took responsibility for acting against racism in within that context, people like the scientist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the politician George Padmore and writer James Baldwin are just three examples of people acting against racism well before anti-racism work began to be more widespread.

We in GB have a racist heritage. Blyton was part of the racist landscape. Others chose not to be.

The point is not in demonising her, making her bad while we are good, rather in being prepared to acknowledge the bad she did amongst that which we consider to be good (say, in stimulating a thirst for adventure).

I mean, in general life, surely we don't make out people we like to be perfect?

[Crosspost]

[ 20. February 2013, 12:06: Message edited by: Rosa Winkel ]

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Saul the Apostle
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quote:
Originally posted by Doc Tor:
quote:
Originally posted by Saul the Apostle:
Blyton's views on blacks, gypsies and the ''lower orders'' were all par for the course at the time.

This needs more nuance.

Being bigoted against blacks, gypsies etc could certainly pass in polite company with approving comment. But it was far from being universal, even in white, middle-class society.

Where to start?

If we accept that the British ruling class were in fact very status and class conscious, and that they were also very race conscious too.

The largest ethnic population in the UK, probably until the late 1950s, was the jewish population. Blyton's views are of a piece with Grenfell's in that anything intrinsically ''foreign'' was seen to be dubious, the phrase ''wogs begin at Calais'' was not just an empty phrase.

I have quoted a review of a writer called Louise London ( ''Whitehall and the Jews, 1933-1948: British Immigration Policy, Jewish Refugees and the Holocaust'' Louise London Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001) who states that 1930s Britain showed very clear tensions around race and immigration (apologies for the length):


quote:
London's work follows in the line of those more critical of Britain's role in the Holocaust, most notably Martin Gilbert, Tony Kushner and David Cesarani. In fact, Cesarani and Kushner are able to lay claim to a new school of thought on Anglo-Jewish relations.In his work Kushner has advanced the argument that Britain's claim to be a liberal, tolerant country is not true. A form of antisemitism lies at the heart of Britain's liberality in that there is a desire in British society for the Jews to assimilate and, when they choose not to, they are viewed as problematic, which is an argument with which London would certainly concur. She begins her work by stating that between 1933 and 1948 Britain held a consistent line on limiting Jewish immigration (p2). Refugees would be assisted only if it was in the interests of Britain, a concept that holds true today if the attitude taken by many towards the current issue of asylum is considered. Thus, while Britain would 'tolerate' a certain amount of immigration for humanitarian reason, this 'toleration' was limited by several interlinked factors.
The anti ''foreign'' sentiments Blyton shows in some of her works are indeed of their time. Add in the Black shirts of Moseley's BUF and there is a potent mix of xenophobia and prejudice.

Saul

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Doc Tor
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quote:
Originally posted by Saul the Apostle:
The largest ethnic population in the UK, probably until the late 1950s, was the jewish population.

Bzzt. Irish. As in "no blacks, no Irish, no dogs".

You could reasonably argue that the Irish are almost like us, while an observant Jew is not - though a secular Jew with a name change is - and blacks are obviously different.

But my mother's experiences in Brixton in the late 1950s and early 60s (where she worked) show quite clearly that some parts of indigenous British society had few problems with obviously different ethnic groups.

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Bzzt again: White British (or if you prefer, White English). What I think you both mean is largest ethnic minority population.

[ 20. February 2013, 15:08: Message edited by: Albertus ]

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Saul the Apostle
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quote:
Originally posted by Albertus:
Bzzt again: White British (or if you prefer, White English). What I think you both mean is largest ethnic minority population.

Albertus,

yes.

Saul

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Sergius-Melli
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quote:
Originally posted by Rosa Winkel:
We in GB have a racist heritage.

To add to this, every country has a racist heritage (it's part and parcel of the tribe organisation we have developed as a species), and Rosa, you are most right about presenting Blyton in balance and context, especially since racism (in its form of slavery etc. etc.) is still prevelant today in so many countries and cultures in a fashion that far outstrips any racism of the white British of even 100 years ago.
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quote:
Originally posted by Mark Betts:
It might be worth noticing that gypsies haven't come under the PC radar yet - so it is still OK to hate them, if you want to.

I think the reason for this is the affect they have on property prices, so it is not economically viable to like them.

That isn't true. There's been a long-running debate about whether to say 'Roma', 'Romany', 'Traveller' etc.

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quote:
Originally posted by Mark Betts:
It might be worth noticing that gypsies haven't come under the PC radar yet - so it is still OK to hate them, if you want to. ...

It's because they are white and low class, only more so. When someone said how glad they were that society has become more tolerant than it used to be, I said that IMHO that isn't true.

It's more tolerant of gays, and feels obliged to be so about race. But it is acceptable to be openly offensive about chavs, the working classes and especially the shiftless, the sort of people Shameless is about, in a way that was beyond the pale fifty years ago.

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HenryT

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Enoch, I come from Scottish working class roots. My grandfather was a scaffy, and my grandmother was"in service" in a hotel, a chambermaid. They were exceeding sharp about those they considered shiftless, about fifty years ago.

[ 20. February 2013, 23:53: Message edited by: HenryT ]

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quote:
Originally posted by Sergius-Melli:
To add to this, every country has a racist heritage (it's part and parcel of the tribe organisation we have developed as a species), and Rosa, you are most right about presenting Blyton in balance and context, especially since racism (in its form of slavery etc. etc.) is still prevelant today in so many countries and cultures in a fashion that far outstrips any racism of the white British of even 100 years ago.

Towards the end of my Enid Blyton phase in childhood, I began to realise that I was the wrong nationality, ethnicity, and class to “be one of” the children whose adventures I so enjoyed. It didn't matter. I could still relate to the stories in the same way I related to any other stories about children far away, in another time and place. Enid Blyton's characters were portrayed as ordinary children (of their culture) – who made their lives important by impacting the adult world, solving mysteries that the adults couldn't solve.

Of course, we need to be aware of racism, but it seems to me that there is a lot of conflation of (1) unthinking and non-malevolent ethnocentricism with (2) active bigotry and hatred of other races. There are people who make a living from refusing to accept that there can be any shades of grey (no pun intended) in race relations.

Jessica Mitford was the daughter of an English aristocrat. She became a Communist, then migrated to America. Looking back on her childhood in 1960, she described her father's ethnocentricism thus:

quote:
According to my father, outsiders included not only Huns, Frogs, Americans, blacks and all other foreigners, but also other people's children, the majority of my older sisters' acquaintances, almost all young men – in fact, the whole teeming population of the earth's surface, except for some, though not all, of our relations and a very few tweeded, red-faced country neighbours to whom my father had for some reason taken a liking. In a way, he was not 'prejudiced' in the modern sense. Since the thirties, this term has come to mean the focusing of passionate hatred against a selected race or creed; the word 'discrimination' has even become almost synonymous with prejudice. My father did not 'discriminate'; in fact he was in general unaware of distinctions between different kinds of foreigners. When one of our cousins married an Argentinian of pure Spanish descent, he commented; “I hear that Robin's married a black.”
I'm reminded of an incident which occurred in an office in Hackney. A new staff member, not from Hackney, put in a grievance against a Caucasian staff member from Hackney for having made a racist comment (“I can't tell you girls apart when you change your hairstyles every week.”) The reaction of the other black staff members (all from Hackney) was fury at the newcomer in defence of the perpetrator: “so what if she said something racist, she don't mean no 'arm by it, she's one of us.” The Caucasian staff member's words, technically, were racist – but the staff member's attitude towards, and relationship with, her colleagues, was not.

[ 21. February 2013, 06:05: Message edited by: LucyP ]

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Saul the Apostle
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Lucy P said:

''Jessica Mitford was the daughter of an English aristocrat. She became a Communist, then migrated to America. Looking back on her childhood in 1960, she described her father's ethnocentricism thus:


''According to my father, outsiders included not only Huns, Frogs, Americans, blacks and all other foreigners, but also other people's children, the majority of my older sisters' acquaintances, almost all young men – in fact, the whole teeming population of the earth's surface, except for some, though not all, of our relations and a very few tweeded, red-faced country neighbours to whom my father had for some reason taken a liking. In a way, he was not 'prejudiced' in the modern sense. Since the thirties, this term has come to mean the focusing of passionate hatred against a selected race or creed; the word 'discrimination' has even become almost synonymous with prejudice. My father did not 'discriminate'; in fact he was in general unaware of distinctions between different kinds of foreigners. When one of our cousins married an Argentinian of pure Spanish descent, he commented; “I hear that Robin's married a black.''

..................................................


Thank you for that quote. Informative.

Mitford's account of her father (1930s?), exactly sums up, in perhaps at the extreme end of the spectrum, the predominant view of white middle and upper class English men (and to a degree women) of the 1930s.

Why not look at the ''white flight'' tendencies of the white English today; it may not be called white flight, but that is what it is.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21511904

Now the raw data has to be interpreted, BUT there is a real hard core thing, which perhaps exists in all of us, the desire to live amongst those of our tribe and kin.

Yes I know I will get an opposite view from Henry in Tower Hamlets saying how he is thrilled to be living in multi cultural London. Overall the evidence points contra.

Blyton et al were creatures of their time and her views were not unusual.

Saul

[ 21. February 2013, 07:25: Message edited by: Saul the Apostle ]

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Enoch
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quote:
Originally posted by LucyP:
... I'm reminded of an incident which occurred in an office in Hackney. A new staff member, not from Hackney, put in a grievance against a Caucasian staff member from Hackney for having made a racist comment (“I can't tell you girls apart when you change your hairstyles every week.”) The reaction of the other black staff members (all from Hackney) was fury at the newcomer in defence of the perpetrator: “so what if she said something racist, she don't mean no 'arm by it, she's one of us.” The Caucasian staff member's words, technically, were racist – but the staff member's attitude towards, and relationship with, her colleagues, was not.

I don't think that's racist. You could make the same comment about young white girls and their hairstyles. Most of us have thought it, but you have to be female to get away with saying it. Changing colour (of hair, not skin) can make somebody look completely different.

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Hawk

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quote:
Originally posted by Doc Tor:
quote:
Originally posted by Saul the Apostle:
Blyton's views on blacks, gypsies and the ''lower orders'' were all par for the course at the time.

This needs more nuance.

Being bigoted against blacks, gypsies etc could certainly pass in polite company with approving comment. But it was far from being universal, even in white, middle-class society.

That's no more nuance than before. There seems to be an astonishingly simplistic view of Blyton being portrayed by her detractors, so far that I doubt any of them have read many of her books beyond the golliwog ones.

Blyton was bigoted in the sense that she did not use her childrens books to overturn social conventions of her time. She wasn't a radical. The social conventions weren't however the un-nuanced 'foreigners, gypsys and poor people are bad'. There is no sign of that in her books, despite the repeated unsubstantiated allegations of her overeager detractors.

Blyton indeed saw in her society, and reflected in her books, the idea of different classes as 'having their place', so even when the children in her books made friends with a working class child, and the friendship was protrayed as perfectly okay, there were still social conventions that had to be obeyed, such as the working class friend eating in the kitchen with the cook rather than at the dining table with the family.

This seems extraordinary to us now but at the time this wouldn't have cast any aspersions on the moral character of the poor child, or presented them as worse than the genteel children, it was just how society was ordered, and few people saw any issue with this at the time, including the lower classes. But apart from these hints of existing societal structures, the children generally get on very well with all classes alike, neither rich or poor being presented as universally 'bad'.

Blyton's attitude to gypsy's was that of one who didn't know anything about gypsies, of course. She took her knowledge from generally accepted beliefs and literary tropes of her day. But those tropes were not simple 'all gypsies are bad'. They were considered rough and ready, but also quite romantic figures at times. If you read a good quantity of her books, rather than cherry-picking a few quotes out of context, then you'll soon see that gypsies and circus people are a varied mixture of people.

I remember in Five go off in a Caravan for instance, the children are initially suspicious of the strange and hostile circus folk pitched nearby, who are equally suspicious of the 'posh' kids. Yet when they get to know each other they make fast friends. There are surly characters, violent characters, and bad characters among them, but there are also friendly, wise, and good characters, just like everyone else.

I haven't read the books for some time I admit. But from my memories of them, I don't think Blyton was racist at all, even by modern standards. What astonishes me most about her books is actually the lack of fear of the 'other' that is found in them. The children are happy to make friends with groups of strangers they meet, poor, or rich, in ways we wouldn't dream of in our fearful, insular modern world. In the Farm trilogy for instance, the children meet Tammylan the Hermit, an exceptionally wise and good man who lives in rough squalor nearby to their house. Nowadays we would phone the police to move such a squalid tramp away from our children, but in Blyton's world he is presented as a romanticised, wonderful figure who teaches the children about nature and caring for the world around them.

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Posts: 1739 | From: Oxford, UK | Registered: Nov 2008  |  IP: Logged
Tubbs

Miss Congeniality
# 440

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quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
I have never read anything by Enid Blyton, but I loved 'Little Black Sambo' as a child.

As I saw it, Sambo came out on top of his encounter with the tigers. They tigers behaved foolishly, and Sambo's behavior was intelligent.

It never occurred to me that this was a put-down of dark-skinned people. I saw it as a story in which a child outwits dangerous animals.

Moo

Ironically, Bannerman wrote her books to promote good race relations and improve people's knowledge of Indian culture. All the books focus on the intelligence and ingenuity of the main character. Then the term Sambo got hi-jacked by racists and turned into an insult.

Blyton's slightly different. Her books were a great read when I was the right age, but they are full of casual racism and sexism ... Like much of the literature of the time. Tin-Tin has already been mentioned, but other literature of the time is similar. There's some amazing Rubert the Bear illustrations ... And some of the Willard Price books aren't all that.

I'm not sure what's worse, Blyton's attitudes or the over-reaction to them now. They were acceptable then, but not now. Maybe it's better to acknowledge that and have a discussion than book banning. Bearing in mind that the next generation wil judge some of our acceptable prejudices equally harshly.

Tubbs

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"It's better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it up and remove all doubt" - Dennis Thatcher. My blog. Decide for yourself which I am

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Saul the Apostle
Shipmate
# 13808

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The festival is going ahead it seems......

http://www.buckinghamshireadvertiser.co.uk/south-buckinghamshire-news/local-buckinghamshire-advertiser-news/2013/02/21/beacon sfield-blyton-festival-goes-ahead-despite-racism-allegations-82398-32853098/

Like many have said Blyton was of her time. I can only say when I read her books the adventures seemed remote, somehow unattainable but they were fiction of course.

It appears much of anything deemed offensive (like golliwogs and the n word) have all now been removed.

I certainly won't be rushing to Beaconsfield. I wonder how many black and ethnic minority folk either read her books and how many will they be trooping off to Beaconsfield for lashings of cream, butter and warm scones?

Saul the Apostle.

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"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."

Posts: 1772 | From: unsure | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged
womanspeak
Shipmate
# 15394

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I read all the Noddy's and progressed to read every Famous Five and Secret Seven book I could get my hands. I also loved the Naughtiest Girl in the School books - all by Blyton. I did have a gollywog in the 50's but I don't remember playing with him.

But now I am quilter who cannot understand the fashion of gollywog quilts. The gollywog is obviously an unacceptable image for children's quilts and accessories. One hopes that those who design and use these images are ignorant of the dark past of racism and slavery. However if they are just ignorant then providing such information should work. But discussions at my quilt guild have fallen on too many deaf ears, and use of this cultural artifact remains as misguided as was its production in the first half of the 20th century.

Are gollywogs still a decorative image used in the U.S. - one hopes not!

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from the bush

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