English Heritage labels Enid Blyton’s work ‘racist and xenophobic’

Enid Blyton’s books have been linked "racism and xenophobia" in updated Blue Plaque information produced by English Heritage. 

The heritage charity administers the Blue Plaque scheme which has installed more than 950 signs in London commemorating historical figures. 

English Heritage vowed to review all plaques for links to “contested” figures following Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, stating that objects “associated with Britain’s colonial past are offensive to many”.

Blyton’s work has now been linked to racism in updated information on the Famous Five author following the review of historic legacies.

A blue plaque marks the former home of Enid Blyton, in Chessington, Surrey. An online version of the plaque on an English Heritage app states Blyton’s work has been criticised 'for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit'

The prolific writer composed over 700 books after beginning attempting her first work in 1922 at 207 Hook Road in south west London’s Chessington, where she worked as a governess, and where in 1997 a blue plaque was installed in her honour.

Information on the plaque provided online and on an English Heritage app states Blyton’s work has been criticised “for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit”.

Visitors using the official app to learn about blue plaques they encounter in London will be told about the charges against Blyton’s work.

These include the 1966 book The Little Black Doll, with its main character "Sambo", having racist elements because the eponymous doll is only accepted by his owner “once his ‘ugly black face’ is washed ‘clean’ by rain”.

English Heritage’s updated information also cites the occasion her publisher Macmillan refused to publish her story The Mystery That Never Was over its “faint but unattractive touch of old-fashioned xenophobia”, as foreigners characters were framed as bad in the book.

Claims that Blyton was “not a very well regarded writer”, as suggested by the  Royal Mint committee for a commemorative coin in 2016, have also been added to the information.

Prior to this update in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests the information simply outlined Blyton’s career, which began when she wrote the poetry collection Child Whispers while working as a governess for Horace and Gertrude Thompson. 

She went on to be a prolific writer of best-sellers, including hit series Secret Seven, the Famous Five, the Faraway Tree, Malory Towers, and Noddy before her death in 1968.

The vast bulk of her hundreds of publications were produced before 1960, and certain features like the “Golliwogs” in Noddy have been edited out in later editions to become “Goblins”.

Enid Blyton (left) with her husband Kenneth Waters and daughters Imogen and Gillian (far right) at their home in Beaconsfield

Credit: George Konig/Getty Images

Her work continues to be read, and in a Nielsen BookScan list of the top 20 bestselling children’s writers of last ten years, Blyton remained in 11th place ahead of many modern competitors.

English Heritage notes in its new information that some “have argued that while these charges can’t be dismissed, her work still played a vital role in encouraging a generation of children to read”.

The charity’s contextualising of Blyton follows as part of a raft of projects undertaken in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, including a review of all figures commemorated by the Blue Plaque scheme.

Anna Eavis, English Heritage’s curatorial director, said in June 2020: “We need to ensure that the stories of those people already commemorated are told in full, without embellishment or excuses.”

The charity said at the time that its priority was to add more information about those “whose actions are contested or seen today as negative”.

The charity has undertaken work to improve representation of groups historically marginalised by the scheme which was founded in 1866, with its first plaque being dedicated to French emperor Napoleon III.

Plaques honouring BAME historical figures have since been unveiled, following calls from the charity’s former trustee Prof David Olusoga to diversify the scheme.

Plaques, intended to highlight historical properties, must first be nominated by the public before being evaluated by an English Heritage panel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *