04 April 2011

When the revolution comes, the teddy-bear will be the first against the wall




I’ll admit that I’ve been lazy, but that ends now. I have a shelf of Enids to get through (and more coming in every week, not to mention the possibility of more lost Enids to play with), and a big red-dressed doll breathing down my neck.
So

Amelia Jane.

The text is double sized, there is an over-abundance of exclamation marks, and brownies are name checked in very the first paragraph. Enid has told you in 50 words that you are 5 years old and will be ready to swallow any pap that she deigns to tell you.This is a book for younger readers, dressed up to look like a novel (my version is a hard back thing of about 180 pages with about 100 words per page and an illustration every 3-4 pages).

This series of short stories was first published in Sunny Stories, EB’s magazine, then bundled up into a book in 1939 (there are three sequels, and a wanna-be sequel written by someone else). Europe was plunging once more into war and our Lady Enid was starting to work on securing enough printing paper as she could from as many publishers. So she cobbled together some stories about a big red doll in a nursery.

Who is Amelia Jane?

“This was Amelia Jane, a big, long-legged doll with an ugly face, a bright red frock, and black curls. She hadn’t come from a shop, like the others, but had been made at home. Shop-toys nearly always have good manners, and know how to behave themselves – but Amelia Jane, not being a shop-toy, had no manners at all, and didn’t care what she said or did!” (page 1)

Oh dear, boys and girls. AJ does have some problems. She’s a working class doll stuck in an upper-class world! She lives in the nursery of the house, and with all the references to the nanny, the nurse and the maids - well, it’s no wonder she’s an agent of anarchy. Disbarred from being either feminine or clever in one fell swoop, AJ is relegated to a grotesque caricature, the charity toy with delusions above her station.

Three things to look out for in this passage:

- Enid’s trick of making appearance indicative of character
- Enid’s insistence that institutionalisation is the only path to social success
- Enid's insistence on the maintenance of social class system, even in War-time England

So why is AJ so very naughty? Good question, I say. And there’s a simple, very Blyton answer: because she did not come from a store. You see, store bought toys all know how to behave, but Amelia Jane was made. Enid’s love of institutionalisation runneth over, subtly indoctrinating those impressionable minds as to the joys of hair brush spankings and behaviour modification. I've spoken before about Enid and brainwashing children - she's just getting in early with AJ.

Further, Enid’s indoctrination has a hidden motive. Note that it’s the store bought toys that are acceptable. Enid is instilling a sense of consumerism in her young audience, which is self serving – particularly as she had a living to make from selling things to children. There was her books, the newsletters, magazines, two fan clubs ... so she had to get the little darlings to go all Aldous Huxley - you know, ‘spend don’t mend’ and all that. I think it’s a reasonable argument to make that all the evils of advertising to children can be laid at our lady Enid’s door. She raised, in effect, a generation of institutionalised spenders.

Amelia Jane is stuck in the middle of all this fascist web of ideology and indoctrination. She feels the effects of the regime, bowing to its harsh dictates from time to time, feeling the heat of its wrath (being sent to Coventry is a severe blow to anyone...). And yet! Time after time she manages to fight her way through the mire of the moral majority and return to her true calling of exposing the hypocrisy of the nursery by reducing it to anarchy ...

What I do like about this story is that, to the invisible children who own the toys in the nursery, Amelia seems to be a prime favourite. She gets played with a lot, is taken on holidays, and generally is shown favour. I love this, as it shows good taste on their part. They are unswayed by appearance or any idea of consumerism. This does seem to not fit with the story, as in a true Enid story, AJ would have been a present from your working class grandmother (whom your social climbing mother takes good care not to associate with) made by her own work-roughened hands.

I also adore Amelia Jane. She sees the self-righteous toys of the nursery and lifts two seamed fingers firmly in their direction. If there were to be a revolution in Blytonia, Amelia Jane would be the Che of that land. Truly she would. And then ... there would be blood ...

7 comments:

  1. I only have the vaguest of recollections about the Amelia Jane stories - something about someone getting sunstroke, possibly - so it was quite fascinating to read this. It's intriguing to see Amelia Jane dismissed as a second-rate, home-made thing, yet given the major role of the story. It's almost as though Enid had a subversive element lurking in the back of her psyche, fighting against everything she sought to promulgate in her books. Awesome.

    Also, I am very excited to hear you're getting back into this blog. I always love reading what you write.

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  2. Oh I'm having thoughts and thoughts about dear Amelia ... I have a post in mind about the socio-political aspects of the nursery ... you can just read so much into the big ugly doll!

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  3. I never liked the Amelia Jane books, because I couldn't quite sympathise completely with any of the characters. I wanted to obey Enid and identify with the good toys, but they were so prosy and lecturing, and Amelia Jane was so vibrant and full of personality.

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  4. Amelia Jane is, in my opinion, one of Enid Blyton's best characters. She's just like a rebel, which is really fresh considering how boring most of Blyton's characters are.

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    1. And she's a TRUE rebel, which is fun, considering I'm currently going through "The naughtiest girl in School" and being very disillusioned with the almost non-existent level of naughtiness therein.

      Amelia Jane ROCKS!

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    2. Over two months after I posted that comment, I actually regret posting it now. While Blyton's characters aren't the most interesting ones in the world, most of them all have traits so 'boring' was the wrong word to use, and I know some of her characters who are very kind-hearted and I feel horrible for implying I have anything against those characters. I think the true reason why I like Amelia Jane is because, although she is a rebel and does bad things, she's able to see the error of her ways afterwards, and is able to make up for them. Of course, by the next chapter she's back to her old ways again, but still…

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