MALORY TOWERS FEVER

The next few pages are really only going to be of interest to people who have read the Malory Towers series. Luckily, that would seem to be generations of girls. Only a few fortunate males have read these books though, and not, by and large, when they were young enough for the reading to have done them much good. No wonder, with inputs like these, the female gender has been going from strength to strength, relative to the male, since the Second World War! Come to think of it, if you’re a boy (or a man) and you haven’t read Enid Blyton’s books about boarding school life for girls, then perhaps you should stay tuned over the next few pages.

Enid’s daughter Gillian attended Benenden School from autumn 1945 to summer 1949. This coincided with the writing of the Malory Towers series. To what extent was Gillian’s juvenile experience made use of by her author mother? Is the explosive but sociable and fair-minded Darrell based on Gillian? Has the Darrell Waters of real life been transformed into the Darrell Rivers of Enid’s art?

Gillian died in 2007, just before she turned 76. And when her Blyton books and memoribilia were sold at auction in 2010, Gillian’s five-year diary covering the years 1946 to 1950 was bought by Seven Stories in Newcastle who have made the diary accessible to the public. I’ve dragged myself away from my Tayside computer a couple of times in order to consult the Seven Stories archive in general and Gillian’s diary in particular. The image of the diary below is from the catalogue of Hartley’s, the auctioneers. On the left hand page, there is space for Gillian to record what happened to her on April 19, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1950. Does the book as a whole contain new insight into Malory Towers? I can only urge you to stick around and find out.

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Also sold at auction were two sets of Malory Towers books that Gillian had got hold of. The first consisted of books specially bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe on behalf of the publisher, Methuen, and originally presented to Enid Blyton. No doubt with feelings of awe, as Methuen were also the publishers of the Mystery series. These presentation copies are likely to have been shelved at Green Hedges until Enid’s death. The five books (
Upper Fourth at Malory Towers was not present) were sold at auction for £800. At the time of writing, (August 23, 2012) these books are for sale from Lucius Books for £2,500. The image below shows what you would get for your money (together with the fabulous associations):

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A second set of Malory Towers first editions was sold at the auction of Gillian’s effects, all in dust-jackets, this time for £820.
First Term was missing from this set and Upper Fourth was duplicated. These were Gillian’s own copies, at least one of which had been owned by her since it was published in 1947 when she was 16. We know this because it has been inscribed by Enid, as shown below. The curved lines below the signature are part of the front endpaper decoration. That is, a drawing of billowing clouds above Malory Towers, evoking the long summer days of childhood.

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What wonderful gifts from Enid to Gillian! First, the very best of education that money could buy, at Benenden School for Girls. Second, a series of books that echoed Gillian’s progress through the years, preserving something of her gilded youth for posterity. Third... no, that’s enough priceless gifts to be going on with. It’s time to consider the Malory Towers books, volume by volume...