Giving Enid Blyton Another Chance: The St. Clare’s Series

The Twins at St. Clare’s and The O’Sullivan Twins
Enid Blyton
Originally published 1941 and  1942

My history with these books
As mentioned previously, I really loved Enid Blyton’s book as a child, but I hadn’t read the St. Clare’s series. After my unpleasant re-reading of The Secret Mountain, I was curious to see if I would have similar reactions to Blyton’s other books.

My thoughts
There are six books in the original St. Clare’s series, and three an additional books were added to the series in recent years (with a new author; Blyton was prolific, but not from beyond the grave). The books take place at a British boarding school for girls. I read the first two books in the series, The Twins at St. Clare’s and The O’Sullivan Twins.

As is fairly obvious from the titles, the first two books focus on twins Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan, who are starting at a new boarding school. The girls have recently left another, seemingly more posh school, and they’re not happy about having to attend St. Clare’s, which they see as beneath them. The twins are terrible snobs, and things don’t go very well for them at first at their img_2819new school. Their attitudes don’t endear the twins to their new classmates, and they find the schoolwork much harder than at their old school.

The girls eventually figure out that the school isn’t so bad, and once they stop being so awful, they quickly makes friends. In the second book, it’s a new term, they twins are quite popular, and we see them making friends (and enemies) with several new students in the school.

I enjoyed these books. They have a sort of old-fashioned, pip pip cheerio British quality, and I felt very nostalgic reading about a boarding school, which was always a favorite topic for me as a child. The editions I read are revised, so there wasn’t anything offensive in them (except for some cringe-inducing attitudes about class). I’m not sure whether the original versions had any offensive content.

Something that struck me as interesting is how young the girls seem. Isabel and Pat are said to be 14-and-a-half at the beginning of the first book, and the older students apparently range in age up to 18, but everyone seems much younger. If their age hadn’t been specified, I would have assumed the twins were 10 or 11. Teenage hormones don’t appear to be in evidence, and except for a brief mention of one girl having a pimple, there’s no signs of puberty. I suppose their teenage hormonal urges have been channeled into playing pranks on their teachers and torturing each other. The reading level of these books seems more appropriate for maybe age 9 to 12, so it’s fine that the girls seem younger.

As mentioned above, there are some class issues I found a bit hard to take. One example is the treatment of a character named Sheila. Everyone finds Sheila annoying because she “puts on airs.” They later learn that Sheila was born poor, but her family is now very wealthy, and she puts on airs because she’s insecure. Pat says, “But how awfully silly of Sheila to pretend like that! If she’d told us honestly that her people had made a lot of money, and how pleased she was to be able to come to St. Clare’s, we’d have understood and liked her for it. But all that silly conceit and pretence!”

So, poor Sheila’s only acceptable if she bows and scrapes and tells every0ne how lucky she is to be at St. Clare’s? Ugh.

I found the second book a bit less enjoyable than the first one. Most of the characters exhibit some form of mean girl behavior, and there’s a tacit acceptance of the attitude that it’s ok to be mean to certain people because they’re “sneaks.” There are two girls who both behave very badly, Margery and Erica. Margery is good at sports and is somehow seen as worthy despite being pretty awful, while Erica is loathed by her classmates and shunned for her bad behavior, which isn’t really that different from Margery’s. Both girls seems to be troubled, but Margery ends up winning acceptance, while Erica is banished. There’s an odd scene where the headmistress asks one of the other students for advice on how to deal with Erica and then takes the student’s advice to send Erica away.

But overall, I liked these books, and I will probably read the rest of the series at some point. I think reading Enid Blyton is always going to be somewhat problematic, but I’m glad this experience didn’t leave my jaw on the floor like re-reading The Secret Mountain did.

Does it hold up?
Yes, but there are aspects that will seem dated to kids. For example, the twins have a friend named Lucy, whose family loses all their money. Since they can no longer afford to pay her tuition, Lucy plans to leave school and go to work as a secretary. It’s odd enough that she can legally leave school that young, but the idea that anyone would hire a 14-year-old who hasn’t finished high school seems nuts to a modern reader.

Is there any objectionable content?
Just the aforementioned class issues.

Can you read it aloud?
Yes, the books are not too long, and the chapters are all 10 pages or less.

Would I want my kid to read it?
I wouldn’t have any objections.

The revised editions are still in print, and although not published in the US, they’re easy enough to find online (I bought the whole set, including the three new books on ebay). Older editions are harder to find, but I’ve seen used copies of the 70s paperbacks show up on ebay. The revised versions have very cute covers.

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