The Naughtiest Girl in School
I bought a couple of Blyton’s books a couple of years ago because I thought that I might have missed out not having had the chance to read them when I was a child. I never got around to reading them until one Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago.
The books all seem a bit formulaic and I had to constantly remind myself that they were written at a totally different time in a rather different society. Nevertheless I couldn’t shake the conflicting feelings about the book’s premise that girls must behave in an obedient, proper and polite way at all times. My inner feminist was screeching indignantly.
I don’t negate that it would be desirable if kids were taught to be polite, because there’s quite a bit of rudeness going around these days. I wonder, though, whether politeness and gentleness can really be “taught” or whether they are rather picked up by mimicking others. I reject the notion of a uniform society, no matter how polite. Being different, being individual should be celebrated in kids as well as in adults.
The story of little Elizabeth’s struggle to be naughty and horrid to achieve her goal of being sent home from Whyteleafe Boarding School drew me in despite myself, but it was more of a detached scientific reading, a fascination with a world that no longer exists in the depicted way if ever it did. At first I thought that I wouldn’t be able to get used to the archaic language, but it didn’t bother me that much after a while.
I am not really familiar with whole literary sub-genre of boarding school setting, but I always had a soft spot for it, glorifying life at boarding school (I did, obviously, never attend one myself). I only owned one or two books set in the BS environment when I was a kid and I adored them.
I seriously doubt the appeal of this book to young children today. There are a few points in its favour:
- - the need for a best friends to share joy and worry with
- - the desire to do well in school, to please parents and teachers
- - the wish to be loved, to be surrounded by the people and objects one loves
- - the ability to easily adapt to new surroundings
There are, however, as many points I’d argues make the book inaccessible for today’s youth. Just to mention two:
- - the old-fashioned and dated language
- - the almost tech-free setting (sports, music, painting, and dancing as opposed to video games, internet, mobile phones, etc.). Then again, the Harry Potter books worked fine without technical gadgetry, but they had spells and potions to counter that lack (not to mention, a lot more suspense with the fight of good vs evil and far more action).
The whole book is extremely feeling-based. The most important thing is to pass the judgement and gain the appraisal of others.
If one were inclined to do so, one could break the entire novel into lessons:
- the pleasure of sharing as opposed to hoarding everything to oneself
- the good deed of saying “I’m sorry”
- pride is wrong and will only hurt oneself
- strength lies within one’s ability to change one’s mind
And so on and so forth. The almost socialist self-governance of the pupils amused me. Of course, this would only work if the world (or a school) were populated by as perfect role models as portrayed here, who’d never abuse the power given to them, and we all know that the world doesn’t work that way (not even in a boarding school micro cosmos).