I. Reviews & Criticism 1906-1945

Prior to 1949, children's books were ignored by the literary critics, and the vast majority of newspaper and magazine book reviewers confined themselves to brief descriptions of the novels concerned. An exception was The Times Literary Supplement (TLS), which contained an annual review of children's books directed at Christmas gift buyers, either within the main pages or as part of a separate "Christmas Gift Book Supplement" (which presumably appeared or not depending on advertising revenue). The Bookman, an annual publicity journal from Hodder & Stoughton launched in 1891, also included a review of girls' school stories from December 1896, both by Hodder & Stoughton and by other publishers, but this was aimed at a more specialist market led by booksellers. It is the TLS, then, which provides the most useful record of critical attitudes to the genre in the first half of the century, since it is the TLS which is most likely to have influenced public opinion towards girls' school stories up until the end of the Second World War.

In 1905, the year before Angela Brazil's The Fortunes of Philippa was published, there were no school stories included in 15 December's "Christmas Books - Stories for Girls" (p448) despite the fact that the genre was already established. The books selected for review were: L.T. Meade's A Bevy of Girls, Wilful Cousin Kate and Dumps, A Plain Girl (L.T. Meade wrote many of the early girls' school stories, although these were not among them); "Mr Henty" 's A Soldier's Daughter; Annie Fellows Johnston's The Little Colonel in Arizona; Bessie Marchant's The Queen of Shindy Flat and A Daughter of the Ranges; Mabel Earle's Molly and Her Brothers; Mrs George Corbett's Little Miss Robinson Crusoe; M. Bramston's Rosamund's Girls; Evelyn Sharp's Micky; and Raymond Jacberns' Crab Cottage. Judging by the reviews, the two most prominent themes in the books were submission to the needs of the family at home and adventure abroad, reflecting the books' publication during the heyday of the Empire. The reviews are largely limited to enthusiastic descriptions of the plots, since all of the books are recommended to readers.

By 1910, four years after the publication of Angela Brazil's The Fortunes of Philippa, there are still no school stories included in the "Tales for Girls" section of the "Special Christmas Gift Book Supplement" (5 December, p19). The section is divided into "In Foreign Lands", which consists mostly of reviews of adventure stories, and "Home Stories", which refers to books with a domestic theme as well as a British setting. Included among these latter is Angela Brazil's Bosum Friends, which is described as "none the less wholesome because the moral is not so obvious . . . a seaside story with plenty of go in it". "Wholesome" stories were regarded as being particular suitable for girls, and a "wholesome" theme was to be a hallmark of a "good" book.

At this point, though, the girls' book market was still being developed, and there were relatively few books being published which were aimed specifically at girls. This is commented on in the boys' book review section, which is titled "The Eternal Boy". (The title may refer to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan (1904), which was republished in book form the following year, as well as reflecting a readership which included adults.) The section begins:


This "flood" includes school stories, and the TLS devotes a separate section to "The Boy at School". This begins with the comment that:

The reviewer (all of the TLS reviewers were anonymous) goes on to recommend Ralph Simmond's The School Mystery, E.G. Protheroe's Nobby's Luck, Percy J. Barrow's Cornered, Harold Avery's Off the Wicket, John Finnemore's Teddy Lester's Chums, J. Harwood's True All Through and Father R.P. Garrold's A Fourth Form Boy - which "in some ways is more interesting than any of the above . . . partly because it is about a Roman Catholic school, and partly because it has about it a good deal of the real school atmosphere". Judging school stories, both for boys and girls, by how closely they imitated real life was to be the central theme of criticism throughout the century.

During the following five years, publishers began to obey "the laws of supply and demand", and more and more books for girls were published, mostly written by women. By 1915, girls' school stories had become the most popular form of reading for girls, and this is reflected in the TLS review of that year. It is perhaps significant that the country had then been at war for more than twelve months, given that the enclosed world of the school was one of the few where warfare could convincingly be excluded. In any case, the "Virginibus" section of 9 December 1915 (p462) opens with girls' school stories, which then take up half of the section. The books reviewed are Elsie Oxenham's At School with the Roundheads, L.T. Meade's The Daughter of a Soldier and The Darling of the School, Angela Brazil's The Jolliest Term on Record and For the Sake of the School and May Baldwin's Phyllis McPhilemy.

Oxenham's book is praised as making "very good reading aloud for people of all sorts [i.e .boys and girls] who are under fifteen", since it features boys and girls being educated together (albeit for only a term). The belief that "good" books were those which could be enjoyed by both sexes was to grow stronger as the century progressed. L.T. Meade, in contrast, is dismissed as being unlikely ever to appeal to boys, and as producing undesirable reading for girls.

L.T. Meade, never considered to be among the modern genre writers, was obviously regarded as outdated by this time. It is interesting to note the mention of doctors, since doctors are the major male characters in Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series. Given that the supposedly damaging effects on health had been used as an argument against girls entering higher education in the 1870s and 1880s; the stress which real girls' schools accordingly laid on protecting girls' health; the fact that in reality doctors would be the males most likely to enter a girls' school; and the part which accidents and near-death experiences play in the genre; the constant presence of doctors in L. T. Meade's books is hardly surprising. More telling is the reference to the "panting atmosphere", with its associations with both sexuality and gasping for air; the portrayal of passionate relationships between girls and women which had been acceptable to Meade's earlier readers and reviewers was now regarded as undesirable.

This is highlighted by the way in which Brazil's books are praised for containing:

"Wholesome" content was regarded as being particularly suitable for middle-class girls, who were supposed to be as sheltered as possible from the outside world. Wholesome girls were "earnest" about their work - this suggests that their studies were not to be taken seriously in themselves - and expended their energy in team games and nature study rather than in emotional friendships. Note that the books are also praised for the way in which they reflect "reality".

Despite the large numbers of girls' books being published by 1915, the genre of "School Stories" was still taken to be synonymous with boys' school stories, and this pattern was to continue for the rest of the century. The title is accordingly assigned to the boys' books section. By now it was recognised, in terms of the boys' books, that:

Having reviewed R.S. Warren's Smith's Week, E.M.Green's The Damper Boys, Gunby Hadath's The Outlaws of St Martyn's and Sheepy Wilson, John Finnemore's The Outlaw of the Shell, Harold Avery's The Chartered Company and J.Barnett's The Skipper of the XI, the section concludes that:


It is most likely that the "others" referred to are adult men, since the readers seem to be expected to identify with the reviewer in the experiences which they "recognise". It is highly interesting to note here that the hallmark of a "good school story" for boys is not taken to be "realism" alone. Instead, according to the reviewer, the story's appeal lies in including enough recognisable experiences to draw the reader in, but then eschewing "realism" for "convention" - i.e. genre conventions - in order to represent age-old themes such as the battle between good and evil in a way which ensures that readers can enjoy the stories "without pain". This is a very convincing analysis of the reasons for the contemporary popularity of the boys' genre amongst boys and men, particularly given that it was written in wartime.

As the war progressed, the popularity of girls' school stories continued to increase, along with the number of girls now being educated in schools (this latter fact was, of course, related to the effects of the war). By the end of the war the genre was well-established, and by 1920 the "Girls' Books" section occupies a whole page of the TLS of 9 December, with almost two out of the three columns devoted to "School Stories for Girls" (p832). Only ten years after the reviewer had deplored the relatively small number of books being produced for girls, the genre was now facing criticism because of the sheer volume of books being produced, and the fact that the content of each appeared to be very similar.


(It is important to remember here that, ten years beforehand, the number of boys' books being published was referred to as a "flood", so the girls' books are not being treated more harshly than the boys' books in this respect.) The reviewer goes on to describe the plot of Brazil's The Princess of the School, which:

May Wynne is described as "apt to place her small heroines in the midst of highly coloured adventures in which their nerve and presence of mind rise to heights which are unreal", while the hope is expressed of both Wynne's books and Christine Chaundler's Just Gerry and The Right St John's that:

It is interesting to note here that the "real" elements of the story are praised while "improbability" is criticised; yet this is precisely the blend which was noted as making a successful book by the reviewer of boys' school stories in 1915. Girl characters are evidently unwelcome when they take on the heroic roles in "highly coloured adventures" necessary to the representation within fiction of the battle between dark and light, but which are reserved by society for boys and men. As a result, girls' school stories cannot be viewed as a "hieratic form of art". It is also clear that, unlike the boys' stories, the books do not recall memories of the reviewer's own school days: it seems likely that the reviewer is a man; but in any case a woman would be far less likely to have been to school herself. And, as in 1915, there is a scornful tone in the reference to the girls' lessons, with the reference to French and nature studies suggesting a view of girls' education as teaching "accomplishments" and hobbies rather than fitting them for the workplace.

If "good" books for girls were "realistic", though, certain subjects were regarded as being unfit for girl readers. For example, the reviewer comments of Dorita Fairlie Bruce's The Senior Prefect, the first of the Dimsie series and later to be retitled Dimsie Goes to School, that:

May Baldwin's A Riotous Term at St Norbert's is criticised for being:

"Good" books, then, are expected to provide a "good" example and influence with clear moral guidelines.

"Bad" books are those which contain "sentimental" elements, although they are criticised primarily for being a dated portrayal of girls' schooling rather than purely being "unrealistic". For example, of Roseleen at School the reviewer notes:

The continuing denigration of "sentimental" portrayals of school life is telling. Close emotional relationships between girls were perceived as encouraging lesbianism and women's independence from men. As Auchmuty points out: "Feminist scholars assign the beginning of systematic repression of women's friendships to the 1920s, and there is much evidence to support this view." It is also interesting to note that "breathless" is used here as a positive adjective to describe Brazil's books, whereas five years previously, "panting" had been used as a criticism of L.T. Meade's. Is this because being breathless denotes an inability to act, whereas panting suggests active sexuality?

On 8 December 1921, the "Books for Girls" section again occupies an entire page. It opens with another criticism of the sheer volume of books being produced in the genre.

The size of the genre and the similarities between individual books was to become another constant theme of criticism. This is in sharp contrast to the tone of the 1915 review of boys' school stories, where it was recognised that the genre has its "stock characters and . . . set scenes . . . the mode of representation is so fixed that it would be sacrilege to introduce a novelty". The tone of the 1921 review may also have been due, though, to the fact that the reviewer was forced to read every example of the genre published in a particular year, which might well have been sufficient to deter even the most enthusiastic schoolgirl reader.

It is noticeable that "School Stories" take up less than a third of the 1921 section, being considered between "Australian Stories" and "Unattached Girls", which indicates that the girls' book market had now widened. The school stories reviewed include Angela Brazil's A Fortunate Term and Loyal to the School, Dorothea Moore's The New Prefect, Christine Chaundler's The Fourth Form Detectives, Dorita Fairlie Bruce's Dimsie Moves Up, Doris Pocock's Margery Finds Herself and Elsie Oxenham's The Girls of the Abbey School.

A lack of respect for the women who wrote school stories was also to become a recurring feature of criticism. Once again, "good" books are judged by their "realism" and lack of "sentimentality". In Loyal to the School, "Lesbia's struggles to subdue her ardent impulses are sympathetically handled and the sketches of other characters are touched in with experience", while Moore's, Oxenham's and Bruce's books are also recommended. Dimsie (in Dimsie Moves Up) "is even more in the centre of the stage; but she is quite an entertaining little body, and, however unconventional in its activities, her 'Anti-Soppists' society is one to be cordially approved of". But in terms of "bad" - "unrealistic", "sentimental" or "soppy" - books, Pocock "errs on the side of extravagance", while "the girls at Miss E. Everett Green's Queen's Manor School . . . might well have had an 'anti-soppist' society of their own", and of Baldwin the reviewer writes that "perhaps she, too, should join Dimsie's society!"

On 7 December 1922 the reviewer yet again begins by commenting on the number of girls' school stories being published.

Books where girls receive "a great deal of limelight", then, are "rubbish". It should be noted that: "Miss Dorita Fairlie Bruce keeps her girls singularly fresh" in Dimsie Moves Up Again; Dimsie receives a great deal of attention in the course of the book, but never steps outside of a conventional female role. In contrast:

Christine Chaundler, in A Fourth Form Rebel and The Reformation of Dormitory Five, makes "little attempt at characterization", while "Miss Kathryn Rhodes's Schoolgirl Chums . . . belongs to the same category; it details the wearisome adventures of the usual high-spirited daughter of a V.C. father (there are so many V.C.s in these volumes) . . . "

Of the latter book, the reviewer concludes that "Those who like it can go on with it until page 240, but there will always be those who do not". Characterisation, along with a "realistic", "wholesome", non-"sentimental" portrayal of girls' lives, was to become the hallmark of quality for the TLS critics. For example, Angela Brazil's Monitress Merle is recommended as: "a rambling, wholesome story with as many turns as the Devonshire lands in which it is set".

On 29 November 1923, the reviewer notes that the choice of books for girls is continuing to widen, with the introduction of books set in the contemporary girls' movements of the Girl Guides and Camp Fire girls.

Books where girls have passionate friendships or act heroically are clearly shown by this statement to be "bad". For example, Dorita Fairlie Bruce's The Girls of St Bride's and Ethel Talbot's The Sport of the School "depend rather less for their interest upon school politics than upon the discovery of missing heiresses and disowned relatives", while "In Jean of the Fifth by Winifred Darch there is a 'Russian Spy' mystery which is hardly necessary to the interest of a story already full of lively schoolgirl incident".


It is interesting to note that the reviewer did find some school stories which met their own criteria.

Other school stories which the reviewer recommends include: Dorothea Moore's The Only Day Girl; Jessie L. Herbertson's Betsy-Go-Lucky ("sensible girls will enjoy it all the more because it is convincing"); Katherine Oldmeadow's Princess Charming ("It is a relief, by the way, to find a 'Princess Charming' who can attract her schoolfellows without making herself too much of a nuisance to her teachers!"); P.T. Hinkson's The Girls of Redlands ("We cannot quite believe in Irene . . . nor in Sir Terence, the picturesque ghost; but the story should be quite popular"); Nancy M. Hayes' Peg Runs Away to School ("it is rather a relief to find that . . . it is to a school which has 'earned a name for strictness and discipline'"); Christine Chaundler's Jan of the Fourth ("a book for the hockey girl") and Captain Cara; and Dorita Fairlie Bruce's Dimsie Among the Prefects ("this is a sequel to other adventures of 'Dimsie's', but all necessary explanations are introduced naturally into the early pages - a great virtue in sequels"). Christine Chaundler's Tomboy Toby "has a more connected plot and more unity of interest than the average", while "Conscientious senior girls who wish to quell an episode of sentimentality in their school should certainly read A Head Girl's Difficulties by Elinor Brent-Dyer", and Angela Brazil's Schoolgirl Kitty has "the added charm of an account of student life in Paris and a sketching party in Brittany - very well told and lifelike".

On 20 November 1924, the two columns which the TLS devotes to "School Stories for Girls" (p764) include the same themes as before. Too many books are being produced, and their content is too similar and too exaggerated with poor characterisation. Distinctions can be made between "good" books, which are wholesome, realistic and set a good example to readers, and "bad" books, which are sensational and/or sentimental and are a bad influence on readers, but at best the genre is a distraction from "better" reading, which means reading books which could be enjoyed by both genders. Last, but by no means least, "lady" authors should not be taken seriously; .

However, the question is left unanswered by the reviewer, who goes on to criticise May Baldwin's The Brilliant Girls of the School; Kathlyn Rhodes' Head of the House ("there are some very naughty girls . . . and it needs much tribulation to set them on the path of virtue and also the well-known expedient of desperate illness"); Constant Mackness' Miss Pickle (which "leads her readers into a very bog of sentimentality"); and Lilian Turner's Jill of the Fourth Form ("she would have us believe she has turned a spoilt baby into an heroic girl. But how does she tell of the change? 'Oh! throbbing tune, fraught with moments big as years,' she cries; and it is not a cry likely to appeal to the young").

Nancy Hayes' Fourth Form Invaders and Edna Lake's The Right Rowena, however, have "a definite thread of storytelling"; the latter, "though having a quite impossible plot, involving changed babies and a tell-tale mole on one shoulder, yet has some pleasant girls in it and some quite human teachers".

Josephine Elder's Erica Wins Through also receives the reviewer's approval, but Phyllis Mord's The Taming of Winifred is "a dull story" and "Not much else can be said of Mollie Hazeldene's Schooldays . . . by Miss Maude S. Forsey, which purports to be written by the Mollie of the title, but which bears on every page the stamp of a sophisticated hand".

The reviewer concludes that:


It is important to note here that the accompanying reviews of boys' school stories are more sympathetic. However, by now "good" books for boys are not only "realistic", but also embody "the public school ideal". Unlike the 1915 reviewer, the 1924 reviewer does not regard "sensational" books as being characteristic of the genre in representing the battle between light and dark.

Following this comment, there are sympathetic reviews of Frank Elias' The Two Captains of Texford, Gundy Hadath's Pulling His Weight, Against the Clock and His Highness, R.A.H. Goodyear's The Fifth Form at Beck House, Battle Royal School and Young Rockford, Richard Bird's The Liveliest Term at Templeton, Alfred Judd's The Mystery of Meldon School, Skelton Kuppord's Hammond's Hard Lines, Rowland Walker's Shandy at Ringmere School and The Rival Schools, Ernest Prothero's Boys of the Brigade and John Mowbray's The Way of the Weasel. None of the male authors who produced multiple volumes that year are criticised, as May Wynne had been, for publishing work which bore "the marks of machine make in a most deadening way".

In contrast, on 26 November 1925, the themes of the reviews of girls' school stories continue as before, with the reviewer now claiming the support of the readers' themselves.

Other books reviewed include E.L. Haverfield's The Discovery of Kate; Kathlyn Rhodes' School Girl Chums, Margaret Ironside's The Mysterious Something and Ethel Talbot's The Girls of the Rookery School and Neighbours at School - which are all described as reaching "the climax of absurdity in the way of Adventures (with a large A)"; and Edith Elias' Elsie Lockhart, Bessie Marchant's To Save Her School and By Honour Bound, Pamela Hinkson's Patsey at School and Dora Chapman's Betty Plays Up, which are all criticised for their "unreality . . . tinged with very unpleasant sentimentality".

It is interesting to note that "unpleasantly sentimental" writing is equated with a failure by the writers to develop into "grown-up people". This suggests a Freudian influence, with lesbians regarded as being in a stage of arrested development.

In contrast, "two of the most pleasant and readable of the school stories this year are not about boarding schools at all": Evelyn Smith's Val Forrest in the Fifth and Christine Chaundler's An Unofficial Schoolgirl. Day schools did, of course, feature in the genre before this, but were to become more common after the mid-1920s. It is probably that one reason why they were welcomed by the critics is the fact that girls returned home to their families at the end of the school day: parental influence could not be entirely excluded from the books; nor could the schools be portrayed as having a greater influence on their pupils than their domestic environment. Also praised is Josephine Elder's The Scholarship Girl - "even more pleasingly original and natural" - and:


Brent-Dyer was not to fare so well in the TLS again, though. By the late 1920s there had been a distinct change in the direction of the genre, with the authors themselves apparently accepting the justice of the past criticism. Accordingly, on 24 November 1927, the TLS reviewer notes that:

Similarly, in Josephine Elder's Thomasina Toddy "the different characters are all well described", while Christine Chaundler's Philippa's Family:

It is interesting to note that Chaundler's first book has a domestic theme, while the "good" girl in her second reforms the rest of the school.

Also recommended by the reviewer are Winifred Darch's Cicely Bassett, Patrol Leader, and with reservations Dorothea Moore's Brenda of Beech House ("it might be a waste of a Balkan princess to let her go through nothing but the ordinary experiences of school life") and Winifred Darch's Varvara Comes to England ("a pleasant and, on the whole, natural tale"). However, Christine Chaundler's The Chivalrous Fifth, A.Legion's The Three Helens and Elinor Brent-Dyer's A Thrilling Term at Janeways receive less enthusiastic reviews, while.

Once again, a "good" book is expected to avoid "unwholesome" subjects such as love-affairs, and to have a good influence on its readers. It is interesting to note that the very concept of genre writing - "the kind of books that their readers have learned to expect" - is regarded as being "bad". The reviewer concludes that: "A good deal of rubbish still appears, but on the whole there is a distinct step forward in stories for girls."

By 20 November 1930, though, the "Girls at School" section has been reduced to less than a column and general comments about the genre have ceased, seeming to indicate that the genre was now regarded with less importance. Perhaps the readers themselves were dissatisfied with the "improvements" which had been made to the genre, since the reviewer continues to find more books which now meet their standard for a "good" book.

The reviewer continues that "this year's stories by Winifred Darch [The Lower Fourth and Joan] and Christine Chaundler [The Technical Fifth] are, as usual, natural, lively and very readable", with Chaundler's book showing "the peculiar distinctions in the schoolgirl code of honour". However:


It is interesting to note here that greater prominence is given to reviews of boys' school stories, which occupy nearly two columns of print. However, the reviewer notes the fact that the boys' genre was in reality now declining, and the review indicates that the quality of what was being published was regarded as poor.


Taken together, these reviews may seem to reflect a decline in the importance assigned to the school story, but five years later, on 30 November 1935, the "School Girls of To-Day" (p806) section once again occupies two columns and is subtitled "The Corporate Spirit". The reviewer accepts that the genre has "improved"; as well as being "realistic", "good" books are now those which also reflect the school ethos, and particularly the "public school spirit" which had been adopted from the boys' schools. It is interesting to note that the reviewer clearly does believe that "good" stories can reflect "reality". For example, after a positive review of E.M. Channon's A Fifth Form Martyr, the reviewer continues that:

In Joan Butler Joyce's In Hot Water:

The reviewer goes on to stress that, in their opinion:

This is actually a very accurate description of the content of Brazil's books. However, it should be noted that their popularity did not survive into the last quarter of the twentieth century, as less "realistic" books such as Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series have done. "Realism" was never perceived to be the hallmark of quality by the genre's readers.

The writer goes on to review Veronica Marlow's The Lower School Leader ("even in the Fourth wrong treatment may drive 'school patriotism' into revolutionary activities") and Dora Chapman's Beryl the Rebel, which both had themes of self-government; Cicely Thayer's Feuds and Friendships, "which related the events of one term at a thoroughly modern school which had all the latest improvements, including laboratories and domestic science rooms and a window in every cubicle of the dormitory, but had not yet tried any very novel experiments in self-government"; and Winifred Darch's The Head Girl at Wynford and Dorita Fairlie Bruce's Nancy in the Sixth, which "describe the problems of the elder girls in schools who have to bear the chief responsibilities for their group".

By now, books set in day schools were prominent in the genre. As well as introducing domestic themes, this perhaps reflected its greater "realism", since the majority of British schoolgirls - particularly working-class and lower-middle-class girls, who formed a substantial proportion of the genre's readership - did not attend boarding school. Their experiences, however, were not reflected in the content of the genre. Day-school heroines came instead from the "impoverished gentry", victims of changing family fortunes which were often exacerbated by the Depression and/or the death of a parent, unless they were brought on by the self-sacrifice of a parent in choosing to enter the medical profession or the Church. (Unsuprisingly, this theme was to continue following the Second World War.)

The reviewer, though, seems to accept the veracity of the experiences being described.

Having also reviewed Mary Gervaise's Mysterious Sally and A.M. Irvine's Quiet Margaret ("lively but somewhat improbable"); Constance Mackness' The Clown of the School ("if this is a correct and typical description, it would appear that modern developments in education and discipline have not gone so far in Australia yet as they have in England"); The Evelyn Smith Omnibus ("she had an extraordinary talent for describing the subtleties of adolescent character"); and Dorita Fairlie Bruce's The Springdale Omnibus ("the girls in it have plenty of life and character"); the reviewer concludes that:


It is interesting to note here that, while the girls' genre is now being accepted as a "social document", no such praise was being given to boys' school stories. Instead, the "Stories of Boy School Life" section of 1935 is subtitled "The Mixture as Before" (p812), and begins:

It is equally interesting to note that the 1935 edition also contains a substantial review section on "Independent Children: Housekeeping and Camping Holidays" (p810), which includes reviews of Elizabeth Sprigge's Children Alone, Eleanor Graham's Six in Family [sic], Kitty Barne's The Easter Holidays, Marjorie Fischer's Street Fair, W.M. Letts' Pomona's Island, Josephine Smith's Our Island Holiday, Elizabeth Marc's Bush Ragamuffins, Frances Joyce's Yes, Cousin Joseph, George Wright's Wandering Whipsnaders, L.W. Bellhouse's The Caravan Children, Lily Jean-Javal's Fortune's Caravan and Dr Sonnleitner's The Cave Children. The emphasis in these books lies on adventure in the holidays rather than fun at school, and the ordered world of the school is replaced with activities arranged by the children themselves, with little or no adult involvement. Many of these adventures are "sensational" and portray children heroically, but because characters of both genders were involved, boys generally take the lead in what was evidently a more acceptable manner.

A further substantial section is devoted to "Young Riders: Ponies and Other Mounts" (p809), of which the reviewer notes that:


While the school story had dominated reading for schoolgirls for twenty years, its content had now undergone a marked change, then. Meanwhile there was a choice of genres on offer, and the number of children's books aimed at either or both sexes was also much wider than ever before.

After more than a year of war, the 7 December 1940 edition of the TLS reflects the impact which wartime shortages was having on the publishing industry, with markedly fewer books being published. Despite this, the choice of girls' books continued to widen, with less than a third of the two columns of books reviewed being school stories. However, the genre is still regarded by the reviewer as being important, and what is perhaps more surprising, as relevant. "Stories of Modern Girls" (pxvii) opens with the comment that:


It would have been understandable if the genre had been praised because it represented a life without war, but: Angela Brazil's The New School at Scawdale "is an attractive tale of an Australian girl having to adapt herself to English school surroundings. They are evacuated to the country, and among other exciting incidents is that of a whole form being trapped in a flood . . . " Marie Jeanne Lind's Patsy and Norah Mylrea's Lorrie's First Term "are good mystery stories", while:


By the end of the war, though, everything had changed. On 8 December 1945, the TLS article "Children's Books: A list selected for the Christmas Season" (p586) - which was just two columns long, reflecting the impact of the long war on the publishing industry - contained no school stories at all. Following the Second World War, girls' school stories were neither to recover their popularity, nor the critical acknowledgement of their importance despite their lack of "literary" merit, and were to face systematic attempts to consign them to the dustbin of history. The reasons for this are discussed at the end of the next section.

My study of the TLS during the first half of the twentieth century shows that, rather than the turning point in the genre's fortunes occurring after the end of the Second World War, the genre was always a success despite the best efforts of the critics. While the paucity of girls' books in the first decade of the century was acknowledged by the critics, the huge success of the genre by the end of the First World War was greeted by a uniform barrage of criticism. Girls' school stories were treated as merely being an inferior adjunct to the boys' genre, with the term "school stories" taken to refer to the boys' books, and the genre's "lady" authors treated with a great lack of respect, as were the books themselves.

This study underlines the fact that it was the readers themselves who were primarily responsible for the genre's success, demanding a "stream" of books despite the critical opinions available to parents and relatives in the shape of the TLS and others. It is probable, though, that the very lack of respect for the genre which characterised the reviews prevented parents and teachers from censoring their daughters' reading; the books were primarily regarded as "harmless, often quite amusing and seldom very invigorating". The greater respect which the critics were to be accorded following the end of the war meant that they were to become far more influential, and it is this above all else which is responsible for the genre's changing fortunes during the post-war period.

Next: 7: II. Reviews & Criticism 1949-1996
Return to: Virtual Worlds of Girls Index

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