II. Reviews & Criticism 1949-1996

Following the Second World War and the recovery of the children's book market, critics of children's books assumed far more influence than they had previously, partly because they encouraged fears about the influences of children's reading. This tapped into a number of wider post-war fears: the effects of the war meant that there were a large number of children without stable homes; the new state socialism meant that the "public school ethos" represented in the most recent books was seen by many as being politically undesirable; and feminists were concerned that girls had been receiving an inferior education along with messages about their future domestic role, which was reflected in the more "realistic" books. There was also a very genuine concern that children were not being exposed to "good" literature as a result of class and/or gender disadvantages. Most importantly, though, with regard to girls' school stories, there was a widespread fear that the fragmentation of family life which had resulted from the two World Wars, combined with the effects of women's suffrage and education, was resulting in women leading lives which were separate, but truly equal in all respects including sexually, to those of men.

In 1949, Geoffrey Trease's Tales Out of School was published by Heinemann. This was the first critical survey of British children's fiction, and was to be highly influential. The title reflected Trease's claim that, prior to the twentieth century, there was "a deep moral conviction . . . that it mattered what children read in their leisure time, and mattered very much indeed; 'tales out of school' were as potent an influence as lessons inside" (p1). Trease condemned the fact that, in his view, this was no longer the case, particularly since children could only be offered a small selection of the books now available to them. Equally, children should not be left to choose their own reading without guidance.


Trease felt that it was therefore important to distinguish, as past critics had done before him, between "good" and "bad" children's books. He believed that "what adults know about this subject is nearly always out of date" (p11), and that "most teachers are ignorant of their pupils' leisure-reading because they feel too busy to investigate and have little idea of what they would find if they did"(pp12-13), although he did feel that this situation was slowly changing. Trease therefore set out to enlighten his readership about how to ensure that children read only "good" books, and he goes on to discuss his criteria in depth. "A good children's book is one which uses language skillfully to entertain and to represent reality, to stimulate the imagination or to educate the emotions"(p9). As with the past critics, then, "realism" was one of his hallmarks of quality. Representations of reality, moreover, should be used to develop and to educate readers, rather than influencing them to adopt "bad" habits.

Trease goes on to discuss his own experiences of childhood reading, before providing a critique of story-books, fairy tales, "didactic" stories, comics, adventure stories, historical stories, school stories, family stories and holiday stories. In his chapter on school stories, "Midnight in the Dorm", Trease begins by stating that "school stories bear little relation to reality"(p107), so the reader already knows from this that the genre is "bad". Trease credits Talbot Baines Reed and Angela Brazil as being the founders of the modern genres, and lists Elsie Oxenham, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer and Enid Blyton as being other prominent girls' school story writers (presumably because their books were readily available at the time of writing). He writes of both the boys' and the girls' genres that:

It is interesting to note here that Trease identifies the post-war period as "breaking new ground"; there was to be a widespread belief for the rest of the century that the quality of children's books "improved" after the Second World War.

Trease then includes a lengthy summary of Judith Grey's Duchess in Disguise as "a typical story", which he examines for its treatment of snobbery. In his view, the book gives readers the message that:

Next Trease turns to Grace Pettman's The Queensgate Mystery, which he describes as "a moral tale of the good old stamp"(p114). As can be seen from the following extract, this was not intended to be praise.

It is interesting to note that Trease welcomes Enid Blyton's The Naughtiest Girl in the School - "the theme is the first term of a spoilt little girl at a progressive co-educational boarding-school" - and describes it as "an example of Miss Blyton's school fiction at its best" (p117). However, he adds that: "there is . . . a widespread tendency to dismiss [Blyton's work] in educational and library circles" (pp117-8), and generally seems to agree with this, stating that:


Trease does recognise that the "reality" of school stories has little to do with their appeal to readers, and identifies two key reasons for their popularity: the fact that parents are largely removed from the stories; and the fact that friendships with peers are both overwhelmingly important and possible.


Simply because the readers preferred an absence of "realism", though, Trease did not believe that they should be given it. He goes on to discuss Phyllis I. Norris's Meet the Kilburys, where a private hostel is opened for rural pupils attending a day school. Having criticised the plot for its lack of "realism", he acknowledges that "these improbabilities will not spoil the story for the average child", but "some of the other elements in the book merit more serious criticism" (p119), among them the description of a motor-cycle journey made by an inexperienced driver; Trease warns that these elements could have a damaging influence on readers. As with the past critics, Trease believes that a "good" book should set a "good" example to their readers. Trease concludes the chapter by calling for the reinvention of the genre, so that it would reflect contemporary experiences of schooling, and a post-war as opposed to public-school ethos. "Good" school stories should be realistic, and children should be encouraged to change their reading habits to include them.


Trease concludes with a chapter entitled "To You - For Action", which discusses what readers could do to improve the quality of books available. His call was shortly to be taken up by other critics. For example, on 17 November 1950, The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) carried a substantial article on "Children's Book Publishing". The "Correspondent" expresses a number of concerns about the quality of children's books, before concluding that:

Significantly, there is not a single review of a school story among the annual round-up of children's books in the same edition, although a section is devoted to "Ponies and Riders".

Librarians, who were responsible for deciding which books to stock and thus for public expenditure on reading, did indeed become influential critics of children's books. And what had previously been a muted criticism of girls' school stories, and of girls' books in general, now became prominent. Books written specifically for girls, almost all of which were written by women, were generally regarded as being "bad". It is tempting to believe that this move was part of an effort to raise girls' expectations from those which they had had before the war. However, it should be noted that the change took place during a period when there were widespread concerns that women's growing economic and political independence might prevent them from becoming wives and mothers, so official homophobia was prominent alongside the "back to the home and hearth" movement, while the aim of girls' education was seen as fitting girls for their future roles as wives and mothers. Girls' school stories were set in all-female worlds; friendships were central to them, if no longer "sentimental"; characters were portrayed as going on to have careers outside the home; and marriage and motherhood were not portrayed as being the only option in life. It is therefore more likely that the growing criticism of girls' books because they were girls' books concealed a fear of the possible influences on their readers and a wish to remove these.

It should also be noted that this was not a judgement which was simply applied to contemporary writing. For example, in 1954, the chapter on "Writers for Girls" in Percy Muir's English Children's Books 1600-1900 (Batsford) begins thus: "The long line of women writers for girls, from Agnes Strickland to Mrs Molesworth and from Mary Elliot to Juliana Horatia Ewing and Mrs Marshall, are all inferior in the provision of what children want to their male counterparts" (p116). Without producing any evidence whatsoever for this assertion, Muir goes on to concentrate on the work of women writers who did not write specifically for girls. In his chapter on "School Stories", he fails to mention girls' school stories at all; as with the earlier critics, he refused to recognise the girls' genre as being anything but an adjunct to the boys' books.

However, authors continued to write in the genre, and the following year, on 4 November 1955, the TLS review of children's books once more contained a section on "In School and Out" (pvi). The reviewer notes that fewer books are now being produced in the genre, but surmises that: "the decline in new school stories is probably due more to changes in education than in popular taste . . . private schools are on the wane." As with past critics, the reviewer perceives the genre as reflecting "real life"; since "reality" has changed, it is natural that authors have moved on to different genres. (In fact many authors now simply failed to find publishers: whereas before a publisher could simply hope that they had commissioned a "good girls' school story author; now, by definition, all of the genre's authors were "bad"). The reviewer also makes the important point that, by the mid-1950s, school life was neither perceived to be nor was at the centre of girls' lives. "Education in schools is becoming more functional . . . Now going to school is more like going to the office, and real life starts elsewhere." "Real" life revolved around girls' roles as daughters and as future wives and mothers. However, the reviewer does acknowledge that there is still a demand for the genre by readers, so "realism" was at least not the only standard by which readers judged a "good" book.

It is interesting to note that, despite the presence of a children's book review section within the TLS of 1955, the girls' books are described as being "rubbish". In contrast, books intended primarily for boys are not perceived to be an unhealthy influence. Boys' books are not all "good" - Frank Richards' Backing Up Billy Bunter is criticised for being "trite, unendurably slow and execrably illustrated". However:

In contrast, Anthony Buckeridge's Rex Milligan Raises the Roof, about "a grammar school boy", and Our Friend Jennings receive much more enthusiastic reviews. "In the field of school stories there is at present no rival to Anthony Buckeridge, who shows that school today has its own glamour, and that close observation, a sound technique and an infallible ear for dialogue can make for success in a difficult field." And of William Mayne's A Swarm in May the reviewer writes that: "One can only stand aside and enjoy the subtle and satisfying intonations of a writer of eccentric genius, most of whose images, matched so faultlessly in their expression, will inevitably and regrettably pass by those into whose hands A Swarm in May will be placed."

The belief that, as future wives and mothers, girls should not read "unrealistic" "rubbish" but books which equipped them for their intended role in life was almost made explicit by a "Correspondent" in the same edition of the TLS.

(Despite this view, the same TLS devoted a large number of pages to children's book reviews, including a section on pony books, accompanied by a considerable amount of related advertising.)

By the end of the decade, boys' books were still being judged by a different standard and criteria to those for girls. For example, on 25 November 1960, the annual review of children's books in the TLS includes William Mayne's Cathedral Wednesday and E.W. Hildick's The Boy at the Window in the "Family and Friends: Ways of Life at Home and Abroad" section (pxii). Mayne's writing is described as "brilliant", while both authors are described as creating schoolboys who are "really alive". But while the old standard of realism still prevails for boys, only one girls' school story is reviewed at all. Anne M. Westwood's Trouble at Kittiwake Rock - "a boisterous schoolgirl story, genuinely funny at times - receives this brief mention in the "Books for the Unbookish" section (pxxiii). School stories for girls were now regarded as being only suitable for the "unbookish", and this may well have been taken to mean girls from working-class backgrounds rather than the middle-class girls who formed the original target readership for the genre.

Then, in 1961, Brockhampton Press published Margery Fisher's Intent Upon Reading: A Critical Appraisal of Modern Fiction for Children, which was to become a seminal work on children's book criticism. Fisher, who had previously been "sole reviewer of children's books for a national monthly magazine" (p7), looked at children's books published between 1930 and 1960 (a second edition extended this until 1964). Her starting point, like Trease's, was that children should be encouraged to read "good" books.

Fisher goes on to define her standards.

The question of whether or not "good" writing can be prescribed does not seem to trouble Fisher, who at the time would no doubt have been surprised to discover that girls' school stories would survive to meet Lewis' prescription. (Twenty years later she wrote a favourable review of Helen McClelland's biography of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Behind the Chalet School, in her own children's book magazine, Growing Point.)

Fisher concludes that:

School stories as a genre, in Fisher's opinion, do not meet this prescription.


As with Muir, Fisher goes on to discuss the school story primarily in terms of boys' school stories. Like the past critics, she takes "realism" and characterisation to be primary in determining "good" school stories: "It is characterization that makes certain writers live on, long after the boarding-school formula seems to be worked out; and I would name Talbot Baines Reed [author of The Fifth Form at St Dominic's, the founding text of the modern genre of boys' school stories] as one of them." (p172) In terms of modern readers, Fisher recommends "Vachell's THE HILL, E.F. Benson's DAVID BLAIZE, D.Wynne Wilson's EARLY CLOSING and Alec Waugh's THE LOOM OF YOUTH - any of these will give him a picture of school as a living and complete world" (p171), although these are in fact "adult" novels.

In terms of girls' school story writers, Fisher selects only Antonia Forest as meeting her criteria.

In retrospect, of course, it is easy to take exception with Fisher's prediction. While most readers and critics agree that Brent-Dyer's published work deteriorates after the early 1950s, in the mid-1990s the series still sold more than 100,000 copies a year in paperback and had yet to suffer the fate of extinction which Fisher predicted for it more than thirty years beforehand. As with the majority of the twentieth-century critics, though, Fisher failed to recognise or acknowledge the reasons for the genre's appeal.

Following Fisher's work, in 1962 The Library Association published Marcus Crouch's Treasure Seekers and Borrowers: Children's Books in Britain 1900-1960. Crouch was a member of the staff of Kent County Library, and had previously edited Chosen for Children, an illustrated account of the books which had been awarded the Library Association's Carnegie Medal between 1936 and 1957. He was therefore perceived as being an expert in defining a "good" book. Crouch correctly describes the 1920s as "above all, the age of the school story" (p41), although he does not regard the genres as having developed from the patterns set by Reed and Brazil. In terms of "good" books, he states that: "by far the best of the prolific writers of boy's stories were Gunby Hadath and Hylton Cleaver. Both saw school-life as an excuse to play games, but they described sport (particularly rugby football) with understanding details and great gusto, and they allowed themselves to show some understanding of the details of character." (p41) As with the previous critics, "realism" and characterisation were taken to be hallmarks of the "good" book.

And as with the past critics, Crouch accords far less respect to girls' school stories. He selects Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Dorita Fairlie Bruce and Josephine Elder as exploring "the convention of school life, and the minds of their heroines, with greater subtlety", but goes on to add that: "Such books stand out so brightly from the grey mass of school-stories that it is tempting to exaggerate their excellences. They are in fact the shallowest of steps towards Elfrida Vipont, but at least they lead upwards." (pp41-2) Elfrida Vipont was the author of The Lark in the Morn (1959), which is emphatically not part of the genre. Although a later chapter of Crouch's book deals with "Children's Books in the Second World War", he makes no reference to Brent-Dyer within it, despite her descriptions of escaping from an Austria under the control of the Third Reich and her unique (within wartime children's books) approach to internationalism and peace. Instead, he writes only that: "Spies even penetrated, not perhaps for the first time, the walls of the girls' school." (p88)

Three years later, in 1965, Garnet Miller published John Rowe Townsend's Written for Children: An Outline of English-Language Children's Literature. Townsend was then a journalist with the Guardian and his book was to be another highly influential text, with revised editions appearing in 1974, 1983 and 1987 in a number of different printings. Like Muir and Fisher before him, Townsend's chapter on "The world of school" is devoted to boys' school stories, although he refers to Antonia Forest and Mary K. Harris at the beginning and later makes a passing reference to Blyton. This indicates that he did not perceive the girls' books as being anything other than an adjunct to the genre, nor as being as "good" as those for boys. But throughout the book Townsend concentrates, not on popular or gender-specific fiction, but on authors such as C.S Lewis and Tolkien: "good" books were now "literary" as well as being aimed at both genders.

In fact, the general content of contemporary children's books had by now undergone a complete change. For example, on 9 December 1965 the TLS reviewer notes in "Girls on the Go" (p1135) that:

Underneath, in "Bleak New World", the reviewer writes of Eva Figes's Classic Choice and Modern Choice collections of short stories that:

Modern schoolgirls, in fiction at least, continued to change considerably from the heyday of the genre, as the review of Rodie Sudbery's Rich and Famous and Bad in the TLS of 30 October 1970 shows. The heroine, Polly, "is a taking character, lively and intelligent and resentful of school routine . . . original enough to capture our interest straight away". "The story ends with investigations by probation officers, magistrates and psychiatrists, all faithfully true to life but somehow out of place after Polly's lighthearted adventurousness." (p1267) Elsewhere the reviewer states of Climb a Lonely Hill, "the first book by a Sydney children's librarian", that:


In the TLS of 5 December 1975, the reviewer looks at the influences on the content of children's books during the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, and offers a convincing analytical summary of the reasons why writers chose their subjects and their treatment of them.

Clearly the more "realistic" books which had emanated from publishers to replace girls' school stories had left some critics feeling doubtful as to whether this was in fact quite what they had envisaged when pleading for a change. Of course, the critics themselves had always felt that children's books should not have a "bad" influence on their readers, whereas publishers' priorities had to be their sales.

The death of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer in September 1969 brought renewed attention to the genre of girls' school stories, but this was chiefly to celebrate its assumed demise. C.S. Tatham reflected this in "Yesterday's Schoolgirls", published in The Junior Bookshelf of December 1969.

In fact this was the 58th book in the series - although the 57th to be published in hardback - and the 59th book, Prefects at the Chalet School, was to be published posthumously in 1970. Tatham continues of the genre as a whole that:

"Realism", then, was still the criteria on which the books were being judged. Tatham merely queries whether lack of "realism" is a fair criticism of the first Chalet School books, although he adds that: "long before the varying series ceased, they had almost all become complete anachronisms, using the idiom and background of a world that has gone." Tatham concludes, prophetically but not entirely accurately, that:


Perhaps the continuing popularity of the Chalet School books had become more apparent by the following year, when Nicholas Tucker's "Ditchwater at the Chalet School" was published in The Times Educational Supplement of 3 July 1970 to mark the publication of the final book in the series, Prefects at the Chalet School.

At this time Tucker was a lecturer in developmental psychology at Sussex University. It is questionable whether he would have been quite so dismissive of equally successful books written by men for boys and their readers, given he recognises that the Chalet School series continues to be popular and this is in itself worthy of historical record.


It is interesting to note that neither Tucker nor Tatham seem to have been aware of the numerous criticisms which were directed at the genre prior to the mid-1920s - when the Chalet School series began - for "sensationalism"; and that these "dull" stories and others like them had originally been welcomed enthusiastically for their greater "realism". It is also interesting to note that here "the obsession with school routine" is not taken to be "real" or "good"; yet routine is what characterised my life at a girls' school in the 1970s.

The very different tone of Anne Cordiner's "Goodbye Joey", published in March 1970 in The Scotsman, seems to reflect the divide between the critics who had reviewed the books and the girls and women who read them for pleasure.

It is highly questionable whether this assertion of "realism" is true; part of the continuing success of the series was due to the fact that Brent-Dyer relocated it to Switzerland, where it could not be expected to reflect contemporary girls' experiences of schooling very closely. But it is interesting to note that Cordiner accepts without question that "realism" is the hallmark of quality.

Whether the Chalet School series is "realistic" or not, though, Cordiner goes on to identify a number of characteristics which were selected by readers in the 1990s as being reasons for their own love of the books, and to predict the series' longevity.


Brent-Dyer's death had been preceded less than a year earlier by Enid Blyton's, and as a result there was a resurgence of critical - highly critical - interest in Blyton's life and work. Blyton was not, of course, primarily a school story writer, although her three series - the Naughtiest Girl, St Clare's and Malory Towers - have remained constantly in print and are perhaps the best-known girls' school stories available in the mid-1990s. Barbara Stoney's Enid Blyton: A Biography, published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1974, reflects the fact that Blyton was not a school story writer as such by only including a passing reference to the school stories, concluding that Blyton's secret:


Stoney's biography was essentially unflattering, as the quote above illustrates, and this reflected the critical atmosphere of the time. The librarian Sheila Ray carried out research into Enid Blyton for an MPhil degree during the 1970s, which was published in 1982 as The Blyton Phenomenon: The controversy surrounding the world's most successful children's writer (Andre Deutsch). In 1994 she explained to the audience at the Bettany Press conference "Studying girls' school fiction" that the subject would have been regarded as unfit for serious study prior to the 1970s - when Blyton had at least achieved the status of being dead - and that even then the atmosphere of the time was such that only a critical, semi-contemptuous tone was acceptable to academia and publishers alike.

This recollection of the critical atmosphere of the time is supported by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's biographer Helen McClelland, who describes her experience of carrying out research in the 1970s both at the conference and in "In Search of Elinor" in The Chalet School Revisited (Bettany Press, 1994).

McClelland also recalls that, in the 1970s:


It is important to note here that the popular perception of girls' school stories as containing politically undesirable material is not an accurate one, quite apart from the facts that girls' lives are central to the books and they are portrayed as going on to have careers. For example, this extract from Brent-Dyer's Redheads at the Chalet School (Chambers, Edinburgh, 1964) shows that views which were then considered to be politically desirable were included within the genre. "Copper" 's father, a senior policeman, explains the behaviour of the criminal whom the girls have captured as follows:

It is actually extraordinary to reread this at a time (April 1997) when both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party promise tougher action against criminals, in particular the extension of "reformatories" for juvenile offenders.

Tania Modleski, writing about popular genres by women for adult women, has pointed out that: "very few critics have taken them seriously enough to study them in any detail" (Loving With a Vengeance, Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women, Archan Books, Hamden, Conn., 1982, p11). She describes a double critical standard, already identified by feminists as biasing literary studies, which she states is also operative in studies of mass-culture. Modleski claims that:

It is probable that the reason why so many women critics have adopted the same attitudes towards the books as men is related to the fact that these attitudes have been internalised without being questioned.

For example, the only history of fiction written specifically for girls, Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig's You're A Brick, Angela! The Girls' Story 1839-1985 (Victor Gollancz, 1976), takes a negative and superficial view of girls' school stories. This is in sharp contrast to the tone of Musgrave's From Brown to Bunter: The Life and Death of the School Story (1985), which takes a serious approach to boys' school stories (the only subject of the book) and is published by the academic publisher Routledge and Kegan Paul. Even the title of Cadogan and Craig's book suggests that girls' books are anachronistic and ridiculous and not to be taken seriously, and this is also reflected in the books' reviews, which are reproduced on the back cover of the 1986 paperback edition. They include "Spiffing, girls, absolutely top hole!" from Mary Manning of the Irish Times; and "Scrumptious dorm-feast of a book" from the Birmingham Post. Meanwhile the publishers describe the book as "Taking an entertainingly irreverent look at girls' stories in novels and magazines".

At the 1994 Bettany Press conference,"Studying girls' school fiction", Mary Cadogan claimed that the book did not reflect the authors' attitudes to the stories, but publication was contingent on this "irreverent" approach . So far as the publishers were concerned, if it was not possible to take girls' books seriously, how could a book about girls' books claim to be a serious text? The "critical double standard" is underlined by a comparison with reviews on the back of the 1976 Penguin paperback edition of E. S. Turner's Boys Will Be Boys, a history of boys' comic books which was originally published by Michael Joseph in 1948. These include "A beautifully balanced piece of work" from The Spectator and "It was a classic in its field when it first came out, and it remains a classic" from The Times.

In fact, Cadogan and Craig's book provides a detailed survey of British fiction produced for girls; it also takes a "feminist" viewpoint in that girls' school stories by women are perceived as being less "good" than girls deserve.

While historically accurate, though, most of Cadogan and Craig's analyses are superficial and lack supporting evidence - probably as a result of the approach which had been insisted upon by the publishers. For example, of Angela Brazil Cadogan and Craig write simply: "It is almost as though her more admirable qualities as a writer were arrived at in spite of herself" (p123). Later they go on to claim that: "once the novelty of her approach had worn off, it was the laughableness of her stories which came across, because there is no ironic undercurrent, no acknowledgement of inevitable obsolescence" (p180). In neither instance do they offer any evidence in support of these assertions. Similarly, Cadogan and Craig describe "the Dorita Fairlie Bruce type of fiction, where tensions, complexities of nature or improperly assimilated or contradictory ethical principles do not need to be considered" (p191) - no examples are given - while of the Chalet School they write that:

Once more, there is no evidence offered to support this assertion. And as can be seen from the example above, the sociological content of Brent-Dyer's books was far from being anachronistic. Yet Cadogan and Craig also regard the genre's influence as being politically undesirable, claiming that: "girls' books quickly became a medium for the reinforcement of social prohibitions and expectations" (p9); there is no discussion of the significance of the foregrounding of girls' lives and the representation of women's careers.

As with the previous critics, the main distinction which Cadogan and Craig make between authors of girls' school stories is between "good" writers and "bad" writers. "Certain writers, like Angela Brazil and Dorita Fairlie Bruce, are unintentionally funny but nonetheless good [sic]; others, like L.T. Meade, are not" (p10). Once again, there is no evidence or further explanation provided to support this. And as with earlier critics, they locate the "crystallization" of Meade's "fusty tone" in her attitude to "friendships between the girls - who exchange photographs, kiss, and behave generally towards one another with unnatural intensity". (p54) Cadogan and Craig's reading reflects their belief, at least at the time of writing, that girls' school stories "are best read with sympathetic recognition of the fact that they are products of another era" (p205), as well as the critical attitudes prevalent at the time. But perhaps they should have known better than to assert that:

This assertion, for which they also offer no evidence, is contradicted by the contemporary - and more recent - sales figures for Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series and Blyton's St Clare's and Malory Towers series. It is also contradicted by Gill Frith, who in her 1985 study of girls' school stories points out that: "as a teacher in comprehensive schools, I found that many working-class girls, some of them Asian, read these stories." ("The Time of Your Life: The Meaning of the School Story", in Language, Gender and Childhood, Steedman, Carolyn, Urwin, Cathy and Walkerdine, Valerie (eds.), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1985, p115)

It is interesting to note that Cadogan and Craig are much more enthusiastic about the girls' school stories which appeared in comic book form. Comic books have not been considered in this hyperthesis, because the differences between the two genres in both form and in the gender of the author merit a further critical study. As Cadogan and Craig explain, girls' comic books were first created in the 1920s by male writers who were already writing for boys. The comics then continued to be written, drawn and owned by men throughout the century, with male writers often assuming female pseudonyms (pp227-235). Cadogan and Craig claim that the "team of male authors was not content merely to reflect the activities of contemporary schoolgirls and the mood of the period. They projected a new image of responsible but lively girlhood." (p230)


This represents a considerable change from Cadogan and Craig's attitude towards female authors of girls' school stories, and it is also noticeable that "realism" is not used as a touchstone of quality here. The fact that Cadogan and Craig accord these works more weight is particularly unusual considering the hostility towards comics by parents, educationalists and critics, which began during the mid-twentieth century and which continued to a certain extent for the remainder of it (Barker, 1989, pp13-14); and the fact that, unlike the novels, the popularity of girls' school stories in comic book form has not survived. It is more than likely that Modleski's internalised "critical double standard" provides the explanation.

Gillian Avery, whose Childhood's Pattern: A Study of the Heroes and Heroines of Children's Fiction 1770-1950 (Hodder and Stoughton, 1975) preceded the publication of Cadogan and Craig's work by a few months, did manage to avoid similar unsubstantiated assertions and criticisms. This is perhaps because her book covered a broader historical period; but more likely because she looked at boys' as well as girls' books, and boys' books had already been the subject of greater critical rigour. Avery's chapter on "Modern girls' and schoolgirls 1880-1940" provides a serious survey of the literature and an analysis of the themes within it, while in the following chapter, "The Child's Heroes", she locates the genre's appeal as:

It is interesting to note that, once again, sensational or "melodramatic" content is the hallmark of a "bad" book for girls, while "domestic" content is "good".

A serious and indepth biography of Angela Brazil, Gillian Freeman's The Schoolgirl Ethic (Allen Lane), was also published in 1976. In this case, it was probably her subject matter which allowed Freeman's work to be taken seriously. The fact that Brazil had died twenty-five years beforehand, together with her reputation as the founder of the genre and the fact that she had published her first school story, The Fortunes of Phillipa, in 1906, helped to give her some historical respectability. It is possible that the fact Brazil's books had not survived in popularity may also have played a part; there was no need to worry about their influence on contemporary girls. Freeman's work is discussed further elsewhere in this hyperthesis.

Certainly little had changed in the tone of mainstream reviewers by the beginning of the next decade. In 1981, Nicholas Tucker continued to locate the Chalet School books' appeal in the fact "that fantasy does not always have to cater for wish-fulfilment on a grand scale. There is apparently a need for safer, even sometimes rather dull, daydreams." (The Child and the Book: A Psychological and Literary Exploration, Canto, 1981, p125) Tucker's opinion appears to have been modified from a decade earlier only to the extent that he now offers more detailed reasons for the series' appeal.

Tucker regards "single-sex school stories" in general as providing "very clear models for what is supposed to be 'typical' masculine or feminine behaviour" (p123). In this reading, school stories offered undesirable role models. Either the model of the importance of girls' lives was "bad" in itself, then, or Tucker believed that girls deserved better and allowed for no subversive element or positive images in his analysis.

1981 also saw the publication of Fred Inglis' The Promise of Happiness: Value and Meaning in Children's Fiction (Cambridge University Press). Inglis - who, like Trease and Fisher, goes to great pains to define "good" writing - writes of his boyhood love for Angela Brazil's and Enid Blyton's school stories.

It is interesting to note that Inglis learnt early on that to read girls' school stories with "delight" was "bad", but to appreciate them "lovingly" because they were "hilarious" was not. Girls enjoyed the books for their content; but men enjoyed the books because they were ridiculous. Inglis concludes that:

Like Trease, Inglis correctly identifies the two key reasons for the popularity of school stories: the fact that parents are largely removed from the stories; and the fact that friendships with peers are both overwhelmingly important and possible. He also notes that the political undesirability of some of the content was irrelevant to the genre's readers.

Another book which appeared in 1981 was Helen McClelland's biography of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Behind the Chalet School (New Horizon). In the Bettany Press revised edition of 1996, McClelland writes that the critics were slow to take notice of it, although it did in the end receive favourable coverage.

In November 1983 Margery Fisher reviewed Behind the Chalet School in her magazine Growing Point. Both the appearance of the review and the tone of it seem to reflect that Fisher's attitude towards girls' school stories had changed from two decades earlier.

Perhaps the fact that McClelland portrayed Brent-Dyer as "fallible" was also a factor in the enthusiastic tone of Fisher's review.

A year after the publication of Behind the Chalet School, Sheila Ray's MPhil research into Enid Blyton was published as The Blyton Phenomenon: The controversy surrounding the world's most successful children's writer (Andre Deutsch, 1982). This contains a complete survey of the criticism directed at Blyton's books, particularly by the post-war librarians and educationalists who regarded them as "bad". It may be that post-war attitudes to girls' school stories have been coloured by Blyton's connection with the genre, although, as has already been pointed out, she was not primarily a school-story writer. Certainly Ray found that:

It is important to note here the influence which Ray assigns to the critics. Ray goes on to state that "by 1960 Enid Blyton's books were not being bought by a number of public libraries, having been phased out, but this fact only became publicly known in 1963 when the policy of St Pancras library made headlines in the national press" (p77), sparking a continuing public debate. However, Ray found that neither librarians nor teachers held such firm views or instigated such widespread proscription against the books as was popularly believed, so it may well have been the media reporting of the critical debate which was most influential on parents' opinions.

Of Blyton's school stories, Ray writes that:

Characterisation and "realism", then, are still being used as the hallmarks of a "good" book here. Ray concludes that Blyton's school stories:

"Sentimentality" is still being used by Ray as the hallmark of a "bad" book, as is content such as "snobbishness" which it was feared could adversely influence readers. It is interesting to note that Ray accepts the critical attitudes towards books "by other authors", with which she was not familiar, but rejects these attitudes when discussing the findings of her own research.

In general, the late 1970s and early half of the 1980s was a period when popular fiction, especially that written for children, was regarded with political suspicion. In 1977, Bob Dixon concluded of Enid Blyton's work that:


Meanwhile Ariel Dorfman's The Empire's Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger, Babar and other innocent heroes do to our minds (Pluto Press, 1983) reflects contemporary fears among socialists about the extension of capitalism through popular culture, and of the power of internalised oppression (this, of course, was also of concern to feminists). Dorfman states the belief that: "industrially produced fiction has become one of the primary shapers of our emotions and our intellect in the twentieth century. Although these stories are supposed merely to entertain us, they constantly give us a secret education." (pix) Dorfman believed that readers were essentially unaware of these elements within their reading, and that analysis would reveal "a veritable black-and-blueprint of the ways in which men and women repress themselves in contemporary society, the way they transform reality's unsettling questions into docile, comforting, bland answers" (p7). Later he concludes that: "the enemy is inside, and we find it hard to distinguish him from some of our innermost thoughts and nurturings." (p207) It is interesting to note here that Dorfman does not even consider whether the "black-and-blueprint" found within popular fiction could be anything but "bad". He assigns enormous weight to the influence of popular fiction, but does not question whether the public condemnation of some types of popular fiction, including girls' school stories, could be because their influence was regarded as being subversive.

In 1984 Oxford University Press published Humphrey Carpenter and Mari Prichard's The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, a publication which reflected the growing respectability of children's book criticism. As with Muir et al before them, the authors regarded books written by women for girls as being inferior to those aimed at both genders, stating that: "The 1950s saw the beginning of a general improvement in British children's fiction, leading to a decline in the number of books written specifically for girls." (p208) Readers are left in no doubt here that girls' books are of inferior quality. As with past critics, though, the authors make no similar criticisms of books written by men for boys, and their treatment of boys' school stories differs markedly from that of girls' school stories.

Once again, Carpenter and Prichard regard girls' school stories as merely being an adjunct to the boys' genre, with just three column cm given to girls' school stories out of a total of 46 column cm devoted to "School stories" (pp470-471). The authors of girls' school stories are also treated as being less important than boys' school story authors. For example, under listings for individual authors, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer receives four column cm (p82) and Dorita Fairlie Bruce three column cm (p86), while Talbot Baines Reed receives 17 column cm (p445). Reed's first book, The Fifth Form at St Dominics (1887), which is taken to be the founding of the modern genre of boys' school stories, also receives an individual entry of 13 column cm (p186), yet there is no corresponding entry for Brazil's first book, The Fortunes of Phillipa (1906), which is taken to hold an equivalent place in the genre of girls' school stories.

The tone of the entries also varies according to the gender of the author. Fairlie Bruce's entry explains that her books "were published by the Oxford University Press, in the days before it had a more discriminating policy towards children's fiction" (p86), while Brent-Dyer's entry is merely factual. Brazil's entry (p81), meanwhile, includes a quote from her biographer Gillian Freeman as suggesting that Brazil was emotionally retarded by the passionate relationships with other schoolgirls which Brazil describes in her 1926 autobiography, making her "obsessed with schoolgirl 'crushes' for the rest of her life. Certainly she never married." This reveals that criticisms of girls' school stories were still being affected by homophobia.

In contrast, Reed's entry describes him as "immensely influential, inspiring school novels by many other authors . . . Reed more than any other writer was responsible for establishing the school story as a genre" (p445). Clearly there was nothing felt to be undesirable about the influence of boys' school stories, despite the high levels of homosexual activity within real boys' boarding schools. It is interesting to note further, that, as with Cadogan and Craig, Carpenter and Prichard describe girls' school stories in comic book form, which were written by men, in much more enthusiastic terms than the novels, and also assign twice as much space to describing the plots and authors of comic book stories as they do to the plots and authors of the novels (p208).

Isabel Quigly's The Heirs of Tom Brown: The English School Story, also published by Oxford University Press in 1984, makes it even more clear that she considers the girls' genre to be a mere adjunct to the boys' books. She devotes just one chapter out of seventeen to girls' school stories - nine pages out of a total of 296 - and refuses to treat the genre seriously, claiming that the books:

In fact, of course, the girls' books were accorded a higher status than the boys' books for most of the 1930s, the last years when the books could be said to reflect "reality". Quigly goes on to state of girls' school story writers that:

Perhaps it is significant that at Quigly's own school "all school stories were strictly forbidden" (p217), since she is apparently unaware of major authors such as Brent-Dyer and does not seem to be able to relate to the genre's readership.

It is unsurprising, given the treatment of girls' school stories by the literary and cultural critics, that they were treated no more seriously by other cultural institutions during the 1980s. The very title of the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood's 1984 exhibition, "Jolly Hockey Sticks - The World of Girls' School Fiction", seems to suggest that girls' school stories should not be taken seriously. The emphasis of the exhibition was on book covers and illustrations rather than on distinguishing individual authors or on sub-genres, nor did the exhibition offer any sustained analysis of the genre, as might have been expected.

It was 1985 before a feminist critic took girls' school stories seriously and reappraised their significance. Gill Frith's study of modern comprehensive schoolgirls reading Enid Blyton's school stories was published as "The Time of Your Life: The Meaning of the School Story" in the Routledge & Kegan Paul collection Language, Gender and Childhood. Frith begins by asking "why it is that the boarding-school story is now (and has been for the past century) such a popular form of reading for girls", and states that: "My purpose is to explore the meaning of the school story as a genre, the changes in that meaning since its inception, and its relationship to ideologies of female subjectivity." (p113) Frith was the first critic to take the school story as being synonymous with the girls' school story rather than the boys', as well as being the first post-war critic to take notice of the genre's readers, although she regards the genre as being a "hidden, embarrassing, repressed aspect of women's culture" (p116).

Frith's paper considers past critical treatment, including the parody Daisy Pulls It Off, before moving on to discuss the findings of her classroom research. Frith found that:

Rather than being "realistic", Frith locates the books' appeal as being directly related to their distance from the reality of their readers' lives.


However, Frith concludes that the genre's weakness does nonetheless lie in its distance from 'reality". (In fact she had only studied Blyton's books, taking them to be typical.)

Like previous post-war critics, Frith also regards the genre's influence on its readers as being politically undesirable.

In Frith's analysis, the only "good" girls' school story would be one which was set in a modern comprehensive school - catering for both genders - and which reflected the reality of modern girls' lives, but somehow included within it a political education which would enable girls to realise their desires for "fun, freedom, friendship and a life unconstrained by gender difference" in "reality". It is hard to envisage just how such a book could be written.

Following Frith, in 1987 Deborah Gorham provided a deep and thoughtful reading of early girls' school stories in "The Ideology of Femininity and Reading for Girls, 1850-1914", a study of girls' reading in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (in Hunt, Felicity [ed.], Lessons for Life: The schooling of girls and women 1850 - 1950, Basil Blackwell). However, Gorham believes that the growing popularity of girls' school stories during the period ending with the First World War "brought with it significant losses . . . the best Victorian writers of domestic fiction not only defined their audience much less narrowly, they wrote out of deeply felt conviction" (p57). Like the previous critics, Gorham judges the representations of educational institutions in girls' school stories against standards of "realism", and criticises Brazil because "her books do not acknowledge the deep conflicts that existed between the role that was still expected of the majority of upper middle-class daughters, and any serious commitment to further study, to a profession or to employment" (p57).

In terms of mainstream critics, Margaret and Michael Rustin's Narratives of Love and Loss: Studies in Modern Children's Fiction (Verso, 1987) does not refer to school stories at all, stating simply that: "We have chosen to write about works all of which we value highly." Bob Mullan provides a useful though highly critical plot analysis of Blyton's school story series in The Enid Blyton Story (Boxtree, 1987), but he regards the books as promoting highly undesirable constructs of femininity. "Her girls do go to university and indeed are encouraged to be self-reliant, but they are also encouraged to be 'sensible and trustable' people on whom 'the world can lean', - which is another way of saying domestic slaves." Mullan's criticism is well-meant, but his analysis is faulty. Certainly women on whom "the world can lean" possess an ethos of self-sacrifice, but the image is still very powerful. These are women who can not only stand alone, but can provide support for others, including men. And if the world leans on them, it is presumably changed in the process. "Domestic slaves", on the other hand, lean on men, and play no part in the world outside the home.

Mary Cadogan's Chin Up Chest Out Jemima! (Bonnington Books, 1989) claims to be "A Celebration of the Schoolgirls' Story". However, parodies by Cadogan, together with contributions from Arthur Marshall, Terence Stamp and Daisy Pulls It Off author Denise Deegan, are presented alongside girls' school stories written by both male and female authors. Although parts of the book, particularly the introductory chapter, are clearly meant to be informative and are historically accurate, the title and the choice of contributors again suggests strongly to the reader that girls' school stories are not to be taken seriously, whereas the parodies themselves hold up the genre to ridicule.

It was only with the publication of Rosemary Auchmuty's "You're a Dyke, Angela! Elsie J. Oxenham and the rise and fall of the schoolgirl story" in Not a Passing Phase: Reclaiming Lesbians in History 1840-1985 (The Women's Press, 1989), that feminist critics began at last to reappraise the meaning and significance of girls' school stories. Auchmuty writes specifically about the work of Elsie J. Oxenham here, and argues that, because the books "are fundamentally about female strength and bonding, they provide an interesting example of a phenomenon which was at first tolerated and even encouraged, but which came to be seen as a threat of such magnitude it had to be exterminated" (p120). Auchmuty sums up this threat as being "a very conscious love for women which in 1923 was fine and after 1928 became abnormal and unhealthy, representing a level of intimacy which was too threatening to be allowed to continue" (p140): the "sentimentality" which was so often criticised by contemporary reviewers. Auchmuty demonstrates convincingly that girls' school stories were perceived by the critics during the 1920s as encouraging lesbianism and women's independence, and that the content of the genre was heavily influenced by these fears.

Another feminist work published in 1989 is Judith Rowbotham's Good Girls Make Good Wives: Guidance for Girls in Victorian Fiction (Basil Blackwell). Rowbotham's interest in the books is primarily in treating them as a historical source: she compares the genre seriously with the development of real girls' schools over the period; without previous critics' insistence on "realism" as a touchstone of quality.

Kimberley Reynolds' Girls Only? Gender and Popular Children's Fiction in Britain, 1880-1910 (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990) covers a slightly later period than Rowbotham. Like many critics before her, she discusses school stories only in terms of the boys' books, referring extensively to P.W. Musgrave's From Brown to Bunter: The Life and Death of the School Story (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985), which, despite its subtitle, does make it clear that it is a book which is intentionally devoted to boys' school stories. Similarly, the 1992 Macmillan collection Stories and Society: Children's Literature in its Social Context (edited by Dennis Butts) contains a chapter on "The School Story" by Jeffrey Richards which discusses the development of boys' school stories from the nineteenth century to the BBC series Grange Hill (set in a mixed-gender comprehensive school), without a single reference to girls' school stories or their authors.

It was left to Auchmuty and The Women's Press, also in 1992, to publish the first book which provided a feminist reappraisal of the importance and meaning of the genre as a whole without simply repeating the themes of critics throughout the twentieth century. Significantly, Auchmuty introduces A World of Girls by writing that:

Auchmuty states that her aim in writing the book was "an attempt to say why girls' school stories have appealed, not only to me personally, but also to many women of different ages and background, in Britain and elsewhere, across more than half a century" (p3). In using this as her starting point, Auchmuty takes a very different attitude to the genre's millions of girl and women readers to Nicholas Tucker, who had simply dismissed the readers as "dull daydreamers".

Despite her background as a historian and more recently as a law lecturer, Auchmuty also eschews "realism" as the touchstone of quality. Having presented her findings, Auchmuty concludes that:

Auchmuty, then, was the first critic to identify the real significance of the absence of parental authority and centrality of friendships in the genre (features which had first been noted by Trease). Perhaps it is relevant that Auchmuty spent her childhood in Australia, rather than being exposed to contemporary critical attitudes in the UK.

The publication of Eva Löfgren's Schoolmates of the Long-Ago: Motifs and Archetypes in Dorita Fairlie Bruce's Boarding School Stories (Symposium Graduale, 1993) also reflects the fact that British girls' school stories were read in many different countries, often in translation, and that this phenomenon was not, as might have been expected, confined to the former constituents of the British Empire. Löfgren provides a detailed and serious analysis of Bruce's work using Northrop Frye's system of archetypal criticism, and her work is discussed further elsewhere in the hyperthesis. Shirley Foster and Judy Simons also take the genre seriously, devoting a chapter to Angela Brazil's The Madcap of the School in What Katy Read: Feminist Re-Readings of 'Classic' Stories for Girls (Macmillan, 1995), and describing her work as "an exemplar of the school story genre that Brazil pioneered and that was to have such a profound impact on girls' reading experience during the twentieth century" (p192); their work is also discussed elsewhere.

Janet Montefiore's "The Fourth Form Girls Go Camping: Sexual Identity and Ambivalence in Girls' School Stories" (in Still, Judith and Worton, Michael [eds.], Textuality and Sexuality: Reading Theories and Practices, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1993, pp173-192) is largely concerned with parodies of girls' school stories, and thus is discussed further in the following section. Montefiore's paper, as with Frith's, purports to cover the genre as a whole, but is actually based largely on the study of books by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Enid Blyton and Dorita Fairlie Bruce, resulting in claims about the role of character and realism which could not be sustained in an analysis of the genre before the mid-1920s. For example, Montefiore claims that school stories "always present a range of characters who persist from story to story". This is true of series by the authors mentioned above and by more recent writers such as Antonia Forest, but many of the books in the genre are not part of any series, and only a tiny minority of books by Angela Brazil feature the same characters (Bruce was probably the first series writer).

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's biographer Helen McClelland has recorded the changes in critical attitudes towards girls' school stories in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Similarly, in her revised edition of her biography of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Behind the Chalet School (Bettany Press, 1996), McClelland writes that:


It is probable that one reason for the changing attitude towards the genre during the 1990s was its continuing readership and the emergence of a thriving fan movement at the beginning of the 1990s, as well as the critical reappraisals by Auchmuty which gave support to women who wished to take the books seriously. The fans themselves have written extensively about the genre in their own publications, and in 1994, the centenary of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's birth, they organised their own six-week exhibition, "Back to the Chalet School" at the Edinburgh Museum of Childhood. This had a very different tone to the Bethnal Green exhibition held a decade beforehand. (By now the Bethnal Green exhibition area had been turned into a cafeteria.) The Edinburgh exhibition included a great deal of factual information alongside the inevitable dustjackets, and treated the memorabilia so treasured by the fans - much of it created by themselves - as being an integral and equally important part of the whole. The exhibition was opened by Tony Chambers, head of Brent-Dyer's original publishers, and it received hundreds of visitors as well as favourable reviews in the media.

The fans' attitude to the critics is summed up in the introduction by Rosemary Auchmuty and Ju Gosling to the Bettany Press book The Chalet School Revisited (1994), which urges Brent-Dyer's fans to:


Perhaps it would be tempting to believe that post-war critical attitudes towards girls' school stories had no effect at all on the genre's readers, given that such a loyal readership remained until the 1990s. It might even be argued that post-war readers were alerted by the critics to weaknesses in the genre of which they would otherwise remain unaware, and were offered new insights into the books as well as a richer reading choice as a result. However, my analysis of the criticism during the first half of the century shows that the themes of the post-war critics remained largely unchanged from the 1920s: "good" books were realistic, with good characterisation; "bad" books were "sensational" and "sentimental". And my study of the parodies of girls' school stories reveals that in any case the fans are highly aware of the weaknesses in the books; in fact they have charted the genre's weaknesses in far greater detail than the critics.

The significant differences which exist between the post-war critics and the critics writing in the first half of the twentieth century are, first, that the public school ethos which had been praised during the 1930s was now seen as being politically undesirable; and second, that the definition of a "good" book was now extended to mean only one which could be enjoyed by both genders or solely by boys. In this analysis, there was no place left for girls' school stories. It cannot be a coincidence that the vast majority of "girls' books" which were marginalised by this critical judgement were girls' school stories rather than any other genre. Since boys' school stories were not treated in a similar way, it is probable that the broader reasons which were given by the critics regarding the undesirability of girls' books masked a specific attack on the genre itself, for reasons other than those stated overtly.

There was, of course, a genuine fear among some that the propagation of pre-war values would encourage racism, class prejudice and under-achievement by girls, and the concept that girls could read subversively did not arise until the 1980s. However, my study of the parodies of girls' school stories reveals that the fans themselves are highly aware of the political undesirability of some of the ideas portrayed in the books, while many fans are both high-achievers and socialists. Equally, the pre-war books still foregrounded girls' lives and represented them as having careers, while, as has been shown above, post-war values in the genre kept pace with contemporary society. And it is noticeable that there has been very little criticism published of contemporary girls' books such as the "Sweet Valley High" or the "Babysitters" series, although the books could justifiably be accused of lowering girls' expectations and so of being a "bad influence", nor have there been mainstream attempts to create alternative, more feminist popular reading for girls.

In fact, the underlying reason for the attack on girls' school stories can be detected by examining the effects of the post-war criticism on the genre's readership and potential readership. Whereas, before the Second World War, girls had a constant "flood" of popular fiction of their own, after the war there were far fewer new books on offer which were aimed at girls. While authors continued to write and publish books which were aimed specifically at boys, the critics' view of girls' books as highly undesirable was reinforced by parents, teachers and librarians. Girls were reminded by these attempts to censor and direct their reading that the all-female community which, before the war, had been at the centre of their fictional and often of their real lives, was secondary to their lives within the community. In the world of the girls' school, girls and women held positions of power; their relationships with other girls and women were forefronted; and they moved on to independent lives which meant that, if they wished, there was no need to marry. In the outside community and the mixed school, though, women were subordinate, and girls' most important relationships were as daughters and as future wives and mothers, dependent on men.

The combination of the attack on the genre of girls' school stories by the majority of the critics, and the ridicule to which they have been subjected by most of the parodists, means that post-war readers have been encouraged to regard the ideals of female community and female friendship portrayed in the genre as being equally undesirable and ridiculous. The use of "realism" as a hallmark of a "good" book has also been used to attack the genre. As Frith states: "the reader; asked to recognise that the stories cannot be good because they are not realistic . . . may come to accept that the desires they allow her to express - for fun, freedom, friendship and a life unconstrained by gender difference - are also 'unreal'". (pp133-4) However, Frith assigns the blame for the readers' acceptance that their desires are "unreal" to the "unrealistic" contents of the genre itself; this is probably an example of the effects of Modkeski's internalised "critical double standard".

As my study of pre-war criticism shows, many girls' school stories were in fact perceived as being "realistic" at the time when they were first published. Stories were only regarded as being "bad" if they were "sensational", i.e. portrayed girls heroically, thus being "unrealistic"; or overly "sentimental", i.e. portrayed girls' friendships as passionate and competing in importance with heterosexual relationships. The core values and ambitions which girls were being encouraged in by their reading were never criticised, and the centrality of friendships was acceptable so long as they were "wholesome". However, as Auchmuty demonstrates, the fear already existed that the genre would encourage women to live independent lives, and would teach girls and women to value their relationships with other girls and women above their relationships with families and heterosexual partners.

Auchmuty has noted that the effects of these fears on the content of Elsie J. Oxenham's girls' stories is apparent by 1930. As my study of the pre-war criticism shows, the content of the genre changed in the 1930s to centralise "the public school spirit", and it is highly significant that these were the only books which met with the approval of the critics. The growth of children's book criticism following the Second World War disguises the fact the opponents of girls' school stories had simply become more overt, and had seized the authority which they had previously lacked in order to destroy the genre. Auchmuty's claim that: "the destruction of the schoolgirl story is a major piece of evidence for the imposition of compulsory heterosexuality in twentieth-century Britain" may seem to be extreme on first reading, but this study proves that there is abundant evidence to support her claim.

Next: 8. The Parodies of Girls' School Stories
Return to: Virtual Worlds of Girls Index

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