The Enid Blyton Society
The Saucy Jane Family
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Book Details...

First edition: 1948
Publisher: Lutterworth Press
Illustrator: Ruth Gervis
Category: Caravan Family
Genre: Family
Type: Novels/Novelettes

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Reprint Covers
Artwork
Review by Robert Houghton
Further Illustrations

Reprints


Wraparound dustwrapper from the 1st edition, illustrated by Ruth Gervis



Frontis from the 1st edition, illustrated by Ruth Gervis



Title page from the 1st edition



Wraparound dustwrapper from the 1953 reprint, illustrated by Ruth Gervis



Frontis from the 1953 reprint, illustrated by Ruth Gervis
The Saucy Jane Family carries the 'ideal holiday' syndrome to even greater heights by having the family leave their caravans (albeit temporarily) in order to experience life in a houseboat. Again, the book is wonderfully atmospheric, with its descriptions of the sun on the water, the wildlife along the canal and the traffic that uses it. Early in the story Enid describes the canal as 'a soft pale blue, edged with green.' And continues; 'The sun was rising, and here and there gold flecks freckled the water.' managing to convey a perfect picture of early morning on a canal better than any more lengthy descriptions could ever do. The Saucy Jane Family is also a book very much of its time, and a reminder that in the 1940's canals were still in the main used by the working barges for which they were built, and that pleasure craft were very few and far between. This is underlined by the fact that the family stay in a houseboat and not a narrow boat. They are very much on the 'fringes' of the canal world; waved at by the 'friendly and polite' bargees that pass by, but not exactly accepted by them. When a working barge goes past, one of the boat children shout to Belinda, 'Yours is only a houseboat...It's a play-boat. Ours goes to work...We go for miles and miles.' Which further emphasises the divide.

With The Saucy Jane Family, Enid dispenses with plot almost totally, unless learning to swim (apparently the children's school has not taught them to do this yet, despite claims that they would!) and taking a trip on a working boat can be classed as plot. This matters little, however, for it is the smaller happenings that make the book (and the series) what it is. The children swim with their parents in the canal (something not advisable in the polluted canals of this day and age!) and Ann, who refuses to learn, is taught a harsh lesson when she nearly drowns. This is one of the most frighteningly realistic scenes of the book, Enid using only the barest of descriptions; 'she went down deeper. Water poured into her nose and mouth, she couldn't breathe, she couldn't do anything at all!' but managing at the same time to portray the happening as a genuine real-life occurrence.

As the book progresses, we begin to realise that The Saucy Jane Family is very much like E. Nesbit's The Railway Children, with its focus on the canal way of life (rather than the railway), its accidents, friendly boat people, the rescue of the bargees horse from the water when it falls in, and the way in which the children come to love the canal as E. Nesbit's children come to love the railway. It could have made a wonderful 'one off' family story for older children had Enid chosen to expand the idea, and is one of the few children's books to be written (as far as I know) about life on a canal.

The Saucy Jane Family is also quite unusual in that Enid mentions real places along the canals length. One of the boats that passes is going to Birmingham, which, at a rough estimate, would place the house boat somewhere along the south end of the 'Grand Union canal', maybe somewhere in the vicinity of Newport Pagnell. This theory can be backed up by studying a map of the canal, which contains both upward moving locks and a tunnel of some considerable length within the space of a few miles of each other, just like those encountered by the family when they take the trip on the narrow boat near the end of the book.

There is one slight hint of snobbery during this journey, when the boat passes through what is described as 'a dirty town' where the canal is muddy and 'smelt nasty'. Ann asks 'Do people have to live in towns? Do they chose to?' but instead of Daddy giving the reply that many do not choose to live in towns but do so out of necessity, Enid lets him go along with the belief that 'lots of people don't like the country.' A sweeping statement if ever there was one!

Enid more than makes up for this very slight lapse with her brilliant descriptions of the locks and tunnel that their boat passes through on its journey, but misses out the interesting job of 'legging' through a tunnel by having a motorised boat pull them through, which I found rather disappointing. Her knowledge of how a lock works is intelligently yet simply put across, and the trip in the narrow boat turns out to be the highlight of both the children's holiday and the book itself. Once again, by the end of the holiday, Mike, Belinda and Ann have learnt about the animals and birds of the canal, how to swim and row, and, above all, as Mummy states, they have learned to be 'good children, helpful and sensible and kind.'

The end of the book is filled with a wonderfully wistful 'end of the holiday' atmosphere, whereby the reader can fully identify with Ann when she says, 'Goodbye canal! I've loved every minute of you and all the wild things that belong to you and the long painted boats that slide over you day by day. Goodbye.' It is a sentiment that we can all agree with, for I think, of all the holiday adventures the family has (even counting the trips on 'The Pole Star' and 'Queen Elizabeth'), the Saucy Jane is by far the most pleasant, and the most unique of all the locations Enid uses within the series. These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.