The Enid Blyton Society
Four in a Family
Back Book 5 of 9 in this category Next

Book Details...

First edition: 1956
Publisher: Lutterworth Press
Illustrator: Tom Kerr
Category: Young Family
Genre: Family
Type: Novels/Novelettes

On This Page...

Reprint Covers
Review by Robert Houghton
Further Illustrations


Wraparound dustwrapper from the 1st edition, illustrated by Tom Kerr

Frontis from the 1st edition, illustrated by Tom Kerr
Enid's next Playways entry, Four in a Family is an attempt at a 'proper' family story for younger children, and as a prologue for her other longer and more complicated family stories, such as The Family at Red Roofs and House-at-the-Corner, it works very well indeed. It also manages, maybe, (albeit on a very simple level) to be the most message-laden of Enid's additions to the Playways stories. The similarities between Four in a Family and Enid's better-known family stories are considerable, and seem to suggest that Enid worked to a very definite 'blue-print' when it came to family sagas:

1. Take a middle-class family containing four of five spoilt children, living in a prettily named house: House-at-the-Corner/Red Roofs/ White Walls.

2. Get Father out of the way by involving him in a shipwreck/car crash/bike accident.

3. Show the children being taught to 'pull together' and to learn new responsibilities — usually to keep the family solvent or to make Daddy/Mummy proud when they come out of hospital.

4. All this must go on (usually) without the parent who remains at home (in this case Mummy) knowing anything about it until the last chapter, when she is allowed to throw her hands up in amazement and tell them what clever, good children they have been.

5. The hard work must result in the family surviving it's hardships, becoming more united, and in a cure being effected or lost parent being found etc by the end of the book.

In Four in a Family, the children set about working and earning so as to buy Daddy presents while he is in the hospital, and the intervention of this triviality, sadly, robs the book of any emotional or dramatic thrust it might otherwise have had, because, to be honest, the reader just doesn't care whether the children are able to buy these presents or not. In the family stories aimed at older children there is usually a very definite need for the children to earn money and in doing so, to learn to be responsible individuals, but buying father presents? That seems far too trivial an incentive to be used as the main crux of a story.

That aside, Four in a Family is strongly written and, like most of Enid's books, manages to be extremely entertaining. Several comments are made about the children's selfishness as the story progresses, and the children learn, as many an Enid Blyton child has learnt in the past, what their faults are and how to put them right. Roddy, for example, who willingly cleans Mr Fraser's bicycle for a shilling and realises he has always refused to clean Daddy's bicycle, even though he should have done it for love and not expected a reward. All three older children are taught that they shouldn't put off till later what could have been done straight away: while they waste their first day through lazing, and then are prevented from working in the evening due to heavy rain, the youngest child, Rosie, earns 6d quickly and easily.

As usual, it is the relationships between the children, the bickering and the reasoning and the learning to 'pull together' as a family that really make Four in a Familysuch an enjoyable read. Enid skilfully blends all of the usual ingredients together to make a perfect whole, and at the same time manages to persuade us that we are reading something totally unique. And that's because of the characters mostly, in whom we can at once totally believe.

Rosie, as so often is the case with Enid's 'youngest member of the family' character, comes over as the strongest drawn, and most 'sensible' member of the family by the books close. This is appropriate as, presumably, the book would have been aimed at readers of Rosie's age group and those slightly older. The device of Rosie's secret job is a very effective one, and gives the book its main focus of interest, as the reader grows curious, as do the other family members, as to what Rosie's job actually is. The mystery surrounding her job gives the book a page-turning quality, particularly in chapter 11, and it comes as a surprise when finally the nature of it is disclosed. With her money, Rosie buys Daddy a 'very expensive' bicycle bell (until I read this story I must confess I didn't realise there were cheap and expensive bicycle bells, though even Daddy recognises this one as being out-of-the-ordinary!)

Daddy sums up the whole theme of the book as it draws to a close, 'what a wonderful family I've got... A proper little family, that sticks together when trouble comes...' and in so doing also manages to sum up the ethos of each and every one of Enid's family stories for both younger and older readers, as well as one shared by almost every book she ever wrote, from 'The Famous Five' to 'The Faraway Tree'. It was a much-repeated theme, but to Enid it was also a very important one, hinting that maybe she thought these ideals had been lacking from the family life of her own childhood. Almost without exception, her stories contained a message very dear to her heart: that strength of character, and success against the most terrible odds can be achieved only when a group of people (be they friends solving crimes or families helping each other out of scrapes) work together to overcome any obstacles placed in their way. Only then will the rewards be granted.

It is easy, with hindsight, to speculate that this was Enid's dream of what she felt her childhood family could have been like, and her way of grasping at what might have been if her childhood had been as happy, after her father's exit, as it was for the children in her books. For Enid herself, maybe it was also another kind of 'wish fulfilment': the idea that, though her own father had been removed from the family, in an ideal world simply being 'good' and hardworking and deserving might have brought him back. The outcome of her stories always reflected this, containing a kind of longing for the magic and happiness that had been removed, along with her father, from her own childhood, and the hiding away from the harsh reality that was so central to Enid's life. However we interpret it, it was a theme (and an escape) that Enid returned to again and again, and could well be one of the most important reasons for her vast and continuing success. These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.