The Enid Blyton Society
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Book Details...

First edition: 1947
Publisher: Lutterworth Press
Illustrator: Elsie Walker
Category: Family Stories
Genre: Family
Type: Novels/Novelettes

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Reprint Covers
Review by Jenny Balston
Further Illustrations


Wraparound dustwrapper from the 1st edition, illustrated by Elsie Walker

Frontis from the 1st edition, illustrated by Elsie Walker

Wraparound dustwrapper from the 2nd edition, illustrated by Barbara C. Freeman

Frontis from the 2nd edition, illustrated by Barbara C. Freeman
Curiously overlooked by critics, House-at-the-Corner must rank amongst Enid Blyton's finest books. Personally, although it is hard to make a decision, I should probably choose it as my own favourite. I read it countless times as a child, and inevitably nostalgic memories would influence my preference now, but, nevertheless, it is a well written book, thoughtfully constructed with a close-knit and convincing plot. As always, the story is a compelling one and the characters are much more distinctively portrayed and are developed in greater depth than is apparent in her fast-moving and generally more popular and better- known adventure stories.

House-at-the-Corner is essentially a family story and the first chapter opens as Aunt Grace, a shrewd, sharp-tongued and rather interfering old lady, is on her way to stay with the Farrell family. Her memories of the five children are by no means favourable — an impression confirmed when we meet them all in person. Pam, the eldest at seventeen and a half, pretty and clever, but vain, conceited and lazy about the house, is looking forward to winning a scholarship (which no-one doubts she will win, least of all herself) to leave school and go on to college in September. Tony, three years younger, is equally good-looking, equally clever, and equally lazy, but he uses his brains simply to conjure up all sorts of ingenious tricks to play on his unfortunate form-master at school and to have a good time. The ten-year-old twins are the "babies" of the family: solemn, serious and self-reliant, they are totally absorbed in one another and in their passion for gardening, nature and the outdoor world. Finally, there is the plain, gawky, sixteen-year-old Lizzie, the "doormat" of the family who is delegated into undertaking all the chores her brothers and sisters are either too lazy or do not wish to do — like meeting the unwelcome Aunt Grace at the station. Shy and self-effacing, it is only Aunt Grace who perceives that she will surprise the family one day.

Clearly the Farrell family is not a united one: apart from Lizzie, its members are all too selfish, too absorbed in their own concerns and too unsympathetic to one another to "pull together" as Aunt Grace expresses it. When the twins startle the rest of the family by requesting to be sent away to a co-educational boarding school (Whyteleafe!), Delia shocks them all by exclaiming, "We're not really very united, are we? Lizzie's one on her own, isn't she? And Tony and Pam haven't much use for us, so we're on our own too. Pam only thinks of school and going to college, she doesn't help you at all even if you want her to — she doesn't really belong to the family. And... "

But Delia is right. Pam becomes more and more absorbed in the school play in which she has the leading part, neglecting even her work for the scholarship exam; Tony locks himself up in his own room, intent upon concocting his latest trick in the form of a bottle containing an indescribably disgusting smell; nobody bothers to try to understand the twins or to think of them as anything other than mere "babies"; and when Lizzie, encouraged by Aunt Grace, begins to write stories which are published in the local newspaper, she does so secretly, knowing that the others will only jeer at her efforts.

Things go from bad to worse as Tony plays his trick on his form master and, in order to avoid detection, throws the offending bottle out of the window and seriously injures a small boy, a friend of David's, in the playground below. Miserable and racked by guilt, he is too cowardly to confess or to confide in anyone. Pam, overworked and increasingly bad-tempered, quarrels with her father when he tries to persuade her to give up her part in the school play and then, after a blazing row with Greta, the much-loved Austrian family maid, induces the latter to give in her notice on the spot, leaving the family to cope as best they can without her.

"What's the matter with everyone?" thought Lizzie, puzzled. "We've all got across one another — we're not pulling together a bit. We might be enemies, not members of one small family."

Disaster follows when, the next day, the day of the play itself, Mr. Farrell is involved in a serious motor accident which may cost him the use of his right-hand permanently — and hence his work as a skilled surgeon. On top of this comes Tony's expulsion from school and, predictably, Pam's failure to win her scholarship. The fortunes of the Farrell family certainly seem at their lowest ebb.

But out of adversity comes the strength to conquer and, urged on by the indefatigable Aunt Grace, each of the Farrells eventually rallies to, giving up his or her own cherished ambitions and working selflessly for the good of the whole. Even Pam, who at first goes completely to pieces, recognizes her own responsibilities within the home. So when their father returns from hospital with the good news that he will, in time, recover the use of his right hand, Aunt Grace, feeling that the Farrells now deserve her help, advances the necessary capital to allow Pam to go to College after all and the twins to go to Whyteleafe School. In return, she herself is welcomed by them all as a permanent paying-guest in their home and when Tony's sentence of expulsion is reprieved and Greta returns and is reinstalled in the kitchen, the happiness of the family at House-at-the-Corner seems complete.

"We aren't all separate now, she (Aunt Grace) thought, "separate and pulling against one another. We're one united family, all for one and one for all. That should be our motto. It should be the motto for every family in the kingdom!"

This is, then, a family story, a story about the Farrell family and their relationships, not just with one another but also with school and the local community outside.

In all her family stories — broadly categorized to include The Family at Red-Roofs, The Six Bad Boys, Those Dreadful Children, The Put-Em-Rights and Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm and its sequel — Enid Blyton portrays and contrasts different families, good and bad, clearly showing the influence of parental attitudes and upbringing upon their children. In all of them the children must learn to live together, selflessly and sympathetically as part of the small family community, allowing them to take their place ultimately as responsible members of the larger outside world.

The Farrell family is portrayed at the end of House-at-the-Corner as Enid Blyton's conception of the ideal family — ironically as the sort of family which she, herself, at least in her childhood, never experienced — and it shows, too, all the unhappiness and bitterness which may result when a family is divided against itself. Clearly direction must come from the parents if things are going to run smoothly and there is to be a happy, stable and secure family home. Both Mr. and Mrs. Farrell can be blamed for spoiling Pam and Tony, but particularly Mrs. Farrell who is a rather weak, spineless character and does not honestly know and understand her own children. Enid Blyton's books are full of silly, weak and affected mothers — Aunt Rose in the Mistletoe Farm stories or, in her school series, Mrs. Lacey and Mrs. Favorleigh, to name just a few. But there are the hard and embittered mothers too, like Mrs. Berkeley in The Six Bad Boys, or Mrs. Jones in The Put-Em-Rights and the lazy sluttish mothers like Mrs. Potts in the same book or Mrs. Lacy in The Family at Red-Roofs who is quite incapable of running a home or of bringing up a family of children at all. All these mothers leave their marks upon their respective children: in Those Dreadful Children, for example, the two contrasting families of the prim and proper Carltons and the wild, rough and unruly Taggertys are quite obviously the natural products of their mothers' influence. There are, incidentally, comparatively few really bad fathers. Some are weak and too easily dominated by their wives, but the outrageous Mr. Jones in Last Term at Malory Towers is the only positively bad father who immediately springs to mind — unless Uncle Quentin could qualify for the title??!

More often the fathers appear to be sensible, hard-working, highly respected people like Mr. Farrell and, another skilled surgeon, Mr. Rivers in the Malory Towers series. Perhaps this reflects Enid Blyton's early preference for her own father, or her respect for her second husband, Kenneth Darrell Waters, on whom Darrell Rivers' father is so obviously modelled.

That the rightful place for any mother is most definitely in her home is argued very strongly in all these books. This is particularly interesting given the post-War background of the late 'forties and early 'fifties when all these books were written and when the question of the working mother had become an issue of national concern. In House-at-the-Corner Pam scorns her school-friend, Joan's, decision to go in for Domestic Science after leaving school. When Joan tells her, "I want to be the centre of a home, like women used to be in the old days." Pam stared at her. "Whatever do you mean?" she said. "The centre of a home! Why, girls are trying to get out of being in their homes now. Even married women take jobs outside their homes!"

"Yes, I know all that," said Joan in an obstinate voice. "But when I look at my mother and see how happy she is in her own home, and how we all love to be there, and when I see all the things she knows how to do so well, I just want to be like her, that's all. I want a home of my own, and to be in it, to be the centre of everything..." These sentiments are echoed by Susan in Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm when, comparing her mother with the ineffectual, irresponsible Aunt Rose, she declares appreciatively, "You're a proper mother, and I'd rather have you than any other mother in the world!".

The argument is taken to its extreme in The Six Bad Boys when Bob Kent's widowed mother chooses to go out to work, leaving Bob feeling unwanted, unloved, and deeply resentful. He throws in his lot with a local gang, turns to petty crime and ends up in a Juvenile Court. But when his neighbours, the Mackenzies, offer him a place in their own family, his happiness is assured. "I used to envy them because I hadn't a family too,", he thought. "But now it's my family. I don't need to peep. I belong!"

Mrs. Mackenzie is another example of a "proper" mother — but both parents are necessary in a "proper" and complete family and this book is also memorable for its portrayal of the misery and bitterness which results when the father chooses to "walk out". When Mr. Berkeley, after a prolonged series of quarrels and arguments with his hardened, nagging wife finally decides to leave her and his three children to fend as best they can for themselves, he leaves the latter stunned, bewildered and unhappy — just as Enid Blyton herself felt years ago when, in a similar situation, her own father also walked out of his home.

The Mackenzies in The Six Bad Boys; the Jacksons in The Family at Red-Roofs and, by the end of the book, the Farrells in House-at-the-Corner — these all illustrate Enid Blyton's ideal of the happy, united, sympathetic and complete family. All these domestic family stories are thoughtful, well-written and memorable books but House-at-the-Corner must remain, for me, my favourite. These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.