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Enid BLYTON: The Put-Em-Rights (1946)

Review by Michael Edwards - also appears on Amazon.co.uk

Appears (in an earlier version) on Amazon.co.uk:
    Date : 25 November, 1999
    Rating : 5/5
    Heading : An essay in social realism and class division by Blyton.
The version which now follows is slightly expanded, and a few details corrected.

      The Put-Em-Rights is a rare essay in social realism by Enid Blyton. It is about a group of village children whose lives are changed by the visit of a wandering preacher known as the Tramping Preacher, or simply "the Tramp". Believing that the only way to change the world is to inspire the world's children (and seeming to regard adults as a lost cause set irreversibly in their ways), this extraordinary man with a powerfully magnetic appeal holds the village children spellbound at a special meeting he conducts for children only, as he exhorts them to do good in the world.
      Inspired by the sermon they've just heard, a group of children in the village come away from the meeting vowing that they will do as the preacher said, and resolving to set out to try to make the world a better place.
      And there is much that needs to be put right even in their own village: Fellin the gardener is cruel to his own dog; Mrs. Potts keeps a slovenly house and doesn't look after her baby very well, and can't seem to motivate herself to live more cleanly; Mrs. Pepper is very poor, but doesn't seem to appreciate the charity that is offered her; and Mr. Tupp and his strange, possibly mentally-retarded son Will obviously have secrets to hide, and are threatened with eviction from their rented house.
      In order to try to put these social problems right, a group of six children form a band called the "Put-Em-Rights", which aims to work towards helping people deal with various social or family problems they face. Most of the children obviously come from the upper social and economic class within the village: Sally's mother, for example, is a very efficient (perhaps too efficient) schoolteacher who also seems to run the village's affairs; Micky's and Amanda's father is the local rector; and Podge's father (also Yolande's uncle) is a wealthy landlord in the village.
      In forming the band, the children are joined, slightly under sufferance, by Bobby Jones, one of the children from the poorer district (a group rather condescendingly referred to as "the village children"), who seems to be mainly motivated by snobbish kudos to be had by been seen doing good works with the upper-class children. The others try to be kind to him, but this difference in background does contribute to the tension which simmers through the story.
      The help the Put-Em-Rights offer to people is not always appreciated by the recipients, who see the children as interfering in their private affairs. Their well-meant but sometimes miscalculated intervention has mixed results: achieving a happy end ultimately, but sometimes only after making things even worse in the interim. While the children do end up having a positive effect on these various people they are trying to help, it turns out that quite a bit needs to be put right with the children themselves, and it is a rather chastening lesson to learn.

      It is a strange book, in my opinion, not quite like any other Blyton work; it would be interesting to know what inspired it. While it is recognizably in Blyton's style, its theme is not quite Blytonish to me. While I enjoyed it - found it riveting, in fact - I also found it vaguely depressing in a way I could not quite identify: perhaps the cause of this was the children's poking into a shadowy world of "hateful grown-up secrets" - a phrase Blyton herself used in this novel. This novel certainly depicts a world quite different from the childhood innocence Blyton usually likes to depict.
      Some of her other "family-type" stories depict the seamier side of that adult world, too: for instance, in the two Six Cousins books, we witness Rose Longfield's quite pathetic inability to adapt to her new situation after her house has burned down and she has lost her wealth (and it quite makes the reader squirm, too); The Six Bad Boys explores the various attitudes of Bob Kent's and Tom Berkeley's parents to their sons' slide into delinquency; and in The Family at Red-Roofs we are privy to the gossip and tale-bearing of Prudence's aunt Mrs. Lacy, for whom Molly works briefly as a babysitter (so-called "governess") - and, even worse, her gloating over the disaster which befalls her sister (another squirm-producing scene).
      However, on the whole, these glimpses of the adult world in those other books are rather in the background, the cosy middle-class children's world still being at the centre, forming the main model of what life is all about, from which those glimpses at adulthood are deviations. But The Put-Em-Rights seems to put the innocence in the background and centres around that adult world, albeit from the children's viewpoint; here, this is the mainstream of what life is about. There's a gritty realism about some of the crises certain characters face that could almost be the product of modern-day economic rationalism, even though the book was in fact written about 50 years ago. I found the world of The Put-Em-Rights inherently to be a much less sunny place than in most of Blyton's other novels - but probably a more realistic place.
      I found slightly depressing the general pall cast over the whole book by the atmosphere of small-town narrowness, scandal, and gossip. This is not a village I would eagerly anticipate visiting, would hate to live in, and it is quite a contrast from the idyllic, friendly atmosphere Blyton usually attributes to country towns, such as in the Famous Five books, where life seems so pleasant that I almost long to visit these villages along with the Five themselves as they go cycling or hiking from village to farm, farm to village. The Put-Em-Rights inhabits a totally different world; it would probably make a very good take-off point for a domestic-type T.V. soap opera.
      I think one of the things I didn't like about the book is the deep division between social classes that it depicts, and the way it suggests that those divisions can't be breached, and one really shouldn't even try to. Thus Sally Wilson, the bossy daughter of the bossy schoolteacher; Micky and Amanda, the Rectory children; and Podge and Yolande, obviously from a wealthy background - form a kind of elite or clique, and the implication is clear that Bobby Jones, coming from a poor family with skeletons hidden in the cupboard, has no business even trying to be friends with them. I find that in the end a rather depressing outlook.
      If I had written the book, I probably would have taken a less accepting attitude towards this: I might have depicted it, but might have had some character vigorously challenge this outlook, might have offered some avenue of hope, however faint, that it could possibly change for the better, at least for some more enlightened people. I don't think Blyton was advocating this outlook - the feeling is more that it is just accepted as the status quo. But Blyton's book can probably be vindicated by observing that it is no doubt quite realistic about such matters - or was in its time: I would hope that since then we have made at least some slight progress towards a more accepting attitude about people from other backgrounds or social classes.

Michael Edwards,
Victoria, Australia.

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Original text copyright (C) 1999, 2000, by Michael Edwards.

More material on this web site related to Blyton

      Book listing for Enid Blyton

      More reviews by myself of Enid Blyton's books

Further links

      Amazon.com customer reviews - this title is not listed on Amazon.com.

      Amazon.co.uk customer reviews
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