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Catching Them Young
Vol. 1 - Sex, Race and Class in Children's Fiction
Chapter 2 - Class: Snakes and Ladders
References and Notes for Chapter 2
Select Bibliography & Recommended Booklist
Plato, with his men of gold, silver and bronze, has long had a fundamental influence upon western - and perhaps particularly upon English - thought. Maybe the 1944 Education Act, which stated that there were three types of children (and lo! there were) was a faint echo of Plato. Certainly, the obsession in English education with segregating, categorising and classifying has only in recent years come under attack, along with the attached distinctions and privileges. In Britain, we take so much of this in with the air we breathe from the moment we're born, that it's difficult to step back to see the system and how it works. Why, for instance, in a college, should there be (with some slight overlaps) separate eating, common room and toilet facilities for students, administrative staff, caretaking and custodial staff and academic staff? Why this social apartheid?
Until about the middle of the nineteenth century in England, it wasn't so difficult to explain the different social classes and the vast disparities in wealth which went along with them - it was all ordained by God, as stated in the hymn `All Things Bright and Beautiful'
The rich man in his castle
The poor man at the gate
God made them, high or lowly
And ordered their estate.
God had, apparently, been doing this from the beginning of time, the verse above merely being a relic of the elaborate hierarchies of the Elizabethan and medieval worlds in which virtually everything, animate or inanimate, had its place, the whole being a reflection, on earth, of the heavenly hierarchy and harmony. Darwin, the man who, by his theory of evolution, did so much to shake this rigid, though, for some, convenient and comfortable system, also gave it support from a different basis. Capitalism can be seen as a kind of social darwinism - the survival of the fittest had left the poor where they were because of their innate inferiority. Charity, therefore, was the only Christian answer and even that wasn't given indiscriminately for the poor could be divided into two groups : the deserving (or acquiescent) and the undeserving (or troublesome).
Further developments, however, and more far-reaching ones, were taking place around the middle of the nineteenth century. Marx defined classes by their relationship to the means of production and this definition seems to me still to be the best place at which to start in any attempt to distinguish classes in contemporary Britain. Those who think `we are all middle-class now' will find most sociologists, and the Registrar-General, in disagreement with them. The student of literature, and perhaps especially of children's literature, shouldn't need to have the point demonstrated.
Shaw remarked, in his preface to Pygmalion, that it was impossible for an Englishman to speak without making some other Englishman despise him. In the play, he demonstrated the importance of language in a class context and it's difficult to believe that any language other than English could carry as many class pointers and associations.
Firstly, there's accent and although there's an overlap here with regional pronunciation, the north-south differences as a whole being particularly strong, it's clear that, for example, a
person using a short `a' in words such as `class' and `castle', a broad `u' instead of one approximating to short `a' in, for instance, `butter' - one who has a tendency, in fact, to use pure vowel sounds rather than diphthongs - will, most likely, be a member of the working class rather than the middle class. Probably, such a person will come from northern England, too, but most middle-class northerners won't speak with that accent.
When we come to words, although the picture is still somewhat blurred by north-south differences, the outlines become clearer. Differences in usage which show class differences appear in the following words : `cooee !' and `hoy !'; `cinema', `pictures' and `flicks'; `lounge' and 'sitting-room'; 'looking-glass' and `mirror'; 'notepaper' and 'writing-paper'; and `afters', `sweet', `dessert' and `pudding'; while it's interesting to think that, at about the same time of day, various English people will be sitting down to a meal which they, variously, call `tea', `dinner' or `supper'. Even stress can play its part, the working class tending to stress the first syllable of `garage', while the middle class, stressing the second syllable, still maintain the French connection, as they do with the pronunciation of the first syllable in `envelope', though it's difficult to say whether this shows a greater conservatism or a greater knowledge of the history of these words.
A further point is that the middle class, having had a disproportionately larger share of education - such is our system - will tend to use more words of Latin and Greek origin. Since, in English, we quickly have recourse to the classical languages to build up our longer and compound words, deserting the Germanic root-words, the British working-class child faces a classical barrier which his counterpart in countries speaking Germanic and Slavonic languages doesn't have to overcome since these languages are `purer' in the sense of using native roots for compounds. Czech even uses Slavonic roots for words such as `theatre' and `microscope'. In Romance languages, of course, the roots themselves are classical. Thus, English lends itself more easily to social divisiveness.
Sheila Delaney, in her essay `Up Against the Great Tradition', makes another very important linguistic point when she says `Our vocabulary of praise and blame is full of words which dissolve class distinctions into moral categories. "Gentle", "noble", "churl", and "villain" all originally designated social class."' To these, we may add words such as `servile', `royal', `rascal', `rabble', `mob' and `vulgar' which, though not in perhaps so direct a way, carry their own values in terms of class. Needless to say, the uncomplimentary words are those associated with the lower classes.
In passing, it's worth noting that I haven't even touched upon the question of dialect which is spoken, exclusively, it could be said, by the working class. In education, belatedly, there are now the beginnings of an understanding of the enormously strong psychological connections between a child's language and his or her personal identity. To reject a child's language, which has happened and is happening all too frequently in our schools, is in a deep sense, to reject that child. This is largely because language embodies a whole culture, oral or written - a point strongly illustrated by the series of remarkable radio ballads such as `The Ballad of John Axon', `Singing the Fishing' and `The Big Hewer' made by Charles Parker, Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and their teams of helpers and collaborators. Of course, revealing the class nature of language might lead to a conflict of values and it's easy to suspect that this is why the BBC sacked Charles Parker. Another person who was in trouble over an essentially similar language issue was Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator, who, taking the wholly reasonable view that language is a means of understanding and coping with the world and therefore a weapon for social change, put his theories into practice so successfully with adult, illiterate peasants, that he was eventually obliged to leave his country. Finally, if anything further need be said to stress the importance of language and identity, it can be added that language issues in recent times have led to conflict in many parts of the world such as Belgium, Sri Lanka and Wales. Most recently, a dispute over language sparked off the large-scale riots in the black townships of South Africa.
An article by Colin MacInnes in the Times Educational Supplement of 5 October i973 is of especial interest :
to cite obvious distinctions, one may say that workingclass social relations are less competitive than middle-class; less concerned with status, though not less so with social posture; more tolerant, and not so because of any principle, but because of being more acceptive, more 'easy-going' as the saying has it; less censorious, though not less critical; above all, less fussy, if more nonchalant and lackadaisical. In family life, kinder, if rougher, to children, and less ruthless to the old - though this virtue, as everywhere, is waning. Sexually, if working-class mores are more what is called `permissive', they are far from irresponsible; nor on this theme, is the working-class spirit didactic.
Later in the article he adds,
it does seem to me that working-class speech can be
more expressive, more varied, and more dynamic than that of the middle classes . . . As to inventing new words and turns of speech, working-class originals are unquestionably more gifted at this, so that their speech varies greatly from one decade to another - a sure sign of a language that has not lost its vitality.
The dialectic of class struggle, according to Marx and common sense, suggests that cultures conquer and absorb one another, and this process is already taking place in England .
This process of absorption we shall see vividly illustrated in children's fiction, while the remarks about language recall the present controversy over working-class language which has developed from Basil Bernstein's theory of `elaborated' (i.e. middle-class) and `restricted' (i.e. working-class) codes, first put forward as `formal' and `public' codes, respectively, in 1958 in The British Journal o f Sociology. Since that time, the theory has been much modified and explained owning to alleged misunder standings which, most likely, arose from Bernstein's obscure style.
His main opponent at present is Harold Rosen who, in his pamphlet, Language and Class, takes us back again to the question of a social hierarchy and the means used to maintain and justify it. Rosen tells us that, just when I.Q. was being discredited, having `offered an apparently cast-iron scientific case for an elitism which could in the political climate of the fifties no longer be taken as self evident' and when linguists were beginning to show how invalid was the `traditional denigration of working-class language',
Bernstein's theories made it possible to by-pass all that and to suggest a much more profound and intractable deficiency. The language of the working class was `restricted', not in the sense that it was `non-standard' but in the sense that it could not reach out to certain kinds of meanings and limited the power of speakers to understand their environment. The theories pointed to a basic cognitive defect."
It was clear from the beginning that Bernstein had missed much of the poetry and imagination of working-class speech but perhaps not quite so evident, at first, that he had provided support for a social-class structure. Later, Rosen notes that :
A thorough attempt to analyse the relationship between class and language would require us to examine the relationship of the dominant culture of our society to the culture of the dominated. This would inevitably involve an examination of the part played by language in the operation of this relationship ... I believe that one thing which would emerge from such an undertaking would be that the linguistic capital of the dominant culture is persistently over-valued and that of the dominated culture persistently undervalued 
Towards the end of his pamphlet, Rosen notes the `obsession with proprieties' of middle-class speech and (elsewhere) links this with the desire to conform.
It's with the foregoing information in mind that we have to begin a study of social class in children's literature. We must also bear in mind that children's literature is, overwhelmingly, written, published, reviewed and, often, sold by people with a middle-class upbringing and that - a further point - virtually all of these people and, usually, those who choose and buy the books, are adults. It's easy to overlook the obvious.
Obviously, too, the vast majority of books are written in middle-class English though it's perhaps not quite so obvious what happens when speech occurs in children's fiction. Working-class speech is usually represented in a kind of phonetic transcript, while forms of middle-class speech, though they may differ just as much from `standard' or `BBC' English as workingclass forms, are, on the other hand, seldom treated in the same way.
Anyone who picks up a pen to write in English must, therefore, use a language many of the words of which have, over the course of centuries, acquired emotional overtones and associations and which carry assumptions of all kinds. Many of these, as is to be expected - indeed, which is inevitable in a class-based society - will have to do with social class.
Today's writer of stories, plays and novels, furthermore, as far as fictional characters are concerned, writes against the background of a tradition in which, until very recent times, working-class characters, if they appeared at all, appeared invariably in minor roles and in a very few categories. They could, for instance, be objects of charity (but only if loyal and obedient workers); repugnant characters, often criminals, who posed a menace to the social structure; or menials who were usually funny. Again, we can simply resolve this into the two categories of the deserving and the undeserving, the category of a given character being determined by his or her attitude towards the power establishment. Looked at in another way, however, a socially divisive society can be seen as giving rise to endless ramifications of order and rank. From this point of view, the butler's status is higher than that of the kitchen maid as the earl's is higher than that of the knight.
As we'll see in the case of racism, such distinctions and differences can be conveyed to children even without the use of characters meant to represent actual people. A good example of this, from the second half of the nineteenth century-a period when social distinctions were paramount - is provided in Stories for my Children by E.H.Knatchbull-Hugessen, MP. In the story, The Two Hall-Servants, the two in question are `a spruce Silk Umbrella and an Oak Walking-stick in the hall of a house in Grosvenor Square'. The walking-stick says to the umbrella :
you are kept for the cloudy, rainy, disagreeable days, when no well-bred walking-stick would care to be seen outside the door. Moreover, what are you but a plain stick, cut from nobody knows where? I, on the contrary, come of a noble and ancient race; my father was an oak of considerable influence in his forest, and respected by all the saplings who knew him; and several of my relations have gold heads and move in the most fashionable circles 
They go for a walk and meet a broom, a 'careless' fellow ... a contemptible scrub ... never admitted into decent society' and tell him, `Learn, Sir, to reverence your betters.'
Things haven't changed much since but the ways of treating them have become a good deal more subtle, as in other areas of children's fiction.
First, we can look at what purports to be a real-life story. Charles Keeping's picture book, Railway Passage, was first published in t974.. It describes, in turn, eight old and poor people who live in the Passage and who are called aunts and uncles by the neighbourhood children. Uncle William, for instance, `hadn't any friends, because he was always shouting and arguing about what he would do if only he had the chance - he'd soon change everything !' The full-page picture that goes with this text shows the long-haired Uncle William apparently giving a lecture to a small boy who's standing on a chair. Behind
them, on the wall, is a picture of Che Guevara. Then, there's Aunt Ada, who loves cooking, Aunt Emma who `devoted all her time, love and care to one little goldfish, that she called Sam' and Auntie Meanie who's kept very short of money by her miserly husband and has nothing to spend on the `beautiful clothes and things' that she craves. Uncle Ernest is a cycling enthusiast and is most often shown in conjunction with the five children who appear as background characters in the story. After the old people have all been presented, we come to the climax. They win £250,000.03p on a joint football pool coupon. We see them dancing together in the street in a degrading picture (see illustration) in which the most striking thing is a general shortage of teeth. Then, changes begin. They all have their houses decorated, except the Meanies, and then we're conducted through the list again and the changes are noted. The very houseproud Aunt Adelaide now buys her cottage and also the railway dump to have it converted into a rose garden and playground for the children. `Uncle William', we're told, `did not have so much to say about changing the world after he won his money.'
His fair-weather friends help him to lose it all at bingo. Aunt Ada can now indulge her love of cooking all day long but unfortunately she eats the results and grows hideously fat. Aunt Emma `in her excitement, and with little imagination, bought a fantastic great tank for Sam, and stocked it with hundreds of goldfish'. Of course, she can never find Sam again. The largely housebound Uncle Harry, one-time sailor, simply buys an automatic car and leaves the Passage. The Meanies, however, are another dreadful Warning. The man becomes even more obsessed with money and counts it all day long behind bars in a little upstairs room. Downstairs Auntie Meanie can now indulge her passion for clothes `but oh my goodness, what a sight she looked, with her knickerbocker suit, blonde wig and make-up'. A revolting picture accompanies the text. Uncle Ernest comes off best and the book ends with him: `his fortune didn't make any difference to him, because he'd never wanted anything else but his shop. He was quite happy making old cycles into new for the children.' We see him leading the children in a happy cycling party. What are the messages in this little fable, we need to ask. Well, political radicals haven't any friends - look at Uncle William - and it's all hot air anyway. Most people don't know how to use money so it's just as well they haven't got any, to speak of. Only Aunt Adelaide, who loves children and flowers, does something useful with her money, and even then it's something small and immediate. Cultivate your garden. The pick of the group is Uncle Ernest, and he was the only contented one to start with. So be happy with your lot. Things could be worse
Next, we can look at an even more overtly political broadside and one this time carried on mainly through inanimate means - trains and a railway system. The `engine' stories of the Rev W.Awdry have been on the go now for over thirty years, in huge numbers. The first 44 stories in this series of early readers, in fact, had been recorded on twenty-two 4.5 rpm records by 1969, and at that time, the first four titles had been published in paperback and in Welsh. Currently, there are 27 titles in print, 12 of these in two editions. In the basic series, there were full-colour pictures at every opening and press-out
model books were also available, along with the map of the Isle of Sodor, the `home' of all the engines in the series.
At almost every turn in these stories, there are implications about social class, status and politics in varying degrees of explicitness. In Thomas, the Tank Engine, for instance, which was first published in i946 (I examined the 16th impression, issued in 1967), we begin to get a very good idea of the status of trucks: `Now trucks are silly and noisy. They talk a lot and don't attend to what they are doing. They don't listen to their engine, and when he stops they bump into each other screaming.' Later, we learn that trucks `are silly things and must be kept in their place'. In The Eight Famous Engines the attitude is reinforced. `Every wise engine' we read `knows that you cannot trust trucks.' (A Meccano 'Percy' Train Set is by this time available.) In Main Line Engines, we read 'Gordon spluttered furiously. I won't pull Bo-Co's [the diesel's] dirty trucks. I won't run on Branch lines ... Branch Lines are vulgar.' Tenders, we learn, in Enterprising Engines `are marks of distinction'. In Very Old Engines the reader learns that it's much better, from the point of view of social status, to pull coaches rather than trucks and this emphasis on status is carried further when one engine tells another, `I'm pulling the Directors' train . . . and taking the Inspector tomorrow. Think of that!' A duke, in this story, comes to the hundredth birthday celebrations of two old engines. He's held very much in awe and deference, like anything very old in these stories. This is reinforced by the illustrations which show trains of the late nineteenth century. Everything is backward-looking, British Railways being slightingly referred to in Stepney, the `Bluebell' Engine as the `Other Railway', and in the interestingly-entitled Enterprising Engines we learn that the `Other Railway ... Over There ... [have] "hardly any coal and water."/" But surely every proper railway ...[ellipsis in original]"/ "Exactly, you are lucky, Gorton, to have a Controller who knows how to run railways."'
In Duck and the Diesel Engine we see how prejudice is built up against diesels because they're modern. In The Little Old Engine they're referred to as `Smelly Diesels' while in Main
Line Engines they are considered to be `ugly, smelly and noisy'. However, it's interesting to note that, in this story, boo-boo, the diesel, is grudgingly accepted, after the usual initiatory trial, following which, he asks, politely, to come into the shed. This strong conservatism, of course, reinforces the class assumptions of the stories. Oliver the Western Engine, one of the later stories in this vast series, carries on the animosity against `dirty' trucks - `All trucks are badly behaved' - and adds another element to the reactionary outlook. Railways are menaced by a new form of transport - buses - and the conflict is seen in overtly political terms :
The bus watched the passengers happily `milling' round the Small Railway.
`Stupid nonsense!' he grumbled. `Wouldn't have brought 'em if I'd known. I'd have had a breakdown or something.'
`I'm glad you didn't,' smiled Duck, `You'd have spoilt their fun. Look how they're enjoying themselves!'
`Pah !' snorted the bus `Enjoyment's all you engines live for, taking the petrol from the tanks of us workers. Come the Revolution,' he went on fiercely, 'railways'll be ripped up. Cars 'nd coaches 'll trample their remains.'
`Free the roads,' he growled. `Free the roads from Railway Tyranny!'
At the passing station Duck told Oliver about the bus. `I call him "Bulgy", [i.e. Bolshie?] he chuckled. `He's painted bright red and shouts "Down with railways".
Bulgy has a friend who is `red and rude' to help him, and there's competition between trains and buses over passengers and over who can reach the destination first. Bulgy cheats by having `RAILWAY BUS' painted on his side but when he tries a short cut and gets stuck under a bridge, the game's up -`but he never learnt sense. He told "whoppers" till no-one could believe his destination boards, and no passengers would travel in him.' Finally, in this political allegory, the apparently inevitable end comes: `He [i.e. Bulgy] is a henhouse now, in a field beside the
railway. If he still tells "whoppers" they can do no harm. The hens never listen to them anyway!' (see illustration.)
The germ of virtually every work of literature is conflict and, as I'm at present trying to show, in our literature the conflict is very frequently in class and political terms. As always, the outcome of the conflict and the way the reader's sympathies are aligned are all-important. The end of Bulgy is a resolution of a conflict but also a lesson. Since, judging from the gap be
Sad End of a Revolutionary
tween content and comparative difficulty of vocabulary, Awdry's train stories are probably meant to be read to children (this is supported, of course, by the fact that so many are available on record) I wonder why parents and teachers don't go more for the excellent picture books by Michael Foreman, which some children could probably read for themselves in any case. The Two Giants and Moose, for example, provide plenty of conflict but it's resolved in a humane and positive way. It's not presented in class terms, either. The same author's Dinosaurs and all that Rubbish is an excellent, but not overt, antipollution tract in which a dinosaur, at the end, tells the man who represents humanity that all the earth belongs to everyone living on it. Karl Craig's colourful and humane picture
books should be mentioned here, too, while Keeping's Joseph's Yard shows, beautifully, how love must be distinguished from possessiveness and smothering, if it's to survive. (Yes, amazingly enough, it's the same author who wrote and illustrated Railway Passage.) Still at the same level, the work of Maurice Sendak has attained a well-deserved place of honour amongst children's picture books. His Where the Wild Things Are shows a child containing and mastering his fears in the brilliantly-drawn symbolic forms of strange monsters (though it's worth mentioning that a small boy I know, who took the monsters in his stride, was apparently disturbed at the idea of a bedroom turning into a forest. In this area, of childish fears, it seems impossible to predict what will happen with a particular individual).
Let's move on to literature for children in which supposedly `real' people are portrayed. The most important thing about the next group of books is that class conflict is entirely absent. This is because working-class children simply don't appear. The vast majority of children who look into these books will look into a mirror in which they'll see no reflection of themselves or the world they live in. Their existence is simply not recognised. Given the class status of most writers, it isn't surprising that many books fall into this category.
It's a great pity that so many children, over such a long period, have made their first acquaintance with the world of books through the Janet and John reading scheme. The example I have in front of me is typical of the whole scheme. It's a simple story called Out and About. In it, for example, we see a picture of a very large, detached house in extensive grounds, with a long drive leading to a separate garage at the back. The text beneath the picture reads :
There is Mother.
She is in the green house. She can see us. Let us run to Mother.
56 Catching Them Young: Sex, Race and Class
The next picture shows the two children running across the lawn, their arms outstretched and a little dog scampering between them. The text reads :
Here we come.
Here is John. Here is Janet.
Here we come, Mother.
Father came home.
`Look, Father,' said John. `Here is my new blue cap. Mother got it for me.'
We see John running to meet Father, the cap outstretched in his hand. Father, apparently home from the office, in neat suit and trilby and with a rolled newspaper under his arm, replies :
`Well, well,' said Father. `I have a cap for you too. There are two new caps. One is brown. One is blue.'
Although it may well be doubted whether any people actually speak and behave in quite this way, the overwhelmingly middleclass tang of the scheme is all too clear. There's no need to labour the point as, fortunately, in the last few years there's been a growing awareness of the educational problems at issue here. The scheme, first published in 1949, was found to be in use in 81 per cent of primary schools in a survey carried out by Dr Elizabeth Goodacre in 1968, when it consisted of 6 basic books, 8 extension readers, 4 workbooks, 10 comprehension cards,
32 `little books', 22 story books, one picture dictionary and a great deal of apparatus, including flash cards, picture pads, word-matching cards, lotto sets etc. Two parallel series were on offer, one in phonic and one in look-and-say which could be used independently or interchangeably. It should also be noted that most of the many reading schemes, except a few recent ones, are similar to the Janet and John scheme and that the situation isn't likely to have changed very much over the last few years, as few schools are in an economic position to replace their schemes, even if they wished to. In any case, the 1968 estimate means that the vast majority of today's eleven and twelve-year-olds were introduced to the literate world (or not, as the case may be) through the Janet and John scheme.
Goodacre carried out her survey in Home County and Midland city schools. Don Labon, in 1974, carried out a survey of reading schemes in use in West Sussex schools containing children in the five- and six-year-old age groups. Against a general background showing a greater diversification in the use of schemes, schools tending less to depend on one particular scheme, Labon noted that Janet and John had dropped from first to third place in popularity, but was, however, still in use in 45 per cent of schools. What was more disturbing was that the first place in popularity had been taken by the equally obnoxious (and for the same reasons) Ladybird Keyword scheme, in use in 78 per cent of schools .
Naturally, some of the `classics' of longest standing come into the group where only middle-class children are portrayed. One of these is E.Nesbit's The Story of the Treasure Seekers, first published in 1899. The sheer literary skill of this writer is undeniable and she should be given credit for breaking away from the stuffy moralising of most children's books in her day. It's rather surprising that her undoubted political awareness doesn't show in her novels for children. In The Story of the Treasure Seekers, one of the six Bastable children is supposed to be telling the story but the distinctive, amusing and effortless style of the narrative is all too seldom found even amongst
adults. The values, however, are exclusively middle-class. The Bastable children are seeking treasure to restore the `fallen fortunes' of the family which has been reduced to one servant. (This kind of genteel `poverty' is seen again in the same author's The Railway Children where the family of `ordinary suburban children', with four servants, is reduced to one day-servant.) The `poor' Bastables, however, are saved in a kind of fairy-tale ending when a rich uncle from India, through their unwitting means, puts capital into their father's ailing business. They all go to live with the uncle in his mansion and he gives a Christmas party for the people who had been kind to the Bastables in their penury. The butcher, however, who had been very kind and understanding towards the family, was not invited. At the end, we learn that three of the boys are to go to Rugby `and perhaps to Balliol afterwards', which had been their father's college. There's a 'common' robber in The Story o f the Treasure Seekers but usually in these stories the lower classes only appear in deferential, if not menial roles. The strength of class division is particularly apparent in The Railway Children, where the workers are known by their surnames and speak a different language from the main characters in the story. Charity and doing good are seen as the answer to social problems.
Swallows and Amazons, a 'classic' of later vintage (1932), is another typical example of this group of books in which the children are exclusively middle-class and in which, if members of the lower classes appear at all, it's decidedly on the fringe. Here, two sets of children with boats play a pirate game. One group, the `Swallows', camp on an island but mother, from the mainland, along with other adults, is always on hand to help and advise about the practicalities. Thus, the children can combine adventure with security which probably mainly accounts for the book's popularity.
It was necessary to show how an ideological point can be made by the complete exclusion of working-class characters from the centre of the stage. Now, we come to a group of books in which both classes appear and in which, moreover, working
class characters are the principal ones. Mostly, however, they're defined or delimited by middle-class characters, or seen from an exclusively middle-class point of view. There's an absence of class conflict in any overt sense.
The Boy and the Donkey by Diana Pullein-Thompson is about Duggie, a young boy who looks after an old rag-andbone man's donkey while the old man is ill, enters it for the Donkey Derby and wins. Throughout the story, at every turn and in every difficulty, Duggie is helped out by middle-class people. Thus, his whole existence is defined by them and in relation to them. Towards the end of the story, we can note, too, the process of class absorption taking place, mainly via the ladder of the eleven plus and the grammar school. Towards the beginning of the story, Duggie takes Tammy, the donkey, to ride him in Rotten Row among `smart prams and uniformed nannies'. When Tammy bolts, Duggie meets a long-haired girl in a blue crash-cap, black coat and cream breeches, riding a chestnut pony, who says, 'Hallo, donk, what are you doing here?' Duggie replies, `I didn't mean to get in with your lot'. The girl has two companions and invites Duggie to `see how we canter, not that we are so frightfully, frightfully good'. She turns out to be Joan Worthington-Smith who, when she sends Duggie a book about riding, also gives him information about the Donkey Derby. Now the Smithson gang enters. They are the undeserving poor who speak very bad English and are cruel to the donkey, into the bargain. When Duggie tries to stop them, they set upon him but are stopped by a man in a Homburg who gets out of his car to sort them out. A rather middle-class woman with an umbrella also joins in on Duggie's side. Again, when a taxi is needed, urgently, to get Duggie's mother to hospital, `a young man with a rolled umbrella' steps in and gets one. `They are more likely to stop for me,' he says `looking at Duggie's worn jacket and grey shorts.' Later, this man appears again and pays the £10 entry fee for the Donkey Derby, on hearing how it had been given to Duggie by the old rag-andbone man but that the Smithson gang had stolen it. We now learn that he is `debonair' Mark and he has with
him MissAngela Freeman, `tall and graceful with swinging dark hair, and they could smell her scent'. Mark says, of the donkey, `We should really have a look at him before risking a tenner,' but perhaps he's only joking as, later, we learn, by the way, that he'd once given a 'fiver' to a beggar in Naples. Now, a little more than half-way through, class absorption comes to the fore. Here, again, Duggie is lucky as he has, in Jane, a librarian friend who helps him learn to ride and says he could go on to university or college to do agriculture and then `get a proper salary, instead of just a weekly wage, and be able to keep a horse to ride himself'. Before the climax, the Donkey Derby itself, Duggie has one more agonising problem as he gets stuck in the traffic on the way to the race. Luckily, a middle-class girl on a pony helps him out. Duggie, as the great race is about to begin, is certainly out-classed as he sits there on Tammy but of course they win and Duggie and Old Jock, the rag-and-bone man, are taken in a Ford Consul for dinner at a`white-washed hotel'. Later, the old man dies and goes to join his wife in heaven, leaving the donkey to Duggie and £2,000, which he'd kept in a box in his mattress, to his sister. The Smithsons are carted off by the police, Angela's sister, with her `gay educated voice' makes a brief appearance and, finally, we learn that Duggie will get through the eleven plus.
At this point, we can look back to a milestone in the history of children's fiction. The History of Sandford and Merton was originally published, in three volumes, over the ideologically important years 1783-89 and it continued to exist, in various forms, up to 1891. It's customary now to scoff at Thomas Day's long, humourless and religious story of the moral education of Tommy Merton, a rich gentleman's son along with Harry Sandford, a poor farmer's boy, both of them under the tutelage of Mr Barlow, a local vicar. As regards social class however, Day, the follower of Rousseau's Emile, has something important to say to us. The good points of the book have been generally overlooked. Firstly, Day is clearly on the side of the poor against the rich, the concept of an English `gentleman' being continually attacked as well as his imagined superiority towards
Other classes, races and nations. Secondly, Day has no illusions about the usual type of education of his time, and remarks of one Master Compton that `He had almost finished his education at a public school, where he had learned every vice and folly which is commonly taught at such places, without the least improvement either, of his character or his understanding.' On the contrary, Day is an advocate of the most modern, discovery methods of education. Thirdly, he speaks up for women's liberation; fourthly, he speaks of labour as `the first and most indispensable duty of the human species, from which no one can have a right entirely to withdraw himself'; and, lastly, shows himself clearly as a non-racist, saying of Tommy, towards the end of the book, `He reflected with shame and contempt, upon the ridiculous prejudices he had once entertained; he learned to consider all men as his brethren and equals.' These are important points and of general application throughout this study of children's fiction. There is, however, the debit side too. Perhaps too much has been made of Day's concern about teaching children to be kind to animals (though he shared this concern with many children's authors both before and after The History o f Sandford and Merton appeared). However, this is perhaps because his contention, through his spokesman, Mr Barlow, that `there is no animal that may not be rendered mild and inoffensive by good usage' was not promoted by the fact that Day was killed when thrown from a colt he was breaking in. More importantly, on the debit side, we have to note that it is charity, in Day's view, which is the only answer to the manifest injustices of a class society. Charity oils the wheels of the system, as we see when Tommy and Harry go to a poor farmer's house where the farmer's wife tells them,
all our goods will be seized and sold, unless we can immediately raise the sum of forty pounds; and that is impossible, for we have no earthly friend to assist us, therefore my poor babes and I must soon be turned out of doors, and God alone can keep them from starving. Tommy's little heart was too much affected to keep the
woman longer in suspense; therefore, pulling out his
bag of money, he poured it into her lap, saying, `Here, my good woman, take this, and pay your debts; and God bless you and your children!"
The family became quite distracted at this action of the `little benefactor', the `little angel', and Tommy `began to be pained with this excess of gratitude'. We find another palliative for social injustice (which will later become very familiar) in Day's picture of the poor but `honest and contented man' who says to Tommy, `these are great gentlefolks that you are talking about; they are very rich, and have a right to do what they please with their own. It is the duty of us poor folks to labour hard, take what we can get, and thank the great and wise God that our condition is no worse.' This man is satisfied with his lot and thankful that he's not as badly off as some others. He also rejoices in the option on virtue that the poor have often taken consolation in -`Might I not have gone on in committing bad actions, like many other unhappy men, till I had been guilty of some notorious crime, which might have brought me to a shameful end? And ought I not to be grateful for all these blessings which I possess without deserving them?' Actually, however, in spite of these last words, he's instantly recognisable as one of the `deserving'. On this whole question, Day concludes, `The distinctions of rank may indeed be necessary to the government of a populous country; but it is for the good of the whole, not of individuals, that they can have any just claim to be admitted.'
Eve Garnett's novel, The Family From One End Street, was, when it came out in 1937, hailed as another milestone in children's literature. It was allegedly, a 'working-class' story for children. The opening sentence appeared to be uncompromising: `Mrs Ruggles was a Washerwoman and her husband was a Dustman.' (Double `g' is a common feature of fictional working-class names.) Now, looking back, this novel can only appear as a patronising view of the working class by a middle-class author - a view of the deserving, the poor but
contented who know their place and who can be relied upon to turn out and wave the Union Jack when necessary. They're defined and delimited by the middle class and, as we saw in The Boy and the Donkey and as we can see in many another novel for children, education is presented as a panacea, though in a rather strange, contradictory way, there would seem to be little need for one in The Family From One End Street - everyone gets by in such a jolly fashion. In this novel, we've reached the stage where so-called working-class characters occupy a central position. They're not seen as a menace, nor is there any class conflict : they're simply seen entirely from the outside.
Charity and luck, or a combination of both, see Mr and Mrs Ruggles and their six children through every problem, though begging would be a more accurate description of how Mrs Ruggles obtains baby clothes from the Vicar's wife. The Vicar himself gives £1 as a christening present for William; Kate, the clever child who wins a scholarship but who, it seems, won't be able to take up the place because of the expense of a uniform, is given (luckily and in the nick of time!) some castoff school clothes by middle-class Mrs Beaseley; Kate is given some mushrooms by a kind farmer so that she can sell them and make money to replace her lost school hat (which is later, luckily, returned to her as her name was inside); William wins a prize in the baby show; and a kind man gives Jo money for a ticket so that he can go to see a Mickey Mouse film. Also, Kate's friend is able to go to the secondary school because her father, having won a competition, is investing the money in his daughter's education. Charity and luck, at every turn.
The book is loosely constructed, each chapter centring upon one or other member of the family and merely being either an account of a pleasant adventure or the happy solving of a problem. John has an adventure when he's accidentally carried off in a car to a very rich home where he attends a party with wonderful food -`the cakes, their tops covered with aristocratic pale pink or green sugar, had a look of great breeding'. The Lawrences who had accidentally taken John to their home are, of course, wonderfully kind and return him to his family,
along with all sorts of gifts for them and an invitation to them all to spend a day in the country at the Lawrences' home. In addition, during his adventure, John's `pale blue jersey had been mysteriously exchanged for a neat grey flannel suit', all of which inspires Mrs Ruggles to say `that woman ... is what I calls A Real Lady'. Finally, Mr Ruggles, looking for `pickings' amongst the rubbish, finds an envelope (with name and address on) containing k4 l. He decides, sadly, that he has to be honest and give the money back saying, mysteriously, `It's no wonder to me some chaps turn Communist'. However, he's delighted when an author, to whom the money had belonged, gives him £z - so much so that this author, reflecting that eight human beings could be made completely happy `for five shillings a head', wonders `Did one pity or envy Mr Ruggles?' Garnett, however, seems to have little doubt about what the reader's response to such questions should be :
Mr Ruggles was a very contented sort of man. When the wind was in the East and blew bits of dirt from his dustbins and cart into his eyes and mouth he spat and swore a bit, but it was soon over. So long as he had his job and his family were well and happy, and he could smoke his pipe and work in his garden, see his mates at the Working Men's Club once or twice a week, dream about his Pig, and have a good Blow Out on Bank Holidays, he wanted nothing more?°
Indeed, `Nothing is here for tears'. The author who'd lost the money, however, had not known the true cause of the disproportionate gratitude of this easily-contented man when he was given the £z reward. It was because the whole Ruggles family was thereby enabled to go up to London to see Uncle Charlie compete in the cart-horse parade. Uncle Charlie, naturally, gets a first prize and suggests they all have `a Regular Blow Out in a Posh Tea Shop'. So they go off to Lyons and the story ends.
A much more interesting question faces us than that pondered by the author who rewarded Mr Ruggles : why did such
a condescending, demeaning and implausible book receive and, in fact, why does it still continue to receive, such acclaim? The answer isn't far to seek. As we've seen, the process by which a literary idea becomes an actual book in front of a child is almost entirely in middle-class hands. That explains quite a lot as it's clearly a comfort to middle-class consciences to think of the less fortunate in the way this novel invites them to. From the point where the book is in front of the child onwards, the answer's not so obvious but can, I think, be explained - as far as working-class children are concerned - in terms of Paulo Freire's theory of `housing' or 'interiorisation', which says that gradually, and in the course of time, an oppressed people come to believe in the inferiority attributed to them by their oppressors. That is, of course, in so far as such children actually like the book. I don't know how many do so, but I know that children, especially younger ones of the `deserving' kind, often say they like books they are supposed to like.
Some twenty-three years later, essentially the same dish, but disguised by a better garnish was served up by Elizabeth Stucley in Magnolia Buildings. Again, there was great critical, or uncritical, acclaim. The condescension isn't quite so obvious as in The Family From One End Street but it's certainly there. Luck and the `ladder' concept of society is stressed again. Here, for instance, Doreen is the clever one who wants to be `a teacher and a missionary, and go to teach the black children of Africa'. After the eleven plus, she's `entitled to a place at the Green Coat School, one of the principal girls' schools of London'. Her green school coat is `the emblem of her career and success'. (As in The Family From One End Street, there's a problem of affording the uniform but it is, of course, resolved.) There are even higher rungs, however, on the educational ladder, as we can see when Ally, another of the working-class family's children, meets, on holiday (which they're able to afford when Auntie Glad wins £250 with a Premium Bond) a girl called Audrey. Ally informs her `mum', 'Audrey goes to a private school, and her mum thinks my hair's lovely. They're going to ask me to Purley when we get back'. It was clear which way her thoughts
were turning when she listened, with great interest, to her grandma's stories of what she had had to do in her younger days as 'under-nurse' for the `young gentlemen' and `young ladies'. Ally had started off being obsessed by `glamour' but learns, towards the end, `that money must be earned by good work, and that if you take on a job, it is better to do it properly', and, finally, we're told that she's to be a West End hairdresser. (She may meet a Duke and marry him and be `a posh lady'.) Mum, who prefaces most of her remarks by `Cor !', has a problem about going into hospital as she doesn't have four decent nightgowns and a dressing-gown and would `die of shame rather than wear one of those workhouse outfits'. However, it all comes out right in the end, and Dad takes a day off from `Those flipping British Railways' to take her into hospital. If it weren't for the fact that so many of the features I've noted form such a familiar pattern in so many stories, I'd be inclined to think that Stucley had had The Family From One End Street in front of her as she wrote, especially when the `Gang of the Black Hand' in the earlier work becomes the `Black Hand Gang' in Magnolia Buildings.
The present-day successor to Magnolia Buildings is probably Tommy Mac by Margaret Stuart Barry, first published in 1972- It consists of separate stories, all about a gang of boys but it's more subtle, in general, than either of the two books just dealt with. The main elements, however, are all there. A middle-class woman gives a lot of discarded valuables to the gang who are helping out on a junk stall. Amongst the objects is a picture which sells for £45. The undeserving poor actually appear, in the persons of a tramp, presented in the most revolting terms, and Stevey, Tommy Mac's elder brother who `worked on the docks when the fancy took him' and who drinks quite a lot. Mrs Mac is large and motherly but, when in bed with 'flu, is disparagingly compared to `a great whale stranded on a beach'. (This is one of the few occasions when the author's attitudes show through clearly.) The gang get a bombed site converted into a playground by demonstrating outside the `posh' home of a local councillor and unrealistically gaining the
support of his children. However, as the more obvious forms of charity will hardly do now, the proffered gift of clothes from the councillor's wife is refused. We have Miss Bloom, a very trendy young teacher, representing the ladder concept of society - she's worked for her money, we're told - and, lastly, two of the gang find Mrs Hart-Smythe's pension book and are rewarded with a feast and a pound each. A subtly condescending book.
It would be unfair to leave this group of books without mentioning some real successes. In The Latchkey Children by Eric Allen, there's no class conflict but there is what seems to be an almost innate understanding of people, especially boys, and an easy quality in the writing. Furthermore, and this is what distinguishes this novel from the foregoing ones, workingclass children are here seen without travesty or condescension - more, in fact, from the inside. A rather unusual note is struck very early in the book when we read, `Goggles ... hadn't passed the eleven-plus on purpose, which made him rather special in a way.' The children take on the world of officialdom over their beloved tree in the playground, which the council wishes to replace with a concrete engine. Children, I feel, would soon pick up the satire and the sheer unconcern of the adult world when Goggles, waiting to see his MP at the House of Commons, is met by his local vicar to whom he suddenly finds himself broaching the problem :
Mr Frisby nodded as he listened. `I am familiar with the playground and its amenities. But, er ... when I was a lad we were always rather partial to railway engines ..:
Goggles wanted to say to him, `But you don't understand.' How could he make him understand? - about how rotten it was for kids whose parents were out at work all the time, and who weren't in the mood to take much notice of you even when they did come home ...
`It's ... it's ... It's a sort of place,' he said. `Kind of . . . [Ellipses in original] kind of private. ..'
Mr Frisby nodded again. `Yes. Yes, I understand perfectly. It isn't quite clear to me, though, how you
expect our honourable friend to help you. This is a local matter, you know...'
`But he could tell them,' said Goggles. `If he told them they would have to do what he said.'
`Oh dear.' Mr Frisby smiled his dog-collar smile. `I fear that you have a somewhat exalted notion of the powers of a Member of Parliament ...
`However,' he went on brightly, `I think that I may be able to offer a solution. Have you or your friends ever thought about joining our St Justin's Youth Club? There would be a great welcome there for you. I do assure you of that. We have a wide variety of activities - sing-ityourself sessions, general knowledge quizzes, ping-pong... [Ellipsis in original]'
Goggles felt as if he had been punched suddenly and hard in the stomach. He felt empty inside. This Frisby couldn't have been listening. Couldn't have. He began to bite angrily at his bottom lip. It wasn't fair. Even a grown-up hadn't any right to be as stupid as all that."'
The `Honourable and Gallant Member', the fat Commander Brownlegg, then arrives and offers Goggles `a pudgy pink and white hand to shake'. He, too, recommends the youth club. `"It is our aim," said Commander Brownlegg, as though he were reading it from notes, "to make all of you young people feel, not only welcome, but wanted. That's the rough idea of it, eh, Padre?"' Goggles eventually does get in a word about his problem but it's dismissed as a concern for Parks & Gardens. `Mr Frisby smiled at Goggles with his teeth. "I don't think that we need trouble our Honourable and Gallant Member in this regard. He has more pressing concerns, you understand." ' The Commander and the Vicar go off, the Commander saying, `And just remember - if ever I can be of service to any of my future constituents, here is where you can always find me. I am yours to command.' Goggles sits down weakly but then comes the final brush-off. "'Looking for the way out, are you?" said the policeman. "That's it right ahead of you, down the
steps there." And then he stood with his hands behind him, watching Goggles go.'
This shows part of the qualities of this book. It's fascinating, too, to watch the entirely natural way in which Duke, the West Indian boy, gradually becomes part of the group. He's obviously lonely and lingers on the outside, edging a bit closer each time until he's accepted by them. Far from having to undergo an initiation, he does, in fact, make considerable demands upon their tolerance.
A success of later date is The Loss of the `Night Wind' by Sylvia Sherry, first published in 1970. It's a pleasure to read such a fine, humane book for children. There's compassion, even for the 'baddy' (and his motivation is explained in understandable terms); the boy hero, John Watt, at first sure of himself, learns a lot from the experience and wisdom of the eccentric Holy Joe, the old man who lives on Holy Island, and grows up in the course of the book to understand that science and rationality are not enough - he learns why people are as they are. The story is realistic - John has problems when he stays away from school - and the details of the region, of birds and bird life, flowers and tides are obviously accurate. Will Martin is held in contempt by the fishermen, as the skipper who, years before, had lost all but two of his crew. He's riled beyond bearing by these two and in trying to get some of his own back he accidentally goes too far and brings about the disaster which eventually overtakes him. Only John Watt and the old man know all the details but the old man advises the boy to let the matter rest.
A Pair o f Jesus-Boots by the same writer is equally outstanding and its Liverpool setting just as authentic. In it, the author manages to break almost every convention and cliché in children's fiction, except bringing in the police at the end. However, the book would be worth reading just for the character of Suzie - lovable, disturbed and seven years old.
These are books of compassion and human understanding, worth far more than everything Blyton wrote in her whole career - though that is, admittedly, scant enough praise. In
these three books, we see working-class people simply as people. It doesn't seem much to ask but we've been a long time waiting for this to happen, especially in literature written for children.
In this group of books, we've seen, for the most part, a very class-conscious world but one in which class conflict was entirely absent or rarely appeared. The clash is yet to come but, lest we forget, it'll be as well to turn aside, or upwards, for a moment, to glance at the highest class of all (unless God and
the heavenly hierarchy are included) - the aristocracy. Naturally, since literature specifically written for children begins with the Puritans, and therefore with the final consolidation of capitalism, we're mostly concerned with the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the working class, which continues into our own times. Most children's literature, therefore, in spite of the different forms it takes - some of which we have just been examining in detail - has the overall effect, whether conscious or not, either on the part of the writer or on that of the reader, of indoctrinating children with a capitalist ideology. Before the period in question, much of children's `literature' (if the word can be used for an oral art) had what might appear, superficially, as an even greater task - that of reconciling serfs, peasants and labourers to feudalism. However, it mustn't be forgotten that the feudal system was strongly underpinned by religion and it was a system where the discrepancy between rich and poor, between the powerful and the powerless, was so great as scarcely to require any ideological manipulation. Nevertheless, it can be seen how fairy stories played their part. Here was no ladder system of society, however deceptive; thrift and buying one's way could mean nothing in a system which made little use of money; and, of course, the 1870 Education Act and the eleven-plus were not only a long way off but quite unnecessary as devices to protect manifest injustice. Instead, there was luck (still with us and still a panacea, whether in The Family From One End Street or in the bingo-hall) and magic. There was a lot of magic - fairy godmothers abounded and triumphed over evil step-mothers practising the black arts; spells were cast and
broken; you had only to turn a stone to find a gnome or goblin. But such a complicated matter cannot be dealt with briefly. Let us merely single out a few equations which served to bolster up feudalism : the small and powerless, plus cleverness, equals victory over the large and powerful (the psychological attraction still, surely, of `Tom and Jerry'); poor people, plus kindness, equals wealth; poor girls, plus beauty, equals marrying the prince; poor boys, plus success in trials or tasks, equals marrying the princess; law-abiding equals reward. Many of these obviously represent psychological attempts to cope with intolerable conditions and religion has its part to play here, too.
The political and psychological effects of many fairy stories cannot be denied. It is, however, possible to trace certain aspects of this literature down to our own day, especially as they relate to those relics of feudalism still remaining, the aristocracy and, of course, the monarchy. No one who has noted the nonsense surrounding the present royal family can be unaware of the fact that this is still a powerful force - along with all, in the way of titles, honours and hierarchy, that it carries with it.
The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie came out around a hundred years ago and are still popular. These two books by George MacDonald, a pastor of the Congregational Church before he devoted himself to literature, are very interesting here because they are individually written fairy stories which support royalty. In the first story (which, incidentally, was Blyton's favourite book as a child) great care is taken to distinguish between Irene, the princess, and other, ordinary girls and there are references to a`true princess' and a `real princess' as well as comments such as `a real princess cannot tell a lie'. The idea of inborn superiority, common in children's fiction, is emphasised in this way and even Curdie, the boy miner (of `the better sorts of metals') is, we're told, `not a miner only but a prince as well'. He demonstrates his qualities by fighting the goblins, who menace the princess, and by saving the miners and the royal household from a flood. This is obviously to be seen as his test. Irene rewards him with a kiss and the king offers him a job in the royal bodyguard. However,
Curdie prefers to stay with his father and mother.
In the second book, which is a sequel, the person playingthe role of fairy godmother (but who is referred to both as Irene's grandmother and as a princess) says, `Things come to the poor that can't get in at the door of the rich. Their money somehow blocks it up. It is a great privilege to be poor.' She is, herself, surrounded by coronets, gems and jewels. She also tells Curdie and his father that they have royal blood in their veins and that Curdie is being trained for a special task. This is to save the king who is surrounded by plotting courtiers, shiftless servants and nasty subjects. This situation is surprising, considering how good the king is. However, Curdie soon puts things to rights, assisted by a weird assembly of imaginary beasts and (in the battle against foreign interventionists) by the fairy godmother's pigeons, `the white-winged army of heaven'. Curdie marries the princess and becomes king but their realm, Gwyntystorm, is wiped out after their death as a result of the greed of the successor, a king chosen by the people.
Frances Hodgson Burnett was another writer who did a good public relations job for royalty. In A Little Princess, we again have the idea of `natural' aristocracy. Sara, fantastically rich but good, is the daughter of an Indian army officer, and is placed in Miss Minchin's `Select Seminary for Young Ladies'. Here, she's paraded as the rich showpiece till her father, ruined in a business speculation, dies penniless and she's left an orphan. The news comes in the middle of her sumptuous birthday party, and she's reduced to an old black dress and banished to the attic in next to no time, to begin her life of degradation as a skivvy. Prolonged agony follows but Becky, the little drudge she'd befriended and now shares the attic with, tells Sara she'll `be a princess all the same'. The children had called her `princess', one or two in derision but mostly because she seemed a`natural' one. After several incredible coincidences, Sara's fortune is restored and she goes to live with her father's former business partner, taking Becky as her assistant.
Burnett's Little Lord Fauntleroy was first serialised in St Nicholas Magazine (sic) in 1885, and then published as a book
in 1886. It's still in print, and was available in, or, rather, borrowed from, Spennymoor County Branch Library in December 1974. In this boost for the aristocracy, a young boy from a family of the one-servant-poor category, and living in New York, finds he will inherit the Earldom of Dorincourt. He and his mother, therefore (his father is dead and dishonoured for marrying an ordinary American girl) go to England - Little Lord Fauntleroy to live in the family castle and his mother to live in the lodge (as the earl doesn't wish to know her!) Like Heidi, the little lord is so bright, sweet, beautiful, adorable and kind that he melts the crusty heart of the gouty old earl and there's a reconciliation at the end, when the mother is finally accepted into the castle after a false claim to the earldom has been exposed by tremendous coincidence. The servants speak a low-bred (or Irish) English but know aristocrats when they see them. There's much forelock pulling and charity is the answer to social ills - Little Lord Fauntleroy is so kind to the tenants. His former grocer friend from New York, the Republican and aristocrat-hating Mr Hobbs, comes over and is converted to the English aristocracy in a final bout of sickly sentimentality.
At this point, Lord Greystoke comes swinging down from the trees. In Tarzan of the Apes (1914) Edgar Rice Burroughs managed to take a fascinating idea and turn it into (amongst other things) another kind of public relations exercise for the aristocracy. The most prominent idea in the book is the delicate link between aristocracy and fascism with those indefinable notions, `blood' and `breeding' somewhere in between. Chapter 29 is entitled `Heredity' and we read in it that Tarzan had `the hallmark of his aristocratic birth, the natural outcropping of many generations of fine breeding, an hereditary instinct of graciousness which a lifetime of uncouth and savage training and environment could not eradicate'. Later, we come upon another form of the nature/nurture controversy: `In every fibre of '[Tarzan's] being, heredity spoke louder than training.' This is all linked to the might-is-right system of the jungle and Tarzan is referred to as a 'superman'.
A novel for children which shows the process of rising in a class society very clearly and which shows it in a wide, historical context is Keeping Tryst: A Tale of King Arthur's Time by Annie Fellows Johnston. It's a typical Sunday-school prize book and shows, specifically, how a lowly child can move up the social ladder. Historically, in its feudal setting and its mechanism of tests and trials, it recalls fairy stories and serves to show how social mobility, under various guises, however illusory, has always been a predominant feature of literature for children. The story centres upon Ederyn, `a little page' with blue eyes and flaxen hair. He is `an orphan lad whose lineage no man knew, but that he came of gentle blood all eyes could see, although as vassal 'twas his lot to wait upon the great earl's squire'. He asks a minstrel, 'prithee, is it possible for such as I to gain the title of a knight? How doth one win such honours and acclaim and reach the high estate that thou dost laud?' The minstrel strokes his `long hoar beard' and then tells Ederyn that some make it by fighting dragons and by this means `come victorious to their king's reward'. Some vanquish giants and some go on crusades `and there with heart of gold and iron hand have proved their fealty to the Crown'. Ederyn despairs, as, with his `stripling form', he doesn't think he'll ever be able to perform such feats. The minstrel, apparently not having noticed the nobility of the flaxen locks, advises him to be content with his lot. However, a year or so later, he has more news for the page :
'Tis the king's desire to 'stablish round him at his court, a chosen circle whose fidelity hath stood the utmost test. No deeds of prowess are required of these true followers, with no great conquests doth he tax them, but they must prove themselves trustworthy, until on hand and heart it may be graven large, `In all things faithful.'
The archaic language gives a solemn and holy air to the proceedings. Ederyn has to keep a series of `trysts' and, though these won't be easy, he accepts the challenge. At his first tryst,
he meets a faceless wraith who rewards him with a pearl: `It was the token to the king that he had answered faithfully his call.' Further assignations bring further pearls but the tasks get nastier: `Once he fared forth along a dangerous road that led he knew not where, and, when he found it crossed a loathly swamp all filled with slime and creeping things, fain would he have fled.' However, he pushes on for the sake of his oath and, this time, earns a star. At this juncture, the earl's squire is killed and Ederyn is promoted. This part recalls Pilgrim's Progress: the next part recalls Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. At the Castle of Content, Ederyn meets a maiden `so lily-like in face, so gentle-voiced and fair, that Ederyn well-nigh forgot his oath'. He resists the temptation, however, and continues with his trysts, meeting, in the course of time, Disappointment, Suffering, Pain and Defeat. Nevertheless, `he learned to smile into their eyes, no matter which one handed out to him the pledge of Duty well performed.' At length, one day, this former stripling, now `grown to pleasing stature, and of great brawn', hears the call from the king himself. After further suspense, he bares his breast before the king in the royal cavalcade :
There all the pledges glistened in the sunlight, in rainbow hues. There Pain had dropped her heart's blood in a glittering ruby, and Honour set her seal upon him in a golden star. A diamond gleamed where Sorrow's tear had fallen, and amethysts glowed now with purple splendour to mark his patient meeting with Defeat. But mostly were the pledges little pearls for little duties faithfully performed; and there they shone, and, as the people gazed, they saw the jewels take the shape of letters, so that the King read out before them all, `Semper fidelis'.1z
With the king's permission, he woos the lily maiden and wins her as his bride. Now, his great reward is complete and, as a knight, he goes out into the world `to guard his king'. Within the overall framework of rising in a hierarchy through trial by ordeal - a familiar enough theme in children's fiction - there are various contributary themes : lowly people must work hard
to earn honours; there are rewards for faithfulness; an Aryan appearance is a good indication of worth; kings don't work for valour but simply demand it; and sex is both a temptation and a reward.
It isn't necessary to pursue this line much further. Anyone wishing to do so should consult the very popular Babar books, perhaps especially the earlier ones, which established the series in the 1930s. Here, we have a particularly modern, perhaps essentially African, twist to the idea of kingship and I couldn't hope to improve upon the analysis given by Patrick Richardson in an article in New Society :
In the first of his key books, The Story of Babar, Jean de Brunhoff described a do-it-yourself coup d'etat. Babar is born into a primitive, matriarchal, child-centred community, which has no defined economic system and is ruled by a monarch chosen by the elders and elected by acclamation.
Babar himself left this society - its primitiveness is stressed by the nakedness of its members - and went to the west, where he was educated and made lasting contacts with capitalist elements, represented in the books by the `very rich Old Lady', who `gave him everything he wanted'."
The King of the Elephants dies of poison and Babar returns in the nick of time and in a motor car, `representing western technology'. His `election' as king is organised by Cornelius, his future chief minister. In the third book, Babar the King, we see the development of a privileged hierarchy - the people are kept quiet by foreign luxury goods detailed in the book as `dresses, hats, silks, paint-boxes, drums, tins of peaches, feathers, racquets'. A powerful military elite has also appeared. At last, in Babar at Home, the royal couple, Babar and Celeste, anxious to establish their regime, produce triplets and the dictatorship is to be transformed into a hereditary monarchy. The babies are even seen wearing baby crowns sometimes :
The political substructure of the story is as pointed as that in Animal Farm, with perhaps a higher degree of universality. The whole machinery of dictatorship is here : the capitalist-backed coup, the nationalist trimmings, the deception of the people by status symbols, the reality of military backing and the inner power struggles. The entire system is secured by a carefully developed personality cult of omniscience, justice and kindness.`'
Here, the stress on the monarchy extends to a wider political sphere than is relevant to Britain - at least just at the moment !
Two or three details illustrating what might be called an aristocratic outlook - certainly a very reactionary one - can be filled in from the work of Lucy M.Boston. Most of her books are concerned with the house she lives in, called in the novels, `Green Knowe'. Boston herself is represented by the significantly-named character, Mrs Oldknow, an old woman and the descendant of a very old, royalist family who lives in the old house. The strongest element in the stories is worship of the past and the house symbolises this. We read, in A Stranger at Green Knowe :`Green Knowe was not like any other house. It was of such antiquity, that its still being there was hardly believable.' In the same book, Mrs Oldknow says of the house, `It's a real sanctuary. Nowadays everything is changing so quickly we all feel chased about and trapped.'
Another part of the picture can be filled in from An Enemy at Green Knowe. The `old lady' is speaking of the house again : `The fact that it is different from anywhere else, with memories and standards of its own, makes quite a lot of people very angry indeed. Things have no right to be different. Everything should be alike.' This strange argument is very common, of course, and all the more strange because nobody seems to be arguing on the opposite side. However, at least this author has said, `I am out of the contemporary world'.
Although no-one in Britain can ignore the monarchy - the press and mass media see to that - it's now time to return to the
basic class struggle, that between the middle and the working classes, and carry it through to the present day to see where the battle-lines are now drawn up. To take the metaphor further, the monarchy and aristocracy and all the trimmings that go along with them, are best seen, perhaps, as a kind of smoke-screen, obscuring the real struggle.
However, there can be no doubt that the battle was joined in Geoffrey Trease's Bows Against the Barons (i934.) in which Dickon, having killed one of the king's deer, sets off hoping to join Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest. In the forest, he sees a handless corpse hanging from a tree :`Once it had been a man, whose only crimes had been that he was not born rich and noble, and that he had stolen rather than starve. Now he was a scarecrow to frighten others who might rebel, "forest fruit" for the hirelings of the rich to laugh at.' Dickon eventually makes contact with Robin, who reproves him :`All right, don't call me "Sir". We're all equal in Sherwood - comrades.' Soon Dickon realises `that it was true what these men were saying, that the King and the barons were equally useless to the people.'
Trease's second book, Comrades f or the Charter ( 1934.) is just as uncompromising as regards its class stance and the unavoidable violence of the conflict. At the outset, the tone is immediately established :`Dark and sombre ... was the year t 839. Dark with poverty and misery of the people, starving upon tiny wages to make a few rich men even richer, toiling for as many as sixteen hours a day so that those few rich men might sit idle.' The author even makes reference to 1926, `when the [Welsh] valleys, which were no longer any use for farming, were no good for mining either - like oranges, sucked dry by the capitalists and thrown aside'. Of Tapper, the finely-drawn Chartist agitator, Trease writes, `It was obvious that he hated bloodshed, but was being forced to advise it because the Government would take notice of nothing else.' Tapper himself states, `The capitalists will hang on to the last ditch ... They'll beat us by the law if they can, and if not, then with shot and shell. They won't give up their soft lives and their riches just because we vote or sign a petition.' The ending is similar in tone
to that of Bows Against the Barons - Tapper tells Owen and Tom, the boys, after the failure and massacre at Newport :`It's never over ... Never over. Not until all over the world the peoples are free. You mustn't think of this as just an odd adventure in your lives. It's part of the great war - the only war that was ever worthwhile - the war of the workers against those who've stolen the world !'
Both of these novels, though there's a small degree of coincidence and improbability in the first, are well written and constructed, with a fine sense of drama and suspense.
This same author, in i953, had published The Seven Queens of England with a frontispiece showing `Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the first Trooping the Colour ceremony after her accession.' Apart from the fact that he has here followed a path similar to that of many writers who came to prominence in the thirties, and, indeed, before and since, we are confronted with something of a literary conundrum which is only borne out by looking at some of Trease's later work, such as A Thousand for Sicily (1964.), in which he manages to be quite boring, as well as politically short-sighted, with nothing more than the odd gesture in the direction of progressivism. It was, in fact possible to see how things were developing much earlier. In 1040, a significant date in itself, perhaps, Trease's Cue f or Treason was published, a story set in Elizabethan times, in which the boy narrator, Peter, who goes to the grammar school and comes of `yeoman' stock which held land from the crown, eventually joins the secret service of the queen. At a critical juncture in the story, Peter tells himself :`If I gave up now ... the Queen would be murdered and the Kingdom thrown into anarchy. Thousands of Englishmen would die in the quarrel:
A great fear of chaos is shown in the novel and, while the conspirators are noblemen, there's nothing remaining of the sympathetic orientation towards ordinary people which marked Trease's first two books. On the contrary, in Cue f or Treason four villainous miners are introduced and there is, as well, a reference to a 'drunken German miner ... jabbering his foreign
lingo'. It's perhaps significant that, as far as coincidence and realism go in the structure of the story, this novel is much inferior to Trease's first two works.
For some kind of resolution of Trease's political development, or lack of it, we have to go to his autobiography, called, appropriately, A Whiff of Burnt Boats. In it, he describes how, after remarking that even Robin Hood was not allowed to be an ordinary working man but had to be the Earl of Huntingdon, he approached the left-wing publisher, Martin Lawrence, with the idea for Bows Against the Barons. Trease records that they were delighted with it and, after sampling, eventually published it. After Comrades for the Charter, Trease, having, as he admitted, got his foot on the ladder, decided that he `was not helped by [his] publishers' reputation as specialists in Left-wing literature' so `we agreed amicably that I should do better to seek my fortune elsewhere', although he remarks that most of the established publishers of junior books `had a far less generous attitude to their writers'. Trease, by this time, had attended Labour Party meetings and, earlier but without, apparently, any very deep sense of commitment, had worked at Kingsley Hall for a time in a do-gooding, petit-bourgeois, `humanitarian' kind of way. He apparently never saw leaving his publisher as a question of principle, nor the hack and unethical work he'd done before and continued to do afterwards : puff advertising articles; articles under pseudonyms for religious magazines, even articles for the motoring press, although he couldn't drive a car. Almost scenting criticism, he comments, `All this was not as unprincipled as it sounds. I never wrote anything against my conscience. I merely packaged my material to suit the customer.' So, we got The White Nights o f St Petersburg from Trease in 1967 and The Runaway Serf in 1968. These show the same sympathies as his first two books. The time, presumably, was ripe again. He had re-packaged Bows Against the Barons when it was re-issued in a new edition in 1966: `workers' became `peasants' or `neighbours'; everywhere the word `comrade' was replaced by something else or left out; and Chapter VIII, `Hammers and Sickles' was retitled `Friends in Need'. Perhaps
this was in line with the dislike for propaganda and the `passion for objectivity' which Trease, in A Whiff of Burnt Boats, says he'd been developing over the years. From this autobiography, a picture emerges of a strange, rather naive, somewhat selfcentred person (even his wife remains a very shadowy figure in the background) with little in the way of principles or convictions. He rather writes as an actor acts, taking on different roles, as required.
Trease is, however, responsible for a book on children's literature - Tales out of School (1948, 1964), which is quite a good introduction to the subject. In it, he makes a crucial point about writing for children: `The notion that absurdity and impossibility automatically increase entertainment value is a convenient cover for bad craftsmanship.' From the point of view of class conflict, however, in this book he associates Son of the Land by Ivy Bolton with Runaway by Jack Lindsay as examples of what he calls `rock bottom working-class life' and, although he does distinguish Jack Lindsay as a Marxist, he apparently fails to see that these two novels show, on the part of their authors, totally opposed attitudes towards the working class. It will be most instructive to consider these two novels in some detail to show how readers are aligned towards the basic conflict.
The two novels deal with historical events which are far apart in time, but which are closely parallel, nevertheless. We can compare the passages in each novel in which the boy heroes meet with the rebels.
In Son of the Land, Roger Gleason, a young serf during the time of the Peasants' Revolt, makes a bid for freedom, though less because of dislike for his condition (he feels affection and loyalty towards his master) than because of being unsettled in the confusion caused by the Black Death. At the end of the story, Roger, having rescued his lord from some outlaws, is given his freedom. We see him caught up, unwillingly, in the rebellion led by Wat Tyler and he gets his first glimpse of the leader: `Wat Tyler was a typical peasant, sturdy and strong but with bold eye and a determined mouth under his shock of red hair.' Here, the words `but' and `bold' give the reader a cue.
A few lines later, the attitude of the writer becomes even clearer :
Roger stood aghast. The great City of London was in the hands of the peasants. He looked more closely at the marching throng, after all a pitiful ragtag and bobtail mob with direst poverty written all over them. The faces were for the most part heavy and dull, sullen and unhappy, filled with a bewilderment which might break into unreasoning rage under slight provocation. These men would follow blindly any leader who caught their fancy. Here and there were others more dangerous, peasants whose eyes blazed with fanatical hate, men who had trained with the armies in France, who would stop at nothing in their lust to kill.
John Ball is described as `a tall man with a haggard discontented face and eyes aflame with fanatic desire. He was no real leader, he could not see far enough ahead for that, else he would never have embarked on this mad expedition of rebellion'. The `mob' becoming `the rabble' and then `the rebel horde' surge on, and the looting, destruction and murder is mixed with a drunken orgy when `the riff-raff' of London throw open the doors of the Black Bull to greet them.'-' There's no need to dwell on this historical travesty and, of course, Bolton has little or nothing to say of the causes or consequences of the Revolt.
In Lindsay's novel, Runaway, Brennos, who'd been kidnapped in Britain, and Maron, captured in Thrace, are young slaves in Samnium at the time of the slave rebellion led by Spartans. They escape, Brennos hoping to join the rebellion and then make his way home. Eventually, he reaches Britain, along with Maron and Felix, one of Spartacus's lieutenants. In the passage to be compared with that from Son of the Land, we read of how the two youths meet with the defeated remnant of Spartacus's army :
`The men were dressed in rags and in bedraggled fine clothes, and many of them showed wounds. Their hair was
matted and their faces grimy with travel-dust. A robber
band they looked . . . a score of the more violent-looking
men gathered round, sneering and jabbering out menaces :
"String them up!"
"Nail them on a tree!"
"Make them pay for our dead brothers!"
Certainly, there's no rosy picture of rebels in this `degraded pack' but there is a humane understanding of the situation, entirely absent in Son o f the Land. The boys learn that Spartacus is dead and are only saved from being murdered when Felix enters the story: 'they saw that he was one-eyed and that FVG was branded on his forehead - the brand which stood for fugitivus, and was stamped with red-hot iron on a caught runaway slave.' Felix explains how the men are `jumpy' and tells them, `Don't think hardly of the men. They haven't been taught manners in the places they come from' and `Don't blame the men if they look like beasts. They had something better in them. And if they're beasts again, is it their fault?' Now that the boys are accepted, and not thought of as spies, the men `seemed kindly fellows whose unkempt condition was the result of fatigue, battle, and forced marches on the dusty scorching hills'. Spartacus himself, far from being a maniacal discontent with views above his station, is spoken of as `a lion' and `a man', extraordinarily brave and capable as a leader
The whole of the two passages points up the issue excellently. Both books are about people on the lowest rung of society, but the attitudes of the authors are completely opposed. Of course, Bolton's attitude towards ordinary people is the usual one, both in literature and in history.
The problems of class conflict especially as they affect a writer whose sympathies are, essentially, with ordinary people, are well shown up in the work of one of the most outstandingly talented writers for children today - Allan Campbell McLean. It's perhaps best to forget about The Hill o f the Red Fox (1955), an early work of his and one conventional enough in its story of `Soviet espionage'. Only the qualities of the writing and its
setting - the highlands of Scotland - link it to the later work of this writer.
With Ribbon of Fire (1962) we're on different ideological ground and this is a fascinating story from many points of view. Firstly, it's set in the years of the Highland clearances, during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Secondly, it's told in the first person, by a boy whose mother tongue is Gaelic and `the English' resulting is flowing and poetic. Thirdly, the author's sense of drama and of structure is virtually flawless. Then there's the array of characters, seen in depth (at least as regards the poor) and in all their human variety. It would be possible to go on at some length about this writer's knowledge of the background and eye for detail, but it's the ideological aspect which must concern us here. The boy, Alasdair, soon sees through the shallow association of the local schoolmaster with the just grievances of the people when he notices that it stops short with words spoken safely in the schoolmaster's own kitchen. Alasdair also sees through the usual religious excuses for injustice and cruelty :
she was like that, my mother, always humbling herself to those, such as the Maighstir [schoolmaster], who she thought were above her. Mind you, there was more to it than that. She was the daughter of a Ceistear [catechist] a godly man, one who took no heed of the things of this world, so certain sure was he of the everlasting glory that was to come. My father used to say it would not have put the bodach [old man] up or down supposing everyone in the place had to scratch a living from the shore picking limpets from the rocks, provided they knew their Catechism. Certainly, he would no more have dreamed of saying a word against the laird than he would of letting a swear pass his lips."
Here, too, it may be noted, there's a hint, borne out much more strongly elsewhere in the book, of McLean's breaking of what virtually amounts to an unwritten rule in children's literature - the boy dislikes his natural mother. (In a later novel, The Year
of the Stranger, both the boy and the girl dislike their mother and, as here, mainly for religious reasons.)
Only one man is shown, throughout the book, to have firm and consistent political principles and to be able to see that it's the system itself, not minor flaws nor bad administrators, that is evil. The man is Lachlann Bann who returns from prison in Edinburgh at the beginning of the book - where he'd been sent for trying to prevent the eviction of an old woman who couldn't pay her rent. Naturally, he's thought of as an `idle troublemaker' by Alasdair's mother and an `ignorant hothead' by the Maighstir. Alasdair, along with his father and a few more of the men - most are afraid of doing anything, especially when the military arrive on the scene - are powerfully drawn towards Lachlann Bann. Pulling the boy the other way, however, is the laird's attractive daughter, Fiona, with whom he has a few brief conversations, whom he saves from death towards the end and who, it appears, can sympathise with the people. There's also the suggestion, aired more than once, that the laird himself is really an essentially good man who is not aware of all the evil things that are going on in his name. To the reader, the outcome of this, essentially ideological, battle over Alasdair is fascinating.
It remains in doubt until the last few pages when the author, after aligning the reader's sympathies powerfully towards the people, essentially cops out. Of course, the followers of Lachlann Bann submit in the face of superior forces as, historically, they must. On the emotional level, however, we're left with a situation where the laird comes through as a good man, betrayed by his evil servants. Alasdair, having long been in hospital with a fever, is no longer strong enough to work the land and is to be educated at the laird's expense in Edinburgh, with employment as the laird's estate manager in the offing. However, everything isn't quite tied up, and we're left in suspense until the last scene, even the last sentence.
The people are gathered together in front of the school, waiting for the laird to come and announce his promised reforms. There, Alasdair meets Lachlann Bann, who tells him
that he's off to America. When Alasdair asks why, now they've got, as he says, `More land. A fair rent. Security', Lachlann Bann answers, `we have still got the laird'. Alasdair repeats his question and Lachlann Bann reminds him of the mass meeting of men on the moor at night :
`I have never forgotten that night,' he said. `When I was coming through the pass, I looked back. Every man was carrying a lighted peat. A poor enough light, a single peat - a pale glimmer just hardly enough to guide the steps of a man in the dark. But there were that many of them, it looked like a long ribbon o' fire mounting the pass, and I thought, then, see the strength o' them, if only they stand together as free men. But they did not stand boy. When it came to the bit, they melted away in the dark.""'
The laird's coach appears. There's a rush of men and boys who stop the coach, unharness the ponies and pull the laird in themselves. He alights to the cheers of the crowd. Alasdair turns to Lachlann Bann but he's gone, `striding, quick-footed for the open moor'. There's a shout for Alasdair who's hoisted onto the platform beside the laird and Fiona. The laird smiles to Alasdair and whispers, `We had to get you, Alasdair. You belong here' and the book ends with Alasdair `busy marvelling at the thought that it was from the laird [he] had been given [his] answer to Lachlann Bann.'
I've never felt so let down at the end of a novel. Perhaps the author, too, felt it as something of an emotional betrayal for in his sequel to the story, A Sound of Trumpets (1967), he goes some way to redeem himself. Here, we learn at the beginning that the laird has died and that Alasdair is not, after all, to be educated out of his class on the laird's charity. With the `good' laird gone, the crofters are further oppressed and exploited and therefore have a struggle on their hands again. This novel, too, is well-written and constructed with a depth of authentic background and a great sense of drama. Again, the author's sympathies, morally, are in the right place but again he still doesn't quite know how to finish. (Of course,
history means that he can't give victory to the crofters fighting the lairds on Skye towards the end of the nineteenth century.) After some fine strokes by the rebels, it's strongly underlined that the best thing is to work by means of the law for redress. (It's to be seriously doubted whether the author himself can actually believe this, or whether anyone can, in fact.) At the end, the rebels, now including Alasdair, escape to America. The stress on the law in this novel is no more convincing than the outlet of education - and even that, of course, was on an individual level - offered to Alasdair at the end of Ribbon of Fire. In A Sound of Trumpets, in spite of its fine qualities, the reader is again built up to a let-down.
In real life, fantasy is often a means of escape from unresolvable conflict or insuperable odds. In The Year of the Stranger (1971), McLean again returns to the struggles between crofters and lairds, perhaps in an attempt to resolve the problem of the ending and this time he has recourse to fantasy, in an ending which is rather difficult to follow and which is really less successful than that of A Sound o f Trumpets, where, at least, there was a note of hope - the struggle would be carried on elsewhere. The note of hope, however, cannot be very strong, nor the resolution of the conflict very convincing, so long as the writer's attitude is in doubt.
It's only fair to leave McLean himself on a hopeful note. He does, at least, seem to be moving in an ideological direction opposite to that of Trease. In The Year of the Stranger, the laird is definitely the oppressor, driving the people down from the Glen, charging them for the grinding of their corn at his mill and taking over all fishing rights. In this story sympathy is even extended to the `tinker', traditionally despised in children's fiction. McLean has written, `History is the propaganda of the victors. I am writing about the defeated'. His problems spring from that situation.
This is about where the front line is, so to speak, in children's fiction at the moment. However, it would be impossible to leave this section on class conflict without reference to the
furore caused by the Nippers series of early readers, edited, and some of them written, by Leila Berg. Not that there's class conflict within the stories themselves : it's simply that the stories are about working-class people in working-class surroundings. Furthermore, they use what is recognisably working-class speech. The stories, interestingly, brought out the conflict in society itself. The storm of abuse from teachers, mainly head teachers, that greeted the many trial copies that were sent out in 1968 to schools all over the country by the publishers was truly amazing. The fact that the abuse was mainly directed at Berg's own story, Fish and Chips for Supper was especially amazing to me as I tried it with the class of nine-year-olds I was teaching at the time, near Farringdon Road in east-central London, and they were delighted with it, joining in the refrain, `And we'll all have fish and chips for supper' as soon as they caught on and spotted it coming round again. The actual publication of the first 12 titles provided the occasion for further abuse and controversy in educational journals and papers and even in the national press. Later, I sent six of these to a primary school near the college where I work, requesting the views of the staff and received the following five comments :
Do not like use of slang or near slang expressions. General tone is rather low - could equate with comic strips.
I feel it is a pity to descend to a low standard of vocabulary and subject matter rather than give the children material which is of a higher standard.
I feel the vocabulary is too difficult for 1st year (remedial) juniors - if they can cope with these books they are of average reading ability.
The presentation of the books is very attractive and the children enjoyed them, but I feel the subject matter is very poor and low-class, and in several cases ungrammatical. Perhaps they would be suitable for children in slum schools, or from deprived backgrounds, but even so they tend to show a side of life from which we are trying to
lead the children away. We certainly do not want to encourage them to use the slang expressions in these books.
These books caused a great deal of controversy in the staffroom. The colourful set-up of books appreciated by all. Subject matter on the whole was not appreciated. The vocabulary found to be difficult by Jun.1 Remedial group - but repetitive words and phrases gave the children confidence once they had read them. Written statements for remedial groups very difficult.
Towards the end of r972, when the Nippers series had become established (doubtlessly over the numerous dead bodies of headteachers), Berg put the whole issue very concisely in a letter :
When children come to school whose family situation is ruled taboo, whose tradition and ethos is ruled taboo, whose language is ruled taboo, it is scarcely any wonder that they see no point in communication ...
Nippers are written in the belief that every child needs to be able to look at a book or hear a story and feel `That's me!' (This is what every middle-class child has done practically since babyhood.) Certainly they disturbed some heads and teachers who maintained to us that no child ever played on dumps, that all houses had hot and cold water and baths, that fathers never stayed in bed, that one child saying `Shut up' to another child was swearing, that fish and chips should never be mentioned, that fathers should always be `Daddy', and that a child saying `It's me!' demonstrated `the appalling use of the accusative with the verb to be'. We did not swerve, and over the few years of our existence the cries of horror died to a murmur.
Now, with 95 titles in print in the Nippers and Little Nippers series and with over two and a quarter million sold, this battle may fairly be said to be won - but not, of course, the war.
Finally, we must consider a few of the many books for children which indoctrinate them in a more open manner with an ideology based on class. Of course, any class system is the result of an unequal distribution of wealth. Therefore, we'll be concerned, in our examples, quite specifically with money.
In Nim and his Money, a picture-story book for very young children by Andre Joanny, we are taken through barter to the invention of money and then Nim tells us :
I like to have fun
(Many sorts of fun cost money.)
No one can get money just by wanting it.
You must work to get it.
Some people work in factories.
Some work on farms.
Some work with ideas.
Sometimes I do not spend all my money.
Should I try to keep it safe in an old stocking?
I have a better idea.
I take it to people who do nothing else but look after money : bankers ...
If I want my money
to earn more money,
I put it in a savings bank.
Each year it pays me some of the profits
people make by using my money.
This extra money is called interest.
The book ends :
People have children :
Money makes more money.
Simple - and what could be more natural? From this primer in capitalism, it's instructive to turn to another picture-story book, Noggin and the Money by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, to see how children can be taught about money without any political bias.
E.W.Hildick's Jim Starling Takes Over, besides being a rather up-dated version of the parable of the talents, is a straightforward lesson in the workings of a capitalist economy for children in early adolescence. A local businessman comes to talk to form 3B at the Cement Street Secondary Modern School in Smogbury (Hildick certainly lays it on with a trowel). He tells them, `Business is making as much brass as you can. Legally' and that, `You've not just got to work hard yourself - you've got to get other folk to work hard for you.' Furthermore, he tells them, they have to make the money work for them and goes on to explain that he intends to teach them business by running a competition `To see who can make most brass in a certain time'. He outlines the rules : they're to get 2/6d each and the one who makes most in four weeks will get it doubled. Those who don't win can keep what they've made but will have to hand back the original capital lent them. He even wants his outlay back if the boys have lost the money and when one says that this isn't fair, the businessman retorts, `Fair? Who said owt about fair? ... That's business. That's the risk you've got to take.' The headmaster adds his bit by telling them `one of the most important things to learn is that you never get anything for nothing. If you want something badly enough you've got to pay for it.' The little capitalists lose no time in starting and soon their talk is all of accounts and profits, undercutting, taking over, overheads, income, expenditure and advertising. The Butcher Baker gang, who get up to some sharp practices to cut out competition, illustrate interestingly some of the inevitable developments of capitalism. Practically all literature arises
from conflict of one sort or another, and class conflict continues as probably the most important source of material for writers, especially children's writers.
References and Notes for Chapter 2
I. L.Kampf and P.Lauter (eds), The Politics of Literature: Dissenting Essays on the Teaching o f English, New York, Vintage Books 1973, p 314.
2. Colin Maclnnes, `That Other Culture', Times Educational Supplement, no. 3045, 5 October I973, pp. 22 and 99.
3. Harold Rosen, Language and Class (A Critical Look at the Theories of Basil Bernstein), Bristol, Falling Wall Press I972, p3
4. ibid. pp. 6-7.
5. E.H.Knatchbull-Hugessen, Stories for my Children, London, Macmillan 1869, p. 363.
6. Rev W.Awdry, Oliver the Western Engine, London, Kaye & Ward 1969, pp. 46-48.
7. Dr E.J.Goodacre, `Published Reading Schemes', Educational Research, 12(1), 1969, pp. 30-35
8. Don Labon, Initial Reading Schemes - a Survey o f Usage in West Sussex Primary Schools during Spring 1974, a report issued by West Sussex County Council Education Department, Chichester 1974.
9. Thomas Day, The History o f Sandforb & Merton, London & Sydney, Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh [1891 ?], p. I23.
10. Eve Garnett, The Family From One End Street, London, Heinemann I950, P. 142.
11. Eric Allen, The Latchkey Children, London, Oxford University Press 1963, pp. 86-87.
12. Annie Fellows Johnston, Keeping Tryst: a Tale of King Arthur's time, Boston (Mass.), L.C.Page & Co. 1920, pp. 58-59
13. Patrick Richardson, `Teach your Baby to Rule', New Society, 10 March 1966, pp. 25-26.
14- ibid. p. 25.15. Ivy Bolton, Son of the Land, Oxford, Basil Blackwell I948. See pp. 87-95.
16. Jack Lindsay, Runaway, London, Oxford University Press, 1935. See pp. 84-9 I.
17. Allan Campbell, Ribbon of Fire, Harmondsworth, Penguin 1968, p. 51.
18. ibid. p. 168.
19. Leila Berg, `Language of Nippers' (letter) Times Educational Supplement, no. 3003, 15 December 1972, p. 14
20. Andre Joanny, Nim & his Money, London, Macdonald I973 (pages unnumbered).