Friday, 20 November 2015

The joy of escapism


In the hope of lightening the mood compared with my previous post, and indeed with the increasing darkness of the current news agenda, today I offer something completely different. At the risk of slight personal embarrassment I want to share with readers of this blog some things I have written for a very different blog, namely the World of Blyton. This is one of a number of sites devoted to the life and work of the British children’s author Enid Blyton.
Although sometimes derided for her writing skills and criticised for her sexist, racist and classist descriptions, Blyton was the best-selling children’s author of the twentieth century and is still the all-time eighth best-selling writer of fiction. Anyway, I’m not particularly concerned to try to defend or attack her reputation. For me, it’s mainly just that I read her books as a child and so they retain a cosy and comforting feel. In this way they are indeed an antidote to and escape from current events. For that matter, I find a certain magic in re-reading many other authors I read as a child. And, more generally, I think that re-reading is underrated. I routinely re-read novels (less so non-fiction) and gain much from it. Occasionally, with really special books, I re-read them immediately I finish them, a recent example being Allan Massie’s stunning moral meditation A Question of Loyalties. Some novels, such as those of C.P. Snow, I have read perhaps a couple of hundred times without tiring of them.
Anyway, back to Blyton. On my World Of Blyton contributor page you will find some eleven posts written between 2014 and 2015. Most are book reviews, one explains why I love re-reading her work, one is about how reading her books in translation has helped me learn French and one – my favourite – is a silly joke that I can’t begin to summarise here.
Is there any connection to organization studies? Well, yes there is. Some years ago I wrote a book chapter (Grey, 1998) about the ways that organization is represented in traditional children’s literature. I focussed on three series of books: Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings series and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. It has sunk almost without trace, but the argument was that such books are an aspect in socializing children into how the organizational world works. In the case of the Famous Five series, I suggested that it offered a template of the patriarchal group.
I think that there is some mileage in that argument, but the truth, of course, is that I wrote the chapter as a way of writing about some books that I loved, just as I did for Snow's novels (Grey, 1996), academic journals being more forgiving in those days. I also love, and occasionally re-read, the works of P.G. Wodehouse, of which in 1961 Evelyn Waugh said: “Mr. Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in”.
That sentiment captures my own feeling about Wodehouse, and Blyton and all the others. Escapist it may be, but from time to time as the guns fire and the bombs explode a little escapism is nothing to be ashamed of.

References
Grey, C. (1996) 'C.P. Snow's Fictional Sociology of Management and Organizations', Organization 3 (1): 61-83.

Grey, C. (1998) ‘Child’s Play: Representations of Organization in Children’s Literature’ in Hassard, J. & Holliday, R. (eds) Organization/Representation: Work and Organizations in Popular Culture. London: Routledge, pp. 131-148

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