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calling Noel Streatfeild fans: rereading and I cannot believe the racism

15 replies

AFewGoodWomen · 30/09/2015 10:22

In "The Painted Garden"

I read this many times as a child and loved it. Now rereading aloud with my DC and find myself having to skip over descriptions of "the jolly colored porter" and the "colored cook". Not to mention the "hook-nosed" Hollywood studio man.

I know it is of its time. What shocks me is that I read it as a child and never noticed this. And interestingly, I never internalized this racism. It just seems to have washed over me. I wonder what are the conditions which mean people, impressionable children, to internalize these racist, othering descriptions?

OP posts:
Sigma33 · 30/09/2015 10:34

Is that the one where they go to stay with Aunt so-and-so in California? If so, I loved it too! Don't remember those descriptions...

I think parental attitudes have more influence than the occasional book.

Personally I'd read the passages and then briefly explain about racism and changing opinions (DD is 8). It interrupts the flow a little, but we quite often digress anyway!

Or read a couple of the passages before you start the story, and explain why you're going to be skipping them.

AFewGoodWomen · 30/09/2015 10:39

That's the one. Aunt Cora. Whingey Aunt Cora.

Interesting that you would keep the original text as is and discuss it with your DC. That had not occurred to me and I am not sure they are mature enough for that type of conversation just yet.

OP posts:
Witchend · 30/09/2015 10:55

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AFewGoodWomen · 30/09/2015 13:46

Well, i don't change gay (meaning jolly or pretty) when we come across it in older texts because I don't think the other (modern) meaning is offensive. There are also plenty of uses of 'queer' in The Painted Garden and I don't substitute them either.

OP posts:
Witchend · 30/09/2015 14:00

The word "gay" was banned at school last year, along with various other words ds had never even considered might possibly be used as insults. So we had to explain why "gay" could be used as an insult seeing as he was reading "The Gay Dolphin Adventure" at the time.

AFewGoodWomen · 30/09/2015 14:22

Oh I hadn't even thought of the offensive usage of "gay" meaning a bit rubbish!

OP posts:
Geraniumred · 30/09/2015 22:51

The word fat is banned at a few schools, even when being applied to Henry viii .
I never noticed any racism in the painted garden, I remember enjoying the food descriptions. I always had a soft spot for 'white boots'.

IrenetheQuaint · 30/09/2015 22:58

Of course the black characters are stereotypes and an author wouldn't write them like that today, but the obvious point for a child is that Bella the black cook is lovely and warm in comparison to ghastly Aunt Cora. I don't think it's that bad, really..

JobobeanHo · 30/09/2015 23:01

I don't think I'd consider those as racist. I would if written today but not from back then. The hook nosed reference would have gone straight over my head.

It's funny how things that shock us so much now wouldn't have raised an eye back in their time.

JobobeanHo · 30/09/2015 23:02

I've not read the book so going on the op btw

CactusAnnie · 30/09/2015 23:02

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Kampeki · 30/09/2015 23:06

I remember enjoying that book as a child, certainly wasn't aware of any racism back then. Shock

With any book like this, I think it's best to read the text as it's written and to discuss any racist/sexist content that you find. You won't be able to censor everything that they read as they get older, so much better to get them to think critically about what they're reading and to raise their awareness of how society has become less tolerant of racism, sexism and so on.

AnyoneButAndre · 30/09/2015 23:08

I've got a copy of The Painted Garden and know it well. I wouldn't for one moment describe Noel Streatfeild as writing in a racist way, but I do think the way the black characters are portrayed is notably stereotyped and "of its time". A lot of the problem is that it's written through the eyes of 1940s English children who have literally never seen a black person before, and so their "otherness" is played up.

It's not a book I'd give to a young 21st century child, because it singles out black people as different and exotic in a way that would have been entirely unknown to my DC, but I was happy to give it to my 11 year old who is able to understand the context, that domestic servants were stereotypically black in the U.S. at that time (no idea what the actual statistical split was) and that we're seeing it through the eyes of the previously monocultural children.

Liomsa · 30/09/2015 23:12

I read it not long ago, and while, yes, it's crammed with cheerily subservient black servants - Aunt Cora's maid, whose name escapes me, is essentially a completely unreconstructed 'Black Mammy' stereotype, there to do the White folks' bidding - I did also think that Noel Streatfeild had just mapped on her usual cheery servant/class stuff over from England. Like Buttercup (who is a sort of servant figure, despite having been at school with the children's mother) giving up her lottery win to fund the family holiday, sleeping in the children's cabin on the boat, and doing housework at Cora's.

Plus it blew my mind that the fact that the children's father knocked down and killed a child in a motor accident seems to be seen primarily as a pity because it gives him writer's block.

RhodaBull · 06/10/2015 13:23

Big thread about a year ago on this and I agree, Liomsa, that far more shocking than the racism - which was of its time was the fact that the father had killed a child and a) had got away with it and b) was moaning about writer's block and c) happily took poor old Peaseblossom's inheritance to go on a fancy trip and d) Peaseblossom still had to be the dogsbody in spite of it being her money and e) the mother did absolutely F all to help and is the most irritating character I've ever come across and f) they were so entitled and rude to their host and the bratty son arranging for a piano in the house - what a cheek ... I could go on to z very easily.

BUT - it's a fantastic book and dd and I enjoyed it immensely. (Plus dd is very like the main character!)

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