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The House in Cornwall

The House in Cornwall was first published in serial form in 1939-40, and as a book in 1940. The US edition (1940) was entitled The Secret of the Lodge. It is now out of print.


Story | Background | Thoughts | Editions and Availability

Story

John, Sorrel, Wish and Edward Chandler have to spend the summer with Uncle Murdock, their father's half brother. They have not met Uncle Murdock before, as he mostly lived in Livia, first working to dethrone the royal family, and then as as Chief of Staff for Manoff, the dictator who took over. However, since a counter-revolution, Uncle Murdock has been back in England, living in his large house in Cornwall. Manoff, the former dictator, is also there as his guest.

The children find that they are virtual prisoners. They are given no access to newspapers or the radio, and when they are taken to the beach, they are closely watched. At night they hear the sound of a child crying in the gardener's house, so they determine to find out what is going on.

Background

The House in Cornwall was written in the early stages of the Second World War, at a time when Noel was busy with war work, and was unable to do any research for her books. However, she still had to write, as she needed the income, so she therefore wrote a fairly standard children's adventure story. It was initially published in serial format in The Girl's Own Paper.

Thoughts

(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have not read the book.)

The House in Cornwall is not one of Noel's best books. It relies on the clichéd, and highly unrealistic, formula of a group of children defeating a gang of adult criminals. Angela Bull feels that "Everything Noel usually stood for in children's books - well-observed characters, a basis of solid fact combined with realistic detail, sheer good sense - are lost in this morass of unlikely inventions" (1984:177).

Although written during the Phoney War, The House in Cornwall is not given a specific wartime setting. It is rather a generic "holiday adventure story". The plot is quite similar to that of Enid Blyton's The Secret of Spiggy Holes, also serialised and then published as a book in 1940. This comparison has been made by Angela Bull - who points out that both books "concentrate on unremitting action at the expense of character and atmosphere" (1984:178) - and also by Sheila Ray in her 1982 work The Blyton Phenomenon (London, Andre Deutsch Limited):

Both stories are set in Cornwall, both sets of parents are absent, Enid Blyton's Peggy and Noel Streatfeild's Sorrel are domesticated girls, the English children feel great sympathy for the kidnapped boy, aeroplanes land on convenient lawns and fields at the climax of both stories, when each party has rescued its own Ruritanian prince or, in Noel Streatfeild's case, king. (Ray, 1982:168)

Ray feels that the plot of The House in Cornwall "is, if anything, even less credible [than The Secret of Spiggy Holes]" (1982:168). While this may be true, the degree of characterisation Noel infuses into her story sets it apart from The Secret of Spiggy Holes. Sorrel does not merely fill the role of "domesticated sister" (so common in the works of Enid Blyton): we are also given an insight into her struggles to overcome her own fears. Although she lacks the subtlety of, for example, Susan in Tennis Shoes, Sorrel, and to a lesser extent her brothers and sister, are more individually realised, and believable, than the characters in Blyton's book.

One odd - and somewhat disconcerting feature - of The House in Cornwall is the use of the name Manoff for the villainous dictator. Readers of Ballet Shoes will recall that Manoff is the name of the great ballet dancer, who agrees to teach Posy. It may require a degree of mental adjustment to accept this name being reused for such a totally different character.

Editions and Availability

UK Editions

The House in Cornwall was first published in serial form in The Girls Own Paper. There were ten episodes, running from October 1939 to July 1940. This was also available within Volume 61 of The Girls Own Annual.

Immediately after the serialisation, still in 1940, J. M. Dent & Sons published it in book form, with illustrations by D. L. Mays. It was reissued a number of times by Dent, including a 1956 "LYTS" edition, and 1966 "Pennant Books". The 1966 release was a revised edition: this amended text may have also appeared in earlier editions. I do not have a copy of this edition, so I am unable to say what the revisions consisted of.

In 1968, Dragon Books released an unillustrated paperback. The text appears to be identical with that of the first edition, with the exception that some long paragraphs are broken up into two or more smaller paragraphs. Rather confusingly, the copyright in this edition is attributed to Enid Blyton: I am assuming this is an error.

US Editions

The US edition, retitled The Secret of the Lodge and illustrated by Richard Floethe, was published by Random House in 1940.

There do not appear to have been any reissues of The Secret of the Lodge.

As I have not read the US edition, I do not know if the text was in any way amended.

Out of Print

The House in Cornwall /The Secret of the Lodge is out of print, and relatively rare. In February 2004, second hand copies through online booksellers start in price at around £7 for the Dragon paperback, with hardcover editions being more expensive. (Source: Addall Used and Out of Print Book Search.)

 


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