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Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories (Volume One) by Sue Sims and Hilary Clare


Category: Product ID: 4067


The Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories was first published in 2000 and is long out of print. We are delighted to announce that this will be reissued by GGBP in a revised and expanded two-volume edition in 2020. We are announcing the first volume now, because we have no idea how many we will sell, so although publication is some way off (February 2020) we do hope you will order Volume One now. Please scroll to the end to find fascinating account by Sue Sims of How The Book Came To Be. 

This long-awaited revision of the essential guide for any enthusiast of the girls’ school story is compiled by Sue Sims and Hilary Clare, who are the acknowledged experts in the field and have spent decades researching the subject. They have scoured records and copyright libraries and read thousands of books (Sue has the largest collection of girls’ school stories in private hands in the UK) to compile the most extensive data in existence on girls’ school story writers and their books. Among readers of the genre the first edition acquired such status that it is affectionately known simply as ‘The Book’. Not only does it act as a complete reference guide to any writer and her or his books, but the authors’ scholarly, often humorous and always insightful assessments of the writers are a delight to read, guiding readers towards new writers and helping them view old favourites with fresh enlightenment. Our battered copy of the first edition is in sore need of replacing as it’s been browsed so often to see what it has to say about a new acquisition or simply for the pleasure of the writing.

This new edition represents years of further research since the 2000 edition and contains:

  • Expanded biographies of every major writer and many minor school story writers, containing a great deal of newly discovered information
  • Updated bibliographies listing every English-language school story written in the UK and Commonwealth countries
  • Intelligent and witty critical analysis of writers’ strengths and weaknesses
  • Extensive quotations to illustrate writers’ qualities
  • Entries written by guest experts on particular writers.
  • An article on the critical response to the genre
  • Essays on the outliers of the genre, including Historical and Fantasy School Stories, Early School Stories, Adult School Stories etc
  • New essays on Elsie Jeanette Oxenham and Elinor M Brent-Dyer
  • A new essay with bibliography on school stories published since the first edition of the Encyclopaedia.

This edition will also be illustrated for the first time with over 200 illustrations, many taken from the pages of the stories.

Full Contents List

Critical Response
Alphabetical list of 19th and 20th century authors with full bibliographies

Adult School Fiction
Ballet and Stage School Stories
College Stories
Convent School Stories
Early School Stories (1749-1876)
Evangelistic School Stories
Historical and Fantasy School Stories
The Girl’s Own Paper
Girls’ School Story Papers

Guide School Stories
Little Folks
Modern School Stories
Pony School Stories

General Bibliography

The book will be issued in two volumes. Volume One will include (roughly) authors A-M and selected essays. Volume Two will include (roughly) authors N-Z and selected essays.

The Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories Volume One will be published in February 2020. Please do not order Volume Two yet.

Michel Delving: or, How The Book Came to Be by Sue Sims

Clarissa has asked me to explain the background of research that went into The Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories.

Like most of us, I began as a collector: back in the early 1970s, girls’ school stories abounded in charity shops, jumble sales and the cheaper secondhand bookshops (the posh ones tended to despise them). Ever the completist, I wanted to be able to produce an authoritative Wants List I could send to dealers – but how to find out precisely what school stories were out there?

At that time, I was an undergraduate at the University of Oxford, and had already taken advantage of the resources of the Bodleian Library (one of the six copyright libraries in the British Isles, and therefore entitled to receive a free copy of every book published in the UK) to compile bibliographies of the authors I knew about. The problem, of course, was to identify authors who didn’t turn up in those jumble sales and charity shops. The Bodleian was very helpful here. Like all libraries, they classify books according to topic and type; like most academic libraries, they use their own system rather than the standard Dewey Decimal System employed by public libraries. In 1883, they’d refined their classification of children’s fiction in general by opening a sub-category of books for girls (the class number was 2537), and in those pre-computer days, every class number had its own ‘handlist’: a thick notebook in which each book was listed in order of accession, with details of author, title and date of publication (where given in the book) or of accession. I was allowed to borrow the 2537 handlist, and spent many hours in the Upper Reading Room (when I should have been translating Beowulf or researching Mercian vowel variation) transcribing the complete handlist. (There were no photocopiers either in those days.)

That was fine, and I eventually had a list of 5,649 books which the Bodley librarians thought were written for girls. (The last one in the list, by the way, was Antonia Forest’s 1974 The Cricket Term.) The problem then was to identify which ones were school stories. Certainly a book called Fifth Form Crisis or The Only Day-Girl didn’t pose any problem – but what about titles like The Twins Who Weren’t or Hazel Asks Why? One had to look at the books themselves. But there were literally thousands of such titles, and one could only order a few at a time to the reading rooms. The only way of checking them all was to access the ‘stacks’ – the storerooms. At that time, the children’s book stacks lived in a huge cavern under Radcliffe Square, where the Radcliffe Camera stands, and I persuaded Bodley’s Librarian that Paul (my then fiancé, now my husband) and I were fit and proper people to view them. So after Finals (where I missed out on a First due to my lack of attention to Beowulf, etc,), we were allowed to pass through a small, almost hidden door in the Camera and descend down a long and claustrophobic spiral staircase into the vaults below. If you’ve ever read a thriller by Michael Innes called Operation Pax, you’ll know exactly what they were like: several floors of concrete walls surrounding apparently infinite ranks of shelves, the latter not much over six feet high (Paul, who’s six foot eight, was very uncomfortable) and touching each other, with gaps every so often and a handle on the end of each shelf. In order to look at any given section, you needed to find a gap and wind the handle so that the shelves would move along runners set in the floor, and part to allow access to the shelf you wanted. (This system is now frequently found in large academic libraries and archives, but the Bodleian was one of the first – possibly the first – in the UK to install mobile shelving.)

Having located the 2537-class shelves, we plunged into the identification game. Once a shelf was wound open, each book had to be pulled out, skimmed for school story content and marked if appropriate in my copy of the handlist, together with any comments. Quite often, it was a tricky decision, especially with the 19th-century books, which tended to mash together school and home. But we swiftly became more cavalier about this: initially it took us five minutes to check a book, but by the end of the first day, we were up to checking 80 books an hour (pull out, flick through a couple of pages in the middle of the book, and if there was a school setting, it was a school story). It took three weeks to go through all the books in the section, and I’m still astonished that Paul was willing to marry me by the end. But by the end, we’d identified around something in the region of 1800 books that were either girls’ school stories or ‘connectors’ (such as the EBD holiday books). I followed this up a couple of years later, when we moved to London, and I obtained permission to carry out the same exercise in the British Library children’s stacks, which in those days were stored in Cannon House in the grounds of Woolwich Arsenal. That was a slower job, as I was teaching full-time by that stage and could only go there in the holidays.

However, there was a problem. One had to assume that not only were copies of all girls’ school stories held by those the two libraries, but that they were actually shelved under the appropriate classification, and both these assumptions are, in fact, wrong. This started to matter late in 1994. At that point, Rosemary Auchmuty was approached by the academic publishers The Scolar Press (later acquired by Ashgate), to edit an Encyclopaedia of School Stories, and contacted me. I arranged with Robert Kirkpatrick, who was (and is) the great expert on boys’ school stories, to write that volume, and roped in Hilary to share the labours on the girls’ volume. We knew that we had to include every girls’ school story ever written, but were aware that our knowledge, though broad, did have gaps, so we decided to do another trawl. By this time, the Bodleian’s holdings of children’s books had been moved from the Radcliffe stacks and were being stored at a purpose-built warehouse at Nuneham Courtenay, a village about eight miles from Oxford. Since Hilary lives in Abingdon, just south of the city, this was our base, and for several days, we drove over to Nuneham and flourished our specially-obtained passes at the site manager. From the second day onwards, we also made sure that we took jumpers: books thrive at temperatures rather too cold for researchers. And then we looked at every single book in the children’s section that could possibly be a girls’ school story. (Even so, over the intervening years, more have turned up – which is why there are more authors listed and longer bibliographies in the revised Encyclopaedia.)

All this is, of course, only half the story (though considerably more than half this article, so don’t panic). The Encyclopaedia isn’t just a list of books and analytical articles: it also, wherever possible, provides authorial biographies. Overall, considerably more time and energy has over the years been spent on investigating the lives of the writers of these books than on the books themselves. Hilary, as an Oxford History graduate and a qualified archivist, was no stranger to research, and had begun doing this many years before the Encyclopaedia was conceived, searching for information on writers like Violet Needham (she co-founded the Violet Needham Society) and Antonia Forest. Having read History at Oxford, she knew her way around archives and record offices. I, a lowly English graduate, started rather later: the first issue of Folly came out in 1990, and from then on, we specialised in articles that included not only critical appreciations of authors but something about their lives. Some major authors – Blyton, Brazil, Brent-Dyer, Bruce and Oxenham – had already been the subjects of biographies, but there were hundreds of writers of whom nothing was known at that stage Hilary was brilliant at tracking them down. A few were still alive, and could be interviewed personally, such as Constance M. White and Olive L. Groom.  Where (as was, alas, more common) the author had died, Hilary discovered relations who could provide information. Between us, we interviewed or corresponded with Christine Chaundler’s nephew, E.M. Channon’s daughter, Joanna Lloyd’s sister-in-law, Olive C. Dougan’s husband, among many, many others. Sometimes we were lucky: I was able to talk to Nancy Breary’s sister and May Baldwin’s niece, both of whom were living in nursing homes and who died within a couple of months of my meeting them. Sometimes we were able to correct faulty information: Hilary discovered that Ethel Talbot wasn’t, in fact, Ethel Talbot – at least, she was a different Ethel Talbot from the one previously assumed to be the school story author.

How was it done? Mostly by Hilary. In those days, there were no online records, so she had to trawl through endless microfiche indexes or (worse) manhandle the lethal quarterly indexes in the General Register Office in London; access publishers’ archives (where available) – OUP and Blackie were particularly useful, inspect voting registers, contact schools, and generally spend a great deal of time (and money) gathering basic information about the authors of girls’ school stories. Sometimes Folly readers would prove to have useful knowledge which could be followed up: that’s how we discovered who Winifred Norling really was. And there were serendipitous encounters: that false Ethel Talbot was laid to rest when Hilary bumped into the nephew of the real E.T. at a children’s book conference at Roehampton.

It’s all so much easier now. Census records till 1911 are online, as is the Household Register of 1939; one doesn’t have to visit the General Register Office any more to obtain certificates of birth, marriage and death – and even Google can sometimes be helpful. Obviously, this has all fed into the revised Encyclopaedia, which now has much more detailed biographies of well-known writers plus a great deal of information on previously unbiographed (if this isn’t a word, it should be) authors.

And the work goes on…


Additional information


Hilary Clare, Sue Sims