Angela Brazil (1868-1947) is not a name familiar to most people, but this English writer was a literary trailblazer for more than 40 years. Her ‘schoolgirl fiction’ moved away from the Victorian ideal of teaching moral principles and ethics to young girls and simply entertained the reader.
She paved the way for many authors, including Elinor Brent-Dyer and Enid Blyton. Angela grew up as the youngest of four siblings, in a house with a strict Victorian father but a liberal-minded mother. Angela was encouraged, by her mother, to pursue interests like literature and music, and she enrolled in a local private school for ladies. This type of upbringing was uncommon in the late Victorian era, and gave Angela a common bond with the generation that came after her. She wrote about her own school experiences in My Own Schooldays.
She began writing at the age of 10 for a local magazine but it was her schoolgirl novels that eventually earned her fame. She wrote stories from the viewpoint of the pupils, usually girls around the age of 14, who attended small picturesque schools housed in lavish manors, surrounded by moats, or built on hilltops. The schools usually had around two to four dozen students; just enough to create a good cast of characters sharing the same customs and slang.
The stories tended to focus on the relationships between various students, and centered on major events like sports tournaments or concerts. Many characters sneaked out from their dorms at midnight.
Brazil’s timing was impeccable - society’s views about educating women were taking a definite turn. Contrary to the Victorian era, the 20th century saw an increase in education and literacy levels for girls, especially in the middle-classes. These young, educated girls created a new market of readers eager for girl-friendly versions of Tom Brown’s School Days.
Some adults were appalled by the storylines of rule-breaking and adventure with some schools banning Brazil’s work – which only made her books more popular. Brazil sold more than three million copies.