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Joyce Lankester Brisley’s Bunchy as the Shadow of Milly-Molly-Mandy


The continuing popularity of Brisley’s Milly Molly Mandy stories notwithstanding, critical commentary on Brisley’s work is scarce. June Factor, writing in 1979, praised her reconstruction of “English village life before the First World War.” But the stories are set later– between the wars. They exhibit documentary realism, even while they cooperate with a national idealization of country living in this period. In so doing, they may be contrasted with Brisley’s Bunchy stories. Bunchy’s adventures are unnerving fantasies, very different from Milly Molly Mandy’s credible expeditions. They reflect Bunchy’s situation as an orphan, living with her apparently widowed grandmother, and without playmates on the outskirts of Milly Molly Mandy’s village. Bunchy’s make-believe companions (formed out of pastry dough, inadequate drawings etc.) are not just unsatisfactory as such—they are threatening allusions to mortality and loss. It could be that they reflect Brisley’s own disrupted life-history.

Joyce Lankester Brisley’s Milly Molly Mandy books have been regularly reprinted since their first publication almost a century ago (in the Christian Science Monitor in 1924). The total includes two anthologies published since Brisley’s death in 1978—these being The Joyce Lankester Brisley Book (Chambers Harrap 1981) and The Best of Milly Molly Mandy (a boxed four-volume set of previously-published collections, Gardners Books 2004). It is therefore surprising that Joyce Lankester Brisley has not been the subject of a substantial biography or critical study to date. This is especially so, given the exponential development of the academic study of writing for children since the 1970s—and, indeed, throughout the forty-one years since the publication of a perceptive tribute by June Factor in Children’s Literature in Education in 1979. It is still the case that, as Factor noted, very little “critical attention [has been]... paid to Joyce Brisley’s work,” even in studies of the genre of the “family story,” to which the Milly Molly Mandy stories so obviously belong (168). The simplicity of the stories and the modesty of MMM’s “adventures” along with the clarity of their implicit (generally Christian) precepts may have made critical commentary seem redundant.Footnote 1 But Brisley also produced some very different sets of stories, among them two collections of tales about Bunchy (who is, as it turns out, one of MMM’s classmates). In what follows I want to demonstrate that Bunchy’s unnerving fantastical experiences are the antithesis of the everyday adventures enjoyed by MMM. The aesthetic (essentially generic) difference seems to reflect the contrast between the loneliness of Bunchy and the much beloved and socially-integrated status of MMM. It may also reflect the contrasting dimensions of Brisley’s own life as a child in Bexhill-on-Sea, and ultimately as an adult in London.

To explain: Bunchy and MMM seem to embody the unconscious and conscious dimensions of the personality as viewed by psychoanalysts—for whom the unconscious is the repository of whatever about ourselves we are inclined to reject or repress. If Bunchy herself embodies what MMM is not, Bunchy’s fantasies may embody her unfulfilled longings for a familial and social existence just like MMM’s. At the same time—and by the same token—they hint at the fear (the fear of loss and isolation) that Bunchy “displaces” in her fantasies. In his text-book account of displacement, Robert Clark has explained that “Sigmund Freud recognised that it was possible in the psyche for the emotional affect of an experience to be... transferred to other occasions and experiences... a dream, story... or other representation”. Brisley’s representation of Bunchy as the quasi-author and heroine of her own make-believe adventures also invites interpretation as Brisley’s “projection” of herself as writer and illustrator—projection having been defined by Freud (according to Clark’s convenient encapsulation) “as a means of ego-defence in which the subject attributes its own unconscious motives and ideas to objects outside of itself.” (I return below to the related subject of the consequences of the divorce of Brisley’s parents.)

It is quite probable that the keys to the striking realism of the Milly Molly Mandy stories are to be found in Brisley’s own life. It must be acknowledged, however, that—since Brisley has not yet found a biographer—what we know is limited to a few oft-repeated facts.Footnote 2 Born in 1896, Brisley grew up as a pharmacist’s daughter in the Sussex town of Bexhill-on-Sea, until her parents divorced. The divorce is likely to have been painful for the whole family—especially, perhaps, in the context of her parents’ faith. They were Christian Scientists—and their denomination tended to take a fairly hard-line view of divorce as inconsistent with “the austere purity of Jesus.”Footnote 3 At the age of 16, then, Brisley moved with her mother and two sisters to a flat in the inner London suburb of Brixton, where she studied art at the Lambeth School of Art, which had a politically progressive aspect.Footnote 4 Brixton was very different from Bexhill-on-Sea. Once a rural village, Bexhill-on-Sea had been transformed into a resort town by the late nineteenth century. But MMM’s village is a composite version of the many picturesque East Sussex villages within fairly easy reach of Brisley’s home. The author’s personal experience would account for the almost documentary realism of the setting of the Milly Molly Mandy stories. Such villages were famous for their thatched roof cottages—just like the “Nice-White cottage with the Thatched Roof” (“where Milly-Molly Mandy lives”) according to Brisley’s map which prefaces each collection. These communities were generally furnished with a village school, a post office, a church (Brisley’s version has a spire set on a battlemented tower typical of East Sussex churchesFootnote 5), an inn, a forge, a grain-store (among other shops) and a “big house.” (Georgian in style, the big house of the map is typical of the grand country residences of the day). Such complexes could have existed more or less as such before the First World War (166). To this extent the stories constitute (as Factor puts it) “a regional study [of] rural life, seasonal and unchanging, seen through the eyes of a little girl whose immutability is suggested by the sameness of her dresses” (166). But, while Factor’s notions of their regionalism and timelessness are valid, the period in which the stories are set is in fact the interwar period during which the first of them was written. Numerous specific details are reflective of the late 1920s–1930s. MMM’s father is a market gardener (on the development of market gardening, see Beavington). The fact that her grandfather’s particular job is to take the produce to market in the nearby town is reflective of the relatively new dependence of market gardening upon the railways. While the development of the railways began in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and while the presence in the neighbouring town of a station does not of itself anchor the fictional world to the 1930s, its context reveals that Brisley was not so much inventing a complete toy-town as recreating the scene from local knowledge. The village is all the more credibly of its time in that it lacks a hall, so that the family needs to travel by coach to the neighbouring town in order to attend the concert at which MMM’s aunt plays the piano (“Milly Molly Mandy Goes to a Concert,” More of Milly Molly Mandy). The provision of village halls for cultural purposes (for which see Burchart) was a kind of project of the inter-war period in England. Coach services (also foregrounded in “MMM Goes to the Pictures,” More of Milly Molly Mandy) were newly instituted after the First World War, along with cycle ways (cf. Laskow)—as used by the “lady cyclist” featured in “Milly Molly Mandy Spends a Penny,” Milly Molly Mandy Stories. The occupants of the “Big House” possess a capacious motor-car, important in “Milly Molly Mandy Goes Motoring,” Further Doings) and also in “Milly Molly Mandy Goes to a Concert.” That such modes of transport were novel at the time is captured in the fact that MMM’s grandfather still drives a pony-trap. Mrs Moggs, mother of MMM’s “little friend Susan” takes “summer visitors” (“Milly Molly Mandy Spends a Penny,” Milly Molly Mandy Stories)—when holidays in the countryside were coming into fashion, just like visits to the seaside by train. As for the dresses mentioned by Factor, MMM’s trademark short capped-sleeve dress with bloomers is characteristic of the period; the outfit in its brevity and simplicity is quite different from the relatively cumbersome (longer, multi-layered and fitted) costumes worn by girls in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.Footnote 6 In other words, MMM’s village and style of living is very much of its time—to the extent that it stands as a close-to-perfect snapshot of that time. As already intimated, its veracity may in part be attributed to Brisley’s childhood experience of East Sussex before she moved to London. Paradoxically, however, her documentary realism also testifies to the fascinated perspective of city-dwellers—and Brisley was herself a Londoner by the time she was writing her MMM stories. She both records the urbanite presence (in the persons of, for instance, the “lady cyclist” and Mrs Moggs’ “summer visitors”) and exemplifies the urbanite’s touristic point of view (usefully elaborated by Mingay, p. 22 et passim). For Londoners, rural villages were picturesque holiday destinations; these were being celebrated in early documentaries, used as “shorts” in the new cinemas (like the one in the nearest town that is patronized by Milly Molly Mandy, Susan, and Billy Blunt in “Milly Molly Mandy Goes to the Pictures,” More of Milly Molly Mandy).Footnote 7

A national fascination with and inclination to idealize rural life is evident from the The Countryman. A quarterly miscellany, the magazine was founded (in the interest of the improvement of the countryside and rural life) in 1927, just three years after the first MMM story was published, and one year before MMM stories were to be published in book form.Footnote 8 Its contributors featured members of the aristocracy and other distinguished personages with property in the countryside. The distance between such people and “real” old-style villagers may be inferred from the photographs that were distributed through the magazine—of, for instance, an aged villager in a stained ragged smock bearing a yoke, and (most tellingly of all) the numerous (supposedly) amusing anecdotes that stand as footnotes, exemplified by the following:

The boy at the Scottish village school would sniff. Everyday the teacher asked him if he had a handkerchief and he never had. At last she said, “Hasn’t your father a handerchief?” “Aye,” he said, “he’s got two – yin for his neck and yin for his piece (lunch).” (p. 266)

Regional accents and ignorance combined with peasant-style common sense are patronisingly represented throughout. Upper crust contributors celebrate the charms of country life illustrated with photos of—for instance—ducklings, of village children playing in a stream, and botanical drawings. Poems include Joyce Westrup’s “The Country Bus” with its load of happy schoolchildren, “whistling together” (155). The romantic dimension is leavened with informative articles on country projects (gardening, the management of poultry), while some pieces record archaic country ways in serious quasi-anthropological style. The supposed trials of novice landowners receive jocular attention. The upper-class observer does not escape mockery—but, being self-mockery, this is essentially condescending (as exemplified by a double-spread cartoon [pp. 30–31] depicting urbane tourists on one side peering at local yokels on the other side staring back at them). To a large extent the magazine might be seen as an instrument of the already-mentioned national programme for the improvement of rural life—through cultural societies, the provision of village halls, public transport and the like. Interestingly, Brisley captures the English village at this point in its history and even with similar emphases—with stories based on a rabbit, ducklings, the country bus, a concert in a village hall, an archaic wedding custom. Every one of the latter subjects had been treated in The Countryman. Brisley even matches The Countryman’s photograph of children in a stream (facing 149) with her sketch of Milly Molly Mandy and Billy Blunt paddling in the water (“Milly Molly Mandy Finds a Train,” Milly Molly Mandy Again, 26). But Brisley differs in treating such subjects with a total absence of condescension; she does not, for instance, attempt to reproduce the local dialect or accent. Furthermore, while the village she creates does have a “big house” whose inhabitants employ a gardener, possess a roomy motor car, and have a family name (“Green”) that distinguishes them quite sharply from the Blunts, Rudges, Moggses and Mugginses with whom MMM mostly associates, Brisley’s representation of division based on class eschews negative stereotyping; Jessamine Green’s mother proves kind enough to give a ride to MMM’s whole family when it cannot be accommodated on the bus (“Milly Molly Mandy Goes to a Concert”), and she invites MMM to visit and play with her daughter (“Milly Molly Mandy Goes Motoring,” Further Doings). As for poverty and hardship generally, these are not completely overlooked; a disadvantaged urchin does appear at the fete, his entry fee for the running race being paid for by Mr Blunt (“Milly Molly Mandy Goes to a Fête,” Milly Molly Mandy Again, 1948) while Billy Blunt himself seems to spend considerable time working for his father. MMM is devastated when she tears her one dress while playing with her dog Toby (“Milly Molly Mandy Has a New Dress,” Milly Molly Mandy Again). In “Milly Molly Mandy Learns to Ride” (Further Doings) MMM suffers a pang of envy when she realizes that Jessamine is having riding lessons on a real horse, while she and her friend Susan must make do with pretending on brooms. It is perhaps unlikely that the villagers encountered by MMM do not include anyone injured in or bereaved by the First World War.Footnote 9 On the other hand, however, Miss Muggins’s niece Jilly appears to be an orphan—as does Bunchy, the child who lives alone with her grandmother and about whom Brisley wrote two volumes of stories (these being the focus of the following discussion).

Given their documentary accuracy combined with their slightly sanitized perspective, it seems fair to say that the Milly Molly Mandy books were inspired, on the one hand, by clear-eyed observation and (on the other hand) by a tendency to idealize the rural village between the wars. It is through Bunchy, however, that Brisley (albeit implicitly) addresses the relationship between fictional idealisation and unvarnished realism. Bunchy herself is a fantasist. As such she is a reflection of the author who invented her. But the part of Brisley’s life that Bunchy reflects is not so much the Bexhill-on-Sea childhood as the London adulthood, which was relatively insecure materially, and quite possibly also psychologically.

Bunchy lives with her grandmother in the outskirts of MMM’s village. She goes to the village school (“Milly Molly Mandy Goes Sledging,” More of Milly Molly Mandy), and her grandmother purchases fabric for her new dress from Miss Muggins’s shop—encountering MMM and her mother there (“Milly Molly Mandy Has a New Dress”). But the location of her grandmother’s house (on or beyond the fringes of the village) virtually allegorises what emerges as a generic difference between the stories about Bunchy and those about MMM, while the difference between the circumstances of the two little girls stands as an implicit comment on the escapism of fantasy. Apart from her grandmother, Bunchy has no relations or even friends as far as the reader can discover—although MMM and her close friends do help when they come upon her grandmother one morning, trying to walk her granddaughter to school through the snow. The relevant illustration of Bunchy and her grandmother negotiating a snowy country path hand in hand (“Milly Molly Mandy Goes Sledging,” Milly Molly Mandy Again, p. 108 [Fig. 1]) is poignant in the way in which it stands out from Brisley’s more usual illustrations featuring Milly Molly Mandy playing with her friends outside or indoors in the bosom of her extended family which is socially integrated in ways in which Bunchy’s (presumably widowed) grandmother is not.Footnote 10 Needless to say, MMM has a grandmother at hand herself—but also a grandfather, both parents, an aunt and uncle, all as illustrated (facing p. 12, [Fig. 2]) in “Milly Molly Mandy Goes Errands,” (Milly Molly Mandy Stories). The stories also feature a great aunt, and a set of American relatives, whose visits are treated in “Milly Molly Mandy Meets her Great-Aunt,” Milly Molly Mandy Stories, and “Milly Molly Mandy has American visitors” (Milly Molly Mandy and Billy Blunt, 1967).

Fig. 1
figure 1

Grandmother walking MMM to school. (The illustrations in figures 1-4 are reproduced by kind permission of Macmillan Children's Books publishers for the life of the article within Children's Literature in Education Quarterly)

Fig. 2
figure 2

Milly Molly Mandy's family

This quite massive difference is insignificant by comparison with the differences that emerge not from Bunchy’s familial circumstances but from her (albeit related) experiences as represented in the stories. These are symptomatic of the psychic vulnerability of Bunchy as an orphan. Two examples stand out. The first is “Bunchy and the Pastry-dough” (Bunchy, 1937). It begins by describing Bunchy as “a happy little girl, living [in a country cottage) with her kind old grandmother” (1). “There was,” the author adds, “only one thing missing, which was that she had nobody to play with” (1). On reflection, this authorial remark turns out to be an understatement. Given the likelihood that Bunchy is an orphan, we must see her lack of playmates as a doubling of her original deprivation—that being the unexplained absence of her parents, which happens to be paralleled by her grandmother’s apparently widowed status. The story begins with the grandmother’s departure for the market “leaving Bunchy to keep house alone” (2, italics mine). It is not surprising that Bunchy finds herself “feeling rather lonely” (2) as she waves her grandmother goodbye. But Bunchy’s grandmother is prescient (she is what Northrop Frye would have called a “displaced” fairy godmother cf. the essay “Myth, Fiction, and Displacement,” among other works), and she calls to Bunchy that she might play with some leftover pastry dough in her absence. Bunchy finds the dough, and (beginning to knead) decides to make “a little pastry-girl to play with” (3). The pastry girl thus emerges as the epitome of Donald Winnicott’s “transitional object”—a substitute for not only a playmate but also (at two removes) for Bunchy’s mother who is not only absent but (as we are left to assume) dead. According to the insights Winnicott drew from his work with children evacuated during World War Two the “transitional object” is something (often a plaything) that comforts the child in the absence of the mother, and continues to do so as long as the child feels he or she can depend on the mother’s continued existence and eventual return. (Although Winnicott’s first paper on the subject was published in 1951, he was to reiterate the concept in his Introduction to Playing and Reality.) Bunchy’s pastry girl becomes life-size and actually comes to life, while Bunchy goes on to form a pastry cat and a house. Thus far Bunchy’s game invites interpretation as a compensatory fantasy, according to which Bunchy has a friend just like MMM’s “Little Friend Susan.” Indeed, once the pastry girl has invited Bunchy into the pastry house, the fantasy is reminiscent of the MMM story in which Susan comes to stay overnight. In “Milly Molly Mandy Enjoys a Visit,” Milly Molly Mandy Stories), the little girls (illustrated facing p. 48, Fig. 3) are happy to share a bed, each finding she “found [she] wanted the side that the other one didn’t, which was nice” (50). But here the differences begin to outweigh the similarities. Indeed, this is to understate the point. The pastry girl invites Bunchy to get into bed with her (illustrated facing p. 8, Fig. 4), but the bed, like the house, is repulsively “cold and sticky” so that Bunchy “doesn’t want to get in” (8). Bunchy’s dilemma is resolved on her grandmother’s return, when the whole house turns back into a ball of dough. What is fascinating about Bunchy’s game with the fleshy dough is that, notwithstanding its consolatory purpose, its affect is so sinister. The pastry girl, in her doomed attempt to enfold Bunchy into her own cold world, is not only an “imaginary friend” but also the archetypal man-made monster, or even a corpse merely masquerading as a live companion. Eva-Marie Simms has isolated “the aura of uncanniness” that may “[surround] the doll as transitional object,” (“Uncanny Dolls: Images of Death in Rilke and Freud,” 666). Simms’ contrasts between the (generally female) doll and the mother are relevant in view of the fact that Bunchy has no mother: “Where before was the engulfing love of the mother who was the world, there is now an absence, an abyss. And the doll can never take the place of the mother... for which the doll is merely a poor substitute” (Simms, p. 671; cf. Bernier-O’Hare on puppets). It is as if Bunchy’s awareness of her deprivation has—notwithstanding the desire to overcome it that has motivated her make-believe—confronted her in the course of that very play. The story has another quite threatening dimension. Before leading Bunchy into her bedroom the pastry girl has cooked the pastry cat, and broken it into biscuits—which she and Bunchy have eaten. Of course the cat’s fate reminds us of what will happen to the pastry girl and her home once the dough has been baked. Death, in other words, haunts Bunchy’s magical fantasy. It is significant, surely, that Brisley as author never mentions that Bunchy has lost her mother and father, or that her grandmother is a widow who has lost her adult child. The appearance of death in Bunchy’s game thus invites interpretation as a classic instance of “the return of the repressed.”Footnote 11

Fig. 3
figure 3

Bunchy in the pastry bedroom

Fig. 4
figure 4

Milly Molly Mandy’s friend Susan visits to stay the night

My second example is the third story, “Bunchy and the Scribble Family.” Like “Bunchy and the Pastry-Dough,” the story begins by reiterating Bunchy’s isolation—“for the school-house was nearly a mile walk away over the hill, and Grandmother thought [Bunchy] was too small to go so far by herself” (20). Having amused herself by pretending to write (“you might have called it scribbling,” the author tells the child reader, 20), she begins drawing, producing a picture of a house. Her grandmother agrees to draw some inhabitants—a man and a woman. But she refuses Bunchy’s request for drawings of children: “You must do them yourself now” (23). Like the pastry girl the sketched couple come to life and set off with Bunchy to the house that she had drawn (which wins their approval). They invite Bunchy to tea. While the events thus far seem to fulfil Bunchy’s need for friends, they take a disturbing turn—which reflects Bunchy’s psychological predicament, thus anticipating Winnicott’s “Squiggle Technique.”Footnote 12 The Scribble adults turn out to be worried about the failure of their children to get home: “‘Perhaps they can’t find the house, and they’ve got lost,’ said Mrs Scribbles. "Oh, dear, dear, where can they be?’” (26). Again, where the story becomes troubling, it also reflects Bunchy’s own predicament; it appears that she has lost her loving parents, just as the Scribble parents believe they might have lost their evidently beloved children. (It may be that the orphaned child fantasizes that their lost parents have lost them, or feels that she has been rejected as inadequate.) Bunchy comes to the aid of the distressed Scribble parents by drawing a little girl who is greeted with great affection by her mother. She also draws a boy who is comically (and frighteningly) rejected by his quasi-parents for being bigger than his father. Bunchy’s second attempt fares much better. In conclusion, the Scribble family scene morphs into Bunchy’s original setting, in which the teapot she has drawn for the Scribbles inspires her grandmother’s resolution to put a real tea on the table.

Almost all Bunchy’s stories follow the same formula. Bunchy’s playthings, created by her, materialize into people. But the people cannot satisfy what one imagines are her emotional needs. Paper cut-outs that begin by being superficially charming turn out to be not just literally but also metaphorically “light-weight” (“Bunchy and the Cutting-out Scissors”). The doll recipients of Bunchy’s attempts to feed them with button-dishes (“Bunchy and the Button Bag”) become so demanding that Bunchy closes the window (really a pasted-on picture) that links her world with theirs. The customers that visit Bunchy’s “shop” in the garden (dreamed up by Bunchy out of what she finds there, “Bunchy and her Shop,” Bunchy) are polite but concerned only with their own needs. They include a cock-sparrow who complains about his “hungry children” (46) that he is hard-pressed to feed; this creature draws attention yet again to the parent–child relationship from which Bunchy is excluded. Interestingly enough, Bunchy’s relatively chilling fantasy experiences are reminiscent of MMM’s everyday adventures; the “tall poppy” whose dress is torn, and comes to Bunchy to purchase petal fabric, is reminiscent of MMM herself in “Milly Molly Mandy Buys a New Dress”, while Bunchy as shop-keeper is also reminiscent of MMM in ‘Milly Molly Mandy Keeps a Shop” (Milly Molly Mandy Stories). But in these MMM stories Christian altruism trumps materialism—MMM gives up the last of the floral fabric in the shop to Bunchy herself, and she keeps shop to help Miss Muggins when she is needed elsewhere. As we have seen, Bunchy’s fantasy friends can be less than generous. Even where they seem personally friendly they carry with them a negative resonance. MMM finds the people represented in the late Victorian “scraps” that decorate the scrap work screen (made by her grandmother and sisters when young) welcoming—when, according to the by-now-established formula, they come to life. But existing only in images of the past they still testify to the power of death in time. One wonders whether the particularly friendly boy (Hugh), who claims to have known Bunchy’s grandmother, could be Bunchy’s grandfather—now, one must presume, dead (as already noted). The playing card people in “Bunchy and the Happy Families” are not unkind, although they are preoccupied with their own needs—until their house is knocked down (in a heap of dust and ashes) by Mr Soot the Chimney Sweep, and the man in “Bunchy and the Snowstorm Ball” is desperate for companionship (living as he does “staying outside all the time,” as Bunchy puts it to her grandmother, 77). The clothes peg people in “Bunchy and the Clothes Pegs,” spiteful (and constitutionally breastless) are perfectly antithetical to Winnicott’s mother figure for whose existence they are such an inadequate substitute, and the boy doll of “Bunchy and the Peddler’s Doll” is almost responsible for Bunchy’s drowning when he takes her sailing in his paper boat.

Bunchy’s very name with its floral associations (reinforced by the flowered fabric of her dress) is suggestive of human mortality as treated in the Bible (“The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away,” 1 Pe 1:24). It must be acknowledged, however, that the Bunchy stories avoid despair.Footnote 13 In “Bunchy and the Pattern Book” (Another Bunchy Book, 1951) Bunchy, engulfed in a world inspired by luscious fabric samples, meets a prince, who calls her “the most beautiful princess in the whole world” (10). “You want to know where the Prince came from?” (Brisley remarks), “Goodness me, I don’t know!” There is a suggestion here of a possible fairy-tale “happy ever after” ending in which Bunchy is married and at last part of a family.

In turning, finally, to the question of authorial motivation, we may begin by noting that Brisley’s stories frequently display the process of representation, thus introducing a metafictional aspect. When a professional photographer opens for business in the village, MMM (in “Milly Molly Mandy Has her Photo Taken”, More of Milly Molly Mandy) saves enough money to have a photograph made of herself as a present for her mother. Brisley incorporates (on p. 49) a drawing of this photograph (of an uncharacteristically solemn Milly Molly Mandy holding a bunch of flowers).Footnote 14 Another metafictional instance is the remark of Milly Molly Mandy’s visiting American Uncle Jack about the family cottage, “Well, this sure looks a picture” (“Milly Molly Mandy has American Visitors,” 65, italics mine). Brisley’s verbal and visual artistry is intelligently self-aware.

Very significantly, in a note prefacing the Milly Molly Mandy Omnibus (published in 1972), Brisley recalls how, when she was “sitting indoors all day, earning a living” and longing “to be out in the country,” she first doodled the “small country family” that was to be that of Milly Molly Mandy—calling it “that scribble family” (7, italics mine)—thereby disclosing an identity between herself and the stoical Bunchy as creator of a different scribble family, while at the same time categorising the country village as an invention of her wistful imagination. As already noted, Brisley’s own family broke up with her parents’ divorce in 1912, when she was 16, and that it was then that she moved with her (relatively impoverished –they were compelled to “earn a living”) mother and sisters from the beautiful Sussex resort town of Bexhill-on-Sea into a small flat in the fast-growing London suburb of Brixton. The change of place, coinciding as it did with her change of circumstances, and also her transition from childhood to adulthood, could well have been traumatic. MMM’s idyllic childhood in an extended family dwelling in a closely-knit rural community seems in many ways to correspond with Brisley’s own relatively secure Sussex childhood.Footnote 15 But Bunchy’s less than consoling fantasies may—in their fearful projections of vulnerability—have had more reality for the adult Joyce than the enviable “adventures” of MMM.


  1. In what follows I use the initials MMM for the unwieldy name, except in quotations and titles.

  2. One must presume that these facts, as repeated by publishers and on various websites, derive in the first instance from Brisley’s papers, held in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Archive of Art and Design.

  3. I quote from Joshua F. Bailey’s discussion of marriage as published in the Christian Science Sentinel.

  4. Previous graduates had included Clemence and Laurence Housman, well-known supporters of the Suffragette movement. Laurence was to become the founder of “Housman’s,” a well-known radical bookshop.

  5. Examples include Holy Trinity in Cuckfield and Saint Andrew's in West Tarring. These correspond more closely with the church in Brisley’s map than does Saint Andrews in Alfriston, the village that has been thought by some readers to be the model for MMM’s. The spire matches these, but it does not stand on a battlemented base. (For the Alfriston hypotheses, see and′12/where-might-milly-molly-mandy-live.html.)

  6. For a dress and bloomers pattern similar to MMM’s outft, see

  7. Cf. OED short, A.II.n.1,“a short film for cinema or television” (first citation, 1929). For an archived example, see ‘'.

  8. Some MMM stories had been published in 1925, in the Christian Science Monitor.

  9. On the rarity of villages that lost no inhabitants to WWI, see Jon Kelly’s BBC Magazine article, “Thankful villages: The place where everyone came back from the wars.”.

  10. Regarding the illustrations reproduced as Figs. 1, 2, 3 and 4: see my note introducing figure 1.

  11. Freud’s theory of the return of the depressed is distributed over more than one work. See, for example, // The essential point is that what is painful for us to know is confined to the unconscious, re-emerging in “derivatives” of the unconscious mind, which include fantasies.

  12. See “The Squiggle-game” under Works Cited. Winnicott designed the game to elicit children’s conceptions of their (mostly familial) circumstances from their contributions to squiggle (or scribble) supplied by the therapist. The implicit theory is that the child’s graphic insertions elaborate upon the original material in ways that betray his or her familial circumstances and psychological predicaments: “The principle is that psychotherapy is done in an overlap at the area of play of the child and the area of play of the adult or therapist” (p. 317).

  13. (i) 1951, the year in which the Bunchy stories were first published happens to be the same year in which Winnicott’s theory of the transitional object was first published. (ii) Brisley’s resistance of despair may well have been rooted in her Christian faith. “God is Love” appears as a framed text on the wall of Milly Molly Mandy’s new bedroom (“Milly Molly Mandy has a Surprise,” More of Milly Molly Mandy, facing 22). Loving kindness functions as the key to happiness in nearly all of the Milly Molly Mandy stories. The Further Doings volume (1932) ends with “Milly Molly Mandy Goes Carol-singing”—the final illustration being a picture of the thatched cottage over the text “Peace on earth and goodwill to men” (Luke 2: 24). (iii) For Winnicott, the value of a transitional object depended upon the child’s faith in the continuing existence of the maternal breast.

  14. Similarly, in “The Adventure on the Hearth-rug,” one of the Purl and Plain stories (1941), the eponymous wooden dolls amuse themselves by drawing each other—and Brisley provides a picture of Plain’s efforts (a portrait of Purl) in her own picture of Purl scrutinizing that portrait (facing 80).

  15. As noted above, Brisley’s biography has yet to be written. Her papers are held by the Victoria and Albert Museum of Art and Design. For an introduction and summary description, see


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Kathryn M. Walls is an Emeritus Professor of English literature in the School of English, Film, Theatre, Media Studies and Art History of the Victoria University of Wellington, where she served as Head of School 2017–2019. She is the editor (with Marguerite Stobo) of William Baspoole’s seventeenth-century adaptation of the medieval Pilgrimage of the Lyfe of the Manhode , for the Renaissance English Text Society—The Pilgrime (Tempe, Arizona, 2008); and author of God’s Only Daughter: Spenser’s Una as the Invisible Church (Manchester, Manchester Univ. Press, 2013. She is an executive editor of The Manchester Spenser. Her interest in literature for children is reflected in articles and book chapters on New Zealand authors Margaret Mahy, Maurice Gee and Joy Cowley, and in articles on C. S. Lewis.

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Walls, K.M. Joyce Lankester Brisley’s Bunchy as the Shadow of Milly-Molly-Mandy. Child Lit Educ (2022).

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  • Brisley
  • Milly-Molly-Mandy
  • Bunchy
  • Death
  • Repression