Constance M White (1903-?) author of over 40 children’s stories, is best known for her school stories. She wrote 17, of which two, Ponies at Westways and Nutmeg Comes to Westways, combined ponies and school. Dream Pony is a more straight down the line pony story - unusual for its sympathetic potrayal of gipsies, who are usually the villains in pony stories, spiriting off ponies without a second’s thought.
After being criticised by the Times Literary Supplement for not knowing enough about her subject, ballet, in her first school story, A Sprite at School, she made sure she did her research when she decided to write a pony book. This change of tack came about after she was begged to write a pony story by a neighbour’s pony-mad daughter. White stayed on a farm, watched the horses and talked to the groom. She said that as her speciality was school stories, she combined the ponies with school. She was the first to do this, being followed by authors like Mary Gervaise and Peggie Cannam.
Constance White integrated ponies into the school format: the ponies are vital, and not simply tacked on. Sue Sims said 'they are important in so far as they affect the girls and their relationships; Susan’s growing maturity can be equated to the way she copes with the animals.' Susan in fact, after her initial disobedience when she lames the pony Cobber, is always firmly on the side of the ponies. However badly she gets on with the girls, she is always anxious to do her best by the ponies.
Both pony books and school stories often have a strong redemptive theme: The School or The Pony is often the means whereby a bolshy girl is humanised and made acceptable. Poor Susan in Ponies at Westways had little chance but to succumb under the twin redemptive powers of School and Pony.
Ponies at Westways is an engaging read. Many girls' school stories have the heroine defeating some criminal or other, and sure enough Susan does this, though it doesn’t sit terribly well with the rest of the book. This apart, I enjoyed the way Susan thawed out, and I particularly liked her tentative championship of the stand in headgirl, Fenella.
Sims and Clare describe Constance M White as, though not in the first rank, 'well worth reading', and I think she is.
Finding the books
Ponies at Westways is very easy to find, having been reprinted several times. Nutmeg Comes to Westways and Dream Pony are quite hard to find, and tend, for pony books, to be pricey.
The Encyclopaedia of Girl’s School Stories: Sue Sims & Hilary Clare, Ashgate 2000
n article on the author by Sue SimsSims