Sunday, November 09, 2008

E. Nesbit

At night, you want to read something that will put you to sleep. There is a pile next to my bed: Georgette Heyer, Poldark, and E. Nesbit. E. Nesbit has become a favorite lately, because after half a chapter of Story of the Treasure Seekers, the Wood-Be-Goods, or The New Treasure Seekers, I fall asleep. ZZZZZZZ. As a child, I loved her books. Every birthday I received her books in plain red editions, published, I believe in Great Britain, which were always on the same shelf of the bookstore, which my parents became very familiar with. My favorite was The Enchanted Castle , but I also loved The Phoenix and the Carpet ,The House of Arden, The Magic world, and other” magic adventures.” All had the original H. R. Millar illustrations.

Gore Vidal read and admired them. In the ‘60s, he wrote an essay n which he attacked the American teachers and librarians who,, according to Vidal, rejected turn-of-the-century fantasy classics by Nesbit and pushed badly-written realistic novels on children. He lamented the slow development of children’s imaginations, and gave many examples of Nesbit's influence on C. S. Lewis (and, my God, was she better. Those ghastly Narnia books!) As a matter of fact , he may have overstated the case. because many public libraries carried Nesbit (under her maiden name, Edith Bland, and perhaps he didn't look there) and certainly my parents good-humoredly purchased every one of them over a period of years.

So it has been a while since I read them. I read half of The Enchanted Castle a year ago, and though I remembered loving it, I eventually abandoned it. Perhaps it's less entertaining when you’ve read it 20 times. (It was the Harry Potter of its day. Only in those days they didn't need midnight book parties to read) Recently I began rereading the Story of the Treasure Seekers, one of my least favorites as a child. But The Story of the Treasure Seekers--one of the Bastable books-- is more readable because it is more realistic: the Bastable children wish to estore the family fortunes, only nothing quite works out: when they dig the hole for treasure the earth collapses when the sniveling Albert-Next-Door digs. Etc. Etc.

Nesbit was a socialist and feminist and a “free thinker” who had to write to support her family and found she could easily crank out children’s books. She had tried all kinds of writing, and though she didn’t particularly like children, she remembered exactly what it was to be a child. In fact, Vidal also loves her autobiography (which I have not been able to find).



Ellen said...

Jim loved the Beatrice Potter tales; so did Laura, our daughter. I didn't read them when a girl (as my father probably hadn't). Vidal has a point.

I loved the movie with Renee Z (I can't spell her last name) and would like to read more about Potter herself.

Not such a non sequitor: have you seen _Happy Go Lucky_. I think you'd enjoy it.


Mad Housewife said...

With Benjamin Bunny I'm sure I could read the whole book. :)

Maegwyn AE said...

I loved all the E. Nesbit books, and still do. She had a way of making it plausible for the children to run around unsupervised, whether in the realistic stories or in the magical tales. She even tucked a little Socialist idealism into The Story of the Amulet along with the excellent lessons in history, and very believable magic.

Now I'll have to curl up under a blanket with some tea and do some time-traveling! Thanks for the reminder.

I ran into your blog because I'm on the hunt for some illustrations by H.R. Millar from Nesbit's Book of Dragons.

Mad Housewife said...

Maegwyn AE, I don't know when you dropped by but I'm sorry I mssed it! Nesbit's politics fascinate me. I hope you find The Book of Dragons.