When I was a child, E. Nesbit was my favorite writer, and The Enchanted Castle was my favorite book. Before birthdays and Christmas, I made a list for my mother of the E. Nesbits I wanted from the local bookstore. (I idiotically sold them in my 20s.) Nesbit’s children’s books are more entertaining and better-written than most of her adult books, but last winter I discovered her adult novel, The Lark, a delightful comedy published in 1922.
I was thrilled to find that Michael Dirda has written a brilliant essay, “The Serious Make-Believe of E. Nesbit,” for the Barnes & Noble Review,
Here is an excerpt:
Not all of E. Nesbit’s children’s books are fantasies, but even the most realistic somehow seem magical. In her holiday world nobody ever goes to school, though all the kids know their English history, Greek myths, and classic tales of derring-do. Again and again, Nesbit’s fiction celebrates the power of reading, coupled with the power of the imagination, as the best way for young people to transform and enchant everyday life.
Between 1899 and the outbreak of World War I, Nesbit scribbled one juvenile masterpiece after another. Everyone has his or her own favorite: Mine is The Story of the Amulet (1906), but other readers would opt for Five Children and It (1902) or The Railway Children (1906) or The Enchanted Castle (1907). In the United States, however, Nesbit isn’t anywhere near as well known as she deserves to be, given her delightful humor, sprightly, conversational style, and all-around irresistibility. Just listen to Oswald Bastable near the opening of The Treasure Seekers:
“There are some things I must tell before I begin to tell about the treasure-seeking, because I have read books myself, and I know how beastly it is when a story begins, “Alas!” said Hildegarde with a deep sigh, “we must look our last on this ancestral home” — and then some one else says something — and you don’t know for pages and pages where the home is, or who Hildegarde is or anything about it. Our ancestral home is in the Lewisham Road. It is semi-detached and has a garden, not a large one. We are the Bastables. There are six of us besides Father. Our mother is dead…”
An excellent essay! Every adult should know about Nesbit.
I’ve never read Nesbit. I suppose I’ve told myself I missed it, but I’ll have a look at Michael Dirda’s essay. He writes wonderfully well and perceptively.
Yes, he is a wonderful critic! The essay is worth reading even if you never intend to read Nesbit.