Archive for the ‘E. Nesbit’ Category

Frontispiece showing Peter, Bobbie and Phyllis waving away at a passing train. The Charles Edmund Brock drawings of the original Edwardian edition are utterly charming, and if seeking out an edition for yourself or for gift-giving, I highly recommend finding one of the numerous “deluxe replica” versions.

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit ~ 1906. This edition:  Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., Ltd., exact date unknown. Illustrated by C.E. Brock. Hardcover. 184 pages.

They were not railway children to begin with. I don’t suppose they had ever thought about railways except as a means of getting to Maskelyne and Cook’s, the Pantomime, Zoological Gardens, and Madame Tussaud’s. They were just ordinary suburban children, and they lived with their Father and Mother in an ordinary red-brick-fronted villa, with coloured glass in the front door, a tiled passage that was called a hall, a bath-room with hot and cold water, electric bells, French windows, and a good deal of white paint, and ‘every modern convenience’, as the house-agents say.

There were three of them. Roberta was the eldest. Of course, Mothers never have favourites, but if their Mother HAD had a favourite, it might have been Roberta. Next came Peter, who wished to be an Engineer when he grew up; and the youngest was Phyllis, who meant extremely well.

When Father mysteriously disappears one evening after a loudly uncomfortable meeting in the drawing-room with two mysterious men, the tamely predictable lives of Roberta (aka Bobbie), Peter and Phyllis are stood upside down. All sorts of dreadful changes take place, culminating in a removal to a country cottage situated close to a busy rail line, “for the time being”, leaving all of the nicest things back in their city house.

Adventures immediately ensue, as the children learn their new surroundings, figure out how best to help Mother with making do, and eventually endear themselves to pretty well everyone they meet, including an elderly and distinguished Gentleman-on-the-Train, which turns out to be a very good development indeed.

I am of two minds regarding this well-beloved tale. On one hand it is dreadfully sentimental, with everything working out much too good to be true. On the other hand, it’s utterly adorable and even reasonably relatable, as our three young protagonists get into all sorts of difficult situations and muddle around quite realistically before getting things sorted out.

Every time I read it – and I find this has happened quite a number of times, which tells you something right there, doesn’t it? – I start out by telling myself it’s all a little too good to be true, and then I abandon myself to the charm and end up at the end all sniffly with emotion.

Because of course there is an absolutely soppy happy ending.

My rating: hmmm…how about a nice 7.5/10?

Because while it’s perhaps one of the best known, subject of who knows how many adaptations and film versions and such, it’s not my absolute favourite E. Nesbit novel. That one is probably Five Children and It, because I do enjoy a nice time travel tale, especially if incorporating a cranky mythical creature. Or possibly The Treasure-Seekers? Well, any of the Bastable family stories, really.

Or?

An expanded E. Nesbit re-read might well be in order. Maybe after Christmas. We’ll see. Or perhaps during the spring busy-season, when the lightest of fares is in order for those few bedtime minutes of reading time before the eyelids drop down.

P.S. This is a post regarding a book read way back in July, so you don’t need to think that I’m reading-reading-reading morning through night lately. Just playing catch-up for the Century project, and working on condensing my posts (somewhat), because so often I do tend to ramble on, and self-editing is a goal which tends to elude me… ūüôā

 

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The Lark by E. Nesbit ~ 1922. This edition: Dean Street Press, 2017. Introduction by Charlotte Moore.  Softcover. ISBN: 978-1-911579-45-8. 251 pages.

Looking for a lighthearted frivol, a confection of a novel? Look no further than this small charmer by Edith Nesbit, best known for her deliciously satirical children’s books (Five Children and It, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, The Railway Children, and so on) but also a writer of adult novels, which this one is.

This isn’t a sombre bit of literary fiction, but a fairy tale for grownups, with just enough dashes of cold reality to keep it somewhat grounded in the real world, though most of the plot is driven by the most unlikely set of happy coincidences I’ve yet to come across in a very long history of light-fiction reading.

It’s just what is advertised by the title. It is, in fact, a complete lark.

Two orphaned teenage cousins, Jane and Lucy, happily tucked away in boarding school by their guardian and looking forward to their soon-to-be-attained coming of ages when they will come into what they have been told are substantial inheritances, receive a happy shock when they are informed that their guardian has withdrawn them from the school and asked them to report to a mysterious address in the countryside beyond the fringes of London.

Confidently expecting this to be their introduction to the adult world, presided over by their mysterious patron, they are bewildered at being decanted at the door of a small country cottage instead of the mansion they were expecting.

A perfectly timed letter gives an explanation. Jane and Lucy’s guardian apologizes profusely, but he has squandered their fortunes on unsound financial speculations, and has gone utterly bankrupt. He’s leaving the country before his creditors can catch up to him, but he’s tried to cushion the blow somewhat by arranging for a lump sum of ¬£500 to be put to the cousins’ account, and the afore-mentioned cottage as a residence.

Jane and Lucy soon realize that their rapidly-diminishing nest egg isn’t enough to cover their longer-term needs, and they look about for ways to augment it. The stage is set for all manner of lucky happenings, with helpful young (and not so young) men cropping up like daisies in the spring.

It’a all very amusing, and the lightness is well set off by the running thread of reality, for this book was written not long after the ending of the Great War, and is set in 1919, and the plight of many of the returned soldiers coming home to not much in the way of a future becomes a key element in the extended plot.

Occasionally  (okay, very often) I (figuratively) rolled my eyes at the sillier bits, but I happily kept reading, because the story is as engaging as it is unrealistic, and the realistic bits were shoehorned in with acceptable success.

My rating: Let’s say a nice, solid 7.5/10. A definite keeper.

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