E. Nesbit: An Unconventional Childhood

by Anna Blanch on July 28, 2009

Called Daisy by her family, Nesbit was born on August 12, 1858 at Kennington, Surrey (now part of greater London). The youngest of five children, she considered her early years, when her father was still alive, idyllic. Father died unexpectedly when she was 4 years of age. Her grandfather Anthony Nesbit founded the agricultural college of which her father John Collis Nesbit was the principal. He is sometimes described as an agricultural chemist. Her Grandfather wrote on natural sciences and was a noted adversary of Charles Darwin.
A few years after his death, her family moved several times in an effort to find a suitable climate for Mary, her sister who had contracted tuberculosis. living variously in Brighton, Buckinghamshire, France (Dieppe, Rouen, Paris, Tours, Poitiers, Angouleme, Bordeaux, Arcachon, Pau, Bagneres de Bigorre, and Dinan in Brittany), Spain and Germany. Nesbit, an imaginative, high-strung child, was sent to a succession of wretched boarding schools, which she later described in her autobiography, Long Ago When I Was Young, as mostly cruel, inhospitable places. In 1870, her mother settled the family in Brittany, France, where Nesbit was sprung from the misery of school life. “My mother…,” she wrote in her autobiography, “allowed us to run wild…. Sometimes when visitors were expected, we were seized and scrubbed, and clothed and made to look something like the good little children we were not…. But as a rule, we were left to go our own way, and a very happy way it was.”
Following her sister’s death a year later when EN was 16, the family returned to England and rented Halstead Hall in Kent for 3 years. This was a period in her life which Nesbit remembered fondly. Halstead Hall was also the location which later inspired The Railway Children. Although this distinction has also been claimed by the Derbyshire town of New Mills.
Nesbit’s first literary effort – a poem – was published while she was at Halstead Hall. Though she wrote in many genres over the years to provide much-needed income for her family, Nesbit continued always to write poetry, and for the rest of her life thought of herself first and foremost as a poet.
Married Hubert Bland in 1880 when 19, 7 months pregnant with Paul. 2nd marriage to Skipper Tucker.
Published under the androgynous E.Nesbit. other than poetry published while she was still at school – Nesbit first published under the pseudonym Fabian Bland in collaboration with her husband in 1885.
Poet and Author Nesbit wrote or collaborated on over 60 books of fiction for children. If nothing else Nesbit was productive – really wanted to be taken seriously as an adult novelist and poet; but her niche was her writing for children.
A number of her works, including Railway Children have been adapted to film (by the BBC).
Prominent Fabian Socialist whose friends included George Bernard Shaw, H.G Wells, and G.K Chesterton
Contradictory statements have been made about her childhood temperament – Briggs that she was very timid, Lurie that she was hot-tempered (Lurie 100). Both agree that she was a tomboy and unsuited to the schools to which she was sent.
When Nesbit was 17, the family moved again, this time back to London, living variously in at least four different localities in South East London.

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