E.Nesbit and the imagination

by Anna Blanch on July 12, 2009

Edith Nesbit (1858-1924) wrote or collaborated on over 60 books about (and for) children as well as a number of collections of short stories and poetry.

After Lewis Carroll, E. Nesbit is the best of the English fabulists who wrote about children (neither wrote for children) and like Carroll she was able to create a world of magic and inverted logic that was entirely her own. – Gore Vidal

In December 1964, Gore Vidal wrote of the imaginative power of Nesbit’s books and exhorted librarians across America to suggest them to readers young and old. His criticism of the “practical” tweed-jacketed librarians incited a response on its own. Vidal ranted that juvenile librarians were only interested in encouraging young people to read practical books and were wary of magic. Sound familiar? In light of the release of Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince this week I am sure the fervor that is the Happy Potter Wars will be rekindled. I still have much to think about when it comes to distinguishing between magic, phantasm, and the fruits of an imagination that does not confine fiction to the literal practical possible.

As a woman, E. Nesbit was not to everyone’s taste. H. G. Wells described her and Hubert Bland as “fundamentally intricate,” adding that whenever the Blands attended meetings of the Fabian Society “anonymous letters flittered about like bats at twilight” (the Nesbit mood if not style is contagious). Yet there is no doubt that she was extraordinary. Wanting to be a serious poet, she became of necessity a writer of children’s books. But though she disdained her true gift, she was peculiarly suited by nature to be what in fact she was. As an adult, writing of her own childhood, she noted, “When I was a little child I used to pray fervently, tearfully, that when I should be grown up I might never forget what I thought and felt and suffered then.” With extraordinary perceptiveness, she realized that each grown-up must kill the child he was before he himself can live. Nesbit’s vow to survive somehow in the enemy’s consciousness became, finally, her art—when this you see remember me—and the child within continued to the end of the adult’s life.

Here is where Vidal and I part company – while i agree with his general take on the situation, I do not agree that Nesbit “realized” or needed to realize a need to kill the child within to “live.”
Rather I believe that Nesbit relished childhood and the imaginative possibilities of childhood.

Vidal expressed a preference for Harding’s Luck and the House of Arden. I am not sure I have a favourite book as yet – if the lightning bolt hits on that one in the next year I will let you know!

Many of Nesbit’s books are available on Google Books in full view – here is a list of those books. You can also view many of her works in full-text at the Upenn digital library. Librivox also has a number of Nesbit’s books available as audio files.

If you are wanting a sense of where to start with Nesbit, here is a list of some of her books: Poetry
1887 Spring Songs and Sketches
1894 A Pomander Of Verse
1899 Villegiature
1908 Ballads of Lyrics and Socialism

The Bastables Series
1899 The Story of the Treasure Seekers
1901 The Wouldbegoods
1904 The New Treasure Seekers
1905 Oswald Bastable And Others
1928 Complete History of Bastable Family

Psammead Series
1902 Five Children and It
1904 The Phoenix and the Carpet
1906 The Story of the Amulet

House of Arden Series
1908 The House of Arden
1909 Harding’s Luck

Other Works
1885 Pussy and Doggy Tales
1885 All Round the Year
1885 Many Voices
1885 The Rainbow and the Rose
1885 The Prophet’s Mantle
1886 Something Wrong
1893 Grim Tales
1893 The Pilot
1894 Miss Mischief
1894 The Butler in Bohemia
1895 Tales of the Clock
1896 In Homespun
1896-97 My School-Days
1897 Tales Told in Twilight
1898 The Book of Dogs
1897 The Children’s Shakespeare
1897 Royal Children of English History
1899 The Secret of the Kyriels
1900 The Book of Dragons
1901 Nine Unlikely Tales including “Melisande”
1901 Thirteen Ways Home
1902 The Red House
1902 The Revolt of the Toys
1902 Edith Nesbit’s Tales of Terror
1902 In the Dark: Tales of Terror
1903 The Rainbow Queen
1903 Playtime Stories
1903 The Literary Sense
1904 The Story of Five Rebellious Dolls
1904 Cat Tales
1905 Pug Peter, King of Mouseland
1906 The Railway Children
1906 The Incomplete Amorist
1906 Man and Maid
1907 Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare
1907 The Enchanted Castle
1908 The Old Nursery Stories
1908 The Three Mothers
1909 The House With No Address
1909 These Little Ones
1909 Daphne in Fitzroy Street
1909 Salome and the Head
1910 Fear
1910 The Magic City
1911 Dormant aka Rose Royal
1911 The Wonderful Garden
1912 The Magic World
1913 Wet Magic
1921 The Incredible Honeymoon
1922 The Lark
1923 To the Adventurous
1925 Five of Us and Madeline

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