Edith Nesbit

Edith Nesbit

1858 - 1924
Edith Nesbit, who her family called Daisy, is known to her reading public as E . Nesbit. She wrote initially for adults in order to support her family of 5 children, they lived in houses in London, Eltham, Dymchurch and from 1911 she had a “retreat” in a farmhouse at Crowlink, a hamlet in the Downland above Eastbourne. She then went on to write for children, her most famous books being,”The Railway Children,” “Five Children and It,” and “The Treasure Seekers.”

ROLE

Author and co-founder of The Fabian Society

EARLY LIFE & EDUCATION

Edith was born in Kennington, South London, and moved extensively with her widowed mother and family, looking for the right places to live for her sister’s ill-health. They attended many schools, including schools in Brighton, London, France and Spain, some of which she hated.
Edith was an anxious and lonely child, she faced nightmares and fears after teasing and bullying at more than one school. In total contrast the families and the settings in her books reflected her happy, very early years, an escape from the suffering she experienced in schools.

She was, “ a temperamental, deeply sensitive child “ wrote Noel Streatfeild in her biography. Noel writes of Edith in her biography, “Magic and the Magician” (Benn, 1958) “her children’s books, with one exception, are divorced from the life she lived as an adult for they have their roots in her childhood, and a very early childhood at that.” As a teenager she loved the freedom of rural life in France and , living in Halstead Hall in Kent , she would explore the railway cuttings, perhaps these early memories inspired her later and most successful book, “The Railway Children.”

Edith loved the peace of the countryside although the settings for her children’s books reflected the town houses of her childhood.

Edith Nesbitt

ACHIEVEMENTS

• Wrote over 40 children’s books and collaborated on as many more
• Wrote poetry and books for adults
• Founded the Fabian Society
• Researched extensively the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were written by Francis Bacon
• Guest Speaker at the LSE
• Wrote a serial in the Strand magazine “The Magic City” then exhibited her own building of a miniature city at Olympia in
1912, a version of Utopia.

Edith did not write her children’s books until her 40s, then, perhaps, writing some of the earliest fantasy novels for children, combining reality in their family settings but moving her characters into magical worlds. She influenced J. K. Rowling, C.S Lewis, Michael Moorcock, and Jacqueline Wilson, who has written her own sequel to “5 Children and It.” Noel Coward wrote to Noel Streatfeild, one of her biographers, of Edith’s “unparalleled talent for evoking the hot summer days in the English countryside.”

Edith’s son Fabian, who had attended a boarding school in Telscombe, Brighton, died in 1900 after surgery, ”Five Children and It” was published in 1902, the main role of Robert was based on her beloved Fabian, Edith expressing her grief and also maybe guilt as it was revealed that they forgot that Fabian was not to eat before surgery and he choked to death. She then wrote “The Phoenix and the Carpet” in serial form, in 1906 she published “The Railway Children” her most famous book, that has been filmed, televised and is still in publication.

Edith was a Socialist, politically active, naming her son after the Fabian Society , of which she and Hubert Bland in 1884 were founder members and speaking extensively over those years, including a speech at The London School of Economics , which had been founded by other Fabian Society members. She also believed that she had discovered a secret code that proved that Francis Bacon was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. She spoke at working men’s clubs and functions, she cut her hair short and smoked cigarettes, she was unconventional, she loved the theatre and admired the Brownings and the Shelleys. She was socially active with the poor in Deptford, much as Noel Streatfeild was to be some years later, she was much–travelled.

Edith moved in a circle that was rich with famous names from the world of literature and the arts. H G Wells thought Edith (who he called Ernest) and her husband “fundamentally intricate.” Yet in 1903 he praised “The Phoenix and the Carpet: “he is the best character you ever invented, or anybody else has ever invented in this line.” He predicted that she would become “a British Institution in 6 years from now.”

 

 

To read Di’s full research click here

RESEARCHERS VIEW

It is interesting to note that when Noel Streatfeild arrived to live in Eastbourne in 1911 , aged 15, Edith Nesbit was renting a home 3 or 4 miles away, her house near the cliffs , having already written some of the children’s novels which are now classics, “The Story of the Treasure Seekers,” “Five Children and It ,””The Phoenix and the Carpet,” and her most successful book, much filmed and televised, “The Railway Children.” Many years later Noel was to greatly admire these books and to write Edith’s biography, but in Angela Bull’s biography of Noel she states that Noel previously knew nothing of her- perhaps the books were not suitable for her vicarage upbringing? One wonders if she knew of the Crowlink connection, it is not mentioned in her book?

Edith drew on her past in a similar way to Noel Streatfeild, but moved the genre on to become an early writer of fantasy, still much copied and admired. She lived a full , varied and colourful life , charismatic and bohemian , quite different from her early childhood life that she reflects in  her books. These books live on as classics more than a century after they were written, her name lives on for the magical worlds that she created for children.

 

Di Clarke

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Bibliography and Acknowledgements

BOOKS AND ARTICLES
The Writing of E. Nesbit The New York Review
Of Books, Gore Vidal ,
1964
Magic and The Magician Noel Streatfeild,Benn
1958
A Woman of Passion Julia Briggs,1987,
Hutchinson
The Railway Children E.Nesbit ,Wells,
Gardner, 1906
Long Ago When I Was Young E.Nesbit ,1966 ,
Whiting&Wheaton
E.Nesbit –a biography Doris Langley Moore
1967, Benn

Websites:
Theromneymarsh.net/edithnesbit
Romney Marsh, the 5th continent
The Keep
St. Mary’s Bay Parish Council
The Edith Nesbit Society Files
Google images
Google street view
http://history.buses.co.uk/history/fleethist/939en.htm
Ancestry.co.uk

Picture sources:
The Edith Nesbit Society website- requested and granted
www.edithnesbit.co.uk
Royal Pavilion and Museums ,Brighton and Hove – requested
and granted.
Google images- Nationaltrust.org- OS map
Ancestry.co.uk – requested
Bought Ebay, “copyright for reuse through Creative Commons”
printed on the back.
Researcher’s own photograph
Illustration from book “5 Children and It”- requested
Illustration from book “The Enchanted Castle” requested
Screenshot from Google Maps
www.history.buses.co.uk – permission granted
theromneymarsh.net/Edith Nesbit – permission requested and
granted by email
www.plaquesoflondon.co.uk
The Edith Nesbit Society website – requested and granted
Screenshot Google images- Street View
Illustration from the book “The Railway Children”- requested

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