18 February 2009

Edith ever after

E. Nesbit is a favourite in the House of Onion. Some of us love best the Railway Children, some the Bastables and some the last of the Arden line.

My favourites are a collection of fairy stories first read to me by my mother. They are joy joy joy, beginning to end.* We howled with laughter. But, like all good fairy stories, they also make you think.**

Naomi Lewis, in her introduction to my edition of the fairy stories***, asks why Nesbit's work remains so intensely alive to modern readers, even after a hundred years or more. And she answers her own question thus:
'As with all great writers for the young, she did not write 'down' to children, nor at, nor for them exactly. She really wrote for and about the child that had been herself.'

Lewis then quotes Nesbit herself:
'There is only one way of understanding children; they cannot be understood by imagination, or observation, nor even by love. They can only be understood by memory... The reason why those children are like real children is that I was a child once myself, and by some fortunate chance I remember exactly how I used to feel and think about things.'
We think this is a great asset for editors of writing for 'the young', as well as writers. Heck, it's probably important for parents, and certainly for teachers, and definitely for politicians, and assuredly for journalists writing articles about the 'yoof of today'.

This is a good excuse to do lots of things you did as a child, to remind yourself what it felt like. I, for instance, might just go make myself a 'drink' that's 90% drinking chocolate, 10% milk.

PS It made me unfeasibly happy to discover via Wikipedia that late in life Edith Nesbit married a ship's engineer named Thomas "the Skipper" Tucker.

*If you haven't had the pleasure of 'Melisande or Long and Short Division' get thee to a bookstore and rectify that immediately.
** And not in a please-stop-beating-me-about-the-head-with-your-moral,-Mr-Andersen kind of way.
*** E. Nesbit Fairy Stories, edited by Naomi Lewis, Knight Books, 1977


lili said...

My favourite is The Phoenix and the Carpet, because the Phoenix is irascible and LOL.

I actually have an E Nesbit biography here on my bookshelf, and haven't got round to reading it yet...

A latte beckons said...

Oh, Lili, you should. Old E had a very interesting and, in many ways, very modern, life.

Penni Russon said...

I love Melisande. We have an actually very lolsome book of Princess stories here (thank you Darebin library booksale), and they are such a brilliant antidote to insipid commercial images of Princesses.