|August 15, 1858
|May 4, 1924
New Romney, Kent
Edith Nesbit (married name Edith Bland; August 15, 1858 - May 4, 1924) was an English author and poet whose children's works were published under the androgynous name of E. Nesbit. She wrote or collaborated on over 60 books of fiction for children, several of which have been adapted for film and television. She started a new genre, of magical adventures arising from everyday settings, and has been much imitated. She was also a political activist and co-founded the Fabian Society, a precursor to the modern Labour Party.
She was born in 1858 at 38 Lower Kennington Lane in Kennington, Surrey (now part of Greater London), the daughter of a schoolteacher, John Collis Nesbit, who died in March 1862, before her fourth birthday. Her sister Mary's ill health meant that the family moved around constantly for some years, 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, before settling for three years at Halstead Hall in Halstead in north-west Kent, a location which later inspired The Railway Children.
When Nesbit was 17, the family moved again, this time back to London, living variously in South East London at Eltham, Lewisham, Grove Park and Lee.
A follower of William Morris, 19-year-old Nesbit met bank clerk Hubert Bland in 1877. Seven months pregnant, she married Bland on 22 April 1880, though she did not immediately live with him, as Bland initially continued to live with his mother. Their marriage was an open one. Bland also continued an affair with Alice Hoatson which produced two children (Rosamund in 1886 and John in 1899), both of whom Nesbit raised as her own. Her own children were Paul Bland (1880-1940), to whom The Railway Children was dedicated; Iris Bland (1881-19??); and Fabian Bland (1885-1900), who died aged 15 after a tonsil operation, and to whom she dedicated Five Children And It and its sequels, as well as The Story of the Treasure Seekers and its sequels.
Nesbit and Bland were among the founders of the Fabian Society (a precursor to the Labour Party) in 1884. Their son Fabian was named after the society. They also jointly edited the Society's journal Today; Hoatson was the Society's assistant secretary. Nesbit and Bland also dallied briefly with the Social Democratic Federation, but rejected it as too radical. Nesbit was an active lecturer and prolific writer on socialism during the 1880s. Nesbit also wrote with her husband under the name "Fabian Bland", though this activity dwindled as her success as a children's author grew.
Nesbit lived from 1899 to 1920 in Well Hall House, Eltham, Kent (now in south-east Greater London). On 20 February 1917, some three years after Bland died, Nesbit married Thomas "the Skipper" Tucker, a ship's engineer.
Towards the end of her life she moved to a house called "Crowlink" in Friston, East Sussex, and later to St Mary's Bay in Romney Marsh, East Kent. Suffering from lung cancer, probably a result of her heavy smoking, she died in 1924 at New Romney, Kent, and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary in the Marsh.
Nesbit's literary output was tremendous. Writing by herself, she published about 40 books for children: either novels or collections of stories. Collaborating with others, she published almost as many more, as well as a great deal of hack journalism that remains largely uncollected.
Nesbit's books for children are known for being entertaining without turning didactic, although some of her earlier works, notably Five Children and It and even more so The Story of the Amulet, veer in that direction. Some of them clearly display her socialist politics, notably "Harding's Luck" and "The House of Arden", which use time travel to make points about historical progress or (in her view) the lack of it.
According to her biographer Julia Briggs, Nesbit was "the first modern writer for children": "(Nesbit) helped to reverse the great tradition of children's literature inaugurated by [Lewis] Carroll, [George] MacDonald and Kenneth Grahame, in turning away from their secondary worlds to the tough truths to be won from encounters with things-as-they-are, previously the province of adult novels." Briggs also credits Nesbit with having invented the children's adventure story.
Among Nesbit's best-known books are The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1898) and The Wouldbegoods (1899), which both recount stories about the Bastables, a fictional middle class family that has fallen on relatively hard times; Nesbit likely styled them upon her own childhood family. Nesbit's children's writing also included numerous plays and collections of verse.
She also popularized an innovative style of children's fantasy that combined realistic, contemporary children in real-world settings with magical objects and adventures. In doing so, she was a direct or indirect influence on many subsequent writers, including P.L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins), Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones and J.K. Rowling. C.S. Lewis wrote of her influence on his Narnia series and mentions the Bastable children in The Magician's Nephew. Michael Moorcock would go to write a series of steampunk novels with an adult Oswald Bastable (of The Treasure Seekers) as the lead character.