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Edith Nesbit 1858 - 1924

In writing recently about two best-selling authors of schoolboy stories, I realised that I had in fact neglected the great classics of children’s literature that had been published in the first few years of the 20th century. The first of these that I should look at are the works of Edith Nesbit, for she was I believe the founder of the genre of adventure stories for children. Previously, literature for children had been intended to uplift and, though this occasionally led to interesting stories, as in Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water Babies’, by and large what the Victorians thought children should read was not really much fun, certainly not for youngsters who wanted to be entertained rather than uplifted.

It was then the wonderful worlds that Edith Nesbit created in the years after old Queen Victoria’s death, in 1901, that laid the foundations for the books that have thrilled youngsters since, from the works of C S Lewis to those of J K Rowling in more recent years. That formula, of magic impinging on the day to day lives of ordinary children, was created in three superb and very different stories, ‘Five Children and It’, ‘The Phoenix and the Carpet’ and ‘The Story of the Amulet’.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2010
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