E. Nesbit was a favourite author of mine when I was a child, I read and reread The Story of the Treasure Seekers, The Wouldbegoods, The New Treasure Seekers, Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Story of the Amulet, The House of Arden and of course The Railway Children… What cracking tales they are, and I was surprised when I tried to find out more about Edith Nesbit that she was born in the middle of the nineteenth century and wrote (or published) those stories between 1899 and 1906… they are so timeless, , and surely there must be children today who read and enjoy them as I did; certainly they crop up on television and the cinema frequently.
Edith was born in 1858 in Surrey but very sadly her father died when she was only four years old. Her sister suffered ill-health, maybe tuberculosis, and they travelled around from seaside town to seaside town, to France to Spain before settling back in England. Edith had the sort of life which you’d normally think of as belonging in a soap opera; she married a man called Hubert (which is surely a name which will never be revived!) Edith was already seven months pregnant but she didn’t live with her husband as he was still living with his mother… living with his mother???? What sort of bloke was he?! Then Edith found out he had a fiancée (his widowed mother’s companion) who unknown to Edith had already had a child by him. If that wasn’t bad enough, her best friend Alice had a fling with him and also became pregnant. What an evil toad Hubert was.
Poor Edith; when Alice had confided she was pregnant, Edith had agreed to adopt Alice’s baby, not realising at first who the father was. The toad Hubert told Edith he would leave her unless she agreed to take Alice in as a housekeeper as well s bringing up the child, Rosamund. This situation continued and Alice became pregnant again thirteen years later and Edith (what a brick) again adopted the child.
Edith herself had three children, Paul, Iris, and Fabian. Fabian who was named after the Fabian Society in which Edith and Hubert were involved, died at the age of fifteen after he had an operation to remove his tonsils.
Edith must have really loved Hubert to continue not only to live with him, adopt his children by other women and keep him through what she earned as a writer. He died in 1914 and three years later Edith married again, Tom Tucker an engineer on the Woolwich Ferry; he was a completely different character from her usual circle of friends, no doubt deemed ‘common’ and speaking with a broad Cockney accent. She died in 1924, and Tom died in the same house eleven years later.
This extraordinary life is in such contrast to the safe and gentile world of the children in her stories, and it makes her an even more remarkable woman.