Review 1657: The Wouldbegoods

In my return to my project of reading the collected works of E. Nesbit, among others, I realized I had forgotten how charming and funny her first Bastable novel, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, was. The Wouldbegoods is the second entry in the Bastable series.

The Bastable children have a habit of unwittingly causing havoc, and after a disastrous attempt to make a jungle while acting The Jungle Book, the children and their guests, Danny and Daisy, are shipped off to the country to stay with the uncle of Albert (referred to as Albert-next-door in The Treasure Seekers). Albert’s uncle is a writer usually installed in his study, which gives the children lots of unsupervised scope to get into trouble. So, they decide to form a society called the Wouldbegoods to try to be good. Of course, their attempts all go sadly awry.

Their decision to hand out free lemonade to passersby results in a fight with some unruly men and boys. Giving a tramp some coins ends up with them being trapped at the top of a tower. All their attempts at play go out of control, such as when they create a zoo in the paddock and the dogs chase the sheep into a stream.

One of the biggest charms of this novel as well as its predecessor is the “anonymous” narration by Oswald, who has obviously read a lot of florid literature. I think this series is funny for children but even funnier for adults, because the children have a naïve way of believing legends or taking things literally that will tickle adults while children may not see what’s coming. These books are delightful.

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Day 1044: The Lark

Cover for The LarkBest Book of the Week!
The Lark was E. Nesbit’s last novel for adults, and it is a delightful romp with lovable characters. I had been reading her books in order, but because of the recommendation of a friend, I skipped to this one. Written in 1922, it is set in post-WW I England.

The novel begins with a few scenes set several years before the main action. Exuberant 15-year-old Jane Quested finds an old book with a spell for seeing her true love, and she is determined to try it in the garden at night. John Rochester has just been advised by his mother to marry the wealthy Hilda Antrobus. (Jane and Rochester. Can this be a coincidence?) John is walking in the woods after missing his train and happens to come upon the scene just after Jane finishes her spell. She thinks she’s seen a vision of her future.

The war intercedes, and Jane and her cousin Lucilla are still in school at the end of it, both of them orphaned. They are surprised to get a sudden summons from their guardian, Arthur Panton. They are delivered to their new home, a small house called Hope Cottage, where they learn that Panton has lost all their money in investments and is leaving the country. He has left them with the house and 500 pounds.

Instead of being discouraged, Jane declares that they will live life as a lark, and the first thing to do is find a way to make money. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to do anything.

One morning Jane hands out flowers to the workmen on their way to work. One of them suggests she sell the flowers. So, she and Lucilla begin selling flowers out of their garden but soon find the garden isn’t big enough. The next thing to do is to find a place that is.

Of course, John Rochester appears on the scene, as the nephew of the man whose house they want to lease. But Jane is determined not to be side-tracked by a vision from making her own way in life.

This novel is lively and full of enjoyable characters, as Jane and Lucilla attempt to earn their living and so meet all kinds of interesting people. It is a light-hearted novel that I enjoyed immensely.

At the suggestion of my friend Deb, I’m attaching a link for The Lark online, since it is difficult to find: http://dbooks.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/books/PDFs/N10292048.pdf. I myself bought E. Nesbit’s complete works from Delphi Classics, also in the form of an ebook (the only disadvantage, in my opinion). If you live in the U. K., it looks like there are some newly printed paperback copies available.

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Day 946: The Story of the Treasure Seekers

Cover for The Story of the Treasure SeekersA while back, I read E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. Although I liked it well enough, I did not find it as delightful as the book I’m reviewing today, The Story of the Treasure Seekers. This first novel of Nesbit’s is about the Bastable children, Alice, Dicky, Dora, Horace Octavius (known as H. O.), and Oswald. The narrator keeps his identity secret, but we can tell fairly soon that it’s Oswald.

The Bastable’s mother died not long ago, and the children are vaguely aware that their father is having financial problems. He has removed them from school, and the house isn’t nicely kept up. So, the children have a council, and they each come up with a plan for finding treasure.

The novel is about what happens as the children try to raise money, their plans ranging from holding up people on the common to dowsing for gold. The novel is very funny, I think even more for adults than for children. Children will enjoy the kid’s adventures, but adults can understand an entire additional layer of information that the children in the book don’t, for example, that the Robber they find in their father’s study is probably not a Robber.

The naivety of the narration lends this novel a charm and humor that a straightforward third-person narrative would not. This is a lovely, funny book.

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Day 929: The Railway Children

Cover for The Railway ChildrenThe Railway Children is a classic British children’s story, written in 1906. At the beginning, Roberta (Bobbie), Peter, and Phyllis live a happy and comfortable life with their parents in a suburb of London. Then one evening two men come to see their father, and they hear angry voices. Their father goes away with the men, and shortly afterward they move with their mother to a cottage in the country.

Here things are a bit more primitive. They only have one servant, a housekeeper, and a pump in the yard for water. They have to help their mother more, and Peter can’t go to school. Their mother can’t play with them, because she is busy writing stories for money. They are poor and have to be careful how much coal they use and what they eat.

Near their house is the railway, and they find lots to entertain themselves watching the trains and getting to know the men at the station. They wave to an old gentleman on the morning train every day, and they have adventures related to the railway.

I can see why children would love this story. Although the children’s adventures are all realistic, they would be exciting reading for children. There is also the mystery about their father. Character development is not a strong suit of the novel, but the children and their mother are sympathetic and the children behave like actual children.

Perhaps the novel does not have as much to offer adults, especially those who didn’t read and love the book as children. Still, it’s easy to see why the book is still popular.

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Day 907: Victorian Fairy Tales

Cover for Victorian Fairy TalesApparently, in Victorian times there was a fashion for fairy tales. Not only did some writers, especially of children’s books, concentrate on them, but many writers of other types of works wrote them as well. Although Victorian Fairy Tales is published as a scholarly work with notes and essays, the tales are well worth reading by anyone, and many of them are by well-known writers.

My favorite tale was “The Rose and the Ring,” by William Makepeace Thackeray. It is about a couple of usurping kings and the confusion that results when an enchanted ring and a rose that each make the wearer irresistible to the opposite sex are traded around among the characters. The story is very funny, with different types of humor to appeal to both adults and children, as well as silly names and repetition, which children love. The pictures by Thackeray from the original are wonderful.

“Prince Prigio” by Andrew Lang is another funny tale, about a prince who is so smart that he annoys everyone. Another outstanding tale is by E. Nesbit, “Melisande,” about a princess who is cursed by a wicked fairy to be bald. Her father gives her a wish, and as happens in fairy tales, she doesn’t wish wisely.

Other favorite stories are “The Queen Who Flew” by Ford Madox Ford and “The Reluctant Dragon” by Kenneth Grahame. “The Reluctant Dragon” and “The Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde are the only stories in the volume I have read before, although I vaguely remember there being a copy of “The Little Lame Prince” by Dinah Mulock Craik around our house.

There is much to enjoy in this book, both for children and adults. I thought a couple of the stories were a bit ethereal and symbolic to be enjoyed much by children (or by me), but most of them were fun to read.

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