‘Iwas a child once myself,’ said Edith Nesbit, ‘and by some fortunate magic I remembered exactly how I used to feel and think about things.’ In recognition of the overwhelming importance of children in her subject’s life, Eleanor Fitzsimons devotes three chapters to Nesbit’s own childhood in a book that makes an excellent case for her being one of the most influential children’s writers of the 20th century.
Born in 1858, the young Nesbit was transfixed by such terrors as mummified remains, a two-headed calf and the skin of an emu, and she never lost her fascinated horror of the macabre. Her own father died when she was three. In her late teens, she found a kind of father figure in Hubert Bland, four years her senior, who was well over six feet tall and solidly built. He had been a Tory but found the party ‘bankrupt of ideas’ as the century neared its end and became a socialist.
Fitzsimons calls Bland ‘attractive to the point of irresistibility to women’. He had the very modern attitude that ‘every woman had a natural right to a child whether she were married or not’ and was a champion of women’s rights. He had already impregnated a woman he had previously agreed to marry when he started courting Nesbit; soon she was pregnant too.
They married in 1880, when she was twenty-one and he twenty-five, without members of their families present. Soon after their child was born, Bland’s brush-manufacturing business, into which he had invested all his funds, failed. She was obliged to support the family, which she did for the rest