The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m on a bit of a classics kick recently. And as mentioned in my review of For Love Of A Horse, these aren’t the Oliver Twist sort of classics. These are classics that have framed my childhood – and my adulthood – and are just really, really good.
I love The Railway Children. (And I love Bobbie in particular.)E Nesbit is a stylish, approachable author who writes with a sort of seditious aplomb. There’s a whole level of this book that I missed first time round, the subtle comments on society, class and gender that quietly slip, slip, slide throughout the book. Have a look at how Nesbit writes her girls for example, the shift between Roberta and Bobbie, Phil and Phyllis, and the way Nesbit quite beautifully starts to fall in love with her characters.
You should so read E Nesbit. You should read everything of hers because it’s all very, very gorgeous. It’s writing that’s full of riches; of families fighting and making up and falling in love and holding fast to each other against the world. And Nesbit writes that, she writes it all brilliantly, but she also rips it all apart.
This is a single parent family, run by Mother in Father’s absence. And due to that absence, she becomes the breadwinner, the caregiver, and the authority in the lives of her children. It’s an apparently simple conceit but it’s one that allows Nesbit to quietly pull the rug from under our feet and shatter any preconceptions we may have. Girls are brave, boys are foolish, boys are brave and girls are foolish, and at the mercy of adult authority and yet, subtly, quietly, often manipulating and controlling that authority.
It’s great, clever stuff that is still an excellent read over one hundred years later. I love Nesbit. I love her a lot. Read this, then go read The Phoenix and the Carpet, and Five Children and It and The Story of the Treasure Seekers and then read everything else she ever wrote.
The Railway Children is available for free on Project Gutenberghere. (And for more on the subversive nature of the book itself, read this which is excellent.
4 thoughts on “The Railway Children : E Nesbit”
I’ve never read her – would you say this is a good place to start?
It’s a very lovely place to start, but it sort of depends what you’re after. If you just want a standalone, The Railway Children is perfect but if you fancy a series with some gorgeous family dynamics, her Psammead books are amazing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._Nesbit#Psammead_series) as are the Bastable books (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._Nesbit#Bastable_series).