Edith Nesbit (married name Edith Bland) was an English author and poet whose children's works were published under the name of E. Nesbit. She wrote or collaborated on over 60 books of fiction for children, several of which have been adapted for film and television. She was also a political activist and co-founded the Fabian Society, a precursor to the modern Labour Party.
Nesbit was born in 1858 at 38 Lower Kennington Lane in Kennington, Surrey (now part of Greater London), the daughter of an agricultural chemist, John Collis Nesbit, who died in March 1862, before her fourth birthday. Her sister Mary's ill health meant that the family moved around constantly for some years, living variously in Brighton, Buckinghamshire, France (Dieppe, Rouen, Paris, Tours, Poitiers, Angoulême, Bordeaux, Arcachon, Pau, Bagnères-de-Bigorre, and Dinan in Brittany), Spain and Germany, before settling for three years at Halstead Hall in Halstead in north-west Kent, a location which later inspired The Railway Children (this distinction has also been claimed by the Derbyshire town of New Mills).
When Nesbit was 17, the family moved again, this time back to London, living variously in South East London at Eltham, Lewisham, Grove Park and Lee.
A follower of William Morris, 19-year-old Nesbit met bank clerk Hubert Bland in 1877. Seven months pregnant, she married Bland on 22 April 1880, though she did not immediately live with him, as Bland initially continued to live with his mother. Their marriage was a stormy one. Early on Edith discovered another woman believed she was Hubert's fiancee and had also borne him a child. A more serious blow came later when Edith discovered that her good friend, Alice Hoatson, was pregnant with Hubert's child. Edith had already agreed to adopt Hoatson's child and allow Hoatson to live with her as their housekeeper. When she discovered the truth, Edith quarreled violently with her husband and suggested that Hoatson and the baby should leave; Hubert threatened to leave Edith if she disowned the baby and its mother. Hoatson remained with them as a housekeeper and secretary and became pregnant by Hubert again 13 years later. Edith again adopted Hoatson's child.
Nesbit's children were Paul Bland (1880–1940), to whom The Railway Children was dedicated; Iris Bland (1881-1950s); Fabian Bland (1885–1900); Rosamund Bland (1886-?) , to whom The Book of Dragons was dedicated; and John Bland (1899 -?) to whom The House of Arden was dedicated. Her son Fabian died aged 15 after a tonsil operation, and Nesbit dedicated a number of books to him: Five Children And It and its sequels, as well as The Story of the Treasure Seekers and its sequels. Nesbit's daughter Rosamund collaborated with her on the book Cat Tales.
Nesbit and Bland were among the founders of the Fabian Society in 1884. Their son Fabian was named after the society. They also jointly edited the Society's journal Today; Hoatson was the Society's assistant secretary. Nesbit and Bland also dallied briefly with the Social Democratic Federation, but rejected it as too radical. Nesbit was an active lecturer and prolific writer on socialism during the 1880s. Nesbit also wrote with her husband under the name "Fabian Bland", though this activity dwindled as her success as a children's author grew.
Nesbit lived from 1899 to 1920 in Well Hall House, Eltham, Kent (now in south-east Greater London), which appears in fictional guise in several of her books, especially The Red House. She and her husband entertained a large circle of friends, colleagues and admirers at their grand "Well Hall House".
On 20 February 1917, some three years after Bland died, Nesbit married Thomas "the Skipper" Tucker, a ship's engineer on the Woolwich Ferry. She was a guest speaker at the London School of Economics, which had been founded by other Fabian Society members.
Towards the end of her life she moved to a house called "Crowlink" in Friston, East Sussex, and later to St Mary's Bay in Romney Marsh, East Kent. Suffering from lung cancer, she died in 1924 at New Romney, Kent, and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary in the Marsh.
Nesbit published approximately 40 books for children, including novels, collections of stories and picture books. Collaborating with others, she published almost as many more.
According to her biographer Julia Briggs, Nesbit was "the first modern writer for children": "(Nesbit) helped to reverse the great tradition of children's literature inaugurated by [Lewis] Carroll, [George] MacDonald and Kenneth Grahame, in turning away from their secondary worlds to the tough truths to be won from encounters with things-as-they-are, previously the province of adult novels." Briggs also credits Nesbit with having invented the children's adventure story. Noël Coward was a great admirer of hers and, in a letter to an early biographer Noel Streatfeild, wrote "she had an economy of phrase, and an unparalleled talent for evoking hot summer days in the English countryside."
Among Nesbit's best-known books are The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1898) and The Wouldbegoods (1899), which both recount stories about the Bastables, a middle class family that has fallen on relatively hard times. Her children's writing also included numerous plays and collections of verse.
She created an innovative body of work that combined realistic, contemporary children in real-world settings with magical objects - what would now be classed as contemporary fantasy - and adventures and sometimes travel to fantastic worlds. In doing so, she was a direct or indirect influence on many subsequent writers, including P. L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins), Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones and J. K. Rowling. C. S. Lewis wrote of her influence on his Narnia series and mentions the Bastable children in The Magician's Nephew. Michael Moorcock would go on to write a series of steampunk novels with an adult Oswald Bastable (of The Treasure Seekers) as the lead character.
Nesbit also wrote for adults, including eleven novels, short stories, and four collections of horror stories.
PLAGUE take the dull and dusty town,
Its paved and sordid mazes,
Now Spring has trimmed her pretty gown
With buttercups and daisies!
With half my heart I long to lie
Among the flowered grasses,
And hear the loving leaves that sigh
As their sweet Mistress passes.
Through picture-shows I make my way
While flower-crowned maids go maying,
And all the cultured things I say
That cultured folk are saying.
For I renounce Spring's darling face,
With may-bloom fresh upon it:
My Mistress lives in Grosvenor-place
And wears a Bond-street bonnet!