August 15 - Happy Birthday, Edith Nesbit

Posted on August 15, 2018

If a book written for children is written by a person who goes by first initial or first and middle initials - well, you probably know two things:

(1) the author is a woman.

(2) the book is expected to appeal to boys as well as girls.

My favorite book as a pre-teen, back in the day, was The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton. It was all about a gang of teenage boys. There were only a few supporting girl characters... So, obviously, it was written by a man, right?

No - it was written by a teen - and, not only that, a girl! Susan Eloise Hinton didn't dare use her whole name on that book, because the publisher warned her that male reviewers would dismiss a book written by a woman/girl, and likely loads of the teenaged boys who might be tempted to read it would turn away, as well.

One of the favorite series of all times is the Harry Potter series. Main character a boy - loads of male characters as well as female characters - good vs. evil - but Joanne Rowling famously chose to follow the urgings of her publishers and use initials, too. (For the same sexist reason.) But she had no middle name; she had to invent a middle initial and decided on K for Kathleen.

Way back in the late 1800s and early 1900s - in other words, during the "Turn of the Century," a British woman named Edith Nesbit was writing children's books. She wrote children's books and adult books, children's stories, poems, non-fiction, and even a song! She is responsible for at least 40 children's books on her own and about 40 more in collaboration with other authors, and she wrote at least 15 books for adults as well. 

And...she didn't use her full first name. I cannot find any description of why she went by her first initial, but since she lived in an even more sexist time than when I was a preteen, let alone when Harry Potter was first being written, I think we can assume it was so as not to turn off boys and men.

E. Nesbit is credited with being the first modern writer for children...with writing the first children's adventure stories...with showing children as they really are, rather than how they "ought to be"...and with writing the first "contemporary fantasy," in which the kids were ordinary and modern (when written) and realistic - BUT fantastical happenings or objects or beings featured heavily in the books. 

Nesbit apparently influenced such biggies as P. L. Travers (the female author of the Mary Poppins books), C. S. Lewis (the male author of the Narnia series - which, since he too used his first and middle initial, just goes to show you that my assumption #1 above is not always true!!!), and J. K. Rowling.

I dearly remember Five Children and It. I had friends who loved The Railway Children. Do you have a Nesbit book you've read and loved?

Check out some of Edith Nesbit's words of wisdom:

Also on this date:

No comments:

Post a Comment