Figure 1.--This illustration shows Peter, I think after he gets in trouble for stealing coal. Note the Eton collar. The illustrations appear to be veryaccurate depictions.
Peter, Phyllis and Roberta are brother and sisters and the three main characters of The Railway Children. The book is set in southern and northern England. Initially they were "ordinary suburban childern" as the novel puts it, their father accused of a crime he did not commit is jailed at the beginning of the story. The loss of income from this causes the family to have to dismiss the maid and move into the country side in the north. They have to scrimp and make do when their father is accused of a crime and locked up. They move to a home near the railroad tracks and ger to know the railroad workers. This if course leads to many splendid adventures. The Railway Children is the best loved of E. Nesbit;s many children's books. Some comsider her to be the first modern English children's author.
Edith Nesbit was the the daughter of John Collis Nesbit, a school teacher. She was born into a very conservative family in 1858. Her father ran schools in Bradford, Manchester and London as well as agricultural schools. He died when Edith was very young, only 6 years old. This cause financial problems for the family as their father was the principal bread earner. Edith was unhappy at an English boarding school. Edith's mother took her to the Continent where she was eduicated in French and German schools--an expensive proposition. Edith began publishing poems when they returnd to England. It was at this time when she was about 19 years of age that she met Hubert Bland, a radical young writers, who radicalized Edith's more convential social values. Edith In 1879 became pregnant with Bland's baby which was born only 2 months after they were married on April, 22, 1880. This was quite a scandal in Victorian England. Edith and Hubert were devoted socilaists and in 1883 with a Quaker friend, Edward Pease, formed a debating groupthat they named the Fabian Society. Bland was elected treasurer and Nesbit and Bland jointly edited the society's journal, Today. Soon imporant socialists in London began attending Fabian meetings, men like George Bernard Shaw. Edith in 1885 named her second child Fabian. Alice Hoatson, the assistant secretary of the Fabian Society, moved into Nesbit and Bland's home and soon gave birth to Bland's baby, Rosamund. Many Socialists in the 19h century also rejected conventional morality. Edith appears to have acquised in the situation and, at any rate, raised Rosamund as her own child. They moved in bohemian circles. Edith herself was quite a striking woman. One contemprary writes, "She was a very tall woman, built on the grand scale, and on festive occasions wore a trailing gown of peacock blue satin with strings of beads and Indian bangles from wrist to elbow." She also smoked at a time that it was not considered proper for a woman. Nesbit and Bland in 1885 experimented wity the Social Democratic Federation. However, but rejected its leader H. H. Hyndman as too radical. Nesbit was a an active lecturer and prolific writer on socialism during the 1880s. Her political activities, however ebbed as she achieved success as a children's writer. Her socilaist books were often signed Fabian Bland. Her children's books we signed "E. Nesbit" as women writers were still not fully acceopted. Julia Briggs, Nesbit's biographer claims that she was "the first modern writer for children". Her most famous books include The Story of the Treasure-Seekers (1899), The Wouldbegoods (1901), Five Children and It (1902), The Pheonix and the Carpet (1904), The New Treasurer-Seekers (1904), The Railway Children (1906) and The Enchanted Castle (1907). It is The Railway Children that she is best remembered for today. In it the family has to fend for themselves without their father, certainly in part autobiographical. Her radical politics is not obvious in her books which depict very conventional morality. She does, however, deal with the problems encountered by real children and not the fantasy stories of writers like Lewis Carol. The best example of this is the difficult lives faced by The Railway Children. Bland died in in 1914. Edith then married Thomas Tucker, an engineer. Nesbit continued to write children's books. She published 44 books in all. She also wuote poetry. She died in 1924.
Peter, Phyllis and Roberta are brother and sisters and the three main characters of The Railway Children. The book is set in southern and northern England. Initially they were "ordinary suburban childern" as the novel puts it, their father accused of a crime he did not commit is jailed at the beginning of the story. The loss of income from this causes the family to have to dismiss the maid and move into the country side in the north. They have to scrimp and make do when their father is accused of a crime and locked up. They move to a home near the railroad tracks and ger to know the railroad workers. This if course leads to many splendid adventures. They have a bumpy start in the new town, especially Peter who is caught stealing coal from the coal piles at the rail yard. The children begin to enjoy watching the trains pass and seeing the passengers and operations at the station. Their love of watching the trains pass soon proves to be invaluable as they see a retainment wall collapse onto the tracks and the girls take off their petticoats and attache them to sticks to use as flags to stop the next train. They become local heros and a fellow who rode the same train very often and would become "their old gentleman" helps not only the family with a gift basket but also sees that their father is aquited of the crime. Their father arrives on the train and is met at the station by the older of the girls who
was told there was something special arriving on the train that day. She is overwhelmed by her father comming back and after a long hug and such they walk to the house. Although the children are excited to see him, them must wait till he has a talk with their mother.
Other events in the novel that I can't place at the moment: A boy that is knocked out inside the trail tunnel. He was chasing a paper trail with other boys and after the children realize he did not come out the other side of the tullen they investigate to find him laying half on the tracks. They pull him out and take him home where their mother and the doctor look after him till his father arrives. The older sister falls for him and later they find out that he is related to their old gentleman. They also take up a collection for the station master and his family for his birthday, he is not pleased by this "charity" and scolds them only later to appoligize. There are also adventures on canal barges.
I'm not sure at this time who illustrated Nesbit's childrens' books. The illustrations in the first edition of the The Railway Children are charmingly done by C.E. Brock. They vdry accurately show Edwardian clothing styles. The book has been published in many subsequent editions. Some but not all use Brock's initial illustrations.
Nesbit's books was the basis for both a movie and television series. Our information on these productions is incomplete at this time.
The movie was an EMI production starring Dinah Sheridan, Jenny Agutter, and Bernard Cribbins with Sally Thomsett, Gary Warren, and William Mervyn. It was produced by Robert Lynn. It was released throuh MGM-EMI Distributors. I think this was the 1972 version. There was another made for TV version made, shown as a mini-seroes. This was made in 2000. It wa shown in the United States on the U.S. PBS Masterpiece Theater series.
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