Edith Nesbit 1858-1924

Edith Nesbit was born in London in 1858, the daughter of an agricultural chemist who died when she was only three. She had three brothers, a half-sister, and a sister who suffered from tuberculosis. This led to the family living in search of a warmer climate variously in France, Spain, and Germany, before settling in rural Halstead in Kent. Her schooling was as a result chequered and included a spell in a convent in France which, given her spirited nature, she hated.

At the age of 21 she married a journalist, Hubert Bland, bearing him a child a few months later. Bland was a serial philanderer who impregnated several other women during their marriage, including her close friend Alice Hoatson. Initially threatening to petition for divorce, no easy matter for a woman in that era, Edith ultimately relented under threat of being left destitute and accepted the situation. She even adopted Alice’s two illegitimate children, allowing them to live under the same roof, with Alice acting as her secretary and housekeeper, an unconventional arrangement which seems to have worked satisfactorily.

Edith subsequently had two more children with Bland and in 1899 they all moved to Well Hall in Eltham in north-west Kent where they lived for the next twenty years or so surrounded by farmland and orchards. The main thing that Edith and her husband had in common was their strong socialist views and together they had been instrumental in the establishment of the Fellowship of New Life, a short-lived forerunner of the Fabian Society. During their time at Well Hall they entertained their literary and political friends, among others H G Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and members of the Fabian Society, including Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

Edith had begun to write poetry in her twenties and in 1887 she published Spring Songs and Sketches, followed by A Pomander of Verse in 1894, both of which include poems on a wide range of subjects often reflecting her love of the peace and beauty of the countryside. She also wrote a laudatory poem, Sixty Years, celebrating Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.

Edith was better known as a writer of children’s stories and in 1899 she published The Story of the Treasure Seekers, followed by The Wouldbegoods in 1901 and Five Children and It in 1902. It was her book The Railway Children (1906) which really established her celebrity though.

Hubert Bland died in 1914 and three years later Edith married Thomas Tucker, the captain of the Woolwich Ferry, whom she had met through his association with the local labour party. She died of cancer in 1924, aged 66.

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