We laughed out loud at some of the adventures – and the adults’ reactions to their attempts to sell Oloroso sherry, to develop medicines, and to edit their own newspaper which included some Sensible Advice (“It takes four hours and a quarter now to get to Manchester from London; but I should not think anyone would if they could help it.”).
There are some uncomfortable moments for 21st century readers with modern sensibilities: the children can be unkindly judgmental of others such as Albert-next-door with his frilly collars and knickerbockers (an early version of Violet Elizabeth Bott); there is some semitic stereotyping and the word "nigger" - common 19th century parlance - makes an appearance. (We always try to read original editions of the books we select, and while we are unsurprised to read words or descriptions that are unacceptable nowadays, they are often unsettling when they appear.)
We talked about the role of the pet dog in children’s literature – from the Bastable’s partner in crime, Pincher, to the almost-human Timmy in the Famous Five; we discussed the structures of fictional families – often four, five or more children with twins not uncommon, all trying hard to be good but so often failing, while a previously deceased mother or father causes the remaining parent to be largely absent, hard working to the point of exhaustion and much loved. The Bastable children benefit from the kindly intervention of Albert-next-door’s rather mysterious uncle – we felt that there was another story here ripe for the telling.
We were able to examine some E Nesbit first editions from Bath Library’s archives, while we were recommended to read A S Byatt’s The Children’s Book for its closely related echoes of the Nesbit family’s chaotic lives.
We are taking a holiday in August and meeting again on 5 September when our next book will be Erich Kastner's iconic Emil and the Detectives (1929), set in pre-WW2 Berlin and translated from the original German.