E.Nesbit and Joan Aiken – best loved classics

Nesbit & Aiken

The sincerest form of flattery…? Beware spoilers!

Joan Aiken and Edith Nesbit had a good deal in common – for a start they both lost their fathers at an early age, and later they also lost husbands, or found themselves the chief breadwinner of their family, struggling to feed children from their not always successful writing careers. Nesbit portrayed a mother in just this situation in The Railway Children, and it is striking that in this book, unlike in her more fantastic stories, there are no magical solutions. Having been an avid Nesbit reader since early childhood, Joan Aiken didn’t discover this Nesbit classic until much later:

JA Rwy Children1

There was for her an instant recognition of the straitened circumstances of the family, and of the poignant loss of the father; her mother was married to a struggling often absent writer, and losing a husband was something she was to discover for herself just a few years later, and so it was with enormous sympathy she wrote:

JA Rwy Children2JA Rwy Children3a

Joan Aiken, like Edith Nesbit was able to take the most poignant events of her life and transform them into stories, and also most tellingly, even into happy endings. By the time she had written her own most memorable classic The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken had overcome the more desperate events of her early life and her writing career would take off with this book.

Perhaps because her own early reading had been so inspiring, and that particular happy ending was something she too had so strongly wished for, she was especially determined to have it come true for her own heroine, Bonnie Green.


Read more about the astonishing background to Joan’s classic story here

and see more of Bill Bragg’s illustrations for the beautiful Folio Edition of ‘Wolves’ here

Look for a new edition of The Railway Children  from Virago

with original C.E.Brock illustrations as above

…and forgive Joan’s occasional typo – writing at speed!

6 thoughts on “E.Nesbit and Joan Aiken – best loved classics

  1. Two of my most favourite children’s authors in one post — what’s not to like! Still have The Railway Children to review, and a couple of others too; where does the time go?


  2. The Railway Children is one of those novels that go on and on – Helen Dunmore’s novel EXPOSURE imagines an adult version of the same story, a father unjustly imprisoned etc. I make reference to it in my own new novel THE LIE OF THE LAND in describing a family’s loss of money and move to the country. Joan’s courage in saving her own family through writing children’s stories is so like that of the Railway Children’s mother.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have always kept my Joan Aiken books side by side with E Nesbit’s, guessing many years ago how well they would have understood each other. That same humanity, airy joy, delicious detail, I could go on for so long about these two most beloved writers. They have helped me immeasurably all through my career.


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