Biography of Edith Nesbit

Edith Nesbit (married name Edith Bland; 15 August 1858 – 4 May 1924) was an English writer and poet, who published her books for children as E. Nesbit. She wrote or collaborated on more than 60 such books. She was also a political activist and co-founder of the Fabian Society, a socialist organisation later affiliated to the Labour Party.


Nesbit was born in 1858 at 38 Lower Kennington Lane, Kennington, Surrey (now classified as Inner London), the daughter of an agricultural chemist, John Collis Nesbit, who died in March 1862, before her fourth birthday. Her mother was Sarah Green (née Alderton).

The ill health of Edith's sister Mary meant that the family travelled for some years, living variously in Brighton, Buckinghamshire, France (Dieppe, Rouen, Paris, Tours, Poitiers, Angoulême, Bordeaux, Arcachon, Pau, Bagnères-de-Bigorre, and Dinan in Brittany), Spain and Germany. Mary was engaged in 1871 to the poet Philip Bourke Marston, but later that year she died of tuberculosis in Normandy.After Mary's death, Edith and her mother settled for three years at Halstead Hall, Halstead, north-west Kent, a location that inspired The Railway Children, although the distinction has also been claimed by the Derbyshire town of New Mills.When Nesbit was 17, the family moved back to Lewisham in south-east London. There is a Lewisham Council plaque to her at 28 Elswick Road.In 1877, at the age of 18, Nesbit met the bank clerk Hubert Bland, her elder by three years. Seven months pregnant, she married Bland on 22 April 1880, but did not initially live with him, as Bland remained with his mother. Their marriage was tumultuous. Early on, Nesbit found that another woman believed she was Hubert's fiancée and had also borne him a child. A more serious blow came in 1886, when she discovered that her friend, Alice Hoatson, was pregnant by him. She had previously agreed to adopt Hoatson's child and allow Hoatson to live with her as their housekeeper. After she discovered the truth, she and her husband quarrelled violently and she suggested that Hoatson and the baby, Rosamund, should leave; her husband threatened to leave Edith if she disowned the baby and its mother. Hoatson remained with them as a housekeeper and secretary and became pregnant by Bland again 13 years later. Edith again adopted Hoatson's child, John.Nesbit's children by Bland were Paul Cyril Bland (1880–1940), to whom The Railway Children was dedicated, Mary Iris Bland (1881–1965), who married John Austin D Phillips in 1907, and Fabian Bland (1885–1900). Bland's two children by Alice Hoatson, whom Edith adopted, were Rosamund Edith Nesbit Hamilton, later Bland (1886–1950), who married Clifford Dyer Sharp on 16 October 1909, and to whom The Book of Dragons was dedicated, and John Oliver Wentworth Bland (1899–1946) to whom The House of Arden and Five Children and It were dedicated. Nesbit's son Fabian died aged 15 after a tonsil operation; Nesbit dedicated several books to him, including The Story of the Treasure Seekers and its sequels. Nesbit's adopted daughter Rosamund collaborated with her on Cat Tales.

Nesbit admired the artist and Marxian socialist William Morris. The couple joined the founders of the Fabian Society in 1884, after which their son Fabian was named, and jointly edited its journal Today. Hoatson was its assistant secretary. Nesbit and Bland dallied with the Social Democratic Federation, but found it too radical. Nesbit was a prolific lecturer and writer on socialism in the 1880s. She and her husband co-wrote under the pseudonym "Fabian Bland", However, the joint work dwindled as her success rose as a children's author. She was a guest speaker at the London School of Economics, which had been founded by other Fabian Society members.

Edith lived from 1899 to 1920 at Well Hall, Eltham, in south-east London, which makes fictional appearances in several of her books, such as The Red House. From 1911 she kept a second home on the Sussex Downs at Crowlink, Friston, East Sussex. She and her husband entertained many friends, colleagues and admirers at Well Hall.On 20 February 1917, some three years after Bland died, Nesbit married Thomas "the Skipper" Tucker in Woolwich, where he was captain of the Woolwich Ferry.

Towards the end of her life, Nesbit moved first to Crowlink, then to "The Long Boat" at Jesson, St Mary's Bay, New Romney, Kent, where probably suffering from lung cancer (she "smoked incessantly"), she died in 1924 and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary in the Marsh. Her husband Thomas died at the same address on 17 May 1935. Edith's son Paul Bland was an executor of Thomas Tucker's will.


Nesbit's first published works were poems. She was under 20 in March 1878, when the monthly magazine Good Words printed her poem "Under the Trees". In all she published about 40 books for children, including novels, storybooks and picture books. She also published almost as many books jointly with others.

Nesbit's biographer, Julia Briggs, names her "the first modern writer for children", who "helped to reverse the great tradition of children's literature inaugurated by Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald and Kenneth Grahame, in turning away from their secondary worlds to the tough truths to be won from encounters with things-as-they-are, previously the province of adult novels". Briggs also credits Nesbit with inventing the children's adventure story. Noël Coward was an admirer. In a letter to an early biographer, Noel Streatfeild wrote, "She had an economy of phrase and an unparalleled talent for evoking hot summer days in the English countryside."Among Nesbit's best-known books are The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899) and The Wouldbegoods (1901), which tell of the Bastables, a middle-class family fallen on relatively hard times. The Railway Children is also popularised by a 1970 film version. Gore Vidal called the time-travel book, The Story of the Amulet, one where "Nesbit's powers of invention are at their best." Her children's writing also included plays and collections of verse.

Nesbit has been cited as the creator of modern children's fantasy. Her innovations placed realistic contemporary children in real-world settings with magical objects (which would now be classed as contemporary fantasy) and adventures and sometimes travel to fantastic worlds. This influenced directly or indirectly many later writers, including P. L. Travers (of Mary Poppins), Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones and J. K. Rowling. C. S. Lewis too paid heed to her in the Narnia series and mentions the Bastable children in The Magician's Nephew. Michael Moorcock later wrote a series of steampunk novels around an adult Oswald Bastable of The Treasure Seekers. In 2012, Jacqueline Wilson wrote a sequel to the Psammead trilogy: Four Children and It.

Nesbit also wrote for adults, including eleven novels, short stories, and four collections of horror stories.

In 2011, Nesbit was accused of plagiarising the plot of The Railway Children from The House by the Railway by Ada J. Graves. The Telegraph reported that the Graves book had appeared in 1896, nine years before The Railway Children, and listed similarities between them. However, not all sources agree on this finding: The magazine posited an error in the earlier news reports, saying both books had been released in the same year, 1906.


Actress Judy Parfitt portrayed Nesbit in the 1972–1973 miniseries The Edwardians

Edith Nesbit Walk and cycle way, runs along the south side of Well Hall Pleasaunce in Eltham.

Lee Green, also in south-east London, has Edith Nesbit Gardens.

A 200-metre footpath in Grove Park south-east London, between Baring Road to Reigate Road, is named Railway Children Walk after the novel, as is one in Oxenhope, a film location on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway used in the 1970 film.

There is a Nesbit Road in St Mary's Bay, Romney Marsh, where Nesbit's home Long Boat & Jolly Boat stands.Nesbit's life led to a one-act, one-woman play, Larks and Magic, by Alison Neil.The Edith Nesbit Society was founded in 1996 with Dame Jacqueline Wilson as president.


Aside from her autobiographical Long Ago When I was Young (1966), Nesbit has spawned five biographies.

Doris Langley Moore, E. Nesbit, 1933

Noel Streatfeild, Magic and the Magician: E. Nesbit and her Children’s Books, 1958

Julia Briggs, A Woman of Passion, 1987

Elisabeth Galvin, The Extraordinary Life of E. Nesbit, 2018

Eleanor Fitzsimons, The Life and Loves of E Nesbit, 2019


Novels for children

Bastable series

1899 The Story of the Treasure Seekers

1901 The Wouldbegoods

1904 New Treasure SeekersThe Complete History of the Bastable Family (1928) is a posthumous omnibus of the three Bastable novels, but not the complete history. Four more stories about it appear in the 1905 Oswald Bastable and Others. The Bastables also feature in the 1902 adult novel The Red House.

Psammead series

1902 Five Children and It

1904 The Phoenix and the Carpet

1906 The Story of the Amulet

House of Arden series

1908 The House of Arden

1909 Harding's Luck

Other children's novels

Novels for adults

Stories and storybooks for children

Short stories for adults

As Fabian Bland

"Psychical Research". Longman's Magazine, December 1884

"The Fabric of a Vision". Argosy, March 1885

"An Angel Unawares". Weekly Dispatch, 9 August 1885

"Desperate Conspirator". Weekly Dispatch, 15 May 1887

"A Pot of Money". Weekly Dispatch, 21 August 1887

"Christmas Roses". Weekly Dispatch, 25 December 1887

"High Social Position". Weekly Dispatch, 8 July 1888

"Mind and Money". Weekly Dispatch, 16 September 1888

"Getting into Society". Weekly Dispatch, 30 September 1888

"A Drama of Exile". Weekly Dispatch, 21 October 1888

"A Pious Fraud". Weekly Dispatch, 11 November 1888

"Her First Appearance". Weekly Dispatch, 16 December 1888

"Which Wins?" Murray's Magazine, December 1888

"Only a Joke". Longman's Magazine, August 1889

"The Golden Girl". Weekly Dispatch, 21 December 1890As E Nesbit

"Uncle Abraham's Romance". Illustrated London News, 26 September 1891

"The Ebony Frame". Longman's Magazine, October 1891

"Hurst of Hurstcote", 1893

"The Butler in Bohemia" (by Nesbit and Oswald Barron), OCLC 72479308, 1894

"A Strayed Sheep". Thetford & Watton Times and People's Weekly Journal, 2 June 1894 (with Oswald Barron)

"The Secret of Monsieur Roche Aymon". Atalanta Magazine, October 1894 (with Oswald Barron)

"The Letter in Brown Ink". Windsor Magazine, August 1899

"'Thirteen Ways Home", 1901

"The Literary Sense", 1903

"The Third Drug", Strand Magazine, February 1908, as by E. Bland. Reprinted in anthologies thus and as "The Three Drugs"

"These Little Ones", 1909

"The Aunt and the Editor". North Star and Farmers' Chronicle, 15 June 1909

"To the Adventurous", 1923

Short story collections for adults

Grim Tales (horror stories), 1893

"The Ebony Frame", "John Charrington's Wedding", "Uncle Abraham's Romance", "The Mystery of the Semi-Detached", "From the Dead", "Man-Size in Marble", "The Mass for the Dead"

Something Wrong (horror stories), 1893

In Homespun (10 stories "written in an English dialect" of South Kent and Sussex), 1896

Man and Maid (10 stories), 1906 (some supernatural stories)

Fear (horror stories), 1910

Collected Supernatural Stories, 2000

"Dormant" ("Rose Royal"), "Man-size in Marble", "The Detective", "No. 17", "John Charrington's Wedding", "The Blue Rose", "The Haunted House", "The House With No Address" ("Salome and the Head"), "The Haunted Inheritance", "The House of Silence", "The Letter in Brown Ink", "The Shadow", "The New Samson", "The Pavilion"

From the Dead: The Complete Weird Stories of E Nesbit, 2005

"Introduction" (by S. T. Joshi), "John Charrington's Wedding", "The Ebony Frame", "The Mass for the Dead", "From the Dead", "Uncle Abraham's Romance", "The Mystery of the Semi-Detached", "Man-Size in Marble", "Hurst of Hurstcote", "The Power of Darkness", "The Shadow", "The Head", "The Three Drugs", "In the Dark", "The New Samson", "Number 17", "The Five Senses", "The Violet Car", "The Haunted House", "The Pavilion", "From My School-Days","In the Dark", "The Mummies at Bordeaux"

The Power of Darkness: Tales of Terror', 2006

"Man-Size in Marble", "Uncle Abraham's Romance", "From the Dead", "The Three Drugs", "The Violet Car", "John Charrington's Wedding", "The Pavilion", "Hurst of Hurstcote", "In the Dark", "The Head", "The Mystery of the Semi-detached", "The Ebony Frame", "The Five Senses", "The Shadow", "The Power of Darkness", "The Haunted Inheritance", "The Letter in Brown Ink", "The House of Silence", "The Haunted House", "The Detective"


As Fabian Bland

No pieces yet tracedAs E Nesbit

"Women and Socialism: from the Middle-Class Point of View". Justice, 4 and 11 April 1885

"Women and Socialism: A Working Woman's Point of View". Justice, 25 April 1885

Wings and the Child, or The Building of Magic Cities, 1913

Long Ago When I Was Young (originally a serial, 'My School-Days: Memories of Childhood', in Girl's Own Paper 1896–1897) Originally appearing as "My School-Days: Memories of Childhood" in The Girl's Own Paper between October 1896 and September 1897, Long Ago When I Was Young finally took book form in 1966, some 40 years after Nesbit's death, with an insightful introduction by Noel Streatfeild and some two dozen pen-and-ink drawings by Edward Ardizzone. The twelve chapters reproduce the instalments.



1899 Slave Song (Chappell), OCLC 60194453

Explanatory notes




External links

E. Nesbit at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database

"The Writing of E. Nesbit" by Gore Vidal, The New York Review of Books, 3 December 1964

"Lost Lives: Edith Bland" by Bill Greenwell

Nesbit at (reprint from Encyclopedia of World Biography)

E. Nesbit at Library of Congress Authorities, with 140 catalogue records

Rosamund E. Nesbit Bland at LC Authorities, with 2 records, and at WorldCat

Eager, Edward (1 October 1958). "Daily Magic". The Horn Book Magazine. Retrieved 14 May 2020.Online textsWorks by E. Nesbit in eBook form at Standard Ebooks

Works by Edith Nesbit at Project Gutenberg

Works by Edith (née Bland) Nesbit at Faded Page (Canada)

Works by or about E. Nesbit at Internet Archive

Works by E. Nesbit at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)

Melisande by E. Nesbit Archived 12 December 2003 at the Wayback Machine, a tale similar to Rapunzel

My School Days (article series by Nesbit)

The Magic World

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Ross Grant: Do you know "Baby Seed Song?" My grandmother sang it to my dad. I cann;t find it's melody anywhere on-line. I just know fragments.

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