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Partners in crime: E. Nesbit and the art of thieving.

Catching a burglar in the act of creeping into her family's nursery, the youngest heroine of E. Nesbit's The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904) "kn[ows] better" than to succumb to fear (192). For Jane, despite her youth, "had read a great many nice stories about burglars, as well as some affecting pieces of poetry, and she knew that no burglar will ever hurt a little girl if he meets her when burgling" (192). Elaborating on the conventions of this Victorian mini-genre, Nesbit explains that

in all the cases Jane had read of, [the thief's] burglarishness was almost at once forgotten in the interest he felt in the little girl's artless prattle. [... But Jane] could not at once think of any remark sufficiently prattling and artless to make a beginning with. In the stories and the affecting poetry the child could never speak plainly, though it always looked old enough to in the picture. And Jane could not make up her mind to lisp and "talk baby," even to a burglar. And while she hesitated he softly opened the nursery door and went in. (192-93)

Even as Nesbit parodies the tendency of other authors to domesticate the figure of the burglar, she enthusiastically purloins and reproduces this scenario, both here and in her other works. Just as the burglar Jane discovers gets converted into a family friend (later referred to as "that nice chap--our own burglar"), the thief caught by the child protagonists in The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899) is quickly adopted and transformed into "our own dear robber" (Phoenix 210, Story 201). (1) Such encounters, I will argue, testify to Nesbit's self-conscious sense of herself as an author who plunders or colonizes the realm of childhood, as well as the work of other authors of children's literature. Yet Nesbit optimistically insists that children too can fruitfully practice the art of thieving, as indicated by the fact that these burglars are themselves seized and exploited by the very youngsters whom they hope to rob.

Far from being artless prattlers, Nesbit's child heroes are artful dodgers, adept at appropriating and recycling the work of adult authors. But as Julia Briggs, Erika Rothwell, and Mavis Reimer all point out, Nesbit's young protagonists frequently misinterpret or misapply the material they steal, experiencing a great deal of trouble as a result of their naivete. These difficulties, however, do not indicate that Nesbit believes children should cease such stealthy operations entirely. Rather, they convey her conviction that young people must learn to pull off more savvy and sophisticated heists, ones that more closely resemble Nesbit's own appropriations.

By simultaneously lampooning and propagating literary conventions--such as the burglar motif in the passage quoted above--Nesbit models for her readers the kind of balancing act she wants them to master; even as she encourages children to take pleasure from and make use of texts, she coaxes them to become more critical readers. Keenly aware of the power that adults and their narratives wield over children, Nesbit incites young people to commandeer more completely the scripts they are given, to revise rather than simply reenact them. Tracing how she repeatedly employs the trope of reciprocal robbery to encourage such piracy both confirms and complicates recent efforts to conceptualize children's literature as a form of colonization. (2)

A number of critics have noted the extraordinary extent to which Nesbit's child characters are saturated in and fascinated by all kinds of literature. (3) In book after book, Nesbit portrays young people as irrepressible mimics who shape their games, ideals, behavior, and even speech around texts created by adults. In The Story of the Treasure Seekers, for example, the Bastable children swipe scenarios for their activities from Kipling, Conan Doyle, Marryat, Edgeworth, de la Motte Forque, Pope, and the Arabian Nights, as well as assorted picture books, newspaper stories, and advertisements. At the same time, Nesbit herself reworks the material of Charles Dickens, Juliana Horatia Ewing, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Kenneth Grahame. In her numerous studies of Nesbit, Julia Briggs brilliantly details both sets of borrowings, but she never quite makes explicit their ultimate effect, which is to break down the divide between adult writer and child reader by suggesting that both parties can improvise on other peop le's stories to produce their own narratives. While this strong sense of equivalence may be a fantasy of Nesbit's, it is nevertheless a fantasy about equality, about sharing a propensity for the same game; and it therefore conflicts with the claim, advanced by both Reimer and Rothwell, that Nesbit constructs the child as "irremediably Other," an innocent, vulnerable victim unable to comprehend adult language or cope with the adult world (Reimer 54).

Rather than setting up the child as an innocent Other, Nesbit confounds the very categories of child and adult, reader and writer, by presenting "highly literate" young protagonists who inhabit the same position as herself; like their creator, the Bastables and their counterparts appropriate and adapt texts to suit their own purposes. (4) This constant trolling for material finds a metaphorical equivalent in the activity of treasure seeking, a close cousin to burglary in Nesbit's fiction. The Story of the Treasure Seekers and The New Treasure Seekers (1904) chronicle the efforts of six siblings--Oswald, Dora, Dicky, Alice, Noel, and Horace Octavious (nicknamed H. O.)--to "restore the fallen fortunes of [our] House" in the wake of their father's business troubles and their mother's death (Story 11). The Bastables' many efforts to garner funds derive from ideas they have taken from various texts; for example, they decide to try "Being Detectives" after "read[ing] Mr. Sherlock Holmes, as well as the yellow-cove red books [... by] Gaboriau" (Story 32).

Stressing the "burglarishness" of such borrowings, Nesbit frequently connects literary theft with literal larceny. For example, feeling "quite certain that the books were right, and that the best way to restore fallen fortunes was to rescue an old gentleman in distress," Oswald picks up a coin dropped by an elderly man, "and was just thinking what he should say when he returned it, when the old gentleman caught him by the collar and called him a young thief" (Story 127-28).

As the narrator of the Bastable books, Oswald constantly capitalizes on other authors' material, displaying a penchant for creative recycling that matches Nesbit's own. Needless to say, the very act of delegating the power of narration to a child surrogate reveals Nesbit's interest in dissolving any strict division between author and audience. Furthermore, from the first page of his narrative, it is clear that Oswald's writing style will be heavily influenced by his experience as a reader. He immediately announces,

There are some things I must tell before I begin to tell about the treasure-seeking, because I have read books myself, and I know bow beastly it is when a story begins, "Alas!" said Hildegarde with a deep sigh, "we must look our last on this ancestral home"--and you don't know for pages and pages where the home is, or who Hildegarde is, or anything about it.

(Story 10)

Here Oswald models the kind of thieving Nesbit advocates; simultaneously exposing and exploiting literary conventions, he allows himself the pleasure of performing exactly those routines that he swears never to revisit. Thus, in the midst of another commentary on authorial techniques, our narrator vows, "You will not catch me saying, 'thus the sad days passed slowly by'--or 'the years rolled on their weary course'--or 'time went on'--because it is silly; of course time, goes on--whether you say so or not" (Story 21). Rather than choosing between "say [ing] so or not," Oswald both deploys and denigrates these phrases, just as his creator simultaneously uses and abuses literary conventions such as the good-hearted burglar and the wealthy "old gentleman" who saves the day. (5) Both Nesbit and her surrogate narrator excel at revising other people's plots; she recycles Burnett's Editha's Burglar in the chapter entitled "The Robber and the Burglar," while he promises at the start of his narrative to improve on the work of previous authors of children's literature, asserting, "I have often thought that if the people who write books for children knew a little more it would be better. I shall not tell you anything about us except what I should like to know about if I was reading the story and you were writing it". (Story 21-22).

Of course, Nesbit's habit of conceptualizing the reader-writer dyad as reversible may constitute a case of wishful thinking, particularly since she mainly produced children's fiction, a genre which, as Jacqueline Rose has noted, "rests so openly on an acknowledged difference, a rupture almost, between writer and addressee" (2). Yet imagining this binary as violable is precisely what enables Nesbit to jettison the ideal of the innocent child that Rose identifies as a defining characteristic of children's literature. Claiming that fiction for and about young people "sets up the child as a pure point of origin in relation to language, sexuality and the state," Rose argues that this genre "fixes the child and then holds it in place" as sexually and textually innocent, in order to stave off adults' anxiety about the stability of sexual identity and the coherence of language (8, 4). Nesbit' s work challenges this paradigm, not only by introducing and advocating the archetype of the critical child, but also by cham pioning trespassing as a productive mode that enables self-expression. Rather than keeping the categories of adult and child "safely" quarantined on the page, Nesbit demonstrates how saturation in the work of adult authors--coupled with the power of discrimination--enables her child protagonists to usurp the role of author for themselves (Rose 69).

For example, the fact that Oswald opens his first three chapters with sharp-eyed critiques of various kinds of literature suggests that reading enables writing; or rather, that critical reading releases or empowers one's own creative efforts. Wide-ranging knowledge of texts must be coupled with the ability to edit and editorialize. Thus, the Bastables' whiny next door neighbor Albert "cannot play properly at all [... because] he doesn't care for reading, and he has not read nearly so many books as we have" (Story 23). But Dora lacks the ability to dream up or participate in entertaining amusements as well, because she behaves too much "like the good elder sister in books" (Story 17). Having uncritically absorbed the material she has read, Dora has failed to master the skill of selection; she swallows preachy texts like Ministering Children (1854) and What Katy Did (1872) whole, rather than extracting, revising, and (mis)applying particular lines or scenes in order to manufacture adventures. Underscoring the p roductive possibilities of discrimination of this sort, Nesbit notes that useful ideas can be gleaned from even the trashiest of sources; Oswald prefaces his narration of one of their adventures with the explanation that "we had just been reading a book by Dick Diddligton--that's not his right name, but I know all about libel actions, so I shall not say what his name is really, because his books are rot. Only they put it into our heads to do what I am going to narrate" (Story 32).

Like Jane's resistance to the paradigm of the artless child, Oswald's selectivity illustrates Nesbit's interest in conceptualizing children as active receivers of texts, capable of improvising on--not just slavishly adhering to--other people's stories. The transformative power of revision of this sort emerges not only in the Bastable books, but also in Nesbit's popular Five Children and It (1902) series; the second book in this sequence, The Phoenix and the Carpet, repeatedly dramatizes the process by which old stories inspire new ones, highlighting the connection between the consumption and the production of texts. Thus, the adventures of Cyril, Robert, Anthea, and Jane--like those of the Bastables--commence as a result of their familiarity with fiction; while acting out scenes from the Ingoldsby Legends, the children accidentally knock into the fire the mysterious egg they have discovered wrapped up in their new nursery carpet. When a magical phoenix rises out of the ashes and informs them that their new ru g will obey their every wish, the resurrection of this fabulous beast mirrors the process by which The Phoenix and the Carpet itself rises out of the ashes of other texts, including and especially the Arabian Nights. Not only does Nesbit nab the magic carpet motif and other scenarios from this source, the very idea of using Arabian Nights in this way is borrowed from F. Anstey's The Brass Bottle (1900). Nor does Nesbit hide her debts; she makes frequent references to texts that have inspired her own, as when she describes a desert island visited by the children as covered with "all the tropical flowers and fruits that you read of in Westward Ho! and Fair Play," or compares a conflagration to "the rose of fire in Mr. Rider Haggard's exciting story about Allan Quatermain" (Phoenix 67, 5).

"A bird of its word" who can "speak and understand all languages," the Phoenix's first act reveals how closely his regenerative ability is associated with the art of literary reinvention (60, 75). As Robert reads him an encyclopedia account of the habits and physical features of "the Phoenix," the bird maintains a running commentary, finally declaring, "That book ought to be destroyed. It's most inaccurate" (21). As in the Bastable books, criticizing other texts emerges as a crucial prelude to the act of storytelling; eager to correct the faulty account, the Phoenix promises the children, "I will tell you my story" (22). Under his influence, the children master the art of effectively altering texts as well. In order to summon the Phoenix quickly, Robert condenses "the whole of the Greek invocation song of seven thousand lines [...] into one English hexameter," while Anthea learns to revise "Rain, rain go away" into a more effective spell so that the family can show the Phoenix around London without getting we t (111, 113). In particular, Cyril's triumphant turn as "a heaven-born teller of tales" attests to Nesbit' s determination to portray the process of revising preexisting stories as a creative act (93). Transported to an Indian palace by the magic carpet, Cyril enchants the royal court by retelling some of the adventures chronicled in the first half of the narrative; he relates the story of "the Phoenix and the Carpet, and the Lone Tower, and the Queen-Cook, in language that grew insensibly more Arabian Nightsy" (93).

As this final bit of description indicates, however, the line separating retelling or rewriting stories and plagiarism is an extremely fine one. Keenly aware of the criminal aspects of scavenging material from other authors, Nesbit associates the actions of both the children and the Phoenix with theft. (6) The children are mistaken for "members of a desperate burgling gang" in one adventure, and dealers in stolen goods in another, while the Phoenix defends his own scavenging ways by insisting, "Birds always take what they want. It is not regarded as stealing, except in the case of magpies" (241, 44). Himself stolen by two pickpockets who mistake him for a parrot, the Phoenix's "beak curve[s] scornfully" when he denies this charge; but numerous other characters--and even the narrator--nevertheless associate him with this avian mimic, thus signaling Nesbit's anxiety about the close correlation between revision and repetition (126). Further proof of this concern comes when the children, the narrator, and even an actual burglar follow the Phoenix's footsteps and attempt to absolve themselves of the crime of stealing; bent on distinguishing Phoenix-like regeneration from parrot-like plagiarism, the narrative offers a number of different answers to Anthea's unfinished remark, "It can't be stealing if" (144).

For example, trying to convince his siblings that taking an abandoned pile of treasure does not qualify as theft, Cyril argues that "[s]tealing is taking things that belong to someone else, and there's no one else" (144). Drawing an even finer distinction, the narrator defends the fact that the children entertain themselves with "chalk that Robert had nicked" from school by explaining, "You know, of course, that it is stealing to take a new stick of chalk, but it is not wrong to take a broken piece, so long as you only take one" (15). Caught in the act of breaking into the children's nursery, the burglar Jane surprises exculpates himself by declaring, "I was druv to it by dishonest blokes" (219). And when the magic carpet accidentally gets sold at a bazaar, Cyril defends the idea of breaking into the new owner's home and taking it with yet another excuse: "It's our own carpet. It wouldn't be burglary" (104). But by far the most compelling and frequently employed rationalization of theft centers on the idea t hat exploitation can be mutual, a view Noel Bastable sums up when he insists, "There are ways of being robbers that are not wrong, [...] if you can rob a robber it is a right act" (Story 180). Throughout her fiction for children, Nesbit characterizes burglary as a comic mode of reciprocal exploitation; by portraying both children and adults as thieves, and by devising scenes in which they take advantage of each other, she continues her campaign to conceptualize the reader-writer divide as traversable. These encounters emphatically attest to the possibility of cross-colonization; and since thieving is specifically linked to approaching (and producing) literature, these moments imply that both children and adults can annex and improvise on texts.

A chapter in The Phoenix and the Carpet entitled "The Cats, The Cow, and the Burglar" provides a perfect example of this phenomenon. When a burglar breaks into their home hoping to rob them, Cyril, Robert, Anthea, and Jane ingeniously manage to take advantage of him, even as he profits from their interference. Desperate to feed and dispose of 199 starving Persian cats that the magic carpet has deposited in their nursery, the children convince the burglar--who has been cornered by Jane--to help them out: first, Jane persuades him to milk the cow brought by the carpet to provide food for the cats, and then Cyril talks him into getting rid of the felines for them, by explaining that he can sell them and keep the profits. What could have been a scene about the adult's power to exploit the child turns into a dramatization of how children and adults can use each other in a way that works to their mutual advantage. Furthermore, since this scene explicitly parodies other stories for children, the siblings' creative reception of the intruder takes on a specifically literary application; their refusal to fall victim to the plot of a scheming adult--the burglar--parallels their ability to resist the limiting and/or condescending picture of themselves presented to them by texts.

Just as the Phoenix repudiates the picture of himself contained in the encyclopedia, Jane rejects the paradigm of childhood offered to her by books; although she knows from her reading how little girls ought to behave in her situation, she simply cannot "bring herself to say, 'What's 'oo doing here, Mithter Wobber?"' (193). At the same time, even as she resists being typecast as an adorable innocent, she infantilizes the burglar, dubbing him "my own dear pet burglar" (213). Thus, Nesbit confounds the categories of (adult) perpetrator and (child) victim, representing relations between the two parties as an endless cycle of exploitation. (7) In order for children to avoid being victimized by adult plotters, Nesbit suggests, they must learn not to identify blindly with their literary counterparts. Thus, the climax of The Phoenix and the Carpet finds the children trapped in a burning theatre, and Anthea quavering, "Father said [to] stay here" (261). When Robert replies, "He didn't mean stay and be roasted [...] No boys on burning decks for me, thank you," his refusal to mimic the obedient boy hero of Felicia Hemans' s poem "Casabianca"--who declines to leave a burning ship "Without his father's word"--demonstrates the critical importance of resistant reading (261, Mellor 1227). Like Oswald's scornful treatment of various literary conventions, Robert's stubbornness reminds us that one way children can capitalize on texts is by using them as examples of what not to do. Indeed, Nesbit's notion of reciprocal robbery depends on the idea that adult narratives do not exercise prescriptive power over children; optimistically, she suggests that readers of all ages can plunder texts selectively, heisting only what appeals to them and rejecting--or revising--the rest.

The Bastable books likewise portray burglary as a mutually enriching activity. In keeping with Nesbit's notion that thieving can go both ways, both children and adults are repeatedly associated with robbers throughout the series. Such parallels are particularly pronounced in The Story of the Treasure Seekers. In "Being Detectives," for example, the Bastables suspect that burglars have broken in to their neighbors' house. Snooping around in an effort to find out, they themselves are suspected of being burglars. In "The Robber and the Burglar," the Bastables, "play[ing] at burglars," surprise a man whom they assume is an actual burglar; actually, he is a friend of their father's, but he (too) pretends to be a thief, so as not to disappoint them (Story 184). As this "robber" recounts to his ecstatic captors fabulous stories about his past misdeeds, a real thief breaks into the house. Commenting on the capture of this genuine bandit, Oswald makes explicit the link that Nesbit forges between child and adult adven turers; he remarks, "It was the most wonderful adventure we ever had, though it wasn't treasure-seeking--at least not ours" (Story 197).

Nesbit' s decision to portray both children and adults as treasure seekers reflects her belief that literary exploitation goes both ways; children use texts penned by adults to entertain themselves, while adults use children as material for their literary efforts. In particular, "The Poet and the Editor" dramatizes the possibility of productive cross-colonization of this kind. In this chapter, Oswald and his brother Noel take a collection of the latter's poems to the editor of a London newspaper, in the hopes that he will purchase and publish them. The Editor accepts the poetry and thrills Noel by paying him a guinea; but Oswald concludes his story by noting that

[the Editor] never put Noel's poetry into the Daily Recorder. It was quite a long time afterwards we saw a sort of story thing in a magazine, on the station bookstall, and that kind, sleepy-looking Editor had written it, I suppose. It was not at all amusing. It said a lot about Noel and me, describing us all wrong, and saying how we had tea with the Editor; and all Noel's poems were in the story thing. I think myself the Editor seemed to make game of them, but Noel was quite pleased to see them printed--so that's all right. (Story 68)

Here Nesbit not only acknowledges the way in which adults capitalize on the naivete of children, she also implicates herself as a participant in this dubious "game," since her own fiction--including The Story of the Treasure Seekers-- appeared in adult magazines like The Strand. Furthermore, like the Editor, Nesbit frequently pokes fun at her child characters for the benefit of the adults in her audience. For example, when the Editor turns his back to the boys after reading one of the poems, adult readers are expected to guess that he is laughing, despite Oswald's comment that "Noel thinks he did it 'to conceal his emotion,' as they do in books" (Story 62).

Of course, child readers might pick up this joke too, particularly after learning how the Editor treats Noel's poetry; ultimately, this encounter warns children that adults who appear to be taking them seriously may in fact be making fun of them, and even cashing in on their foibles. Yet The Story of the Treasure Seekers posits the hopeful notion that exploitation of this kind can be playful, productive, and reciprocal. For this reason, both the Editor and Noel profit from this shared experience; Noel gets a guinea and his poems printed--no mean feat, despite the context--while the Editor obtains priceless material. At the same time, however, Noel and his siblings turn the Editor into grist for their imaginative mill. The Editor may "make game" of Noel's poems, but in a later story, entitled "Being Editors," the Bastables fashion their play around their new friend's professional identity. Furthermore, by the time the Editor uses Noel as material for his writing, Noel has already used him. In a moment that cry stallizes the way in which this exchange works to their mutual advantage, Noel--thrilled by the success of this particular treasure hunt--composes a poem to his new friend on the spot, entitled "Lines to a Noble Editor," causing the object of his appreciation to comment, "I shall treasure it" (Story 68).

Critics who claim that Nesbit "constructs childhood as a period of helplessness, ignorance, and incompetence" might argue that the reciprocity of such encounters is undermined by the various mistakes and malapropisms unknowingly committed by the children (Stephens 130). When Oswald describes the family's attempts to offer aid to "the poor and indignant," or to prove themselves innocent of a crime even though "the evidence [was] convulsive," many commentators maintain that such jokes are not only aimed at adult readers, they also come "at the expense of children--because the joke is often between the adult reader and the author at Oswald's expense" (Wouldbegoods 127, 183, Rothwell 62). But to presume that young people will not appreciate these moments is to promote a vision of the child that is far more "dominated by limitation and condescension" than Nesbit's own (Rothwell 69). As Barbara Wall points out, Nesbit "never pays her young readers [a] greater compliment than in her readiness to trust them to cope" with irony, parody, and other linguistic challenges; by believing that her audience is "capable of sharing a joke," she consistently gives children "the opportunity to extend their range" (153,156-57). Eager for all of her readers to get in on the fun, Nesbit broadcasts the fact that knowing exactly what a word means can provide extra enjoyment, and even indicates how such information may be obtained: when an adult friend of the family makes a joke based on a difficult word, Oswald explains, "We laughed--because we knew what an amphorae is. If you don't you might look it up in the dicker" (Wouldbegoods 189). (8)

Moreover, although the Bastables frequently misread texts and situations, and rarely manage to affect the adult world as they hope to do, the idea that such disappointments are disempowering to child readers assumes that young audience members have no choice but to identify with the misguided, often demoralized child characters. Such a stance is in keeping with Rose's characterization of children's fiction as a form of colonization in which adult authors construct an image of the child as an innocent Other, and then coerce young readers into identifying with that limited (and self-serving) representation. This dark vision of children's literature as oppressive and deeply manipulative takes little account of the possibility that responses other than identification are possible, and sometimes encouraged. From the very start of Oswald's narrative, Nesbit invites audience members to feel superior to (and amused by) her self-important storyteller. For although Oswald announces his intention to keep it a secret whi ch Bastable is telling the story, he immediately gives himself away; even as he vows to conceal his central role, he inadvertently broadcasts the truth when he tells his readers, "While the story is going on you may be trying to guess [who is narrating it], only I bet you don't. It was Oswald who first thought of looking for treasure" (Story 11, emphasis mine). Any remaining doubt about the identity of the narrator swiftly dissipates as Oswald proceeds to heap praise on himself and criticize his siblings. As Briggs and Moss have pointed out, Nesbit particularly foregrounds Oswald's condescending attitude toward girls and women, thus prodding her readers to recognize the limitations of his self-satisfied, masculinist point of view. (9) In a final effort to impede the process of identification, Nesbit sets up a neat double bind: even if child readers do identify with Oswald, they are identifying with a child who refuses to identify with fictional child characters. In other words, since Oswald himself smugly loo ks down on most "boys in books," child readers wishing to emulate him should by rights make sport of his mistakes and idiosyncrasies ( Wouldbegoods 28).

Nesbit's interest in fostering such detachment emerges not only in the Bastable books, but also early on in Five Children and It, the first adventure featuring Robert, Cyril, Anthea, and Jane. When the children discover a sand-fairy who agrees to grant them wishes, the narrator remarks to her audience,

I daresay you have often thought what you would do if you had three wishes given you, and have despised the old man and his wife in the black-pudding story, and felt certain that if you had the chance you could think of three really useful wishes without a moment's hesitation. (17)

This passage exemplifies how Nesbit's texts both presuppose and create skeptical, educated, active readers. To begin with, if readers are not familiar with "the black-pudding story," it is up to them to find out about it, or to imagine what it might be about. Then, too, this comment reminds audience members that they can practice differentiation rather than identification as the rest of the narrative unfolds. That is to say, rather than feeling personally implicated when child characters make one careless, disastrous wish after another, readers have the option of feeling exasperated with and wiser than their textual counterparts.

The nature of the mistakes that Nesbit's protagonists make also serves to discourage young readers from aligning themselves too closely with their literary counterparts, since the worst trouble that the Bastables and company get into comes when they adhere too closely to treasured texts. For example, the most upsetting incident in The Story of the Treasure Seekers occurs when the Bastables, bent on imitating the fictional children who make their fortune by "rescu[ing] an old gentleman from deadly peril," manufacture such a situation by setting their dog on an elderly man (36). After the furious victim of this fiasco reduces the children to tears by threatening to have them arrested and telling them that he might have died as a result of their dishonest action, Alice miserably explains, "[W]e wanted to be like the children in books--only we never have the chances they have. Everything they do turns out all right" (136). Efforts to emulate the virtuous child heroes of texts like Ministering Children prove equal ly disastrous; in stories like "The Benevolent Bar" and "The Conscience-Pudding," poor people do become "indignant" and even verbally and physically abusive when the children attempt to help them (Wouldbegoods 127). Even favored fiction like Kipling's The Jungle Books causes problems when the children try to reproduce it too exactly: the Bastables' extended reenactment of Mowgli's experiences in the jungle leads them to be beaten and banished to the country at the beginning of The Wouldbegoods. When Oswald admits that their most egregious offense that day consisted of taking their uncle's tiger skins and dead "stuffed animals" without permission, propping them up, and playing with them, it becomes clear that this incident illustrates the dangers of borrowing and attempting to reanimate someone else's stuff (17).

In matters of style as well as substance, Nesbit encourages young people to practice fickleness rather than fidelity to texts, to revise rather than plagiarize the discourse of other authors. At the beginning of The Enchanted Castle (1906), for example, young Gerald bores and annoys his siblings by narrating his life in the fashion of his favorite novels; exploring a cave with his brother and sister, he intones, "But their dauntless leader, whose eyes had grown used to the dark while the clumsy forms of the others were bunging up the entrance, had made a discovery" (11). As Nesbit's narrative unfolds, however, Gerald gradually finds his own storytelling style and stops parroting other authors. Similarly, Noel Bastable learns to deviate from rather than simply ventriloquize the voices that influence his own work. Describing the genesis of the poem Noel writes after the Bastables' housekeeper, Eliza, takes them to see a "Reviving Preacher," Oswald relates that
everybody cried, and Father said it must have been the Preacher's
Eloquence. So Noel wrote:
O Eloquence and what art thou?
Ay what art thou? Because we cried
And everybody cried inside
When they came out their eyes were red--
And it was your doing Father said.

(Story 51)

The fact that Noel constructs this entire poem around a word he does not understand brings home the point that he does not fully absorb the material he usurps; his use of archaic poetic language and his reference to his father suggest that he has not yet found his own poetic voice. Similar symptoms manifest themselves in Noel's "Lines on a Dead Black Beetle that was poisoned," which begins, "Beetle how I weep to see! Thee lying on thy poor back!" and concludes, "I wish you were alive again! But Eliza says wishing it is nonsense and a shame" (Story 51). Like the paean to the preacher, this poem testifies to other people's eloquence rather than Noel's own; in both cases, he begins by mimicking the high-flown language of other poets, and concludes by incorporating the unreconstructed quotes of other people.

Here and elsewhere, Nesbit shows children struggling with the same problem that all artists grapple with: inundated by other people's narratives, both parties must strive to prevent these stories from exerting undue influence on them. Nesbit dramatizes the difficulties (and rewards) of this quest for originality in her two Arden books, The House of Arden (1908) and Harding's Luck (1909). To induce the magical Mouldiwarp to appear and work his spells, Elfrida and Edred Arden must produce and recite original poetry. Edred cannot manage this feat at all, and even Elfrida's efforts sometimes fail. On one such occasion, she recognizes that her derivative verses are of "no use," prompting her brother to declare, "I should think not [...]. Why, it isn't your own poetry at all. It's Felicia M. Hemans'" (Harding's 184-85). As a poet, Nesbit herself struggled with this very problem; Briggs notes that, "She secretly dreamed of becoming a great poet [...] but in order to write verse at all, she had to imitate, and both t he sentiments and techniques she used were usually rather secondhand" (A Woman of Passion 36). Although Nesbit's work for children allowed her to celebrate rather than hide her debts to other texts, anxiety about recycling the work of others does surface, particularly in The House of Arden. Given that Nesbit's childhood nickname was Daisy, it is telling that the Mouldiwarp explains one of his magical acts with the words, "'The daisies did it. Poor little things! They can't invent at all. But they do carry out other people's ideas quite nicely'" (House 79).

But self-deprecation of this sort should not lead us to dismiss Nesbit as "an energetic hack," as Humphrey Carpenter does in Secret Gardens: The Golden Age of Children's Literature (126). Objecting strenuously to the inclusion of Nesbit in the canon of great writers for children, he disparages even her "best achievement[s]," remarking that "she knew how to borrow, and the degree of originality in [these stories] is comparatively small" (136). What this reading fails to recognize is that Nesbit's extreme allusiveness itself constitutes an innovative technique, one that her child characters practice constantly and to great effect. At once inimitable and imitative, Oswald's instantly recognizable style suggests that authors can in fact find their own unique voice by mimicking, revising, or elaborating on other writers' work. "[T]respassers of the very deepest dye," Nesbit's child protagonists must follow Oswald's lead and become more savvy thieves; the innumerable encounters with real and imaginary "smugglers, a nd bandits, and highwaymen, and burglars, and coiners" that Nesbit sets up represent efforts to train them to become better borrowers (Oswald 114, New 192). In The Enchanted Castle, for example, observing and empathizing with a gang of burglars transforms Gerald from a tedious parrot to a mesmerizing storyteller in his own right. After helping some thieves escape with their loot, Gerald recounts his adventures to his siblings, and Nesbit notes that

As he told [his story] some of the white mystery and magic of the moonlit gardens got into his voice and his words, so that when he told of the statues that came alive, and the great beast that was alive through all its stone, Kathleen thrilled responsive, clutching his arm, and even Jimmy ceased to kick the wall with his boot heels, and listened open-mouthed.

Yet even as Nesbit sets up the child as a creative agent in his or her own right, even as she fantasizes about the possibility of mutually productive exploitation, she never fails to acknowledge and expose the pervasiveness of adult power. The complexity of this position is fully embodied in her presentation of a child narrator. Complimenting Nesbit on her seamless channeling of a child's voice, W. W. Robson claims that "in the Bastable books there seems to be no storyteller behind Oswald" (257). But in fact, it would be hard to imagine a character more obviously affected and shaped by adult scripts, not only because he ventriloquizes the words of so many different authors, but also because Nesbit inserts into his narrative a parade of adult characters who are themselves writers. Besides introducing the kindly, creative Editor, she brings the Bastables into contact with Mrs. Leslie, a professional poet and short story writer, and "Albert-next-door's uncle," a novelist who tells the children "first-rate" stori es and advises Oswald on writing matters (Story 92). The presence of this charming, avuncular character reminds readers that adults tend not only to be the authors of books, but the purchasers as well; praising his favorite neighbor, Oswald says, "He gave us our Jungle books" (211).

(Enchanted 96)

These figures alert us to Nesbit's own presence as a behind-the-scenes storyteller; indeed, at least one of them--Mrs. Leslie--is an explicit self-portrait. Travelling by train to meet the Editor, Oswald and Noel befriend an "awfully jolly" woman writer who turns out to be a famous poet--a glorification of Nesbit's own prolific but never entirely successful career as an author of verse (Story 54). Like her creator, Mrs. Leslie writes humorous poems for children; and she gives the boys a sample of her efforts, saying, "I think you will like [it] because it's about a boy" (55). Fittingly, this poem is not only about a boy, it is narrated by a boy; and it therefore operates as a microcosm of The Story of the Treasure Seekers itself. By providing a detailed demonstration of the way in which children can be tricked into identifying with an adult-produced image of childhood, this scene challenges Rose's claim that narratives aimed at children seduce their subjects "without the child being given the chance to notic e, let alone question, the smoothness of that process" (63).

After describing the pleasures of play and the limited understanding of grownups, Mrs. Leslie's young narrator gripes,
I often wonder whether they
Ever made up our kinds of play-
If they were always good as gold
And only did what they were told.

(Story 56)

As these lines indicate, the poem draws a clear distinction between "us" and "them"--children and adults--and insists that the narrator is on the side of the child. Yet the scene as a whole unmasks the child narrator as an adult construction; Mrs. Leslie's ability to speak as a child, for the express amusement of children, invites readers to recognize the artificiality of Oswald himself. Indeed, Oswald's observation that Mrs. Leslie "didn't talk a bit like a real lady, but more like a jolly sort of grown-up boy in a dress and a hat" effectively outs Nesbit as an adult who talks like a boy (57). Prodding children to recognize that adults have indeed "made up [their] kinds of play," Nesbit here acknowledges the existence of the reader-writer divide, the imaginary nature of the reciprocity that she envisions. Thus, although the encounter between Mrs. Leslie and the children begins with a show of mutuality--"[I]f you show me [your poems,] I'll show you some of mine," Mrs. Leslie tells Noel--there is no question a s to who emerges as the real talent (55). Referring to Mrs. Leslie's piece, Oswald admits, "I liked it better than Noel's poetry, though I told him I did not, because he looked as if he was going to cry" (55-56). Ultimately, this scene broadcasts the upsetting news that adults can speak for children better than children can speak for themselves. Grown-ups, Nesbit suggests, make more convincing children than children do.

The climactic resolution of The Story of the Treasure Seekers provides another example of a seemingly mutual moment that actually broadcasts the pervasiveness of adult power. As the narrative draws to a close, the Bastables are reunited with their long lost "Indian Uncle," whom they assume is "the Red kind," but who ultimately turns out to be a British colonist who has been living in India (Story 231). Noting that the children mistake their uncle for "an imperial subject rather than an imperial functionary," and observing the colonialist nature of the games the children play with their newfound relative, Mavis Reimer argues that these final chapters ignore or minimize the exploitative nature of the imperialist project (52). Certainly, the remarkable symmetry of the Bastables' encounter with the Indian Uncle seems to support her claim; just as Nesbit insists on blurring the line between adult and child, writer and reader, she also appears to downplay the division between colonizer and colonized, by setting up a finale that depends on and celebrates the idea of perfect reciprocity.

Pitying their uncle for his poverty, the Bastables invite him to share a special dinner with them, and urge him to take the little money they have. During this meal, the Indian Uncle discovers their poverty, whereupon he repents of his refusal to invest in their father's ailing business, secretly showers the family with money and gifts, and finally reveals himself as their benefactor at a dinner party explicitly linked to their own; he invites them to this event by saying, "You remember when I dined with you, some time ago, you promised to dine with me some day" (Story 233). Because this denouement revolves around a fantasy of mutuality, child and adult alike are associated with treasure. Noel writes a poem about the Indian Uncle that concludes, "We looked for treasure, but we find/The best treasure of all is the Uncle good and kind" (241). In response, the Indian Uncle "kissed Alice and he smacked Noel on the back, and he said, 'I don't think I've done so badly either, if you come to that, though I was never a regular professional treasure seeker"' (242).

But the logic of Nesbit's narrative contradicts the Indian Uncle's claim, thereby revealing her recognition that imperialist projects rarely constitute cases of reciprocal exploitation. For the fact that the Indian Uncle's immense wealth is signified by and associated with the booty he brings back from abroad implies that to be a colonist is to be a "professional treasure seeker." Describing the profusion of presents proffered by his newfound relative, Oswald lists

Japanese china tea-sets for the girls, red, white, and gold [...] and long yards and yards of soft silk from India, to make frocks for the girls--and a real Indian sword for Oswald [...] and some ivory chess men for Dicky [...]. There were carved fans and silver bangles and strings of amber beads, and necklaces of uncut gems [...] and shawls and scarves of silk, and cabinets of brown and gold, and ivory boxes and silver trays, and brass things.

Not only does this description connect the act of colonizing to the enterprise of treasure seeking, it also links the Indian Uncle to another purveyor of purloined goods, an avaricious Jewish moneylender whom the Bastables mistake for "a Generous Benefactor, like in Miss Edgeworth" (114). Z. Rosenbaum's luxurious office prefigures the scene of excess described above; Oswald compares the moneylender's room to "a king's palace [...] full of the most splendid things," including "Black and gold cabinets, and china, and statues, and pictures [...] and gilt looking-glasses, and boxes of cigars and scent and things littered all over the chairs and tables" (121,118). Like his Jewish counterpart, the Indian Uncle enters the text in the role of moneylender; during the Bastable's first encounter with their newfound relative, Oswald overhears his father unsuccessfully entreating his wife's brother to loan him "a little capital" to help save his sinking business (215). As the narrative continues, the parallel grows even m ore pronounced; both Z. Rosenbaum and the Indian Uncle at first refuse to extend financial aid to Mr. Bastable, then relent as a result of meeting the children.


Entitled "The G. B." (the Bastables' shorthand for "Generous Benefactor"), the chapter that chronicles the family's dealings with the Jewish moneylender unsettles the whole idea of benevolent adult intervention. For the character that the Bastables read as an openhearted philanthropist turns out to be self-interested, stingy, and unreliable. Moved by the children's poverty, Rosenbaum at first promises to give them a sovereign, but after "stroking the sovereign and looking at it as if he thought it very beautiful," he suddenly puts in back in his pocket and says, "I'll give you fifteen shillings, and this nice bottle of scent. It's worth far more than the five shillings I'm charging you for it. And, when you can, you shall pay me back the pound, and sixty per cent interest" (123). Although this encounter convinces Rosenbaum to extend Mr. Bastable's loan, his slimy turnaround after being "touched" by the children encourages readers to question the motives, merit, and dependability of the Indian Uncle, another " kind gentleman who has a lot of money" and who seems to desire, out of the goodness of his heart, to give it to the poor (114). (10)

By linking the Indian Uncle to this unsavory character, Nesbit acknowledges the dark side of appropriation, a process she so often presents as enabling and inspiring. Even as she champions reciprocal exploitation as a viable and valuable mode, she nevertheless recognizes that colonization generally involves one party exercising power over the other." In particular, as Julia Briggs has pointed out, Nesbit "never forgot [...] that all children, for better or worse, are ultimately at the mercy of all adults" (Woman xx). While both children and adults seek for treasure in her books, it is invariably adults who posses, disburse, and control assets of all kinds. Indeed, Nesbit repeatedly portrays children as beggars rather than (or as well as) burglars. By presenting the majority of her child characters as impoverished, she demonstrates her keen sense of the limited power and resources of children, their deep dependence on outside sources for inspiration and support. In the Bastables' case, the paucity of their sto ck renders them poor targets for thieves; thus, the real thief in "The Robber and the Burglar" cheerfully promises never to return to their house, having noticed that they possess nothing worth stealing.

Like The Treasure Seekers series, The Railway Children (1906) repeatedly casts its child characters in the role of beggars. Even after their mother chides them, saying, "you must never, never, never ask strangers to give you things," Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis entreat all kinds of favors from adults outside of their own family (Railway 63). When their mother falls ill, for example, they request an elderly gentleman whom they have never before met to purchase food for her, and Roberta asks the doctor not to charge them the regular rate because of their poverty. (12) Even their thieving flavors of begging; acting as "an engine-burglar," Roberta sneaks onto a train and implores the engineer to fix Peter's broken toy engine, while Peter gets caught illegally "mining" for coal after his mother tells him that they are "too poor to have a fire" (78,40). Sympathetic to the family's plight, the Station Master who collars Peter lets him off with the warning, "[R]emember, young gentleman, stealing is stealing, and what 's mine isn't yours, whether you call it mining or whether you don't" (40).

Not only does Nesbit repeatedly characterize children as beggars, she also depicts them as reduced to the condition of breaking into their own homes. In The House of Arden, poverty-stricken siblings Edred and Elfrida worry about the "burglarish" aspects of sneaking into their former family estate without permission (18). Similarly, before discovering his true identity as the next Lord of Arden, the destitute, homeless Dickie Harding burgles the home of his own wealthy relatives in Harding's Luck. The rich image of the child forced to break into his or her own home illustrates Nesbit's shrewd awareness of the way in Which "children's fiction sets up the child as an outsider to its own process" (Rose 2). Presenting youngsters as trespassers in their own domain, Nesbit suggests that adults have colonized childhood so completely that children must struggle to obtain control over their own identities, to steal back their own selfhood. Refusing to portray children as natural phenomena, innocent of influence, Nesbit exposes the extent to which adults--and their texts--teach children how to be children. Indeed, in Harding's Luck she dramatizes this process explicitly by documenting Dickie Harding's indoctrination into his own identity as Lord Arden:

very gradually, yet very quickly, Dickie learned about this new boy who was, and wasn't, himself. [His nurse] would sit by his side by the hour and tell him of things that had happened in the short life of the boy whose place he filled. [...] And as soon as she had told him a thing he found he remembered it--not as one remembers a tale that is told, but as one remembers a real thing that has happened. (69)

Earlier in the narrative, Dickie experiences this same strange feeling when he breaks into the house that contains the secret documents that reveal his true heritage; as he navigates this unfamiliar space, the narrator notes that "he did not need to remember what he had been told. For quite certainly, and most oddly, he knew exactly where the door was [and] which way to turn and what passages to go along" (38). For those who have read Dickens, reading about this uncanny experience constitutes an uncanny experience in itself, since the image of the child breaking into his own home is lifted directly from Oliver Twist (Briggs 289). Like Dickie, Dickens's orphan ends up seeking succor at "the very house [his gang] had attempted to rob," and he is eventually adopted by the very man whom he is arrested for robbing (Dickens 258).

The colonization paradigm that has proven so popular and influential with theorists of childhood and children's literature assumes that all acts of influence are oppressive, one-way transactions in which adults exploit and manipulate the child for "often perverse and mostly dishonest [...] purposes" (Rose 10). But Nesbit offers a more nuanced, complicated vision of this problematic--but not impossible--relationship. Acknowledging the extent to which adults and their texts shape and influence children, she nevertheless insists that such power does not preclude the possibility that children can borrow, transform, and renew the scripts they are given. Her narratives dramatize the dangers of buying into a fictional image of oneself, but they also highlight the crucial link between the consumption and the production of texts, reminding us that reading can enable as well as inhibit creativity. The manufacturing of childhood can be a mutual process, Nesbit suggests, if children learn to function as selective, resist ant readers. In other words, Nesbit posits the hopeful notion that cross-colonization can occur--that the child, as well as the adult, can appropriate and exploit texts for her own purposes. But at the same time, she acknowledges that the stubborn power structure that divides reader from writer, child from adult, and colonizer from colonized can never be completely dissolved. Since the categories of perpetrator and victim are perhaps the least interchangeable of all dyads, crime provides Nesbit with an appropriately ambivalent metaphor; the motif of the burglar allows her simultaneously to entertain and disclaim the possibility of reciprocal exploitation.


(1.) The "burglar" caught in The Story of the Treasure Seekers turns out to be an honest man, but the children continue to refer to him as "[o]ur own robber" throughout the series (Wouldbegoods 291).

(2.) In her influential study The Case of Peter Pan: or, The Impossibility of Children's Fiction, Jacqueline Rose defines children's literature as an aggressive act of colonization in which the adult author manipulates the child into identifying with an image of childhood that satisfies the adult's own needs and desires (26). In particular, she claims that authors depict childhood as a stable, separate category, thus forcing the child to function as the adult's opposite or "other," a primitive, innocent, and transparent being. Perry Nodelman clarifies and expands on this argument in his article "The Other: Orientalism, Colonialism, and Children's Literature."

(3.) Both Anita Moss and Julia Briggs focus on this aspect of Nesbit's work.

(4.) Moss employs this phrase and elaborates on this idea in her article "E. Nesbit's Romantic Child in Modern Dress" (245).

(5.) As a number of critics have pointed out, Nesbit simultaneously sends up and recycles the benevolent "old gentleman" theme in The Story of the Treasure Seekers; although the Bastables' first attempts to befriend rich old men humorously backfire, their story concludes happily because they touch the heart of their crusty "Indian Uncle," who showers them with wealth and affection.

(6.) According to her first biographer Doris Langley Moore, Nesbit "detested plagiarism and thought it a stigma to be accused of it" (148). Briggs stresses the contradiction inherent in Nesbit's vigilant position on this subject; though she herself often drew on the work of authors like Kipling, when she believed that Kipling had revamped one of her stories, she angrily though "privately accused him of pinching her ideas and even her treatment of them" (A Woman of Passion 253).

(7.) Indeed, the cycle of exploitation is even more complicated than I have indicated: robbed of his day's wages by a pickpocket, the burglar tries to take advantage of the children, who ultimately take advantage of him--and the whole event is set into motion because the family's servants cheat them by leaving the house unattended.

(8.) Moore reports that Nesbit once explained to a friend, "Sometimes I deliberately introduce a word that [child readers] won't know, so that [they] will ask a grown-up the meaning and learn something by it" (151).

(9.) In "Woman Writers: Sarah Fielding to E. Nesbit," Briggs describes how Nesbit "sets [Oswald] up as a target for comic irony, the complacent Victorian patriarch in embryo" (245). Moss makes a similar point in "The Story of the Treasure Seekers: The Idiom of Childhood."

(10.) It is worth noting that Nesbit later attempted to make amends for her antiSemitic portrait of Rosenbaum by featuring a kind and genuinely generous Jewish pawnbroker in Harding's Luck. This likable character repeatedly comes to the aid of young Dickie Harden, the hero of the story. During one such intervention, Nesbit soberly informs her readers that the Jewish people's ability to empathize with others and appreciate beauty and greatness "has survived centuries of torment, shame, cruelty, and oppression" (84). She continues to characterize Jewishness as a force for good throughout the story; Dickie's magical adventures begin when he arranges some silvery seeds into the shape of a Jewish star (62).

(11.) M. Daphne Kutzer claims that Nesbit romanticizes the imperialist project, portraying the process of "removing treasure from the colonies and bringing it home to England as both good and natural" (69). But Nesbit's attitude toward empire-building is--at the very least--ambivalent. Not only does she implicitly equate colonists with greedy, unethical financiers in The Story of the Treasure Seekers, she mercilessly and consistently satirizes the paternalist, philanthropic impulse that served as a key justification for imperialism. "Do-gooding" of all kinds gets sent up in her stories; she makes fun not only of the children's efforts to aid the poor, but also of adults' attempts to improve children and other adults, including foreigners.

(12.) Begging continues to be a theme throughout The Railway Children. Later in the story, the children offend their friend Perks by asking his neighbors to donate food, clothing and supplies to his family as a surprise for his birthday, and the novel draws to a happy close because Roberta beseeches the old gentleman to prove their jailed father innocent of treason.

Works Cited

Briggs, Julia. "E. Nesbit, the Bastables, and The Red House: A Response." Children's Literature 25 (1997): 71-85.

_____. A Woman of Passion: The Life of E. Nesbit, 1858-1924. New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1987.

_____. "Woman Writers and Writing for Children: From Sarah Fielding to E. Nesbit." Children and Their Books: A Celebration of the Work of lona and Peter Opie. Ed. Gillian Avery and Julia Briggs. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1989.

Carpenter, Humphrey. Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children's Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. New York: Penguin Classics, 1985.

Kutzer, M. Daphne. Empire's Children: Empire and Imperialism in Classic British Children's Books. New York: Garland, 2001.

Mellor, Anne K., and Richard E. Matlak, eds. British Literature 1 780-1 830. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996.

Moore, Doris Langley. E. Nesbit: A Biography. London: Ernest Benn, 1933. Rev. ed. with new material, Philadelphia: Chilton, 1966.

Moss, Anita. "E. Nesbit's Romantic Child in Modern Dress." Romanticism and Children's Literature in Nineteenth Century England. Ed. James Holt McGavran. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1991.

_____. "The Story of the Treasure Seekers: The Idiom of Childhood." Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature 1(1985): 188-197.

Nesbit, E. The Enchanted Castle. Illus. H. R. Millar. New York: Puffin Books, 1994

_____. Five Children and It. Illus. H. R. Millar. New York: Puffin Books, 1996.

_____. Harding's Luck. illus. H. R. Millar. New York: Books of Wonder, 1998.

_____. The House of Arden. Illus. H. R. Millar. New York: Books of Wonder, 1997.

_____. New Treasure Seekers. New York: Puffin Books, 1996.

_____. Oswald Bastable and Others. Illus. C. E. Brock and H. R. Millar. London: Ernest Benn, 1960.

_____. The Phoenix and the Carpet. Illus. H. R. Millar. New York: Puffin Books, 1994.

_____. The Railway Children. Illus. C. R. Brock. New York: Puffin Books, 1994.

_____. The Story of the Treasure Seekers. Illus. Cecil Leslie. New York: Puffin Books, 1994.

_____. The Wouldbegoods. Illus. Cecil Leslie. New York: Puffin Books, 1995.

Nodelman, Perry. "The Other: Orientalism, Colonialism, and Children's Literature." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 17.1 (1992): 29-35.

Reimer, Mavis. "Treasure Seekers and Invaders: E. Nesbit's Cross-Writing of the Bastables." Children's Literature 25 (1997): 50-59.

Robson, W. W. "E. Nesbit and The Book of Dragons." Children and Their Books: A Celebration of the Work of Iona and Peter Opie. Eds. Gillian Avery and Julia Briggs. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1989.

Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan: or, The Impossibility of Children's Fiction. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1992.

Rothwell, Erika. "'You Catch It if You Try to Do Otherwise': The Limitations of E. Nesbit's Cross-Written Vision of the Child." Children's Literature 25 (1997): 60-70.

Stephens, John. Language and Ideology in Children's Fiction. New York: Longman, 1992.

Wall, Barbara. The Narrator's Voice: The Dilemma of Children's Fiction. New York: St. Martin's P, 1991.

Marah Gubar ( is a graduate student at Princeton University. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled Collaborative Efforts: British Children's Fiction, 1860-1911. Her most recent publication, an essay about the Anne of Green Gables series, appeared in the January 2001 issue of The Lion and the Unicorn.
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Author:Gubar, Marah
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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