Friday, July 07, 2006

E. Nesbit and Reciprocal Robbery

Ponytails and I have finished The Rescuers and are now working on E. Nesbit's The Treasure Seekers--you know, The Bastable Children? (If you've ever wondered about the first page of The Magician's Nephew, that's what C.S. Lewis was talking about.)

If you like E. Nesbit's books and have time to read something several pages long, the essay "Partners in Crime" by Marah Gubar has some great points about adulthood/childhood and about the writing process--which, Gubar points out, Nesbit often saw as a kind of reciprocal borrowing (or even robbery). (In fact, the idea of burglars is one that often comes up in her books like Five Children and It, and The Treasure Seekers.) The article also points out how often Nesbit's books openly refer to other books that the characters have read--and that's not plagiarizing, it's just...borrowing!
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).
(I think I liked this because it reminded me of similar essays in one of my favourite dip-into books, Only Connect--that is, in its original edition. You can see a newer version on Amazon here.)

1 comment:

lindafay said...

I never connected the Bastable children with The Magician's Nephew! Thanks for the info. You made my middle daughter happy.

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