The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit: Victorian Iconoclast, Children’s Author, and Creator of the Railway Children

Eleanor Fitzsimons. Abrams, $35 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4197-3897-5

Fitzsimons (Wilde’s Women) offers a charming, lively, and old-fashioned biography of Victorian and Edwardian-era author Edith Nesbit (1858–1924). Endlessly short of money, Nesbit’s output ran to poetry, essays, and adult novels and short fiction—but children’s literature was where her genius lay, evinced most famously by the much-read novel The Railway Children. As Fitzsimons shows, Nesbit’s life infused her work, and her life was dramatic and stylish. She cofounded the Fabians, an influential socialist group that included George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, and cultivated an eccentric, signature personal style, wearing flowing, loose-fitting gowns with no corset, bangles up her arms, and an inevitable cigarette in a long holder, and living in a series of picturesque, if sometimes shabby, homes, one surrounded by a moat. Fitzsimons also conveys Nesbit’s complicated domestic arrangements—her husband, Hubert Bland, was a serial philander and asked Nesbit to raise two of his children with another woman. Fitzsimons’s book benefits from a wealth of sources, though some repetitions, such as the many references to Nesbit’s long cigarette holder, might be trimmed. Overall, however, Fitzsimons delivers a sprightly and highly readable life of a writer who deserves even wider recognition. (Oct.)
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