Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The House of Arden by E.Nesbit

published 1908










And then it seemed as though the cooing and rustling of the pigeons came right through the roof and crowded round them in a sort of dazzlement and cloud of pigeon noises. The pigeon noises came closer and closer, and garments were drawn out of the chest and put on the children . They did not know how it was done, any more than you do--but it seemed, somehow, that the pigeon noises were like hands that helped, and presently there the two children stood in clothing such as they had never worn. Elfrida had a short-waisted dress of green-sprigged cotton, with a long and skimpy skirt. Her square-toed brown shoes were gone, and her feet wore flimsy sandals. Her arms were bare, and a muslin handkerchief was folded across her chest. Edred wore very white trousers that came right up under his arms, a blue coat with brass buttons, and a sort of frilly tucker round his neck. "I say!" they both said, when the pigeon noises had taken themselves away, and they were face to face in the long, empty room.






observations: We’re having something of an E Nesbit festival on Clothes in Books - in the past we’ve had Five Children and It, and the Railway Children. A recent discussion in the comments (on the subject of BBC teatime serials) brought this from blogfriend Daniel Milford Cottam:
The House of Arden. Read it. ASAP. All I'm saying is: ULTIMATE E. Nesbit for Clothes in Books.

Well – I could hardly ignore that, could I? First of all I had to do the BBC-serial subject – The Enchanted Castle and the terrifying Uglie-Wuglies. And in the process discovered yet another Nesbit fan to come in with Daniel and me: Lissa Evans, author of one of my favourite recent books, The Crooked Heart. (We’re going to form a Nesbit gang.)

So now, The House of Arden and (of course) Daniel is absolutely right: it is the perfect book for the blog. The two children Elfrida and Edred travel back in time by means of putting on the right clothes for the era, which are fully described by Nesbit. In the extract above, they are about to land in Napoleonic times, 1807. In subsequent chapters they will get themselves to 1705 (highwayman and the Old Pretender) and to Tudor times and a meeting with Anne Boleyn, and (with a sense of real jeopardy) into the 1605 Gunpowder Plot and subsequently to the Tower of London. There’s almost too much plot in this book – you feel that each of these adventures could have formed a whole book (as well as a blog entry). There is Sir Walter Raleigh, and there are smugglers, and they come to suspect that there are other people travelling back and forwards in time.

As ever, Nesbit takes the magic processes seriously – the children have to learn what they can and can’t do, and there is even a witchcraft sub-plot. There is a bad-tempered creature in charge – the Mouldiwarp, a white mole
“We want you to do what the spell says,” said Edred.

“Make you brave and wise? That can’t be done all in a minute. That’s a long job that is” said the mole viciously.
Nesbit gets a plug in for her own book The Amulet which features the similarly grumpy Psammead.

The picture above is from 1808 and is by Henry Raeburn – there are too many children in it, but it seemed just right for, particularly, Edred. From The Athenaeum website. The other one is an illustration from an early edition of the book
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27 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, this is indeed the perfect book for your blog! And the time-shifting plot, when it's done effectively, can be engaging. And a terrific way for Nesbit to teach a little history, too, even if that wasn't really part of the original intent. You're quite right; you had no choice but to profile this book.

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    1. You are so right Margot, it is MY book! I did in fact read it as a child, and loved it then too.

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  2. It sounds lovely. One of the Nesbits I've not read, but Kindle provides instant gratification!

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    1. I know, and free too I hope! You can see why it isn't quite one of her best-known ones, but good fun.

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  3. It is a lovely book. The last chapter or two get REALLY weird, but up until then, I genuinely adore this book and it's a strong contender for my Favourite Nesbit.

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    1. I don't think it would be number 1, but it is one that I remember so clearly from a childhood reading. We might need to see your top 5....

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    2. I REALLY need to re-read them all, but I think The Enchanted Castle is probably my favourite. The House of Arden was one of the books that really catered to my love for vintage clothing as a kid.

      Another book I just remembered that definitely did this was "Up the Attic Stairs" by Angela Bull, about a girl who finds trunks of clothes in the attic that belonged to previous generations of women in her family and a diary and she reads about the stories of her aunts, grandmother, etc, from the 19th century into the Second World War. In fact I've just gone and bought a penny copy (plus postage) off Amazon 'cos I want to read it again - must be 20 years since I last read it. Doesn't it have a fabulous cover? http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Attic-Stairs-Angela-Bull/dp/1853810606

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    3. And another one! that's the fourth book to come from the comments. Just ordered it - lovely cover as you say, and interesting to see it was Virago. I'll look forward to it...

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  4. I never really liked this one, but loved the sequel - Harding's Luck.

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    1. I don't know whether I read that one as a child - I certainly haven't read it recently, but now must go and look it up...

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  5. There's a Noel Streatfeild book that is very similar in general concept to House of Arden called "The Fearless Treasure." which is... very hard to describe otherwise. Six children, three girls, three boys, from six very different schools and six very different backgrounds - from working class, to super-posh - are sent to visit a strange old man who takes them back through time to six different periods - where each of them discovers a different connection/link to the past. It's a pretty good book and an interesting story, but it is very odd - I wasn't expecting it from Streatfeild although it has a LOT of her trademark touches.

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    1. Blimey, this is a Streatfeild that I haven't even heard of, let alone read, and I'm usually pretty well up on her. More to look up. Not a basic setup you could do today....

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    2. I remember finding The Fearless Treasure extremely hard going - it had very peculiar illustrations and ends with two children 'winning' and having to come up with a good way of using a large old house. The solution is a sort of school where poor but distinguished children can learn to rise above their background. I agree with Daniel - very odd.

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    3. My book has very curious illustrations - black and white with touches of red throughout. As I remember it, everyone won at the end and had to debate among themselves how to make the most of the prize. I didn't find it "hard going" but I did find it surprisingly heavy for Streatfeild - perhaps unsurprisingly given it was supposed to be Educational. Definitely an interesting book.

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    4. You've both completely convinced me I need to read it...

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  6. I was thinking I'd read this but now realizing not. I'm going to look for this one and for the Fearless Treasures as well. The general plot reminds me a little of The Green Knowe books, which I do love.

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    1. I tried the Green Knowe books when I was young, but didn't take to them: I think I have to try them again - the third children's book to add to the list just from the comments on this post!

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  7. I think I'll leave you to it with this one.

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    1. I dunno, Col, I like to think of you going to the tubs in the attic, picking out a book from a previous era, then suddenly finding yourself whirled into 1940s LA wearing a gangster suit. Your version of what happens in this book....

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  8. This was my all time favourite book when I was a child and has remained so ever since. How I longed to find that chest and dress up in those clothes. I love all of E Nesbit but I think this is her best so I don't know why it's less known. There's a sequel, Harding's Luck, almost equally enjoyable. Wonderful stuff and wonderful clothes.

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    1. Harriet - it is such a compelling idea isn't it? Nesbit had such a great imagination for what would capture children. And now I am going to have to read Harding's Luck....

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  9. I am of several minds about this. The time travelling in a children's story sounds intriguing, but still not sure. I suppose if I was going to give Nesbitt a try, this would be a good one?

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    1. I love Five Children and It, and the Railway Children. This is one of her less well-known ones, but it did stick in my mind.... Daniel, above, says it's his favourite. But I'd probably say 5 Children and It. You can choose!

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  10. Wonderful books, The Phoenix and the Carpet is my best of best, but House of Arden a close runner. The Moldiwarp, as much as anything. Very glad to find you are still enjoying the Sterne. Love the window full of corsets- it reminded me of a room full of waistcoats I saw in Venice recently. They were pure Tailor of Gloucester. I will put a photo on my twitter page so you can see what I mean.

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    1. Oh yes please, would love to see the waistcoats. I have got hold of an omnibus of the Stern books, so will be starting on more of the Chronicles in the New Year - if I can hold off that long!

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