E Nesbit’s The Story of the Treasure Seekers:
Being the Adventures of the Bastable Children
in Search of A Fortune
Puffin 1995 (1899)
hope to reverse ill fortune
but land in pickles.
This was the first of Nesbit’s successful children’s books which began life as a serial and which was published in book form in 1899. Dedicated to the scholar and journalist Oswald Barron, its dedicatee furnished the name of the narrator who recounts the ‘adventures of the Bastable children in search of a fortune’ to revive the failing career of their widower father. The children (Dora, Oswald, Dicky, Alice, Noel and Horace Octavius) use the time when their father cannot afford to send them to school to seek for ways to make money in order to return the family to its former comfortable estate.
This is a charming story which reflects the middle-class gentility prevalent in England more than a century ago (observed in detail in A S Byatt’s The Children’s Book) before the horrors of the First World War changed things forever. The children’s approach to fortune-seeking, influenced by their reading and popular culture, gets them into scrapes from which their honesty and honorableness generally rescue them.
Nesbit subtly counterpoints Oswald’s descriptions of the situations the children find themselves in with her own adult observations, unspoken but implicit in a turn of phrase or in a character’s reaction. In this way, the young reader is not spoken down to but the adult reader can perhaps relive the experiences from a child’s particular perspective.
I thought this was a magical novel despite not including the explicit magic of her later books such as The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Enchanted Castle, a classic feelgood story where goodness overcomes all in the end. This Puffin edition has an interesting Introduction by the late Eleanor Graham (founding editor of Puffin Books and herself a children’s author) which, as its title ‘E. Nesbit and the Bastables’ suggests, gives the background to the writing of the book by reference to Nesbit’s own childhood and bohemian life.
The Treasure Seekers was shortly followed by The Wouldbegoods, which also featured the Bastable children.