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124 NEWS FROM E. NESBIT: THE STORY OF THE AMULET AND THE SOCIALIST UTOPIA By Suzanne Rahn (Pacific Lutheran university) E. Nesbit, if anyone, could be called the children's writer's children's writer of our century. Not to mention her formative influence on such authors as C. S. Lewis, Mary Norton, Eleanor Cameron, Madeleine L'Engle, and Noel StreatfeiId,1 whole genres of children's literature have sprung from the prototypes she created in the Edwardian age: the modern family comedy, the time travel fantasy, and the myriad stories of magic erupting into daily life.2 E. Nesbit (in private life, Edith Bland) also has a place in the history of British Socialism, for she and her husband, Hubert Bland, were two of the original founding members of the Fabian Society. Hubert actually presided as chairman over its first meeting, and E. Nesbit was on the committee that produced the first Fabian tract, "Why Are the Many Poor?"3 Although "the most attractive and vivacious woman among the Fabians"4 became a less active member as the years passed, Hubert's permanent position on the Fabian Executive and the fact that many of their friends—G. B. Shaw and H. G. Wells among them—were Socialists kept her in close touch with Socialist work and thought, and she remained a loyal and unswerving Fabian to the end of her life.5 We might well wonder whether so strong an allegiance influenced her work for children. The critics, by and large, have not had much to say about it; Marcus Crouch may be typical in his belief that "E. Nesbit has survived despite, not because of, her Fabian conscience."6 There are notable exceptions; Nigel Hand sees in E. Nesbit's work as a whole a gradual progress toward a Socialist vision of the world as a "true human community."7 For him this vision is fully realized only in Harding's Luck (1909), the story of Dickie Harding, a lower-class London street boy who travels back to the days of James I, in which he belongs to a noble family, the Ardens.8 Hand finds E. Nesbit's earlier novels only tentatively or sporadically Socialistic—and this does them less than justice. A close look at The Story of the Amulet, another time travel story published in 1906, will show a Socialist influence as strong and as pervasive as that in Harding's Luck.9 Some of its Socialist features, indeed, are obvious enough to have been seen and pointed out years ago. Stephen Prickett has noted how frequently E. Nesbit introduces social criticism into her picture of present-day London, and how 125 tellingly this London is contrasted with the far happier London of the future.10 But a look beneath the surface action and discussion shows more. On its surface The Amulet is the story of a quest through past and future of four children for the missing half of an Amulet which, if whole, can give them their heart's desire, the return of their parents from abroad--simply an exciting magical adventure with vivid glimpses of other times and places, with occasional digressive diatribes against the social conditions of the day. On a less explicit level, however, these digressions become an integral part of a theme that unifies this fantasy. At this level, The Story of the Amulet becomes a quest for a Socialist Utopia, with a solution both political and personal. Just why amulets, time travel, and Socialism came together in E. Nesbit's mind becomes clearer if we are aware of the sources she was using. Ordinarily a speedy and often careless writer, E. Nesbit took unusual pains with The Amulet. The new idea for a children's story first came from Dr, Wallis Budge, Keeper of the Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities at the British Museum, and it was he who told her about Egyptian magic, amulets, and Names of Power; the book's dedication to him remains a witness to the hours she spent with him, gathering tidbits of information as he translated aloud from Babylonian and Egyptian texts, and offering each of her chapters for his approval.11 However...


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pp. 124-144
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Will Be Archived 2021
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