It's a big anniversary today - the 150th of the birth of the great E. Nesbit. Hers was a rackety life, to say the least of it. That husband of hers was not only financially feckless but a compulsive womaniser, which led to all manner of complications, and the death of their son Fabian was hideous beyond belief - a botched appendectomy on the kitchen table (home operations were not unusual in those days). With ferocious determination, Nesbit got on with her writing in the midst of domestic chaos, shutting herself away with a limitless supply of cigarattes and gin-and-water - and it was her writing that kept the whole shambolic menagerie afloat.
Much of what she wrote is now forgotten - but those children's books will surely live for ever. They were an astonishing achievement, wresting children's literature from the grip of fantasy and whimsy, and presenting an authentic, clear-sighted child's-eye view (best expressed in the persona of the incomparable Oswald Bastable, fictional avatar of the dead son Fabian). The children's books are vivid, humorous, spare, tough, wholly unsentimental, firmly rooted in Edwardian domestic reality, whatever fantastical things might occur (when she does take off into pure fantasy, often with a utopian socialist tinge, the writing is less alive). As well as being a socialist, she was also - amazingly - a devout Baconian, convinced that the Baron Verulam wrote the works of 'Shakespeare'. Nesbit wasted much ink and much intellectual energy on this - but of course we can forgive her. We can forgive her anything for those Bastable books.
After all the mess and upheaval and heartbreak of her earlier life, she settled into quiet domestic contentment in the gloriously unlikely company of 'the Captain' and was still with him when she died. The first I knew of this phase of her life was when I came across her grave marker in that New Romney churchyard years ago (and no that's not me in the picture). At least her life ended in peace.
She also left behind a wonderful memoir of her own childhood, Long Ago When I Was Young, which is well worth seeking out (especially in the edition illustrated by Edward Ardizzone).