Honor Arundel 1919–1973
British novelist for children and young adults, critic, playwright, poet, editor, and journalist.
Arundel's novels for young people have earned her a reputation as an author sensitive to the conflict between responsibility to oneself and responsibility to others that many adolescent girls find difficult to resolve. She began writing novels for teenagers when her daughter complained about the lack of stories about "ordinary children … with real problems" with whom they could identify. Although some of the situations Arundel's heroines must cope with, such as the sudden death of both parents in The High House or the raising of a child outside of marriage in The Longest Weekend, may not be common to many readers, her skill in creating believable personalities and realistic settings gives her stories plausibility and helps them avoid the blandness typical of many books in the problem-story genre. Many critics and readers have appreciated Arundel's honesty in describing predicaments that have no easy resolution in life, but she has been criticized for portraying young women who are so closely tied to their families that they lack realistic aspirations outside of family life as well as the confidence necessary to achieve them.
The strong sense of place in Arundel's books, most of which are set in Edinburgh or in the south country of Scotland, testifies to her knowledge and love of the two places she called home.
Her last book, The Blanket Word, which tells of a teenaged daughter's response to her mother's fatal illness, was written while she herself was dying of cancer. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-22; obituary, Vols. 41-44, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2, and Something about the Author, Vol. 4.)
In addition to writing a very satisfying story, [Honor Arundel] shows quite outstanding skill in character drawing [in Green Street]. The children are very real, and their reactions to situations absolutely genuine. It is refreshing to find that the adults, so often conventional and even shadowy figures in the background in books of this kind, are just as skilfully portrayed. There is no fantasy or contrivance, or any attempt to avoid the problems and disappointments which inevitably temper the successes. It is a most sincere and heart-warming book…. (p. 222)
Robert Bell, "Eleven to Fifteen: 'Green Street'," in The School Librarian and School Library Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, March, 1966, pp. 221-22.
In Green Street Honor Arundel brings to life a whole street in Edinburgh and the people in it…. There is a most heartening combination of children from different social levels, united in their desire to save Green Street and bring it back to its original character. Their efforts are finally successful, and the houses are restored, but there is a most realistic drawback to this when the rents go up and some of the people in the street are bitterly resentful of the children's meddling. The different families are well drawn, and the adults are just as real as the children. A good story, about the things that are important nowadays to children and adults alike.
"Stay at Homes," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1966; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3351, May 19, 1966, p. 433.
[In The High House], Emma tells her own story frankly and objectively, and should win readers' sympathy and interest as she shows how two divergent but attractive personalities work out their problems with a little give on each side and finally come together in love and understanding. A well-written story that is perceptive and honest.
Polly Goodwin, "Children's Book World: 'The High House'," in Book World—Chicago Tribune (© 1968 Postrib Corp.; reprinted by permission of Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post), September 1, 1968, p. 12.
[Honor Arundel] handles the problem of a young couple wanting to marry on practically no money with great finesse and understanding [in The Two Sisters]. She shows that physical attraction plays a large part in their emotions but this is not enough. The couple need to have emotional maturity to cope with the problems which marriage brings. This is a book which teenage girls will enjoy reading because it tells a story which deals with the kind of problems they are likely to have, and the kind of life they live yet at the same time it is good literature and should encourage them to read further.
"For the Intermediate Library: 'The Two Sisters'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 31, No. 5, October, 1968, p. 316.
Previously introduced in "The High House" fourteen-year-old Emma [of "Emma's Island"] goes with her aunt Patsy and Patsy's husband to live on a Scottish island. They all take to the life, and Emma feels she belongs both in her aunt's house and in the island community. When her aunt becomes pregnant, Emma first reacts by rejecting the whole fact, then when the baby arrives devotes herself slavishly to her. Her wish to live through other people rather than developing her own life is sympathetically handled, and her growing involvement with a student who visits the island brings her to realize the need to carry on with her schooling even though it means leaving the island. A sensitive study of an adolescent girl growing up after the death of both parents.
S. L. Blanford, "Fiction: 'Emma's Island'," in Children's Book News (copyright © 1969 by Children's Book Centre Ltd.), Vol. 4, No. 1, January-February, 1969, p. 23.
[The theme of The Two Sisters] is young adult and adolescent disillusionment with parents, which ought to be enough to attract a ready audience at this age level. Unfortunately, some exceptionally well-drawn characters inhabit a distant, special setting mired in an over-used and predictable plot…. All of the characters have some growing up to do, but by the end of the story, they assume incredible, superhuman proportions….
Linda Crowe, "Grades 3-6: 'The Two Sisters'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the April, 1969 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1969), Vol. 15, No. 8, April, 1969, p. 109.
Although attention moves, with each chapter [of The Two Sisters], from one of the Cafferty sisters to another, the whole is remarkably smooth and the author achieves (perhaps in part by this device) both a feeling of the family as a unit and a sense that Maura and Caroline are distinct and separate people, each the center of her own world…. The changes that take place are realistic: Maura, with marriage and maturity, understands her parents better and Caroline, a pre-adolescent, begins to feel the independence and perception that mark the beginning of maturity. A sensible and sensitive story of an Edinburgh family.
Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young People: 'The Two Sisters'," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1969 by the University of Chicago; all rights reserved), Vol. 22, No. 11, July-August, 1969, p. 169.
Honor Arundel is well known for her understanding of the modern teenager's problems. [The Longest Weekend] is her most ambitious so far for it handles frankly the predicament of a girl of only seventeen who has an illegitimate baby by someone she loves. Her parents accept the situation and try to cope with it for her, so much so that the young mother has little responsibility for the child. (p. 325)
When the book begins the child is three years old and yet her father has never seen her and Eileen has little idea of how to manage her young daughter. The 'long weekend' of the title, alone with Gay, is the young mother's bid for independence and a normal relationship with her child. Incidentally the account of the struggle...
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There have been several attempts to tackle the problem of the unmarried mother but all have paled in comparison with such books as The L-Shaped Room and The Millstone. At last Honor Arundel has given us a strong story stripped of all sentimentality and 'do-gooders' [with The Longest Weekend]. In fact, in her portrayal of the girl's parents, liberal-minded schoolteachers who bravely accept the baby into their family, she is really cruelly cutting them down to size….
[There] is no 'angelic choir' ending, but a perfectly understandable development of plot. Every character in the book is 'real' and this, plus the author's clarity and simplicity of style is the key to its success....
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Honor Arundel's neat patterns of family life are coolly perceptive and make their point by indicating emotion rather than rousing it. She makes no pretence of joining the young. She is looking at them, with a good deal of understanding, and inviting them to take a dispassionate look at themselves. Her gift for fixing character through class idiom and class behaviour is seen at its best in [The girl in the opposite bed], in which Jane from a protected middle-class home and Jeannie from the other side of the sticks meet willy-nilly in a hospital ward…. Neither girl is 'changed' by the week or two they spend in opposite beds. Honor Arundel is too wise to suggest anything so unlikely. She allows Jane the amount...
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While the idea of [The Girl in the Opposite Bed] is a worthy one, the plot is too slight to provoke much interest. Jane's awareness of her faults and consequent improvement to the point of liking the girl in the opposite bed develops so rapidly that it is not altogether credible. Though told in the first person, the narrator is obviously an adult interpreting a child's viewpoint and putting adult ideas into her head so that young readers may well be put off. The moral is pointed rather obviously to the detriment of characterisation. (pp. 184-85)
Mrs. J. Aldridge, "Fiction: 'The Girl in the Opposite Bed'," in Children's Book News (copyright © 1970 by Children's...
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Honor Arundel has an open, simple way of outlining human relationships but she does outline; she leaves space for the reader's imagination to work. In Emma's island the heroine was thrown into delightful confusion by the attentions of Alastair, whom she met on a holiday dig. Alastair only half knew that his kiss was a casual one: Emma was sure it was a declaration. In the sequel [Emma in love] we follow the course of her disillusionment…. There is humour in this study of moods and tenses, a degree of tenderness and a great deal of shrewd knowledge of what the young do say, what they could say if they knew how and what they really want to say. (p. 1668)
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[The Longest Weekend], British in setting and description, lacks the excitement which might have redeemed it for American readers…. [The plot] moves along rather quietly. The obscure point of it all seems to be that the quarrels are often mere misunderstandings, and there certainly can be no objection to that premise. Also, the more annoying, less satifying aspects of motherhood are candidly pointed up here. However, it's unlikely that this novel would engender interest among younger teenagers, and the juvenile style would put off any older teens.
Julia G. Russell, "Junior High Up: 'The Longest Weekend'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library...
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Janet's analytical honesty enables the reader [of The Terrible Temptation] to see her fully through the first person narration, at times to dislike or to pity her, share her happiness and hope that she will appreciate the value of Thomas, in whom affection and concern for people are uppermost. Without moralising, Honor Arundel presents dramatically the cost of fear and selfishness alongside the responsibilities but greater happiness of generosity of spirit.
The university background is lightly sketched only, as indeed are most of the characters; appropriately since Janet's main concern is with herself. They convince nevertheless, and offer scope for the reader's imagination.
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Junior high school students often dream of the freedom and accompanying excitement of belonging on a university campus. The Terrible Temptation is meant for these young readers….
Honor Arundel has written a book about a college-age girl with the mental and social capacities of a young adolescent. By adult reading standards, The Terrible Temptation is merely terrible. Janet Meredith flits from an important lecture to a pub date to her boyfriend's room to her own room at Aunt Aggie's to the ostentatious home of a college girl friend with breathless facileness. Janet's egocentric world is all lights and shadows. And Janet spends as little time as possible in the shadows.
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Honor Arundel's A Family Failing … seems to me … admirably justified in that young readers would not at the moment be able to find the same witty, perceptive discussion of some immediate, adolescent issues from other sources…. Miss Arundel … sails straight into an up-to-date treatment of communes, disenchantment with universities, disillusion over quarrelling parents, aggravated by the father's redundancy, with a sympathy and intelligence that is very appealing. A Family Failing, above all, is not that most dreary thing, a problem book. Rather it is about real people who have problems, but an independent existence of their own too. (p. 69)
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Being sixteen and in love with a boy of nineteen who likes you but does not love you is a peculiar kind of living hell. Honor Arundel explores this adolescent inferno with marvelous insight in her engaging new book, Emma in Love. For Emma, being in love is a thoroughly unpleasant experience. (p. 1384)
Of course the theme is a well-worn one. But in the capable hands of Mrs. Arundel, Emma's anxieties become achingly real. Adolescent girls will sympathize with Emma, yet realize the important lesson about life this experience is teaching Emma: one must actively participate in life if living is to be joyous. Emma must experience an adolescent love affair in order to learn how to love seriously…....
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A family failing is social comedy, sophisticated and wise and touched with humour, stating its points with a certain detachment that makes them all the clearer. Although a girl of eighteen is in the centre of the story, [Honor Arundel] gives due prominence to the other characters. Joanna's parents are thrown into confusion by a sudden change of alignment. While Jonathan Douglas loses his job on a newspaper because he doesn't choose to adapt to its new popular style, his wife finds an outlet for her quick wits in a profitable television quiz game. The Women's Lib. situation is never over-stated but it is seen as clearly from the parents' point of view as from the standpoint of Joanna, who tells the story as a...
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[Certain of Honor Arundel's] characters are types, her style taken out of context can seem self-conscious. However, this is to ignore her basic intentions. I feel that she is directly in the Louisa Alcott tradition, writing stories that the teenager girl might wish to have written for herself…. Of course, Honor Arundel is not a romantic writer, as Louisa Alcott certainly was…. Miss Arundel pauses to explore the undergrowth. She always knows why her characters behave in the way they do. Her great strength is that she does not need to parade this knowledge, but it is there, and the story rests firmly on these careful if unwritten foundations. She writes often in the style that an articulate teenage girl would wish...
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Honor Arundel presented Jan Meredith in The Terrible Temptation as an intelligent, entirely selfish but honest, university student who dreaded involvement and feared love, the blanket word which covers so many emotions. In [The Blanket Word], still at university, Jan is summoned home to join the rest of her family during her mother's terminal illness. (p. 110)
The plot is slight but the book makes absorbing reading. The first person narrative is taut and vigorous, the conversations ring true, and the presentation of emotions together with Jan's analyses of her feelings are acute. There is a welcome thread of humour too, in dialogue and in the characters of Jan herself and her steadiest...
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The characters [in The Blanket Word] are drawn with honesty and perception and Jan's selfishness is painfully easy to identify with. There is no sentimentality in the writing and no easy solutions are presented. This is a book well worth buying….
Vivienne Furlong, "Eleven to Fifteen: 'The Blanket Word'," in The School Librarian, Vol. 21, No. 3, September, 1973, p. 259.
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When Honor Arundel died earlier this year we lost an author who has contributed much for the older girl to read and enjoy. Her books will not win any of the great literary prizes of the children's book world, but they do deserve mention for their humanity and popularity. The ones for older girls are sensitive; in them ordinary girls can associate with the heroines in the books, for they are no artificial paper-board characters but full of feeling and the quixotic nature of the average teenager.
The High House was the first and I thought one of the best of the novels…. The second two books [in the Emma series] do not seem to have the deep sensitivity of the first and particularly in Emma's...
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Honor Arundel, who has written many 'situation stories' for and about adolescent girls, found a strong and unusual theme in A Family Failing (1972). The subject is the dissolution of a previously happy family, partly through outward circumstances, partly as a natural result of time and change…. It is a theme of universal relevance, since every family, considered as a unit of parents and dependent children, must eventually break up. Once somebody has thought of it, it seems obvious (which is usually the mark of a good idea). The ending is not a happy one, but is not unhappy either. A generation has grown up. Life moves on. (p. 299)
John Rowe Townsend, "How Young Is an...
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In A Family Failing, Arundel has portrayed through amazingly real-life conversations the changing relationships, over a period of time, of husband and wife, mother and daughter, father and daughter, mother and son, father and son, sister and brother. Each person is both an individual and a family member with his own peculiar ties to every other member. The basic concept that one's feeling about others and one's behavior toward them is determined by how one feels about oneself is beautifully demonstrated in the father's rising resentment of his son as his own self-esteem falls. The importance of one's sense of identity as based in one's profession is emphasized by the crumbling of the stable, happy husband-wife...
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