Long Ago When I Was Young Essay - Critical Context

Edith Nesbit

Critical Context

In the last chapter of Long Ago When I Was Young, Nesbit recounts her earliest success as a writer. Like her character Noël Bastable, she sells some of her verses to a magazine for a guinea, thus firing her “dream of the days when I should be a great poet, like Shakespeare, or Christina Rossetti!” Nesbit’s genius, however, which she herself failed to recognize, was not as a poet but as a writer of juvenile fiction.

Up until the time that she published this account of her childhood, most of Nesbit’s work was undertaken to support her family and was hastily written and unmemorable. None of the works of children’s fiction for which she is renowned had been attempted. A year later, the serial publication of The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899) began, and her name as a writer was finally made. As Humphrey Carpenter pointed out, The Story of the Treasure Seekers “seemed entirely new in its predominantly comic treatment of children.” Apparently, the childhood reminiscences that she had recently published set the stage, both in tone and content, for the great works of children’s fiction that followed. Sometimes, she imported settings and scenes from her childhood directly into her later fiction. For example, the rambling design of Halstead Hall is reproduced in the house of The Wouldbegoods (1901), as is the scene in which the children go searching for the stream’s source. More significantly, she continued in her juvenile fiction to map that special realm known as childhood with the same sensitivity and objectivity that she had displayed in her autobiography.