Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

The twelve chapters that compose Long Ago When I Was Young were first published serially in The Girl’s Own Paper magazine beginning in October, 1896. Because E. Nesbit intended them to be read as separate installments, each chapter is loosely organized around some theme and can therefore be enjoyed independently from the other eleven. Because these vignettes are arranged according to theme and not time, the chronology of Nesbit’s early years does not develop in a straightforward manner. Nevertheless, an overall pattern emerges.

That pattern becomes apparent in the very first chapter, “Stuart Plaid.” Sent to her first school, the extremely sensitive young Edith, known as Daisy by her family, suffered homesickness and distress—in this instance at the hands of a spiteful school-girl dressed in Stuart plaid. The pain of these first school experiences spent in the heat of Brighton, England, is thrown into vivid contrast with an idyllic summer vacation spent roaming the shady beech woods of Buckinghamshire with her brothers, Alfred and Harry. The juxtaposition of bitterly unhappy periods with carefree, happy ones becomes the underlying structural focus of these reminiscences.

Her father’s death when she was three and her elder sister’s poor health necessitated a nomadic existence for Nesbit and her family. Perhaps mistakenly, Mrs. Nesbit hoped to create stability for her youngest child by placing her in boarding...

(The entire section is 481 words.)