(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Even before publication of Mistress Masham’s Repose, T. H. White had achieved a significant reputation as an accomplished writer of humorous historical fantasies, among them the notable The Sword in the Stone (1938, the first book of The Once and Future King, 1958), which remains his most celebrated work. Mistress Masham’s Repose and The Sword in the Stone have several features in common. Each is a fantasy that is set in England and has a sympathetic young hero who is guided through his or her difficulties by a wise teacher (Merlin or the professor). White’s interests as a naturalist contributed to his detailed descriptions of the Lilliputians’ world at Malplaquet, and his experiences as an educator provided insights into the private world of a child’s imagination. Both The Sword in the Stone and Mistress Masham’s Repose were chosen as Book-of-the-Month Club selections in the United States. Unlike the earlier Arthurian fantasy, however, which is safely set in a distant era, Mistress Masham’s Repose has a modern setting that creates a number of literary challenges. White’s inclusion of contemporary names toward the end of the story—such as 1940’s politicians Clement Atlee and Winston Churchill—not only dates the work but also introduces a jarring note of reality that counterbalances the reader’s growing acceptance of Lilliputians living in twentieth century Great Britain....

(The entire section is 428 words.)