Noel Streatfeild Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Noel Streatfeild 1897–

British author of fiction and nonfiction for young adults, younger children, and adults.

Streatfeild is a pioneer of the modern children's novel. She was one of the first authors for young adults to speak to her audience directly and without affectation. Her early fiction, for which she is best known, lacks the patronizing tone and unrealistic view of life typical of much of the fiction published for young people in the 1930s and 1940s. Her work is straight-forward, informative, and often humorous.

Experts believe that the beginnings of the "career" novel can be traced to Streatfeild's first book for young adults, Ballet Shoes (1936). Thoroughly researched, this book realistically describes the physical and emotional challenges met by the young adult who hopes to dance professionally. Streatfeild used the same format and writing techniques for her Circus Shoes, which won Britain's Carnegie Medal in 1938. These books set the standard for all of her career stories. Her protagonists are generally ambitious, talented, and dedicated, and her female characters are allowed many of the same choices available to her male characters.

Streatfeild's writing is often noted for its warmth, perhaps because her childhood memories are the source for her work. She was a rebellious child whose family did not share her interest in the arts. In her fiction, Streatfeild often portrays individualistic young adults trying to assert themselves within their families. These families are generally of the British middle class—very proper and highly structured. But while Streatfeild is clearly an advocate of the child and the child's right to individualism, she is just as clearly a defender of the sanctity of the family unit. Love, loyalty, and family security are her major concerns.

The type of family conflict that Streatfeild presents in her fiction is very different from that found in the fiction of the last two decades. Her work reflects the mores of her generation and upbringing; she resolves family conflicts in such a way that the importance of the group is realized and reinforced, its unity preserved, and the integrity of its individuals maintained. Streatfeild has not addressed subjects like divorce, drugs, and sex, and her stories always end happily. This places her in a markedly different school than currently prominent writers for young adults, and some critics believe that her work is dated. But others repeatedly praise her willingness to uphold standards no longer emphasized in literature for young adults. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 81-84, and Something About the Author, Vol. 20.)