Noel Streatfeild Isabel Quigly - Essay

Isabel Quigly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In 1936 came Ballet Shoes,] a children's book still loved nearly two generations later, in which [Streatfeild's] gift for immediacy and solidity was used to the full…. There was an exactly reproduced copy in it of the form needed by a twelve-year-old going on the stage, filled in for the eldest of its three heroines. There was talk about money and the exact cost of clothes for auditions, about the impossibility of paying school fees …, rooms were let to make ends meet, Nanny took a cut in wages. It was admitted that looks were a thing that counted, even at twelve. This was stark realism in the children's book world of those days, steeped in its [Arthur] Ransome, always on holiday and horseback….

[Streatfeild] simply wrote, without theories, because she had children's stories to tell, a publisher who guessed this and urged her to write them, and a child audience starved for the 'real' world and loving the exoticism of 'professional' middleclass children whose interests were at last made more adult and more responsible than those of the current toughies (those sheltered, boyish little girls!) with their contrived adventures. Tennis Shoes, the next book, was about young professionals in sport, dedicated prodigies with the tenacity to make champions. It was miles from the middleclass amateurism of those days, it took children out of the nursery into a harsher world of competition and high standards, removing some at least of the guards and screens and shutters and Nannies, and suggesting a wider field of adventure than tree-climbing, sailing and midnight feasts. If light now pours blindingly into the once discreet world of children's books, some of the credit for letting it in must go to [Noel Streatfeild]…. (p. 555)

Isabel Quigly, "Beyond the Vicarage," in The Spectator (© 1971 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 227, No. 7477, October 16, 1971, pp. 554-55.