Noel Streatfeild Margery Fisher - Essay

Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

By far the most successful theatre stories for children are those which, with children as their subjects, can show rivalries and ambitions unaffected, as yet, by the awkward, sordid, bewildering adult world. Here Noel Streatfeild is outstanding. Her young actors, skaters and ballet pupils are infatuated by the theatre. They are ambitious, self-centred, as deeply obsessed by technique as any young aspirant for a jumping rosette. She even succeeds, sometimes, in conveying that intangible but unmistakable thing, star quality—in Posy, for instance, youngest of the three girls in Ballet Shoes, who, when the brilliant teacher falls ill, inquires at once what is to happen to her own career; or in Rachel in Wintle's Wonders, whose talents are discovered almost by accident, but whom you recognize at once as a dedicated dancer. (pp. 187-88)

[Noel Streatfeild] has an insatiable curiosity about people, and especially about theatrical children, with their peculiar, hardworking, rigidly organized life; and she is curious, too, about the effects of publicity and performance on young people. Her books, for all the detail and skill of their backgrounds, are primarily studies in character. Mrs. Wintle's dancing-school is the battlefield for her daughter Dulcie, a conceited little girl who wants the best parts in all the shows, and the two children, Rachel and Hilary, who are taken into the family and threaten to steal some of Dulcie's thunder. The same theme, of the poor and modest child coming to the fore, is brilliantly used in White Boots…. In all Noel Streatfeild's books we have portraits of the professional child, set off by the occasional brave souls who resist the dazzle of the footlights, like Petrova in Ballet Shoes, whose heart is in motor-engineering, or Hilary, in Wintle's Wonders, whose attitude is entirely refreshing, when she is offered a star part…. The intrusion of … a robust point of view into the somewhat rarefied air of the theatre saves these stories, full of technical detail as they are, from becoming too specialized for the general reader. Noel Streatfeild has her feet firmly on the ground, and children who reread her books when they are older will bless her for this. (pp. 188-89)

Margery Fisher, "Fossils and Formulas," in her Intent Upon Reading: A Critical Appraisal of Modern Fiction for Children (copyright © 1961 by Margery Fisher), Hodder & Stoughton Children's Books (formerly Brockhampton Press), 1961 (and reprinted by Franklin Watts, Inc., 1962), pp. 170-96.∗