Ruth M(abel) Arthur Essay - Critical Essays

Arthur, Ruth M(abel)


Ruth M(abel) Arthur 1905–

British novelist, poet, and short story writer. Arthur, who blends a romantic approach with contemporary topics and problems, is a leading writer of Gothic novels for young adults aimed at a predominately female audience. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, she began writing as a child and had her first short stories published when she was eighteen. Also during this period Arthur told stories for children on radio broadcasts. She was a kindergarten teacher before her marriage and wrote primarily for younger children until her own children became teenagers, when she started writing for the older reader. Most of her young adult novels follow a similar structural pattern: her protagonist, who is usually a teenage girl, comes to a greater sense of self-awareness and understanding through her handling of the difficulties thrust upon her. These difficulties usually revolve around relationships, especially family relationships. Setting plays an important role in Arthur's fiction. She generally chooses places she has lived as backgrounds but imbues them with mysteriousness through the introduction of supernatural events, travels in time, and local superstitions. Although Arthur on occasion has been criticized for formulaic plotting and an overwrought prose style, her novels are recognized as a creditable contribution to the popular genre of Gothic romance. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 7.)

[Dragon Summer] rings true to life—its moral tone is good and its simplicity and acceptance of life will endear it to many young girls. The fantasy is normalised and kept in proportion yet there are points here to stretch a girl's imagination and help her to overcome some of the common obstacles of life. (p. 124)

The Junior Bookshelf, July, 1962.

Ethel L. Heins

Told in the first person as a sensitive reminiscence, [My Daughter, Nicola] is the story of a girl in a mountain village of Switzerland early in the twentieth century…. Local legend, skillfully woven into an original plot, adds to the vivid sense of place in a story that is rich in wisdom and memorable characterizations. (p. 501)

Ethel L. Heins, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1965 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), October, 1965.

The candle lights up a flickering sense of evil [in A Candle in Her Room], an indefinable but distinct presence. As in Dragon Summer (1963) the author has managed to convey a sense of black magic although other elements of the story are not achieved with the same finesse…. The most compelling moments occur when the characters become aware of the malignant spread of evil. Judith is rarely more than objectified as an evil force and Melissa is disappointingly bland. Often the minor characters are lost in the story but many girls will be pleased with the gothic change of pace and will find it hard to shrug off the mood. (p. 111)

Virginia Kirkus' Service (copyright © 1966 Virginia Kirkus' Service, Inc.), February 1, 1966.

Ruth Hill Viguers

[A Candle in Her Room, an absorbing story], is laid in Wales in a beautiful old house by the sea where the lives of three generations of girls are changed by a strange antique doll, Dido…. That Dido can be responsible for what seems to be an evil spell on the house is not wholly convincing, but the quality of mystery pervading the story is real enough to create strong suspense. Dilys' mother, Judith, is like a beautiful, wicked character from a Daphne du Maurier novel, but the story has symbolism and more dimensions than the usual suspense tale; and though the mystery of Dido is never solved, her eventual destruction brings a sweep of fresh air through the haunted rooms. (pp. 195-96)

Ruth Hill Viguers, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1966, by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), April, 1966.

Jean Fritz

The old wooden doll found by the three Mansell sisters living in turn-of-the-century England was obviously something that attracted evil [in "A Candle in her Room"]…. [Three] generations is a long time to cover in 200-odd pages. The reader just warms up to one heroine when, whoosh, he has to be whisked off to the next generation and a new heroine. Then whoosh again. This isn't magic, either; it't only a rather charming author in too much of a hurry. (p. 24)

Jean Fritz, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1966 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 7, 1966.

Is A Candle in her Room a book about witchcraft or about the enduring power of love? A bit of both, perhaps, as well as a touching story of family conflict and affection. The raw material of this book belongs almost to women's magazine fiction, but the author has lifted her story on to an altogether higher plane….

[The subtlety with which Ruth Arthur unfolds her remarkable story] takes hold of the reader with something of the uncanny power which Dido exercised over her victims; one does not readily put it out of mind. In a very quiet way, and with no stylistic tricks, Miss Arthur adapts her theme to its three narrators, but gives the whole a unity of mood. This is fundamentally a very sad story, but it is relieved by much tenderness and understanding. Girls suffering the bewildering growing pains of adolescence, for whom so few good books exist, may find here some of the answers to their problems and a strength with which they can identify themselves.

A Candle in her Room is a book which is much bigger than its parts…. (p. 1070)

The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1966; reproducêd from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), November 24, 1966.

Lavinia Russ

If we dare to hope that in the present torrent of curriculum-oriented, multi-cultured, molto-boring books, we can find the golden books that John Rowe Townsend promises will make today "the second golden age," surely Ruth Arthur's name will be on one of them. As anyone knows who remembers her "Candle in Her Room," she is a seasoned traveler in both the real and the dream world. She remembers that when you are young, you can cross their borders with imagination as your passport. In ["Requiem for a Princess"] …, there is the same haunting quality that made [Daphne du Maurier's] "Rebecca" a memorable novel. (p. 61)

Lavinia Russ, in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the March 20, 1967, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1967 by Xerox Corporation), March 20, 1967.

Virginia Haviland

Willow Forrester, who hopes someday to become a concert pianist …, suffers a "nervous breakdown" when she learns she has been adopted; and she has to be absent from boarding school for a term. In the quiet atmosphere and beauty of a Cornish guesthouse by the sea, Willow shakes off her depression…. [Requiem for a Princess] is remarkable not only for its vivid expression but also for its unusual structure—the paralleling of Willow's situation with that of another orphan through Willow's dreams of a sixteenth-century girl…. (p. 211)

Virginia Haviland, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1967, by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), April, 1967.

Requiem for a Princess is a much less subtle performance than [Ruth Arthur's] earlier book of youth and hauntings [A Candle in Her Room]…. [Willow, the narrator,] is a schoolgirl with unusual gifts as a pianist. Though happy enough with her parents, she is appalled to learn, from a tactless friend, that she is their adopted daughter…. Ill and dispirited, she goes with her mother to Cornwall, where they stay at a private hotel, once an Elizabethan manor, home of the Tresilian family….

[Something] does catch Willow's interest—a portrait of a young girl in Elizabethan clothes "with huge dark eyes and elaborate hair style" [who turns out to be an ancestor of the family, also...

(The entire section is 592 words.)

Margery Fisher

The characters in The whistling boy are absorbed in the past for one reason or another, often to the exclusion of the present. In an East Anglian setting, we follow the parallel journeys of a boy and a girl—his into a past which has confused him, hers towards a better understanding of her young stepmother. The idea of possession of one person's mind by the projection of another—doll, person, idea—has persisted through many of Ruth Arthur's books and each time she deepens the feeling of mystery by her close attention to the temperament and the perplexities of young people in the present. In this story, also, her skill in bringing a particular landscape before our eyes and making it important in the story...

(The entire section is 533 words.)

Elinor S. Cullen

[Ruth Arthur] is adept at giving vitality to characters and incidents of the past. Unfortunately, there is a surfeit of plot and people in [The Saracen Lamp], and no one character becomes absorbing. The multi-character/century technique has been used before by this author and more successfully; in A Candle in Her Room …, the evil influence of the doll held the story together and maintained reader attention much more effectively than the amorphous device of the Saracen Lamp does here. (p. 136)

Elinor S. Cullen, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the October, 1970 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox...

(The entire section is 108 words.)

Nina Danischewsky

Ruth Arthur's books have a soothing air of unreality about them; they deal with familiar, entirely human emotions and behaviour, but always from a safe distance…. [In] The Little Dark Thorn the heroine's problems have already been resolved before the reader hears of them, for Merrie tells her own story, from the tranquil vantage point of someone who has begun to rationalise her feelings and to see her past behaviour in perspective…. There are homely details of everyday life that recreate different backgrounds of very distinctive identities, the story Merrie tells is an interesting one. Like all Ruth Arthur's books its appeal is specifically feminine. It is a well-written, quiet, 'comfortable' book over...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Margery Fisher

It is the really personal note that I miss in The little dark thorn. Merrie is taken from her Malayan mother when she is six and is brought up by a great-aunt; some years later she has to adjust again, to her father's young Norwegian wife, and to bear some of the responsibility for the tragic death of her young stepsister. The story covers the whole childhood and much of the adolescence of the heroine, who tells her own story. Her narrative is sober and monotonous and does not really give an individual impression; Merrie's feelings are not realised strongly enough to sustain so long a life-span or such a succession of difficult adjustments. (p. 1864)

Margery Fisher, in...

(The entire section is 215 words.)

Judith Aldridge

Ruth Arthur is reputed to have written well in previous books of teenage emotions, intrigue and the supernatural. [The Autumn People] fails to convince in any of these areas….

Throughout the story emotional attachments are portrayed at the level of a girls' magazine, characters are static and Rodger's occult powers in particular very stagey. The writer fails to convey any sense of period or to make the autumn people credible. After a quite promising opening the book tails away sadly. (p. 80)

Judith Aldridge, in Children's Book Review (© 1973 Five Owls Press Ltd.; all rights reserved), June, 1973.


(The entire section is 173 words.)

Jean F. Mercier

Even for young readers, [After Candlemas] will lack interest. Though suspense and romance are hinted at and the essentials of entertainment are here, they are never developed past simplicity. (p. 56)

Jean F. Mercier, in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the March 25, 1974, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1974 by Xerox Corporation), March 25, 1974.

Harriet [the main character in After Candlemas] holds the story firmly together; her personality emerges mainly from her contacts with Gramma Cobbley, the old lady who eases her...

(The entire section is 154 words.)

Gabrielle Maunder

[After Candlemas is a] book whose style and language entirely diminish the basic intent of the plot which concerns the black arts, an essence of re-incarnation and a flavour of the Old Religion in bleakest Dorset. Such ominous themes should command a style which reinforces the atmospheric tension so the chatty, negative approach of the girl narrator seems quite inadequate. There is a distinct flavour of the schoolgirl's annual and one constantly finds the characters not saying things but 'laughing' or 'grumbling' them, a common characteristic of thirdformers in the dorm. The book is a suitable soporific for the undemanding. (p. 61)

Gabrielle Maunder, in...

(The entire section is 248 words.)

Cecilia Gordon

[Ruth M. Arthur writes with] insight; but On the Wasteland reads like two separate stories uneasily linked…. Betony's "real" life is a convincing narrative of her growing understanding and developing relationships. The frequent shifts into her fantasy life are doubtless meant to illuminate this main theme, but instead they so interrupt its flow that their cumulative effect is to disrupt the story. (p. 1455)

Cecilia Gordon, in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1975; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), December 5, 1975.

(The entire section is 83 words.)

Gordon Parsons

There is a delicate lyricism about [On the Wasteland]. Betony's first-person narrative is one of moving self-discovery, as she seeks survival in her orphaned, children's home existence, by clinging desperately to a sense of place….

Ruth Arthur's novel modulates between the fantasy and the reality of the maturing girl's experience with consummate ease. We know, for all its dream-like seductiveness, the former can offer only temporary solace, while involvement in the lives of those, themselves in need of affection and understanding, who surround Betony in real life points the way through.

[It is a] superb piece of low-keyed but effectively engaging writing. (p. 140)


(The entire section is 351 words.)

Joyce Banks

To say that [An Old Magic] is a typical Ruth Arthur story, is to predicate wholesome characters of the present day who have contact with a world outside of present time and space. Here, the mysterious element is provided by gypsies on a mountain overlooking a Welsh farmhouse and their influence on the farm family through four generations. The strangeness of being a twin is another theme explored. Just occasionally the characters seem to be symbols rather than real people and one or two incidents seem slightly contrived, but such is the author's gift of storytelling that it is impossible not to read on. (p. 256)

Joyce Banks, in The School Librarian, September,...

(The entire section is 112 words.)

Marcus Crouch

Ruth Arthur, in … An Old Magic, returns to one of her persistent themes, the genius of place. Places—mountains, pools, houses, rocks—are not passive recipients of experience; they absorb, store up and give out the experiences gained in and around them. (p. 239)

Miss Arthur is not in the strict sense a regional writer. She ranges wide for her settings between Italy and the Scottish Isles—and even, indirectly, Malaya—and she writes always from personal knowledge. She seems to return most fondly to West Wales …, East Anglia and Cumberland…. Only one has a completely foreign setting and that the least characteristic of all her work—My Daughter Nicola. Her treatment of...

(The entire section is 1533 words.)