Friday, 27 February 2015

Harding’s Luck by E Nesbit


published 1908


****I would challenge readers to try to work out or guess what the people in the top picture are doing, before reading the explanation immediately below ****




Harding's Luck 1





[Dickie and his new friend Mr Beale are going tramping together]

"Can you write?"

"Yes," said Dickie, "if I got a pen."

"I got a pencil—hold on a bit." He took out of his pocket a new envelope, a new sheet of paper, and a new pencil ready sharpened by machinery. It almost looked, Dickie thought, as though he had brought them out for some special purpose. Perhaps he had.

"Now," said the man, "you take an' write—make it flat agin the sole of me boot." He lay face downward on the road and turned up his boot, as though boots were the most natural writing-desks in the world. “I'm glad I wasn't born a table to be wrote on. Don't it make yer legs stiff, neither!"


Harding's Luck 2


[many adventures later in the book] Before long two most miserable children faced each other in Edred's bedroom, dressed as Red Indians so far as their heads and backs went. Then came lots of plate armor for chest and arms; then, in the case of Elfrida, petticoats and Roman sash and Japanese wickerwork shoes and father's shooting-gaiters made to look like boots by brown paper tops. And in the case of Edred, legs cased in armor that looked like cricket pads, ending in jointed foot-coverings that looked like chrysalises.

 
observations: When I recently read Nesbit’s The House of Arden, a whole bunch of Nesbit fans came into the comments (it was sooo nice!) and several of them recommended Harding’s Luck, which is a sequel to Arden. The connection isn’t obvious for a long time (and you could certainly read either book as a standalone) but eventually E&E from the first book turn up, and you can work out Deptford Dickie’s role in the first book.

For some people, it is their favourite Nesbit: I wouldn’t go that far, but it is a good rollicking tale, not at all predictable, and she makes a brave effort to make a hero of a rough, common boy. Nesbit has strong socialist principles, and that comes over in her books, but her life was spent amongst moneyed people with servants.

There’s a tremendously affecting bit near the beginning where Dickie wants to grow some flowers, but buys ‘bird seed’ at the hardware store, because he hopes that means the flowers will be bright flowers like a parrot’s colours. He takes up with Mr Beale, above – a most interesting figure, and not one you could put into a children’s book now – and there is an adventure resembling one of Oliver Twist’s.

I don’t know why the children had to dress quite so strangely in the second excerpt above, but I was very impressed by the imagination shown.

The book takes the House of Arden a lot further, and resolves various issues, but the ending left me open-mouthed. Everyone is in quite a difficult situation, all the main characters have behaved really well, trying to do the right thing, and Nesbit has carefully explained the temptations and problems (I have to be careful what I say, as I really don’t want to spoiler this for anyone coming new to it.) And then she cuts through it with a completely unexpected move on the part of Dickie, one that I have been thinking about off and on since I read it.

The illustrations are from a 1910 edition of the book. You can find the text free online.












18 comments:

  1. Moira - I must admit, I was completely wrong about what was going on in the picture! It's so very interesting how stories like these Nesbit stories catch on and become part of a lot of people's reading lives. And sometimes, a romp of a story is just what the doctor ordered. Glad you enjoyed this.

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    1. Sometimes a good children's book is just what we need...

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    1. I think you do! Any Nesbit fan will find it, at the very least, very interesting.

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    2. I think I do too! I didn't realise there was another House of Arden book, so thank you, Moira!

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    3. I had never heard of it before reading the comments on my House of Arden post - I'm glad I'm not the only one.

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  3. First thought...... no can't be that he's still got his trousers on......careful now - practicising for the school sports day wheelbarrow race? Ok......probably not a book for me.

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    1. Thanks for showing such restraint Col! In return you can be let off from reading it.

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  4. Must read it again! Don't remember the end at all! I do remember that the children dress up in Ye Olde clothes to make the time-travelling magic work. Something goes wrong and all their clothes are bleached - and the girl ends up wearing a sash striped in different shades of white... (or is that in Mrs Molesworth?).

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    1. Well-remembered, you're absolutely right: 'Even the Roman sash, instead of having stripes blue and red and green and black and yellow, was of five different shades of white.' Definitely an odd book, and not one I read when I was young. But I wish I had....

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  5. I did red several of these as a child, and had them read to me too (and I have warm memories of a tape of Dinah Sheridan reading THE RAILWAY CHILDREN too) but nearly 40 years later, not much remains - glad to hear they still hold up!

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    1. Definitely still a good read. There's nothing like memories of being read to, is there....

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  6. I did guess exactly what was going on. I must know kids well or I got lucky, because I am usually very bad at picking up clues.

    I don't think I will read these books but I enjoy reading about them here. And who knows, I may change my mind.

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    1. Well done Tracy, I'm impressed, you deserve some kind of prize!

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  7. I will get to this sooner or later. Sounds fascinating!

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    1. Worth a look - you can pick it up free online, and it doesn't take too long to read.

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  8. I'd never heard of this, and will now look out for a copy. The illustrations shout 'E Nesbit' and conjure up so many childhood afternoons for me. Incidentally, I thought the boy was making a cast of the boot sole, so he could match it to a footprint in order to solve a crime. Tremendously wrong!

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    1. It should be a creative writing assignment - guess what these people are doing and write a story about it. Or else it's a Rorshach test...
      I hadn't heard of it till I wrote here about House of Arden - yet another wonderful result of blogging...

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