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The Story of the Treasure Seekers

17 December 2017

The Story of the Treasure Seekers: Being the Adventures of the Bastable Children in Search of a FortuneThe Story of the Treasure Seekers: Being the Adventures of the Bastable Children in Search of a Fortune by E. Nesbit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had been curious about this book ever since first reading The Magician’s Nephew about 55 years ago, when C.S. Lewis wrote, “In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road.”

I knew about Sherlock Holmes and Baker Street, but the Bastables I had never heard of, though Lewis clearly assumed that his readers, or most of them had. So it seemed that an important part of my literary education was missing. It also said something about the “implied reader” of Lewis’s Narnia stories (see here for more about the implied reader: Children’s Literature | Khanya.

In the story the Bastable family has come down in the world, so the six Bastable children come up with various schemes to restore the family fortunes. Most of their schemes lead them into a certain amount of difficulty, but in most cases the difficulty is resolved, usually in their favour, though not to the extent that it would restore the family fortunes.

In the edition I read there was an introduction with a brief biography of Edith Nesbit and an account of her work. It notes that she and her husband Hubert Bland were Fabian socialists, Though many of the Fabian socialists were middle-class I was rather surprised that Nesbit wrote such a middle-class book.

Certainly her implied readers were middle class, and though the family is reduced to having only one servant, they do have a servant, whom the children rather despise for her lack of competence and skill in cooking and cleaning. At no point does Nesbit indicate that she does not share the view of the narrator (one of the children, who is 12 years old at the time of the story), though she does somewhat satirise his relations with his siblings and others. The middle-class characters are human, the maid rather less so.

Also, the restoration of the family fortunes is seen, by both children and adults, almost entirely in capitalist terms. The primary need is capital, to make the father’s business prosper.

Perhaps this was dictated by the publishing world of the time. Perhaps the implied readers were middle class because at the time it was only the middle class who would buy books for their children, and therefore that would be the only kind of book that publishers of the time would accept. But even so, Dickens managed to get several books published that show more sympathy for the working-class poor than Nesbit seems to. Dickens does try to conscientise his readers, Nesbit does not, unless I’m missing something.

A book I did read as a child, and fairly recently re-read as an adult, is The Treasure Hunters by Enid Blyton (my review here). Having at last read Nesbit’s book, I think I can see where Blyton nicked elements of the plot for her book, written 40 years later. It has all the deficiencies of Blyton’s style, but many elements of the story are similar — a search for treasure to restore the family fortunes. But there is one contrasting element — in Blyton’s version it is a capitalist businessman who is the villain of the piece. I’ve never thought of Enid Blyton as a socialist, and her books, like Nesbit’s, have middle-class children as the “implied reader”, but in this story, at least, she is far more critical of capitalism than Nesbit is, and perhaps some of my own mistrust of capitalism stems from reading it as a child.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 18 December 2017 6:21 pm

    Besides some sort of connection with my childhood–though I don’t remember actually reading them–I have to come to these books sometime.

  2. 3 February 2018 4:54 pm

    I wasn’t fond of the Treasure Seekers, though it’s a long while since I’ve read it! I think I was rather shocked by the things the children got up to. 😀

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