Edith Nesbit (1858-1924) was a mischievous, tomboyish child who grew into an unconventional adult. With her husband, Hubert Bland, she was one of the founding members of the socialist Fabian Society and their household became a center of the socialist and literary circles of the times. The chaos of their Bohemian home was regularly increased by the presence of numerous friends, among whom were George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells. And apart from their own children, Edith also raised two adopted children.
Her clothing, haircut, lifestyle and habit of expressing herself forcefully and in public proclaimed her to be a woman who was trying to break out of the mold which English society demanded at the time. But she was no armchair socialist: in fact, despite her success as a writer, late in life her charitable deeds brought her close to bankruptcy.
E. Nesbit—she always used the plain initial for her writing, with the result that she was occasionally thought to be a man—turned late to children's writing, following a number of years as a successful writer of short pieces for adult magazines. Because of her success, she was approached by a popular children's magazine of the time to write pieces about her childhood. This request opened up a rich vein. When Edith turned from describing the literal facts of her childhood to capturing in fictional form the happy and relaxed atmosphere she had known as a girl, the result was a series of children's books which have remained firm favorites. In her style of writing, she frequently combines real life situations with elements of fantasy, often with more than a pinch of humor.
Nesbit published approximately 40 books for children, both novels and collections of stories. Collaborating with others, she published almost as many more.
According to her biographer Julia Briggs, Nesbit was "the first modern writer for children": "(Nesbit) helped to reverse the great tradition of children's literature inaugurated by [Lewis] Carroll, [George] MacDonald and Kenneth Grahame, in turning away from their secondary worlds to the tough truths to be won from encounters with things-as-they-are, previously the province of adult novels." Briggs also credits Nesbit with having invented the children's adventure story.
Among Nesbit's best-known books are The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1898) and The Wouldbegoods (1899), which both recount stories about the Bastables, a middle class family that has fallen on relatively hard times. Her children's writing also included numerous plays and collections of verse.
She created an innovative body of work that combined realistic, contemporary children in real-world settings with magical objects and adventures and sometimes travel to fantastic worlds. In doing so, she was a direct or indirect influence on many subsequent writers, including P. L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins), Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones and J. K. Rowling. C. S. Lewis wrote of her influence on his Narnia series and mentions the Bastable children in The Magician's Nephew. Michael Moorcock would go on to write a series of steampunk novels with an adult Oswald Bastable (of The Treasure Seekers) as the lead character.