Edith Nesbit has been a firm favourite of mine ever since I started reading her books as a child. Back then, what I read were of course the German translations of her works, some of which are still in my bookcase.
Now that I have a kindle, access to the original English versions is much easier - I found plenty of her books available as free ebooks (without illustrations) at Amazon's kindle shop, and went on a veritable downloading spree after a post on Monica's blog reminded me of my old love for Nesbit's writing.
"The Magic World" (first published in 1912) consists of 12 short stories, 11 of which contain magic in various forms: animals that talk, people that transform into animals, objects that have magic properties (such as a spy-glass magnifying the objects observed through it), magicians, good and wicked fairies, dragons, and so on.
In one story - "The Related Muff" - I could not detect any magic, but the story still fits in with the rest, as it shows how things can go wrong without the people involved wanting them to, and how they can be made right again.
In one of the stories, a little girl enters a magic world through a wardrobe. Sounds familiar? Yes, C.S. Lewis was influenced by it when he wrote his first Narnia novel. Another story is reputed to have influenced Tolkien, while Nesbit herself knew Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and used similar elements in some of her stories.
The overall appeal of her writing lies, for me, not necessarily in the magic bits. It is her general style: clever, witty where appropriate, and never condescending (like some adults are when they talk to children, and probably were much more so in Nesbit's time).
There are messages in all her stories, often the same ones: Girls and boys are equal; animals are not to be mistreated; everyone makes mistakes; authoritiy should not be abused; things (and people) are not always what they seem; true love (and friendship being one form of it) conquers all.
Let me give you a few quotes from "The Magic World" to show you what I mean by her clever, witty way of writing:
There are things misfortune comes after as surely as night comes after day.For instance, if you let all the water boil away, the kettle will have a hole burnt in it. If you leave the bath taps running and the waste-pipe closed, the stairs of your house will, sooner or later, resemble Niagara. If you leave your purse at home, you won't have it with you when you want to pay your tram-fare. And if you throw lighted wax matches at your muslin curtains, your parent will most likely have to pay five pounds to the fire engines for coming round and blowing the fire out with a wet hose.Also if you are a king and do not invite the wicked fairy to your christening parties, she will come all the same. And if you do ask the wicked fairy, she will come, and in either case it will be the worse for the new princess.So what is a poor monarch to do? Of course there is one way out of the difficulty, and that is not to have a christening party at all. But this offends all the good fairies, and then where are you?
Another good example:
'Why,' he said, 'I'm not afraid of you any more.''Of course not, we're friends now,' said the wind. 'That's because we joined together to do a kindness to some one. There's nothing like that for making people friends.''Oh,' said Sep.'Yes,' said the wind, 'and now, old chap, when will you go out and seek your fortune? Remember how poor your father is, and the fortune, if you find it, won't be just for you, but for your father and mother and the others.''Oh,' said Sep, 'I didn't think of that.''Yes,' said the wind, 'really, my dear fellow, I do hate to bother you, but it's better to fix a time. [...] Shall we start to-night? There's no time like the present.''I do hate going,' said Sep.'Of course you do!' said the wind, cordially. 'Come along. Get into your things, and we'll make a beginning.'So Sep dressed, and he wrote on his slate in very big letters, 'Gone to seek our fortune,' and he put it on the table so that his mother should see it when she came down in the morning. And he went out of the cottage and the wind kindly shut the door after him.
How about this:
'I said, I don't wonder, Octavius,' said the China Cat, and rose from her sitting position, stretched her china legs and waved her white china tail.'You can speak?' said Tavy.'Can't you see I can?--hear I mean?' said the Cat. 'I belong to you now, so I can speak to you. I couldn't before. It wouldn't have been manners.'
Oh, I could go on and on with excerpts, but I fear I would either bore you to tears or make you think there was no need anymore to read it yourselves. Well, maybe there is no need, but I can hihgly recommend "The Magic World".
Edith Nesbit (1858 - 1924) had a life I certainly do not envy her for: Losing her father when she was only four years old, and having a sister who was always ill; later, a stormy and scandalous marriage (she and her husband lived with the husband's mistresses and their children, adopted by Nesbit); the death of her own son at 15.
Money was the original driving force behind her writing, but it would take a while before her books became profitable. She ended up writing around 40 books for children and collaborating on another 20 or so. Her works include some novels for adults, too, but I have not yet come across any of them.
She and her husband were firm socialists and politically very active.
After her husband died, she married again, staying with her second husband until the end of her life, which came at 65, probably through lung cancer.