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The House of Arden and Harding's Luck by Edith Nesbit

By Drharrietd @drharrietd


As I've said before, I have loved the novels of Edith Nesbit since I was a very young child. I've re-read most of them over the years, but The House of Arden and its companion novel Harding's Luck were my absolute favourites at the time and I never get tired of them however many times I re-read them. I'm not sure why I decided to pick them up recently for the umpteenth time, but I did, and the experience was an interesting one. 

The House of Arden was probably my favorite of the two when I was a child. It's the story of two children, Edred and Elfrida Arden, who live in straightened circumstances with their aunt in her seaside boarding house. Their mother is long dead and their father has disappeared on an expedition to South America. Then something amazing happens -- Edred turns out to be the heir to a title -- he is now Lord Arden -- and to a ruined castle by the sea. The children move to the house that belongs to the castle, and it is here that the magic starts happening. They find an attic room containing a row of large trunks, each one of which proves to contain clothes from past periods in history. If they put on any of these clothes, they find themselves at once back in that time. So, with this great ability, they visit Napoleonic times, the eighteenth century, the England of James I, and finally the time of Henry VIII. On each visit, they have extraordinary and sometimes frightening adventures, but they also gather a little more information that may help them to find the hiding place of the Arden treasure, which they know exists somewhere but has never been found. Whether they find it or not I shall not tell you, as, even though you are grown up, you really should read this story. Perhaps you can already imagine how intensely exciting all this was to a small child with a fascination for history. I longed and longed so much to find those trunks and to put on those clothes!


The House of Arden  came out in 1908, and the following year Nesbit published the sequel, Harding's Luck. In fact to call it a sequel is not really accurate, because the events of the second book run concurrently with those of the first. On their trips back to the past, Edred and Elfrida have encountered a boy of their own age, a cousin, who they discoverer to their astonishment has some knowledge of their own time. Harding's Luck is his story. Born into poverty in a miserably poor area of London, crippled by an accident shortly after his birth, Dickie Harding has been brought up by a woman who is cruel and uncaring. But, like Edred and Elfrida, he discovers a kind of magic that transports him back to the time of James I, where he has a loving family, a wonderful old nurse, people around who love and support him and, most amazing of all, he is no longer crippled.

Life in the past is so different, and so much better in every way, that he is tempted to stay there forever. But Dickie is a boy with a strong sense of what is right, and in his present day life he has been befriended by a man called Beale, who is a bit -- quite a bit -- of a crook. In fact Beale took up with Dickie in order to use him to get into a house where he and his cronies wanted to commit a burglary.   But though at first Dickie goes along with all this quite innocently, the more time he spends in his alternative life, the more he sees how wrong all this is. Most people would just opt out and leave Beale to his own devices, but Dickie, who has never had a father, has become more and more attached to the man, who in his turn has come to love and respect the boy. So Dickie keeps coming back, having each time acquired some knowledge that will help the two of them to survive without committing any more crimes. Events at last bring him back to a relationship with Edred and Elfrida, and together they achieve some wonderful things. Dickie -- now Richard -- is all set for a future that would exceed his wildest dreams, but at the end of the novel he makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to benefit his friends and their father.

I don't think I've ever read this novel without crying at the end, and this time was no exception. I know this was Nesbit's favorite of all her children's books, and I can really see why. Nesbit was a socialist, and cared deeply about the plight of the poor and the terrible living conditions they had to endure, something she explores in this novel. She also seems to have believed that people, though they were often misled by selfishness and greed, were naturally good if they only had a chance to discover it. I think the reason her novels have stayed so enduringly popular is not only that the children in them are so delightfully ordinary and human, but also because she addresses serious things that appeal as much, or more, to adults as to children. Harding's Luck is perhaps the most serious of her children's books but it has enough magic, excitement and adventures to satisfy the most demanding child. Wonderful. 


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