24 September 2016

Poverty and servants in The Railway Children

In Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children, when the family becomes worse off and leaves their salubrious house in a London suburb, the life which they are leaving behind is referred to as a ‘pretty’ life.
You will think that they ought to have been very happy. And so they were, but they did not know how happy till the pretty life in the Red Villa was over and done with [...]
This may seem to imply that nothing serious had been lost. Having servants mattered, not because the family needed things to be done for them, but because there was an aesthetic advantage to being surrounded by women in pastel-coloured uniforms.

In fact, the losses included those of a spacious and well-appointed house, several servants, and (no doubt) social interactions with wealthy neighbours.

The children presumably lost attendance at private schools. There was apparently no suggestion that they should attend state-funded schools instead.

At that time, far less importance was attached to ‘schooling’ than there is now. The railway children went to live in the country and did not go to school at all. Their mother gave them lessons at home.

But at that time (c. 1905) even a family such as theirs, which had come seriously down in the world, still had a full-time (though not a live-in) cook-housekeeper in their relatively primitive country cottage.

Times have changed since The Railway Children was written. Nowadays there is a strong feeling that everyone must go to school, and that nobody should have servants.

* E. Nesbit, The Railway Children, 1906, Chapter I.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.