BOOKS / Classic Thoughts: For love of Edward Beverley: Angela Lambert on a classic of her childhood, Children of the New Forest, by Captain Marryat
Saturday 21 August 1993
One, given me by a godparent, was Captain Marryat's Children of the New Forest. The author's very name inspired me . . . naval rank coupled with that mysterious, romantic surname; it was nearly as good as 'Baroness Orczy'. The book lived up to these expectations. Starting with the convenient death of all presiding adults in the first few chapters, it is about four children hidden in the New Forest during the English civil war, who not only manage to live off the land but survive and prosper. Their story is one of courage, resourcefulness and loyalty with a thoroughly satisfactory ending.
Re-reading the book now, my first reaction is amazement that I was gripped by its ponderous sentences and understood their orotund vocabulary when I was quite a small child. Taking a sentence at random I find this: 'That the body was that of some superior person disguised as a rustic was evident, and this was corroborated by the conversation which took place between the two robbers.' Such class divisions but oh] such melodrama and excitement]
The book would fail every test of 'political correctness' today. Children of the New Forest treats social inferiors as though they were coarse, deceitful half-wits, while gypsies speak like negro slaves, complete with the salutation 'Massa]' The royalist children who are its four heroes, nobly born of Beverley and Villiers stock, are forced to disguise themselves not only as Levellers but also as foresters. They are at least as humiliated by this apparently humble status as by seeming disloyal to their father's cause.
The book has many surprises, too. One is that it has no trace of that sentimental anthropomorphising of animals which pervaded Victorian children's books from Black Beauty on. Captain Marryat died in 1848 and Black Beauty was published in 1877. During the intervening decades kitsch spread across the land.
I can't imagine a child today, accustomed to the instant gratification of television reading Children of the New Forest without parental blackmail and access to a large dictionary. Yet as a glimpse into the lost world (and Conan Doyle's book of that title was another of my favourites) of a wild and forested England, it is an eyeopener - and how I worshipped Edward Beverley when I was fat, bespectacled and nine]
Arts & Ents blogs
St Patrick’s Day 2014: The worst Irish accents in film history
Under The Skin, film review: Scarlett Johansson is full-blooded as femme fatale alien
Grace Dent on TV: EDL Girls: Don’t Call Me Racist BBC 3
Best films on Netflix: 32 movies that will put an end to your scrolling
Chalkie Davies' stunning rock photographs: The Clash, Springsteen, Bowie and more
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
Europeans have ‘got whiter’ due to natural selection in past 5,000 years, scientists say
Fracking is turning the US into a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia
The rise of Ukip: Study warns Labour that Eurosceptic party's electoral base now 'more working class than any of the main parties'
- 1 Is your name now 'banned' in Saudi Arabia?
- 2 Best films on Netflix: 32 movies that will put an end to your scrolling
- 3 Istanbul protesters take 'Ellen selfie' from the back of a police van
- 4 Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Jet ‘hijacking’ began soon after take-off
- 5 Lady Gaga has struggled with eating disorders in the past, so it's indefensible that she's glamourising bulimia in her SXSW set