“‘Oh news’, said he, ‘and dull articles, and things about Celebrities. If you know any Celebrities, now?’” So inquires the editor of the Daily Recorder of the Bastable children in Nesbit’s novel, first published in 1899, and it’s comforting to know our fixation with celebrity isn’t just a contemporary phenomenon.
Nesbit’s ability to transcend the ages while staying firmly anchored in her own shows her remarkable understanding of what mattered to people and always would. Because alongside the celebrity is poverty: the children are searching for treasure to help out their father, whose business has failed. They are inventive, trying their own newspaper, selling sherry, digging for buried treasure, and adults are surprisingly kind to them: there’s nothing the British admire so much as a bit of entrepreneurship. Nesbit was writing at the end of Empire, and some of what she depicted was not so much a reality at the time but a prediction of what was to come: lives of plenty and the cheap servant class would soon come to an end for many.