Tag Archives: Edith Nesbit

How to (not) write the best story.

The latest book I’ve been listening to if I can’t sleep is The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit. I read it once before to my children long ago, and didn’t remember any details. I love it very much, this story of the adventures of three kind and resourceful children whose father was mysteriously called away, they don’t know why or how long. Because of this the family has suddenly become much poorer, and they have had to move to the country. Their new house is near the railroad, and their days become centered around trains, and the people they meet at the station or in the neighborhood..

Last night I was struck by a passage that portrays a poignant moment in which a parent passes on her faith in a very honest and personal way.

It is close to the end of the book, when the reader knows that the father must be going to return any day, because there aren’t many pages left. 10-year-old Peter interrupts his mother while she is writing and speaks wistfully about how hard it is being the only man in the house:

“I say,” said Peter musingly, “wouldn’t it be jolly if we all were in a book and you were writing it; then you could make all sorts of jolly things happen, and make Jim’s legs get well at once and be all right tomorrow, and Father would come home soon and….”

“Do you miss your father very much?” Mother asked….

“Awfully,” said Peter briefly… “You see,” Peter went on slowly, “you see, it’s not only him being Father, but now he’s away there’s no other man in the house but me…. Wouldn’t you like to be writing that book with us all in it, Mother, and make Daddy come home soon?”

Peter’s mother put her arm around him suddenly and hugged him in silence for a minute. Then she said, “Don’t you think it’s rather nice to think that we’re in a book that God’s writing? If I were writing the book I might make mistakes, but God knows how to make the story end just right, in the way that’s best for us.”

“Do you really believe that, Mother?” Peter asked quietly.

“Yes,” she said, “I do believe it, almost always — except when I’m so sad that I can’t believe anything. But even when I can’t believe it, I know it’s true, and I try to believe. You don’t know how I try, Peter. Now, take the letters to the post, and don’t let’s be sad anymore. Courage! Courage! That’s the finest of all the virtues…”