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ClassicsOnline Home » NESBIT, E.: Railway Children (The) (Abridged)
When Roberta, Peter and Phyllis’s father is arrested for a crime he did not commit and they have to start a new life in the country, they fear the happy times are gone forever. Little do they expect the exciting adventures and the new friends that await them. By the end, they have learned more about life and themselves than they had ever dreamed possible. This full-cast, dramatised version of Edith Nesbit’s children’s classic delightfully brings to life the adventures of The Railway Children.
The Railway Children
The Railway Children is E. Nesbit’s most famous novel.
Written in 1906, it has survived the ravages of time and fashion to become a
well-loved staple of most children’s literary diet. Perhaps one of the reasons
it is so popular today, is that it harks back to a time of innocence when
children were children, not the safety-conscious mini adults they are in
today’s world of tabloid terrors. The world, its people, and all its secrets
are at Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis’s feet. Bobbie climbs happily into the doctor’s
cart for a ride; Mother welcomes total strangers into her home and door keys
are left on doorsteps. Adventures are there for the taking and the children are
allowed to explore their environs and their own capabilities unfettered by fear
— a freedom available to very few children today. E. Nesbit’s world is a nostalgic
escape from the one most of her readers inhabit.
And yet it is not a purely sugar-and-spice world. The
adventures the children encounter are often terrifying or dangerous, and the
lessons they learn hard. The scene in the railway tunnel is a genuinely
frightening episode. At first the children risk being wiped out in the pitch
black by a passing express train, as they search for a lost young boy. Later,
they risk life and limb again, by standing in the path of a thundering train in
order to prevent an accident. The children’s courage is rewarded in the novel
in various ways, sometimes materially, but more importantly to E. Nesbit, by
the love and respect of others and their own feelings of self-worth.
The children learn some tough lessons about human pride and
the ethics of charity. Perks’ birthday and the scene where the old gentleman
brings the hamper are good examples. The children are not out-and-out
goody-goodies but as fallible as real children. They do make gauche and
embarrassing mistakes, they do upset their parents and they do get some sharp
reprimands. They also come face-to-face with the ugly reality of injustice and
the abuse of human rights. Not only has their own father been wrongfully
imprisoned on a trumped-up charge, but they also learn about the cruel
treatment of political prisoners from the Russian refugee they find at the
station. Nesbit’s commitment to presenting children with serious political
themes in a way they can understand extends to her portrayal of the
working-class characters that share the stage with the middle-class Bobbie,
Peter and Phyllis. A keen socialist and founder member of the Fabian Society,
Nesbit treats Perks, the barge couple and other similar characters with
dignity, intelligence and sensitivity. They are anything but mere figures of
fun. Perks commands unanimous respect from his fellow villagers and lives in
horror of being a “charity” case. Bill the bargeman, although brusque and
aggressive, is shown to be generous and fair beneath the surface, and, despite
his nights at the pub, a loyal family man. Nesbit’s description of the bargees
at the Rose and Crown shows genuine admiration for the working-class way of
Born Edith Nesbit in 1858, her childhood was unsettled, and
spent between France, Germany and England. She married young and experienced
poverty. This was when she decided to turn to writing, and discovered a knack
for family adventures: The Story of the Treasure Seekers came in 1899, The
Phoenix and the Carpet in 1904, The Story of the Amulet and The Railway
Children in 1906.
Notes by Anna Britten
About the Readers
EVE KARPF trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Her
extensive experience of voiceover, audiobook and radio work includes stints on
BBC Radio and Spitting Image, and cartoon series’ such as Oscar’s Orchestra and
Dennis and Gnasher for BBC TV. She is regularly seen on TV and her film credits
include A Touch of Class and Human Factor.
DELIA PATON trained at RADA and after extensive stage
experience, she moved towards radio and television work. Her many television
credits include the BBC series Survivors, Backs to the Land, Seal Morning and
Eastenders and she has written and performed her own adaptation of Mrs.
Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë as a one-woman show.
ROBERT BENFIELD played the role of Perks in the hugely
popular stage version of The Railway Children at the Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich,
with which he has had a long association. He has also performed in theater
throughout Britain, including Scarborough’s Theatre in the Round, and the
SARAH CORBETT, THOMAS MARTIN and NICOLA GRANT are aspiring
young actors at school in St. Albans.
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NESBIT, E.: Railway Children (The) (Abridged)