For the third book in the Hannah Braime reading challenge, readers are tasked with reading a book written over a hundred years ago. I cheated a little with this book (I suspect this may not be the first time) because I had planned on reading Jane Austen’s Emma, but I found it so utterly dull that I couldn’t get more than a few chapters in before I lost all interest and motivation. I know that’s likely to be an unpopular opinion with a lot of literature enthusiasts, but I just could not get excited by it in the same way that I did when I read Pride and Prejudice many years ago. So I had to have a rethink of what I would read in this category. A thorough search of my bookcases presented me with a book that I hadn’t even considered for this category, Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children.
I knew the story of The Railway Children from the 1970 film starring Jenny Agutter as Bobbie, the eldest of the eponymous children, a childhood favourite of mine. But, despite lingering on my bookcase for many years, I had never read the original novel. I hadn’t even clicked that it was over a hundred years since its publication – to my mind it was set between the two world wars, whereas, in reality, it was published 111 years ago, in 1906.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It had a naivety that I think I sometimes miss as an adult, evoking memories of carefree childhood summers and the young mind’s ability to find joy and wonder in difficult or different circumstances. That the story is played with the children’s father’s incarceration hanging over it is often forgotten as the children get to know the railway and the various characters that work and live on and around it in their little corner of the countryside, exploring, rescuing those in need and averting disaster.
However, it does have some limitations. Unsurprisingly the book has aged, which aids its charm, but also it means that some of the attitudes are really very dated, most notably the attitudes expressed about gender roles, which are rather jarring when you consider that the three children all have adventures, despite two of them being girls. Also it reads a little like an Edith Blyton book, with the protagonists running into scrapes and adventures around every corner, although that is something that a lot of children’s literature (and modern television for any age) can be very guilty of.
All in all, however, I would recommend this book to young readers as a way of learning about how important the railways were before the true advent of the car or about how family life has changed over the last century or so, or even just as an enjoyable story. For any adult readers, it would make a pleasant, light read with just the right amount of nostalgia to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside.