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The Wouldbegoods: Being the Further…

The Wouldbegoods: Being the Further Adventures of the Treasure Seekers… (original 1901; edition 1986)

by E. Nesbit, Cecil Leslie (Illustrator)

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513519,781 (3.9)26
Title:The Wouldbegoods: Being the Further Adventures of the Treasure Seekers (Puffin Classics)
Authors:E. Nesbit
Other authors:Cecil Leslie (Illustrator)
Info:Puffin (1986), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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The Wouldbegoods: Being the Further Adventures of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit (1901)


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Continuing the series about the Bastable children is The Wouldbegoods, in which the children discover that having money again and living in their Indian Uncle's fancy house in town does not make them automatically desire to be good.

I didn't find this nearly as much fun as The Treasure-Seekers. The latter carried on the often amusing conceit that the narrator was anonymous, although Oswald outed himself near the end, as if the reader hadn't already known after a couple of paragraphs. Still, he did come out and admit it – which makes it somewhat trying that the same conceit is carried on here.

It's a bit funny to read (listen to) this almost immediately after The Railway Children. That set of kids was well-intentioned, good-hearted, and heroic; this lot is much more lawless and self-absorbed. The very name "Wouldbegoods" is a sign of it: they realize that they are prone to petty criminality as the sparks fly upward, and the two "prissy" girls, Dora and Daisy, propose to form a club to try to improve themselves.

It doesn't go terribly well.

I hate to say it, being as he (along with his creator) is a birthday-twin, but … I don't like Oswald Bastable in this. He was somewhat endearing in his pompous yet insecure self-praise in TTS, but here he and one or two of the others seem to have a bit more of a mean streak, or perhaps simply carelessness. Oswald will go far, though, with his attributes – or end up hanged.

I think part of it was that I missed Albert's Uncle in The Wouldbegoods - hey! Where did his beloved go? And why did I only just think of that? Hm. Anyway. I loved Albert's Uncle in The Treasure Seekers, but while he was nominally the adult in charge here he was locked up in his room writing a great deal. Rather more than might have been wise given the amount of close supervision these children require. Without him, there is less of the second-hand, through-the-lens-of-Oswald's-POV adult reaction which made Treasure Seekers so priceless.

I think that's a big part of why the constant string of incidents wore a bit thinner in The Wouldbegoods than in Treasure Seekers: it very soon becomes don't these kids ever learn? combined with Oswald at least must be old enough to know better by now. But they haven't, and he doesn't, and there goes the pig galloping down the road while the sheep vanish in the opposite direction. The one certainty in any given chapter is that there will be breakage.

Wouldbegoods is still miles better than most of what's put out today, as far as I've seen; it's still great fun. So: not my favorite, but still – E. Nesbit. That counts for a great deal. ( )
1 vote Stewartry | Feb 11, 2012 |
Edith Nesbit’s life was certainly unconventional by late Victorian and Edwardian standards, and it’s not surprising that her own childhood experiences and adult observations find themselves thinly fictionalised in her novels, particularly those written for children. Typical is her re-use of names of friends and acquaintances for the names of her characters in The Wouldbegoods. Of the six Bastable children, for example, Oswald and Noel take their names from her male friends and sometime lovers Oswald Barron and Noel Griffith, and Alice from her friend Alice Hoatson (not only Edith’s husband’s lover but also mother of two children whom Edith adopted). Of the two children who share the Bastables’ holiday in the country Daisy takes her name from Edith’s own childhood nickname, while Eliza, the long-suffering maid who appeared in The Treasure Seekers, appears to be a composite of the domestic servants in one of Edith’s residences in Lewisham, both of whom were named Elizabeth.

I mention all this to show that the origins of the escapades and scrapes that the Bastable children get up to during their long summer holiday seem to be similarly drawn from life. Due to various misdemeanours the six siblings get ‘banished’ to Moat House in Kent (largely modelled on Well Hall in Eltham, where Edith and her extended family moved after Lewisham) and resolve to form a society, the Wouldbegoods, to counteract their unwitting misdeeds. Needless to say their actions largely result in near or complete disasters due to their apparent inability to consult about the appropriateness of their charitable deeds; this is compounded by their further inability to learn from their mistakes in what I feel is the only real flaw in this sequel to The Treasure Seekers. However, the tedium of successive episodes involving misunderstandings and disregard for property is more than balanced by Oswald who, as narrator, has that perfect boyish mix of ego and kind-heartedness expressed in entertaining bombast and endearing malapropisms.

The author concentrates on six protagonists (as in The Treasure Seekers) but rings the changes by largely not involving the rather insipid Dora who, it may be remembered, appeared to be the eldest sibling in the earlier book but is here relegated to a stay-at-home. Her place amongst the activists is often taken by either Denny or Daisy, mousey characters who redeem themselves by the end. Otherwise, the established figures of Dicky, Alice, Noel and H. O. feature, all led by the dominating persona of Oswald as they build dams, go on pilgrimages, give drink to the thirsty or seek for lost relatives. Adults are by turns forbidding and distant figures or lend sympathetic ears when they are not representing stranger danger in an otherwise innocent world. The Wouldbegoods is a fascinating window into an England of a century and more ago, both familiar and yet strangely exotic but one where middle-class children (and us, vicariously) can live out their fantasies.

http://calmgrove.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/wouldbegoods/ ( )
  ed.pendragon | Sep 19, 2011 |
The children, now living in the Moat House with Albert's Uncle, think they ought to try to be good; at least the girls do. Their Random Acts of Kindness tend to misfire.
Just as funny, if not more so, than the first in the trilogy. ( )
  overthemoon | Jun 27, 2010 |
A wonderful book; very funny as the attempts to be good seem inevitably to spiral into increasingly chaotic - but well meaning - disaster. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but reading the chapter when the Bastables meet the soldiers (and Oswald's wish to run off to be a bugler) sends a shiver down the spine when you realise that the Bastable boys would probably all have ended up in the trenches....
1 vote otterley | Aug 16, 2009 |
One of my favorie children's books.
  jillern | Jul 17, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
E. Nesbitprimary authorall editionscalculated
Birch, Reginald B.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hodges, C. WalterIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Haiku summary
Victorian kids
achieve ill when they meant good;
comes right in the end.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140367519, Mass Market Paperback)

Sent away to the country after a particularly unruly episode, the well-meaning but wayward Bastable children solemnly vow to reform their behavior. But their grand schemes for great and virtuous deeds lead to just as much mayhem as their ordinary games, and sometimes more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:06 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

After being particularly unruly, the wayward Bastable children are sent away to the country to improve their behavior.

(summary from another edition)

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