Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta…

The Young Pretenders (1895)

by Edith Henrietta Fowler

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
496238,224 (4.31)10



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 10 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Having neglected the Librarything Seven Ages of Women theme read – I chose to read another book from the childhood section of the list. I do love books told from a child’s perspective, and this novel – originally written for children, is utterly charming and brought a tear or two to this cynical old eye. As Charlotte Mitchell explains in her preface to this edition, The Young Pretenders, and the novel by the same author which followed it, were novels written with an adult readership in mind; generally it would have been adults reading the books to children. There is plenty of gentle humour that is aimed more at adults than children, and some Victorian terms and references that would be over the heads of most modern children. Also included in this lovely Persephone edition are the original drawings by Philip Burne-Jones, which are a simply perfect accompaniment.

The Young Pretenders is the story of two imaginative siblings; five year old Babs and her older brother Teddy, whose parents are away in India, serving the Empire. Teddy and Babs have been sent home to be cared for by their grandmother. With their grandmother dead, it has been left to staff to care for the children until new arrangements can be made.

“They had always thought of Grannie as a piece of drawing room furniture, quite nice, but dull and delicate as most drawing room furniture is to the child mind. She had never entered into their world at all. That was people by a host of pretending folk, all the animals they ever came across and most of the servants with their relatives and acquaintances inclusive. Such an interesting world it was, bounded by the brook and the lanes, and full of excitement in the first bird’s next, and the young rabbits, to say nothing of Giles the gardener’s thrilling stories.”

The children have little knowledge of their own parents, and live very much inside their own lively imaginations. The two are happy living in the country on the family estate, cared for by their nanny,(Nana) and the household staff who all understand and participate in the children’s games – ‘mother and father in Inja’ are mysterious figures the children write to and wonder about. Babs – a delightfully infectious little soul who is the main focus of the novel rather adores her big brother and is endlessly cheerful and happy. Her lisping slightly babyish speech is quite (as Bab’s would say ‘kite’) adorable and is somehow never as irritating as it could have been.

youngpret2One day the children are informed that their Uncle Charley is coming to see them. The children know that Uncle Charley is a soldier like their father, and so are bemused and not a little disappointed when Uncle Charley appears at the breakfast table without the lovely smart uniform they had expected. Babs and Teddy are made aware that their uncle and his wife Aunt Eleanor are going to be looking after the children from now on at their home in London. The children haven’t learned yet that adults might not be perfect, and they strike out happily enough on a new adventure. Eleanor is a horrible woman, selfish, shallow with no idea of how to deal with children; Charley is just rather out of his depth. Aunt Eleanor rather likes Teddy because he is a pretty little boy with golden curls, but Babs she considers plain and untidy, and poor Babs is made aware that her Aunt doesn’t care for her because she isn’t pretty.

“Oh I do wish she had been a doll! I’ve told such a lot of people about the little niece that I’m going to have, and now I shall be ashamed to show her, from what you say…If she’d been like Barbara now, I would have taken her about with me, and it would have been fun to have dressed her. I like the look of a pretty girl in a victoria.”

youngp1In London life changes for Babs and Teddy – Teddy doesn’t much mind, but Babs misses her countryside home. Having been able to run pretty wild in the country, and allowed plenty of irreverent chatter with their good friend the gardener, now the siblings are expected to behave conventionally, as part of a society family. In London Babs is always in trouble, falling foul of Aunt Eleanor and the new vinegar tempered governess who is employed when Teddy starts school. Little Babs hasn’t yet learned that it isn’t always appropriate to repeat the things that grown-ups say – and some of her deliciously exciting games cause mayhem. For no one has thought to explain to Babs exactly how the post office works, and how taking the letters from the hall table to play at postman could cause unimagined difficulties. The stories of Babs’ mishaps, games and little puzzlements are heartfelt and engaging, and tenderly amusing, especially for anyone who has spent any time at all with young children. Although – as I’ve found with other novels told from a child’s perspective – much of this novel is deeply heartrending. The children find out that sometimes adults can’t be relied on – like when their beloved Uncle soon gets tired of building sandcastles.

In The Young Pretenders we are very much in a world where children are at the mercy of misunderstandings and selfish adults. Separated from their parents, their fears and excitements are often greeted with bewilderment and irritation rather than sympathy. Babs starts to change under the iron fist of her aunt and governess, the light begins to go out of her a little, as she starts to fear her own ‘naughtiness’. youngp2

Uncle Charley is affected by his darling little Babs however, more than he would ever have thought possible. Through her, his eyes are opened to the selfishness of the beautiful creature he has married, and from not having had much idea about children; Charley slowly develops a deep sympathy for his little niece who he seeks to protect from his wife’s coldness. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone – but – this was originally a novel for children, so fear not.

I loved every word of this adorable, little tear jerker – and really, really hope that someone (Persephone?) would re-issue The Professor’s Children – Edith Henrietta Fowler’s second novel for children. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | May 17, 2015 |
The Young Pretenders, a story for children that dates from 1985, is a lovely and intriguing book.

It’s intriguing because it works beautifully as a story for children, it sees the world from a child’s place in the world. And it does something else too. It speaks profoundly to the grown-up reader about how magical childhood is and how that magic can be bent out of shape by adults who fail to understand.

Babs and Teddy had been sent to live with their grandmother in the country while their parents – “Father-and-Mother-in-Inja.” – were overseas. Grandmother was elderly, Nurse was elderly, and so the two children were allowed to run and play just as they liked. They spent their days in the garden, under the watchful eye of Giles the gardener, and they played such wonderful games, full of imagination, casting themselves in a glorious array of roles.

Teddy was eldest but Babs was the leader – and the leading lady of the story – and they were both happy with that.

Their idyll ended when their grandmother died and it fell to an uncle and aunt they had never met to care for them.

It doesn’t occur to the children to worry. They had always been safe, they had always been cared for, they had always been free to speak and behave openly and honestly. Why would they even think things might be different.

Aunt Eleanor is ill-suited to be in charge of Babs and Teddy. She doesn’t expect them to change her life, she expects them to be good and quiet, and to be a credit to her in front of visitors. The innocent but terribly tactless chatter of the children, who of course have never learned to dissemble, horrifies here and a governess is quickly procured to knock them into shape.

She was so disappointed that Babs was plain and sturdy; she had hoped for a pretty little girl to dress up and show off.

Uncle Charlie is more sympathetic; he is amused by the children and there are times when he enoys being amused by them. But he is inconsistent, there are times when he is distracted and cross, and the children don’t understand that.

It’s heart-breaking, watching two grown-ups – three when the governess arrives – getting things so terribly wrong. Thank goodness that the children had each other, that they were resilient, that in their innocence it didn’t occur to them that anyone could ever have anything other than good intentions, however inexplicable their actions might be.

I couldn’t help thinking how wonderful their lives might have been in the hands of the right grown-up; somebody with the wisdom to gently guide them, to tactfully explain things, to understand the magic of childish imagination and play.

While I was thinking that though I was royally entertained by adventures in the nursery, in the schoolroom, in the drawing room, and sometimes a little further afield. Babs makes so many social gaffes and she has so many brilliant lines.

Teddy learns to conform and to say the right thing, but Babs never does. She understood why she was a disappointment to her aunt, but she had the wisdom to know that she could never be anything else.

Edith Henrietta Fowler was always on the side of the children, and her painting of their lives, her understanding of the injustices they felt and their incomprehension of the ways of adults was perfect, and that must have made this book wonderfully entertaining for the children who read it a century or more ago.

Today I think it speaks more to the adult reader; though it would also work as a book to be read allowed and discussed with a child.

There’s a little too much baby talk, there’s a little preaching, but I found that easy to forgive.

The original illustrations reproduced in the Persephone edition are just right, and the endpapers are particularly lovely.

The story ended when “Father-and-Mother-in-Inja” returned, and took their children back to their home in the country.

The future looked promising; and I did hope that the children’s promise was realised. ( )
1 vote BeyondEdenRock | Feb 7, 2015 |
The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler

"Grannie would never come back any more. At least that was what nurse said, and so the children knew it must be true.

"'When we're grown up will we know everything right like Nana does?' asked Babs, as they talked it over afterward in the garden.

"'I dare say,' answered Teddy carelessly. 'What shall we play at now, Babs?' So the children forgot the news that nurse had told them, and cheerfully accepted the fact that their grandmother, with whom they had lived during the whole of their short lives, had gone away indeed beyond recall. They had always thought of Grannie as a piece of the drawing room furniture, quite a nice piece, but dull and delicate as most drawing-room furniture is to the child mind."

Teddy, seven, and Babs, five, had lived with their grandmother in "the dear old country home" since their parents, Major and Mrs Conway, went back to India four years earlier. As their grandmother was too old and infirm to deal with them, and Nana, the nursery nurse, though kind and caring, is also elderly, the children spend most of their time outdoors making up games and learning about the world from Giles, the gardener, whom they regard as their best friend and sole playmate. They become in effect village children, consorting with servants and villagers and speaking like country folk, totally ignorant of city ways or the rigid codes of behaviour to which members of the Victorian middle class should adhere.

The children are told that their father's brother, Charley, has come back from India and will be coming to see them. They eagerly look forward to meeting their soldier uncle for the first time, unaware that their time in Eden is about to end.

This rather curious children's book was first published in 1895, reprinted in 1911, and not printed again until Persephone bought it out in 2007. I find the book curious because it seems so strongly aimed at the person reading to the child that I cannot imagine the child's view of the story. The novel is largely about the gulf in understanding and expectation between children and adults and the grief that results. Fowler is firmly on the side of the children and drives home again and again the duty of the adult to understand the child and to be aware of the harm that adults may unthinkingly do them. The novel is also concerned with honesty and clarity in people's dealings with one another.

First Fowler deals with the children's reaction to the death of their grandmother. As country children they are fully acquainted with death, and were inconsolable when the dog died. The dog was part of their world; their grandmother wasn't. She'd gone to London some time ago, and was fading in their memories. It's not immediately apparent that anyone said straight out to the children that Grannie was dead, or even that she had gone to London because she was ill. Fowler makes clear that in the circumstances the children's lack of interest is to be expected. Nana and Giles, themselves mourning their old mistress, misjudge the children's emotional state, Nana thinking of them as poor little mites, and Giles thinking them callous.

A telegram from Uncle Charley summons Teddy, accompanied by Nana, to the funeral in London. Neither Teddy nor Nana return.

After nearly a week a letter arrives to say that Uncle Charley will be arriving the next night, too late for Babs' bedtime. Babs rushes down in the morning to see her heroic soldier uncle, but instead of a ruddy cheeked scarlet uniformed figure with medal, sword, and trumpet, she finds a mild looking fair haired man in civilian clothes at the breakfast table. She refuses to believe that he can be her uncle. Furious and frustrated, she stamps her foot, and tells him to go away. She says Giles has told her wonderful stories about her uncle and how soldiers are the pride of the nation and he doesn't look a thing like the pride of the nation. Her uncle manages to sooth her somewhat and asks who Giles is. Babs waxes lyrical about Giles and tells Charley how since Nana and Teddy went to London she has "lived in the garden, goin' about with Giles more'n ever, and we've had the loveliest talks about you, and the crops, and when the old pig will be ready for killing; and I weed, and dig, and help Giles all day".

This is a disastrous meeting on many levels.

Captain Conway is the son, husband, and brother-in-law of beautiful women. The dandified captain and his pretty empty-headed wife had decided to take in Teddy and Babs pending their parents' return from India, but in making this decision had imagined their niece as an exquisite fair-haired doll to be dressed up and taken about as a decoration and source of conversation.

Teddy, who is already staying with Charley and his wife, has inherited his mother's fair good looks and can smile like an angel. He is not entirely pleasant, but adults do not realize this, taking his laziness and self-absorbed disengagement for good behaviour.

Babs, however, is plain, dark, and square, with fat legs, and no amount of correction of speech, manner, or dress will alter this. Her "tender sensibilities and ardent feelings" will have no place in the cold fashionable world which the captain and his wife inhabit; he can think only that the niece "who was to take the place which a daughter of his own would have filled was quite the plainest, most common-looking child he had ever noticed".

When they arrive in London Babs is banished to the top floor nursery and kept out of sight, while Teddy is brought down to be shown off to other adults. The children undergo increasing difficulties as their freedom is curtailed and strict nurses and governesses are imposed on them. While Teddy gradually figures out correct form, even if he doesn't understand it, Babs cannot anticipate adult's responses. The first time the children see their aunt in evening dress Teddy says "You're as lovely as a fairy, or an angel!" Babs, after a deep intake of breath, says "How splendid you do look! Giles always said Uncle Charley married one as would be more for ornament than use - and you are, aren't you?" Teddy gets a kiss, Babs gets a scolding.

Babs realizes her aunt will never like her, and understands why. On a rare encounter with another adult, who asks whether she prefers London or the country, Babs says she prefers the country because in London it matters about being pretty. When she lived in the country she didn't know she wasn't.

During the course of the stay with Uncle Charley Teddy changes and grows apart from Babs. Fowler captures well the way children square off with each other. Teddy on being silently assessed and accepted by some older boys doesn't hesitate to abandon his sole friend and playmate of the previous four years. Ultimately he becomes "the heartless, mindless, soulless creature which is generally to be found in preparatory and public schools" where "good bowling and steady batting are so much more suited to schoolboy life and ambition than a thoughtful temperament or a vivid imagination". This is nicely balanced by Uncle Charley's journey in the opposite direction.

The preface by Charlotte Mitchell mentions that Fowler's children's stories evidence the influence of the contemporaneous debates about the ideas of educationalists such a Friederich Froebel and Maria Montessori. There also seems to me to be a hint of a sort of sentimental Victorian Christianity in the emphasis on Bab's innocence, lack of guile, truthfulness, and the transformative openness of her heart. Babs is often referred to as the little lamb. More difficult to cope with, certainly initially, is Babs' baby talk. There used to a fashion for writing the speech of very young children as they might speak, complete with mispronounciations. Babs does this in spades, but while it is initially irksome it becomes less jarring as the book goes on. Indeed, the entire book went from an initial trudge to something quite thoughtful and poignant.

I just wish I knew what children make of it.

The book is prettily illustrated by Phillip Burne-Jones, whose line drawings of little children with mere dots for eyes and little other detail of facial features have something in common with Edward Gorey.
2 vote Oandthegang | Oct 12, 2014 |
The Young Pretenders is the story of two children, Babs and Teddy—or, more aptly, it’s about Babs, a five-year-old living in late Victorian London. Covering the space of about a year, the story follows Babs and her adventures living in London with Uncle Charley and Aunt Eleanor, while her father and mother are in India (collectively referred to as “Father-and-Mother-in-Inja.” Babs is no ordinary child, and she certainly defies the old maxim of “children should be seen and not heard.”

Babs is a little girl who’s unprepossessing in personal experience, but more than makes up for it in personality. I don’t I’ve ever come across a more engaging character in fiction in a very long time. Babs is constantly described as “merry,” and so she is, unhampered as she is by the same kinds of cares that adults are. She doesn’t have a malicious bone in her little body, but she’s constantly being pegged by her elders as “naughty”—simply because she doesn’t know how to filter what she says! In fact, there’s a hysterically funny scene where Babs copies something that her uncle Charley says, and unintentionally offends an older matron while asking her if she was born during the reign of Alfred the Great! In fact, the whole book is filled with Babs’s social gaffes, but she makes them so innocently that you can’t help but be charmed by her. And some of her lines are priceless, as in this exchange she has with her cousin Ronald during the Queen's procession:

“Wasn’t Britannia a queen?” Babs asked.

“Oh, yes! She rules the waves, you know.”

“Well, queens is all alike,” argued Babs triumphantly, and Ronald did not feel quite equal to gainsaying this statement.

There are a lot of great characters in this book: Uncle Charley and Aunt Eleanor, who are so selfish that they don’t understand their niece and nephew; the Draconian governess, aptly named Miss Grimstone (an positively ancient at the age of about fifty), and others. Teddy is a bit disappointing as a character, but Babs’s personality quite stole the show for me, so that didn’t matter in the end. The Young Pretenders is a lovely little book about life as told from a child’s perspective; it’s accompanied by a gorgeous set of illustrations at the beginning of each chapter (done by Philip Burne Jones). ( )
1 vote Kasthu | May 6, 2010 |
25 Dec 2009 - from Audrey

I took some time off over my Birthday and allowed myself to skip ahead in the To Be Read mountain to have a Persephone treat. This is a lovely book. A little similar to "The Brontes Went to Woolworths" in the whimsicality of the piece, the descriptions of childhood were so accurate and perceptive that a slight tendency to lisping tweeness really did not matter. I really felt for little Babs as she tried to adjust from living a wild outside life with the gardener, nurse and animals, to trying to conform to her shallow aunt's drawing-room expectations, and really loved the character development. There was a little preachiness about how to treat children, but it was warranted and of it's time, and as a whole this book was a delightful and sweet read. ( )
1 vote LyzzyBee | Jan 30, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

No library descriptions found.

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
22 wanted

Popular covers


Average: (4.31)
3 1
3.5 1
4 2
5 4

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


You are using the new servers! | About | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 115,160,757 books! | Top bar: Always visible