Edith Nesbit’s Dogs

On #InternationalDogsDay here’s a short post about Edith Nesbit’s dogs and her unconditional love for them.

As a child, Edith was sent to boarding school in the picturesque town of Dinan in Brittany, northwest France. She missed her dog desperately and wrote to her mother to ask after “that queen of dogs that splendid lady that estimable that lovely loving lovable Trot”.

She always had dogs and often put them into her books. Prominent in several photographs she took at her home in Well Hall, Eltham is Martha, the bulldog immortalised in several Bastable stories. Martha also appears in ‘Fortunatus Rex & Co.’ from Nine Unlikely Tales. An old lady who wishes to protect her orchard demands that the king provide her with “a fierce bull-dog to fly at the throat of any one who should come over the wall”

So he got her a stout bull-dog whose name was Martha, and brought it himself in a jewelled leash. “Martha will fly at any one who is not of kingly blood,” said he. “Of course she wouldn’t dream of biting a royal person; but, then, on the other hand, royal people don’t rob orchards”.

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Rosamund Bland with Martha and another dog (Edith Nesbit Archive, University of Tulsa)

Edith also adore her dachshunds, Max and Brenda, who make an appearance in The Magic CityFor some reason, Gerald Spencer Pryse, who illustrated The Magic City when it was serialised in The Strand Magazine, drew them as Dalmatians even though Edith had described them as “dachshunds, very long and low”. H.R. Miller did the same in the book version.

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Max and Brenda were not universally loved. One friend described them as snappy, and Edith’s adopted daughter Rosamund admitted that they were terribly spoilt. At mealtimes they would rush around the table, then jump onto Edith’s lap. If she had attached their leashes to her chair, she would trip over them when she got up.

For more on Edith and her extraordinary life, look out for my new biography, THE LIFE AND LOVES OF E. NESBIT, which will be published in October 2019.

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Filed under Book Excerpt, Essay

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