The narrative voice in the children's fantasy novels of E. Nesbit




Sloan, Ann

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The study sought to examine E. Nesbit's unique narrative style in addressing her young readers. Nesbit brought a fresh voice to her books that made a connection between her and her readers that lasted for generations. This study explored her methods in achieving this literary technique. By employing both narratological research methods and descriptive content analysis of E. Nesbit's fantasy novels, the researcher sought to show Nesbit's substantial contribution to the development of fiction for children. This study focused on Nesbit's narrative style in her children's fantasy novels. Its purpose was to explore the question: what characterizes her narrative style?

Children's books center on narrative: in a sense they are about narrative — and until relatively recently, narrative has been the poor relation in both theory and criticism (Hunt 1990). Compared to other contemporary directions of inquiry, narrative theory is still taking its very first steps within children's literature criticism (Nikolajeva 2003). The narrative style of an author is what puts the reader into an implicit relationship with the author. Narratology, the study of the narrative, helps to answer questions that arise from reading children's literature: why narrative appeals, how the storyteller tells her story, what keeps the reader turning the page, and how to recognize what is important for the narrative. Nesbit had a distinctive narrative style which created a bond with her readers. This study utilized narratology to understand that narrative style.

The study found that Nesbit spent much of her writing career in finding a voice by which to address the new child reader (Hunt 2001, 461). The strong emphasis she placed on the partnership of narrator and narratee made the child's interests rather than the adult's the real concern in her stories (Wall 1991, 149). This was borne out by the findings of the content analysis.

The variables, drawn from narratology, that were used in the content analysis were: mediated narrator; focalization; emotional distance; and tone. The results reflect what may be concluded from a critical analysis of her eight children's fantasy novels: Nesbit used the mediated narrator technique frequently to engage her narratee in her stories; focalization was on the child character; there was no emotional distance between the narrator and the narratee; and the tone in her early and late novels was humorous while the House of Arden books were more serious.

Emotional distance was not used for these analyses or any further analyses because it was found that the author was never emotionally distant from the child. Crosstabulations were conducted between the categorical variables across the eight books to reveal any significant relationships.

The mediated narrator, which engaged the narratee in direct dialogue, stepping out of the story for conversation, occurred 12.4%, in total, for all eight books. This engagement of the narratee is characteristic of Nesbit, as it established a conversation with the implied child reader. Focalization, in which the narrative was told from the children's point of view or was focused on the children, occurred 91%, in total, for all eight books. There was no emotional distance established in any of the books between the narrator and the narratee. She always saw matters from the point of view of the child; there was never any distance between them. Finally, the tone was humorous 89.3% in the eight books; the later books were more serious. In the Arden books and in scenes in The Story of the Amulet, Nesbit addressed her social concerns to varying degrees.

She shaped her narratives to create the illusion of speaking to the narratee directly by constantly taking the narratee into her confidence by sharing information and insights into the characters and actions in the book (Wall 1991).



Communication and the arts, Language, literature, and linguistics, E Nesbit, Fantasy novels