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Summary Article: Bawden, Nina
from Continuum Encyclopedia of British Literature

A prolific writer whose body of work ranges from adult novels to children’s books, Bawden has a worldwide reputation. Evacuated from London with her family during World War II, Bawden’s life was greatly disrupted, a concept that would be incorporated into many of her books. She always perceived herself as a writer, experiencing success as a schoolgirl by writing stories and plays. Bawden studied politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford (with Margaret Thatcher as a classmate), graduated in 1946, took an M.A. in 1951, and attended the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies in 1960. She served as Justice of the Peace for the County of Surrey from 1968 through 1976.

Bawden’s professional writing career began with novels for adults. Three early novels are murder mysteries—Who Calls the Tune (1953; repub. as Eyes of Green, 1953), The Odd Flamingo (1954), and Change Here for Babylon (1955). The Solitary Child (1956) is a Gothic romance. Devil by the Sea (1957), a novel about a ten-year-old who identifies a child murderer, was later abridged for children in 1976. Just like a Lady (1960; repub. as Glass Slippers Always Pinch, 1960) marks the beginning of Bawden’s comic novels about middle-class social values with a focus on relationships. While Bawden’s novels contain HUMOR, they also explore the ways in which people examine their lives. Anna Apparent (1972) shows the adult results of childhood deprivation. George beneath a Paper Moon (1974) suggests possible incest. Afternoon of a Good Woman (1976) chronicles the decision about remaining in a marriage. In Familiar Passions (1979), a character finds a long-lost biological parent. Walking Naked (1981) is a woman’s painful self-examination of her life and career. The Ice House (1983) is a triangle of marriage, friendship, and adultery. Circles of Deceit (1987) chronicles the frustrations of negotiating a personal and a professional life; it was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

Encouraged by her husband and inspired by her children’s desire to have her be their storyteller, Bawden began writing children’s books. From her own childhood, Bawden remembered two things: children look at the world differently from adults and they are always anxious for adventures. Her first children’s book was The Secret Passage (1963; repub. as The House of Secrets, 1964), followed by On the Run (1964; repub. as Three on the Run, 1965), The White Horse Gang (1966), The Witch’s Daughter (1966), and The Runaway Summer (1969). Carrie’s War (1973), one of her best-known children’s books, is based on a situation similar to her own evacuation in South Wales during the war. It received a Carnegie commendation in 1973 and won the Phoenix Award, presented by the Children’s Literature Association in 1993. Another of Bawden’s most popular children’s books, The Peppermint Pig (1975), won the Guardian Award in 1976. Rebel on a Rock (1978) returns to characters introduced in Carrie’s War. Kept in the Dark (1982) was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award and received a Parents’ Choice citation. The Finding (1985) also received a Parents’ Choice citation.

Many of Bawden’s children’s books incorporate issues of childhood displacement and neglect, the effects of poverty, and children not being taken seriously by most adults. Many of her children’s books will include a group of children who band together to solve a problem, an eccentric adult who does bond with the children, and a central character who is independent and curious. The books contain the complexity of childhood, exploring serious issues. The young characters are resourceful, stubborn, and emotional. Resolutions at the end of the novels do not come without an examination of the way in which characters have had to give something up to gain something else.

As Bawden’s career progressed, she has been able to balance writing for both adults and children, alternating between the two audiences throughout most of her career. Bawden’s “almost” autobiography, In My Own Time (1994), chronicles her growth as a writer, detailing the difficulties of her childhood, particularly displacement and poverty during the war, that later show up in so much of her children’s fiction. Bawden was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1995 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Bibliography Rees, D., The Marble in the Water (1980); Seaman, G., “N. B.,” in Moseley, M., ed., British Novelists since 1960, Third Series, DLB 207 (1999): 25–33; Tucker, N., The Child and the Book (1981)

Rebecca Faber

© 2006 The Continuum International Publishing Group, Ltd

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