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Secret Gardens by Humphrey Carpenter

Thus is a fascinating book (1985 reprinted 2009) in which Humphrey Carpenter discusses writers of the so-called Golden Age of children's literature.  After a preamble he writes about Charles Kingsley and 'The Water Babies' which he considers the beginning of the golden age. In subsequent chapters he writes about Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald and 'At The Back of the North Wind', Louisa Alcott, Richard Jefferies and 'Bevis', E. Nesbit, Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame, J.M. Barrie's 'Peter Pan', and finishes with A.A. Milne and Pooh.  He also writes about Frances Hodgson Burnett and 'The Secret Garden' which he regards as an enduring masterpiece.  This gives the book its title and his theory that this period of children's literature from Kenneth Grahame's 'Dream Days' is a search for Arcadia.
I found much of it most interesting and illuminating, except for the chapter on E.Nesbit whom he seems to find uncongenial, and I felt he rather scrabbled around finding spurious (to me) reasons why he thinks she isn't really very good. He also, apart from Alcott, virtually ignores American books. He is cursorily dismissive of Baum's Oz series which he considers sloppily written.  I wonder why so many great children's books from this period are British. And one is left feeling that the private lives of, particularly, some Victorian writers, don't bear too much post-Freudian rummaging.
 In a final chapter he writes about books since Milne, and is highly complimentary about Phillipa Pearce's 'Tom's Midnight Garden' which he thinks is worthy to place beside the earlier masterpieces.  He is very enthusiastic about Mary Norton's 'The Borrowers' and Alan Garner's later books like 'The Stone Book Quartet' but writes dismissively of 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen'.
I was reminded of many books reading 'Secret Gardens' and have already dug out a copy of 'At The Back of the North Wind'.

I cannot remember well enough to vouch for them being well-written or otherwise, but Baum's Oz books certainly fired my imagination as a 9 or 10 year old - I loved them, and read the lot. Which is a bit odd considering I was never big on the film.

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