It had been a great house once, with farms and fields, money and jewels – with tenants and squires and men-at-arms.
Elfrida and Edred Arden live with their aunt who runs a lodging house by the seaside. They get by, but money is tight ever since their father and uncle disappeared in South America. When a distant grandfather dies, Edred becomes Lord Arden. Determined to find the lost family treasure, they travel through time with the help of their family crest, a mouldiwarp.
Edith Nesbit writes inventive and really sweet stories. I loved reading them as a child and recently I decided to pick up The House of Arden again.
It’s always a measure of a good children’s book that you can enjoy it, no matter your age. And I did. There were some truly beautiful descriptions in the book and the time-travel was interesting and well-written.
Boney, to us, is Napoleon Buonaparte, a little prson in a cocked hat out of the history books. To those who lived in England when he was a man alive, he was “the Terror that walked by night,” making children afraid to go to bed, and causing strong men to sleep in their boots, with sword and pistol by the bed-head, within easy reach of the newly awakened hand.
I also really liked Elfrida. She is the hero of the story and drives the plot forward. She is twelve years old and really smart for her age when it comes to dealing with other people.
“Open, in the Queen’s name!”
“They’ve come for him! All is lost! We are betrayed! What shall we do?”
“Eat,” said Elfrida, – “eat dor your life.”
She pushed Bet into a chair and thrust a plate before her, put a chunk of meat-pie on her plate and another on her own.
“Get your mouth full,” she whispered, filling her own as she spoke – “so full you can’t speak – it’ll give you time to think.”
She is also very kind. The parts of the story where it is described how much she misses her Dad are very touching.
What I didn’t care for were all the condescending “she’s only a girl” comments throughout the book. Edred is Lord Arden. He will find the treasure, he is even described as the protagonist and hero a lot. But let’s be honest, Edred is not terribly likeable. I found him arrogant and kind of whiny.
“You don’t suppose I should make up a whole tale like that, do you?”
“No,” said Edred. “Of course, you’re not clever enough. But you might have read it in a book.”
The main problem I had with the book is that it felt a bit rushed towards the end. The beginning and the end did not really connect for me. It felt as if the book was written in one sitting and the story meandered and it was never edited to make the parts fit.
Suddenly, Cousin Dick appeared in the past. There was a whole other mystery built up around him and never explained. He somehow time-travelled as well. He had a mysterious past. But nothing was ever explained. I finished the book thinking: Who on earth was Dick?
Moreover, the witch felt like a completely different person at the end than she did in the beginning. In the beginning she is a sad old wise woman, comforted by the kindness of Elfrida. Then suddenly, she is a time-travelling, face-changing adventuress.
Still, there’s a reason I liked this book as a child. We’ve got a female protagonist that does something and there’s magic, time-travel and adventure.
A sweet time-travel adventure story.