Imagine being one of the most well-loved children's authors of all time, yet your readers don't know if you're a man or a woman. Or even your real name. E. Nesbit is really Edith Nesbit, who wrote an extraordinary 98 novels, plays and poetry collections for children and adults between 1885 and 1923.
She is credited as the first modern writer for children whose work has influenced authors from Oscar Wilde to C.S.
Lewis, No l Coward to J.K. Rowling. Even though it was published more than 100 years ago, The Railway Children remains one of the most popular children's books ever written and it has never been out of print. But for Edith, the truth of her life is stranger than her fiction-and it's a truth she was keen to hide from the public. Edith's father died when she was four, resulting in a peripatetic childhood across Europe.
At 21 years old she was seven months' pregnant when she married a penniless libertine who became a famous journalist, Hubert Bland.
Together as early socialists they were founding members of the Fabian Society, from which the Labour Party has its foundations. A Bohemian and an eccentric, Edith became a mother of five children-two of whom she adopted in secret after her husband had an affair with a close friend (who subsequently lived with them as their housekeeper). It was shortly after the sudden death of her beloved son that Edith wrote her first bestseller in 1899, a groundbreaker that dramatically changed the course of children's literature. On the eve of World War I, Edith's husband died and she married a captain of the Woolwich Ferry.
A cheerful cockney sparrow, Tommy Tucker proved to be Edith's unwitting romantic hero who loved and cherished her until she died in near-poverty on the Romney Marshes of Kent.