Saturday, April 13, 2013

Down by the station early in the morning

I keep listening, and keep falling further and further behind in posting. And then there's my failing memory (and the related tendency I've had lately to repeat myself), so the next few posts are likely to be short ones (mercifully).

I think I've always conflated The Boxcar Children with The Railway Children, so I was kind of surprised while listening to the latter to learn that E. Nesbit's child heroes, Bobbie, Peter and Phyl, never actually live in a train car.

Written in 1906, The Railway Children is the story of three siblings who have to leave their comfortable life in the suburbs when their father is mysteriously taken away in the night by two strange men.  They find a cozy cottage, Three Chimneys, near a railway line, and begin hailing the regular runs of the train as it makes its way up to or down from London.  (Because, for a reason never explained, they don't go to school.) One morning, they save the train from disaster by waving their red flannel petticoats, and are quickly befriended by the station porter and others in the little town. Bobbie, the eldest, begins corresponding with one of the passengers -- the Old Gentleman who waves at them every time -- and it doesn't take very long before others become interested in the fate of their father and all ends happily.

Nesbit had one of those fascinating Victorian lives (Wikipedia provides a much livelier biography than that earlier link), full of scandal, political activity and intelligence. It's telling that when Mother has to support the family in Father's absence, she turns to writing, as it appears Nesbit was supporting her wayward husband (and his lovers and children) in a similar fashion. The story itself is charming in an old-fashioned way, but I appreciate the portrayal of Bobbie and Phyl (Roberta and Phyllis) as adventurers equal to their brother.

The audiobook is from a publisher I've never listened to before:  iambik, which evidently grew out of LibriVox. Without ever having listened to a LibriVox audiobook, my first reaction to learning of its philosophy was "why?" Why would I want to listen to an audiobook read by ... me, when there are professionals about? (Maybe I'm over-sensitive at the moment. I see my own employer turning the more and more of the work formerly done by professionals to those who haven't made the education and training commitment that I have.)

However, there is nothing unprofessional about this production, read by Cori Samuel. If she chooses conventional voices for all the characters -- earnest and girlish for Bobbie and Phyl, louder and more rambunctious for Peter, calm for Mother, etc. -- none of them are caricatures.  She reads the narrative portions clearly and with appropriate emotions for the somewhat omniscient narrator.  It's an enjoyable listen all round.

Once I got over my disappointment that the kids were never going to be taking up residence in a railway car, I remembered that I had actually seen a movie (or a television) version ... maybe even both. The actress Jenny Agutter played Bobbie in a 1970 version and then played saintly Mother in 2000. Now, Agutter is even more saintly (she can rock a wimple) in my current television fave, Call the Midwife. She's one of those child actors who has managed to age well, and thus we happily know little about her.

This audiobook was a gift from iambik, through the Solid Gold Reviewer program at the Audiobook Jukebox.

[Maybe this is Three Chimneys? This photograph from the geograph.org.uk project is of a lovely cottage probably no where near a rail line, although I think it is located in the general vicinity of where this novel takes place.  It was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
Narrated by Cori Samuel
Iambik Audio, 2012.  6:03

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