The Wouldbegoods – E. Nesbit

Continuing the series about the Bastable children is The Wouldbegoods, in which the children discover that having money again and living in their Indian Uncle’s fancy house in town does not make them automatically desire to be good.

I didn’t find this nearly as much fun as The Treasure-Seekers. The latter carried on the often amusing conceit that the narrator was anonymous, although Oswald outed himself near the end, as if the reader hadn’t already known after a couple of paragraphs. Still, he did come out and admit it – which makes it somewhat trying that the same conceit is carried on here.

It’s a bit funny to read (listen to) this almost immediately after The Railway Children. That set of kids was well-intentioned, good-hearted, and heroic; this lot is much more lawless and self-absorbed. The very name “Wouldbegoods” is a sign of it: they realize that they are prone to petty criminality as the sparks fly upward, and the two “prissy” girls, Dora and Daisy, propose to form a club to try to improve themselves.

It doesn’t go terribly well.

I hate to say it, being as he (along with his creator) is a birthday-twin, but … I don’t like Oswald Bastable in this. He was somewhat endearing in his pompous yet insecure self-praise in TTS, but here he and one or two of the others seem to have a bit more of a mean streak, or perhaps simply carelessness. Oswald will go far, though, with his attributes – or end up hanged.

I think part of it was that I missed Albert’s Uncle in The Wouldbegoods – hey! Where did his beloved go? And why did I only just think of that? Hm. Anyway. I loved Albert’s Uncle in The Treasure Seekers, but while he was nominally the adult in charge here he was locked up in his room writing a great deal. Rather more than might have been wise given the amount of close supervision these children require. Without him, there is less of the second-hand, through-the-lens-of-Oswald’s-POV adult reaction which made Treasure Seekers so priceless.

I think that’s a big part of why the constant string of incidents wore a bit thinner in The Wouldbegoods than in Treasure Seekers: it very soon becomes don’t these kids ever learn? combined with Oswald at least must be old enough to know better by now. But they haven’t, and he doesn’t, and there goes the pig galloping down the road while the sheep vanish in the opposite direction. The one certainty in any given chapter is that there will be breakage.

Wouldbegoods is still miles better than most of what’s put out today, as far as I’ve seen; it’s still great fun. So: not my favorite, but still – E. Nesbit. That counts for a great deal.

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