Noel wrote three autobiographical works. However, concerned by the
degree of exposure necessitated by autobiographical writings, she decided
to provide a "thin sheild of anonymity" by using pseudonyms
rather than real names. Thus, the Streatfeild family became the Strangeways,
and Noel called herself Victoria.
A Vicarage Family (1963)
A Vicarage Family tells the story of "Victoria's"
childhood, through to the beginning of the First Word War.
Having decided to avoid real names, Noel also took a number of liberties
with details, adjusting dates, distorting some characters, and rearranging
or altering events to suit her story. Thus, Noel's biographer, Angela
Bull, says that A Vicarage Family - in spite of its subtitle
A story of myself - "is more a novel based on Noel's childhood
than the unvarnished truth of conventional autobiographies" (1984:219).
Away From the Vicarage (1965. Published in
the US as On Tour: An Autobiographical Novel of the Twenties)
Away From the Vicarage picks up the story of "Victoria"
at the end of the First World War. It tells of her decision to become
an actress, her training at the Royal Academy, and her ten years working
in the field. The book ends with Vicky deciding to give up acting and
become a writer.
This book is, for the most part, more factually correct than A
Vicarage Family. Even the names are closer - Victoria's stage name
is "Victoria Sonning", while Noel's was "Noelle Sonning"
- although she does avoid naming a number of theatre luminaries with
whom she worked. The fictional episodes in this book are mainly about
love affairs: Angela Bull says
that none of Noel's friends were able to guess the identities of "Robert"
and "Claude". Bull speculates
that Noel may have invented these episodes in order to conceal her "sexual
Beyond the Vicarage (1971)
In Beyond the Vicarage "Vicky" begins her writing
career as a novelist for adults, and is persuaded (somewhat against
her will) to also write children's books. Beyond the Vicarage
also covers the years of the Second World War, during which Noel worked
for the WVS.
As she embarks on the story of her life as a writer, Noel is forced
to virtually abandon the "shield of anonymity" - many people,
such as Mabel Carey, are now given their real names rather than pseudonyms.
However, this book is less well structured than the two earlier works.
Once she is a writer, Vicky seems too close to Noel
to be observed with the clarity of the earlier books; and the nearer
the narrative approaches its actual time, the scrappier it grows.
... [After the war], Beyond the Vicarage degenerates into
the random chit-chat of a letter home, with disjointed thoughts and
events pulled loosely together. Fiction is avoided, but its absence
demonstrates how much the other two volumes gained in shape and content
when Noel's imagination took control. (Bull,
Nevertheless, Beyond the Vicarage provides a fascinating insight
into the early years of Noel's writing career.
In addition to her fictionalised autobiographies, Noel also wrote three
biographical works: a life and critical analysis of the children's author
E. Nesbit, a life of Queen Victoria, and the story of a family servant,
Noel's father's nurse. (She also wrote a book about Tutankhamen, but
as this contains general information about the society, and about the
archaeologists, I have included it in the Non-Fiction
section of this website.)
Magic and the Magician: E.
Nesbit and Her Children's Books (1958)
Magic and the Magician is generally described as a "biography"
of E. Nesbit. In fact, more than half the book is devoted to a study
of Nesbit's characters, and the biographical material concentrates almost
exclusively on her childhood. Noel herself says that the book "is
not intended to be a life of E. Nesbit, but an attempt only to understand
her magic, and from what it sprang" (Magic and the Magician,
Queen Victoria (1958)
Queen Victoria was written for the US market, as part of the
"Landmark" series of books, which also included such titles
as Trappers and Traders of the Far West by James Daugherty,
Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde by Harold Lamb, and Exploring
the Himalaya by William O. Douglas.
Noel's book is a very readable tale of Queen Victoria's life, including
the political situation, her childhood and education, and her reign.
Noel drew on a number of primary sources, including Victoria's diary.
Gran-Nannie is Noel's loving tribute to Grand-Nannie, the
nurse who had looked after Streatfeild children for three generations.
Noel uses some of the same names as she had in the Vicarage Family
series, such as Isobel, Victoria and Louise for herself and her sisters.
However, it is clear that, once again, she has adjusted things where
necessary to make a better story. It is, in fact, impossible to make
Gran-Nannie chronologically consistent with A Vicarage
Family. In Gran-Nannie, Emily - Gran-Nannie - is born
in the 1870s, only about 20 years before Noel herself: in reality,
she was probably born in the 1850s or earlier. The characters representing
Noel's parents get married in 1910, and their daughters - Noel and her
sisters - visit Gran-Nanny as children during the First World War.
|It is therefore difficult
to trust Gran-Nannie as an historical record of an earlier
generation of the Streatfeild family or of Grand-Nannie herself.
As it is is impossible to determine where truth ends and fiction
begins, it should probably be viewed more as a story based on fact,
than as an actual biography. Nevertheless, Gran-Nannie
is an engaging tale of a young girl becoming a trusted family retainer.
While many of the details may be fictional, it is an enjoyable,
and (one presumes) accurate general picture of life in a big house
at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.
Grand Nannie's Headstone