Harlequinade was first published in 1943. It is now out
Story | Background
| Thoughts | Editions
When a circus is disbanded due to the war, the children are sent
to live in the West country: Nick, son of the ringmaster; Andrea,
the son of a clown; Sadie, the daughter of trapeze artists, who
wants to be a ballerina; Serge, the son of a wire walker; and
Nonie, Nick's adopted brother. Although people in the town are
nice to them, the children feel like "aliens in a strange
land" (Harlequinade, 1943:4).
Through spring and summer, the children have been using a field
as a practice place to work on their circus skills. One day, at
the beginning of winter, they get lost in a mist, and arrive at
the front door of an old man's house. He invites them in, and
tells them the story of the Harlequinade.
Harlequinade, like The
Children of Primrose Lane, was written during the Blitz.
Angela Bull suggests that
it comes from a time "when writing was a wearisome chore,
and not the joy it had once been; when the energy to think of
fresh characters and events had drained away; when Noel, more
shaken than she would care to admit, would emerge from under her
desk saying - 'Where was I?'"(1984:183)
The opening of Harlequinade contains some of Noel's
most poetic writing:
It was the winter the children found hard. Then
mists blew over the hills and wrapped the town in grey folds.
Then rain streamed down the crooked streets, and that in turn
was swept away by the great roaring wind, which tore up the
river shouting of the giant waves it had built of the sea. (Harlequinade,
They were children of the circus. The circus
was disbanded, the animals scattered, and the artistes flying,
drilling, working in factories or on the sea. Like flotsam and
jetsam left as the tide goes out, so the receding circus had
left nothing behind but the children. (Harlequinade,
This creates a mournful atmosphere of displacement and loneliness.
Unfortunately, the book does not really maintain the power of
this evocative opening. The characterisation is not very sophisticated,
the plotline is slim in the extreme, and much of the writing is
matter-of-fact, rather than poetic. The reader will certainly
learn some interesting facts about the history of the Harlequinade.
However, perhaps even more importantly than the history, in Harlequinade
Noel is also exploring the healing and unifying power of
laughter. Sadly, her writing in this story is perhaps a little
too uneven to garner the emotional response for which she was
Editions and Availability
Harlequinade was published in 1943 by Chatto and Windus.
It was illustrated by Clarke Hutton. It does not appear to have
been reissued at any stage.
There does not seem to have been a US edition of Harlequinade.
Out of Print
Harlequinade is out of print and very rare. In February 2004, the only second hand copy I can find listed by an online
bookseller costs £20. (Source: Addall
Used and Out of Print Book Search.)