Noel Streatfeild
Noel Streatfeild's Life Children's Fiction Adults' Fiction Non-Fiction Autobiography and Biography Resource Materials    


Adults' Fiction

A National Monument

With books such as White Boots and The Growing Summer, Noel's popularity with readers continued to increase. "Her sales might not equal Enid Blyton's, but there was hardly a newspaper reference or library poll which did not place her in the first flight" (Bull, 1984:202). Throughout the 1950s and 60s, she was acknowledged as one of the leading lights of English children's literature. She opened exhibitions and bazaars, spoke at Book Weeks, was guest of honour at school speech days, and "was one of the 'sixteen principal literary figures in Britain today', who, with Bernard Shaw, Compton Mackenzie, J. B. Priestley and others, autographed a teacloth which was sold to raise funds for the PEN Club" (Bull, 1984:199).

In addition to works of fiction, in the 1950s Noel also began writing non-fiction books (e.g. The First Book of the Ballet, The First Book of England, Queen Victoria) and editing collections of both fiction and non-fiction works (such as By Special Request and The Years of Grace). In 1958, she wrote a biography and critical study of E. Nesbit, Magic and the Magician.

In the 1960s, she extended her range still further. One day, in 1961, she had been entertaining one of her American publishers, Helen Hoke, with stories of her childhood in the Vicarage. Helen was fascinated by a lifestyle of which she knew nothing, and suggested that Noel write it in a book. Noel was interested in the idea, but a little self-conscious about it. Her solution to this was to change everybody's names: thus the character representing Noel in A Vicarage Family, and its sequels Away from the Vicarage and Beyond the Vicarage, is called Victoria Strangeway. This degree of anonymity reduced the sense of exposure caused by an autobiography, and also freed her to embroider the truth where necessary to make a better story.

Up until the 1960s, Noel had continued to intersperse her prodigious output for children with regular novels for adults, but she eventually concluded that this was no longer worthwhile, and moved exclusively to the field of children's writing. However, even without adult novels, the 1960s were her most prolific decade.

In 1968, Noel suffered a stroke which left her paralysed down the left side. She worked intensely with physiotherapists and speech therapists, and made an almost complete recovery. Nevertheless, the limp she was left with (combined with the staircase to her flat) caused her to stay indoors more often, and a slight blurring of speech meant that she could no longer lecture. To make matters worse, her poodle, Pierre, had to be put down, and her close friend Margot died suddenly. Her brother, Bill, had died earlier in the year, and her mother and Barbara were also dead.

Thumbnail photograph of William and Janet Streatfeild's grave - click to enlarge
William and Janet's grave
Thumbnail photograph of Barbara's gravestone - click to enlarge
Barbara's gravestone
Thumbnail photograph of Bill's gravestone - click to enlarge
Bill's gravestone

Click on images to enlarge.

Photographs kindly provided by Barbara Brown.

Noel kept writing, as this was a way of dealing with the stresses of life. However, increasingly she chose to locate her books in the past - e.g. Thursday's Child and When the Siren Wailed - rather than having a contemporary setting.

For her eightieth birthday, she was invited to appear on the radio program Desert Island Discs:

In the accepted way she looked backwards, choosing, among her records, music from Wolf-Ferrari's Jewels of the Madonna, which had introduced the Children's Hour broadcasts of Ballet Shoes; Saint-Saens' The Dying Swan as a reminder of Ninette de Valois, that unforgettable Little Wonder; and Tschaikovsky's fifth symphony, to which her other favourite, Irina Baronova, had danced Présages. The book she chose was John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, and her luxury was a set of gardening tools. (Bull, 1984:240)

Between July and Christmas 1979, a series of small strokes forced her into a nursing home. However, when, in 1983, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire, she was strong enough to go to the Palace and receive the decoration in person.

Noel Streatfeild passed away on 11 September 1986. In March 2003, a commemorative blue plaque was unveiled at Streatfeild House, the former vicarage in Hastings.

Thumbnail photograph of Noel's gravestone - click to enlarge
Noel's gravestone

Photograph kindly provided by Barbara Brown.

Thumbnail photograph of unveiling of blue plaque - click to enlarge
Unveiling of blue plaque

Photograph reproduced by permission of Hastings Today.

Click on images to enlarge.

In summing up Noel's life, Angela Bull makes the point that:

Not many people can have lived to her great age, with such a record of successes, and incurred so little resentment and hostility. The memories of her friends were warm and affectionate. That she was occasionally pompous, and sometimes a little vain, were the worst things anyone could find to say about her. She sailed through her adult life, confident that people would like her - and they did. (1984:241-2)

 


Noel Streatfeild's Life

Childhood

World War One

Actress

First Novels

First Children's Books

World War Two

After the War

A National Monument

   
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