Eleanor Farjeon: A Story Writer

Eleanor Farjeon (February 13th, 1881- June 5th, 1965)

Eleanor Farjeon is described as been small, shy and quiet, and she wore glasses from the age of eight. Her parents contributed much to her career as a writer and poet. Her father, Benjamin Leopold Farjeon (1838-1903) was a successful writer and novelist and is described as being very high spirited and enthusiastic with life. Maggie (Jefferson) Farjeon, her mother, was the daughter of a well known American actor. "Nellie" (as she was affectionately called by her parents) would later care for her dying mother through a lingering and painful illness of twelve years. She had three brothers: Harry Farjeon (1878-1948) (who became a composer), Joseph Jefferson Farjeon(1883-1955)(who was a mystery writer) and Herbert Farjeon (1887-1945)(who was a major figure in the British theatre); she was 2nd in rank in the family.

In her childhood, she was "home schooled" and she loved books, perhaps her frequent headaches and colds were contributed to by the dust of the "little bookroom" - an attic space piled with books. She was encouraged by her father to write from age of five, and did the lyrics for an operetta composed by her brother when she was eighteen. She had a vigorous imaginary life, especially with her older brother Harry (who became a composer). Though very shy and emotionally immature into her thirties, she was well acquainted with a circle of talented artists, writers and musicians.

She had two significant "loves" in her early years, one an infatuation with Stacy Aumonier, the other a friendship with the Poet Edward Thomas - both married men for whom she wrote a series of sonnets (published as First & Second Love by Micheal Joseph in 1947). She never married, but had a contented thirty year relationship with an English teacher, George Earle (known as "Pod"), and after his death in 1949, a long friendship with actor Denys Blakelock, who wrote a memoir, Portrait of a Farjeon [1966].

She was a friend of many poets including: D.H. Lawrence, Walter de la Mare, Robert Frost, and his close friend Edward Thomas (who was tragically killed in WWI). She had a "unique relationship" with Thomas and his wife Helen. Eleanor introduced him to Frost and to poetry, and wrote the forward to Thomas' The Road Ahead, published 40 years after his death, when she was 84. Another biographical book, combining her diaries and his letters from the war: Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years [1958] has just been republished. Some of Helen Thomas' letters to Robert Frost also survive, and there has been some controversy concerning them. Farjeon and Thomas were acquainted with the Dymock Poets .

Eleanor Farjeon was a writer and poet and playwright: a regular contributor to Punch Magazine (1914-17), she wrote verse (as Tomfool) for the Daily Herald, London (1917-30); and was also a staff member of Time and Tide in the 20's. Eleanor's Plays included The Glass Slipper (1944) and The Silver Curlew (1949), both based on well known fairytales. She is probably best known for her children's verse and stories: many out of print for a while, some have been since been reprinted. She wrote the words of the hymn "Morning has Broken", which was turned into a well known popular song by Cat Stevens and which is available as a picture book.

Awards Received:

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The stories and other writings of Eleanor Farjeon include for children: 30 works of fiction, most were collections of stories; three plays based on fairy tales, 33 publications of verse, and eight other books. Writings for adults included 11 novels, as well as plays, verse, and biography. Most are probably hard to find, though a number of her collections of stories were reprinted in the 1950's.

Here are some recommended volumes for Story Tellers: The Little Bookroom, 1955 - a collection of her favorite stories - earned her two well deserved awards. Kalidescope (1928), Jim at the Corner (1934), Italian Peepshow (1926), Old Nurse's Stocking Basket (1931) were all reprinted with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. Other storytelling resources include: Mighty Men: From Achilles to Caesar; Beowulf to Harold (2 Volumes)(1925); Ten Saints (1936), and a prose version of Tales from Chaucer (1930).

Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard [1922] was her first significant book. She used a children's singing game about a wandering minstrel, six man-hating milkmaids, and an imprisoned maiden, and a mixture of poetry, drama and storytelling, to explore the nature of love and "who was at fault, Adam or Eve?". A second book, Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field, [1937] - includes "Elsie Piddock skips in her Sleep" a story now available as a picture book. More will soon be forthcoming on the Martin Pippin Books.

She wrote an autobiography of her childhood: A Nursery in the Nineties (Portrait of a Family, was its American title). Her Adult Books include: Pan-Worship and Other Poems [1908], The Soul of Kol Nikon [1914, 1923] a fantasy novel, Gypsy and Ginger [1920] an urban Fantasy (London), The Fair of St.James: A Fantasia [1932], Ariadne and the Bull [1945], Arthur Rackham: The Wizard at Home [1914], Faithful Jenny Dove and Other Tales[1925] a story collection, and Humming Bird: A Novel [1936]

Many of her books were illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, who wrote the Tim and Lucy picture books series and illustrated over 150 books! His style is perfectly suited to Eleanor Farjeon's stories - seemingly simple sketches are strikingly three dimensional with a cross hatching technique that suggests illumination from the side. The illustrations on this page were done by him. He drew Eleanor in her bookroom for her award winning book: The Little Bookroom. She considered his interpretation near perfect, saying of them "All I feel about childhood is in them." He did illustrations for an autobiography of his own childhood as well: A Younger Ardizzone.

Her books were illustrated by many other artists as well - notably by Helen Sewell, Peggy Fortnum, Robert Kennedy, and Isobel and John Morton-Sale.

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Eleanor Farjeon's style and method

Many of her collections of stories were built around a central character who would be the story teller: whether it was Martin Pippin - Old Jim at the corner with his tall tales of the sea, or the Old Nurse darning socks and entertaining the children, it was Eleanor, in reality. She liked links between imaginative fantasy and reality, so tales were often proceeded by real events that gave inspiration - in the Italian Peepshow - chapters alternate between the real and the imaginary. Her imagination seems boundless. In some of her stories, we find the improvisational technique of getting prompts from the children of several objects or places, and then weaving them into a story. Her gentleness stands out alongside her imagination, and she is never far from her childhood. Reading her stories may help the adult see the world again from a child's perspective. Though some of her tales are perhaps too romantic for our gritty world, she is a rich source of literary stories and imaginative inspiration for the story teller.

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