Nearing the end of January I was in the mood for a classic novel but nothing too challenging. In which case I found myself drawn to the children’s classic novel The Children of the New Forest by Frederick Marryat. The snow may have been washed away but it was still wet and cold so I thought this might be a nice book of an evening to snuggle up with in bed.
The Children of the New Forest follows four young siblings Edward, Humphrey, Alice, and Edith who find themselves orphaned after their father Colonel Beverley is killed during the Civil War defending King Charles I. Fearing for the childrens’s safety at the hands of the Roundheads a loyal family servant Jacob Armitage takes them to live at his cottage in The New Forest to raise them as his grandchildren. I was rather more enamoured with the setting as my mother lives in the New Forest today! Jacob and the children live a quiet life for several years hidden away from prying eyes. Edward learns how to hunt, Humphrey learns woodwork, and the youngest Alice and Edith learn to cook, sew and tend to poultry. These are pretty stereotypical gender roles to take up but one must remember this novel was published in 1847 and is set in an even earlier time. I actually found it quite inspiring reading about the children’s simple life of dedication to their own tasks.
There isn’t a great deal of action in The Children of the New Forest the main focus is the siblings Edward, Humphrey, Alice, and Edith as they grow from children into young adults. Alice and Edith being so young when they lost their parents are the ones who know little else than their quiet life in the forest. Humphrey being the second eldest remembers his life on the family estate Arnwood but is such a clever and practical young man whose aim is to improve the life they now have. While the eldest Edward remembers the most about their former life. He is also an ambitious young man who is interested in restoring the monarch and his family back to their former positions. The chance to change their lives though doesn’t come untill they become acquainted with the new intendant of the forest Mr Heatherstone and his caring daughter Patience. I really enjoyed the mixture of characters that the children meet as they grow up. Some who try to help and some who try to hinder but all of them help to shape the adults the children are to become.
The Children of the New Forest is the first novel I have read by Frederick Marryat which if I’m honest is the only novel of his I’d heard of being written. Having done a quick search it appears Marryat was quite a prolific writer, none of his other titles ring a bell for me though. Marryat’s style in The Children of the New Forest is rather formal but is softened by the addition of the inner thoughts of the children. Even though the novel has some age to it I found it to be an easy read. The only thing that threw me at first was the dialogue of the children which just seemed so serious and adult like in their speech to each other and even in their inner thought moments. I did have to keep reminding myself they were children and not middle-aged adults. This was something I got used to though as I become more attached to them as personalities.
The Children of the New Forest was another charming coming-of-age novel which reminded me a little of reading Little Women although it didn’t have such a personal touch as the latter novel did. I recommend to those interested in English children’s classics. The Children of the New Forest is my tenth read off my Classics Club list.
Have you read The Children of the New Forest? Do you have any favourite coming-of-age tales?