Farjeon, Eleanor (1881–1965)

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Farjeon, Eleanor (1881–1965)

English children's writer whose Little Bookroom won the Hans Andersen and Carnegie medals. Name variations: (pseudonyms) Tomfool and Chimaera. Born on February 13, 1881, in London, England; died on June 5, 1965, in Hampstead, London; third of five children of Benjamin Leopold (a novelist) and Margaret Jane (Jefferson) Farjeon (an actress); no formal schooling; never married; no children.

Awards, honors:

First recipient of International Hans Christian Andersen Award (1956) for The Little Bookroom (the medal is presented biennially by the International Board on Books for Young People, in cooperation with UNESCO, for the best book of fiction for children); Carnegie Medal of Library Association in England (1956) for The Little Bookroom; first Regina Medal of Catholic Library Association (1959).

Selected writings:

(based on a story by Heinrich Zschoekke) Floretta: Opera in Two Acts (Henderson and Spaulding, 1899); The Registry Office: An Original Comic Opera in One Act (Henderson and Spaulding, 1900); (poems) Pan-Worship (Elkin Matthews, 1908); Dream-Songs for the Beloved (Orpheus Press, 1911); Trees (Fellowship Books, 1913, Batsford, 1918); Nursery Rhymes of London Town (Duckworth, 1916); All the Way to Alfriston (Morland Press, 1918); Singing Games for Children (Dent, 1918); Poems and Sonnets (Blackwell, 1918); Gypsy and Ginger (Dutton, 1920); Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard (Collins, 1921); Songs for Music and Lyrical Poems (Selwyn and Blount, 1922); Tunes of a Penny Piper (Selwyn and Blount, 1922); The Soul of Kol Nikon (Stokes, 1923); (verse) All the Year Round (Collins, 1923); The Town Child's Alphabet (Poetry Bookshop, London, 1924); The Country Child's Alphabet (Poetry Bookshop, 1924); Mighty Men, Book 1, From Achilles to Julius Caesar (Basil Blackwell, 1924), Book 2, From Beowulf to William the Conqueror (Basil Blackwell, 1924); Young Folk and Old (High House Press, 1925); Tom Cobble (Basil Blackwell, 1925); Faithful Jenny Dove, and Other Tales (Collins, 1925, reissued as Faithful Jenny Dove, and Other Illusions, M. Joseph, 1963); Joan's Door (Collins, 1926); Nuts and May, a Medley for Children (Collins, 1926); Italian Peepshow and Other Tales (Stokes, 1926); Come Christmas (Collins, 1927); The Mill of Dreams; or, Jennifer's Tale (Collins, 1927); The King's Barn; or, Joan's Tale (Collins, 1927); The Wonderful Knight (Basil Blackwell, 1927); Young Gerard; or, Joyce's Tale (Collins, 1927); Open Winkins; or, Jessica's Tale (Collins, 1928); Kaleidoscope (Collins, 1928); (verse) The A.B.C. of the B.B.C. (Collins, 1928); An Alphabet of Magic (Medici Society, London, 1928); A Bad Day for Martha (Basil Blackwell, 1928); First Chap-Book of Rounds (Dutton, c. 1928); Second Chap-Book of Rounds (Dutton, c. 1928); The Perfect Zoo (McKay, 1929); A Collection of Poems (Collins, 1929); The King's Daughter Cries for the Moon (Basil Blackwell, 1929); The Tale of Tom Tiddler (Collins, 1929, published as Tale of Tom Tiddler; with Rhymes of London Town, Stokes, 1930); Proud Rosalind and the Hart-Royal (Collins, 1930); King's Barn (Collins, 1930); Westwood (Basil Blackwell, 1930); Tales from Chaucer; The Canterbury Tales Done into Prose (R. Hale, 1930, reissued as Tales from Chaucer, ReTold, Oxford University Press, 1960); Ladybrook (Stokes, 1931); The Old Nurse's Stocking-Basket (Stokes, 1931); Perkin the Pedlar (Faber, 1932); The Fair of St. James (Stokes, 1932, published in England as The Fair of St. James; a Fantasia, Faber, 1932); Katy Kruse at the Seaside; or, The Deserted Islanders (McKay, 1932); Pannychys (HighHouse Press, 1933); Ameliaranne and the Magic Ring (McKay, 1933); (poems for children) Over the Garden Wall (Stokes, 1933); Ameliaranne's Prize Packet (Harrap, 1933); Jim at the Corner and Other Stories (Basil Blackwell, 1934); The Old Sailor's Yarn Box (Stokes, 1934); Ameliaranne's Washing Day (McKay, 1934); The Clumber Pup (Basil Blackwell, 1934); The Children's Bells; a Selection of Poems (Basil Blackwell, 1934); (autobiographical) A Nursery in the Nineties (Gollancz, 1935, published as Portrait of a Family, Stokes, 1936, reprinted, Oxford University Press, 1960); And I Dance Mine Own Child (Basil Blackwell, 1935); Ten Saints (Oxford University Press, 1936); Jim and the Pirates (Basil Blackwell, 1936); (novel), Humming Bird (M. Joseph, 1936); Paladins in Spain (Nelson, 1937); The Wonders of Herodotus (Nelson, 1937); Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field (M. Joseph, 1937); Love Affair (M. Joseph, 1937); (verse for children) Sing For Your Supper (Stokes, 1938); One Foot in Fairyland (Stokes, 1938); (children's plays and games; illustrated by Joan Jefferson Farjeon) Grannie Gray (Dent, 1939); A Sussex Alphabet (Pear Tree Press, 1939); Miss Granby's Secret; or The Bastard of Pinsk (M. Joseph, 1940); Brave Old Woman (M. Joseph, 1941); Magic Casements (Allen and Unwin, 1941); The New Book of Days (Oxford University Press, 1941); Songs from Punch; Set to Music (Saville, c. 1941); (poems for children) Cherrystones (M. Joseph, 1942); The Fair Venetian (M. Joseph, 1943); Golden Coney (M. Joseph, 1943); Dark World of Animals (Sylvan Press, 1945); (verse) A Prayer for Little Things (Houghton, 1945); Ariadne and the Bull (M. Joseph, 1945); The Mulberry Bush (M. Joseph, 1945); First and Second Love: Sonnets (M. Joseph, 1947); (verses) The Starry Floor (M. Joseph, 1949); (narrative poem) Mrs. Malone (M. Joseph, 1950); Poems for Children (Lippincott, 1951); Silver-Sand and Snow (M. Joseph, 1951); (play for children) The Silver Curlew (produced in England, 1948, illustrated by Ernest Shepard, Oxford University Press, 1953); (short stories for children) The Little Bookroom (Oxford University Press, 1955); Elizabeth Myers (St. Albert's Press, 1957); Then There Were Three: Being Cherrystones, The Mulberry Bush, The Starry Floor (M. Joseph, 1953); Memoirs: Book I (of a projected 4), Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years (Oxford University Press, 1958); (ed. by Eleanor Graham) Eleanor Farjeon's Book (Penguin, 1960); (ed. with William James Carter Mayne) The Hamish Hamilton Book of Kings (Hamish Hamilton, 1964, published as A Cavalcade of Kings, Walck, 1965); (ed. and author of introduction) Edward Thomas, The Green Roads: Poems (Holt, 1965); (ed. with Mayne) A Cavalcade of Queens (Walck, 1965); Mr. Garden (Walck, 1966); (poems) Around the Seasons (Walck, 1969).

Topical and nonsense poet of Daily Herald (London) under pseudonym Tomfool (1919–32). Contributor to Time and Tide under pseudonym Chimaera, and to Punch and other periodicals. Two selections of Nonsense Poems, "Tomfooleries" and "Moonshine," were published by Labour Press (1920, 1921).

"I was a dreamy, timid, sickly, lachrymose, painfully shy, sensitive, greedy, ill-regulated little girl," wrote Eleanor Farjeon, one of England's most distinguished writers for children. She was the third of five children of Benjamin Farjeon, a prolific writer of mysteries and novels, and Margaret Jefferson , an actress and daughter of the renowned American actor Joseph Jefferson. The Farjeon household was dominated by Benjamin, a brilliant and volatile man whose temperament vacillated between tremendous highs, during which the house was crammed with artistic and theatrical friends, and abysmal lows, at which time the family lived in enforced silence. In order to deal with the tensions, Eleanor Farjeon wrapped herself in fantasy, playing imaginative games with her eldest brother Harry and losing herself among the 8,000 books that comprised the family library. Since her father did not believe in a formal education for his daughter, the library became her schoolroom as well as her escape. "It would have been more natural to live without clothes than without books," she later said. Her father did, however, recognize his children's prodigious talents and encouraged Farjeon and her brothers in their literary and artistic pursuits. He presented each of them with a book in which they could write stories, plays, and poems, and when he felt that something was particularly good he allowed them to copy it into a large volume that he kept on his desk. Farjeon often collaborated with her brother Harry who was a brilliant musician. Their light operetta, Floretta, was performed by the Royal Academy of Music, where Harry was a student, in 1898. Harry would later serve as a professor at the Royal Academy, until his death in 1948.

When Ben Farjeon died in 1903 after a short illness, he left little money. The family was forced to move to a smaller house, and the boys had to quit school and find work. Eleanor Farjeon, now 22, remained at home with her mother and in 1908 paid to have her first book of poetry, Pan-Worship and Other Poems, published. She still had no real sense of self. "I was nearly 30 before I gave life a chance to grab me," she later remarked. "I ran away and hid when I might have been falling in love, and could have been bearing children. I was ignorant of my human longings, and among people was unconscious of having any individuality beyond my acutely painful shyness." The turning point in her life was her introduction to poet Edward Thomas (1878–1917), author of highly regarded books about southern England's countryside, in 1912. The two were immediately drawn together by their mutual interest in writing, and, though Thomas was married, Farjeon fell deeply in love with him. His death in France while fighting at the Battle of Arras in 1917 was a terrible blow but ultimately matured her as a writer. She recorded their relationship in her later work, Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years (1958). Farjeon subsequently entered into a 30-year liaison with George Earle, a scholar, who was also married.

After Thomas' death, Farjeon moved to a cottage in Sussex and immersed herself in writing. During this time, she produced Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard (1921), a romantic fantasy combining verse, prose, and folklore. Although it was originally intended for adult readers, the book's tremendous appeal to youngsters through the years led to its re-release in 1952 as a children's story. In the early 1920s, Farjeon returned to Hampstead, London, where she released a steady stream of children's books, poems, games, and folktales. In eight years, she produced 22 works and also penned daily verses for the Daily Herald, using the name Tomfool, as well as a weekly poem for the feminist Time and Tide, written under the pseudonym Chimaera.

Following her mother's death in 1933, Farjeon embarked on a family memoir, A Nursery in the Nineties, which was published in 1935 and presents a compelling study of bohemian family life. She collaborated with her younger brother Herbert on many works, including the operetta The Two Bouquets (1936), which was produced in London and America, and a children's play, The Glass Slipper (1944). During the 1930s and 1940s, Farjeon also wrote a number of adult books: Ladybrook (1931), Humming Bird (1936), Miss Granby's Secret (1940), and Ariadne and the Bull (1945).

In her later years, Farjeon created what are considered her best children's books, some of them reworked from earlier publications. Notable from this period are Silver-Sand and Snow (1951) and The Children's Bells (1957) as well as The Little Bookroom (1955), a collection of stories that won the Carnegie and the Hans Andersen medals for children's literature. Farjeon's best work followed the resolution of her spiritual beliefs. Raised in a Jewish-Christian household, she had never been instructed in a particular religion and only late in life began to understand her own convictions. In 1951, calling herself "a very old baby," she was received into the Roman Catholic Church.

Despite cataracts and bouts of bronchitis, Farjeon continued to write until the end of her life. She was in the midst of what were to be four volumes of her memoirs (the first of which was Edward Thomas) when she died on June 5, 1965, at age 84. Upon her death, the Eleanor Farjeon annual award for children's writing was established in her honor. Although revered for her children's books, the author is also known for the hymn "Morning has broken," which she wrote in the early 1920s, and which soared to the Top Ten when recorded in the early 1970s by singer Cat Stevens.


Beaty, Susan. "Eleanor Farjeon," in This England. Spring 1989.

Commire, Anne. Something about the Author. Vol. 2. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.

Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford and NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.

suggested reading:

Farjeon, Annabel. Morning Has Broken. Julia MacRae Books, 1986.

Farjeon, Eleanor. Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years. Oxford University Press, 1958.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Farjeon, Eleanor (1881–1965)

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