The Runaway (1872) by Elizabeth Anna Hart (1822 – 90)

IMG_20150923_190749-1Before reviewing The Runaway, I would like to begin by quoting a passage from “Of Queens’ Gardens” in Sesame and Lilies (1865) by John Ruskin:

“You bring up your girls as if they were meant for sideboard ornaments, and then complain of their frivolity. Give them the same advantages that you give their brothers – appeal to the same grand instincts of virtue in them; teach THEM, also, that courage and truth are the pillars of their being: do you think that they would not answer that appeal, brave and true as they are even now, when you know that there is hardly a girls’ school in this Christian kingdom where the children’s courage or sincerity would be thought of half so much importance as their way of coming in at a door; and when the whole system of society, as respects the mode of establishing them in life, is one rotten plague of cowardice and imposture – cowardice, in not daring to let them live, or love, except as their neighbours choose; and imposture, in bringing, for the purposes of our own pride, the full glow of the world’s worst vanity upon a girl’s eyes, at the very period when the whole happiness of her future existence depends upon her remaining undazzled?”


There are other references I would want to talk about as well. But going straight to the point, this is a loveable story. Olga, a fifteen-year-old girl and the heroine of the novel, ran away from a Yorkshire girl’s school and accidentally travelled by a train to the London suburbs where she encountered Clarice Clavering in the glade. Little Clarice then promised to hide Olga in her cottage and consciously found guilty of having deceived her closest family and friends in false pretensions and lies for Olga. I in my past read novels set in the nineteenth century which mostly deal with grown-up heroines overcoming pernicious conditions and vicious nature; on the contrary, this story by Elizabeth Anna Hart is a close examination on girls’ inner world through the means of a joyful tale for all ages of readers.

IMG_20150923_190056-1The Runaway has bountiful antitheses and thoughts – adults versus girls and boys, regularity and irregularity, unimaginable and imaginable, heroic deception and realistic honesty; most importantly, Elizabeth could be emphasizing that there’s nothing wrong at all in the cultivation of girls’ curiosities in life and being adventurous (not volatile and capricious) instead of praising, keeping them under and down in development of affectations and submission. Apart from that, the story also satirizes the artificial and unimaginative grown-up world in a light, roundabout way, for example, the industrious and paced environment, maddening built-up of railway lines and communication through telegram, as well as boredom and reasonable ground produced by clergymen and magistrates with a child’s perspectives.

IMG_20150923_191441What I also like most are the unconventional and creative thinking of Olga through the conversations with Clarice, which reflects that adults are sometimes foolish and irrational compared to children, even though they always endeavour to educate and produce an exemplary image for their children based on facts and reasons.

I was thinking just now that I wished I was grown-up that I might not be under control; but it certainly never occurred to me to throw off the control beforehand.

Why should she be frightened at me? a silly! I might just as well by frightened at her; but I was such a little minute, Clarice, that it could not be very naughty – nobody could be very naughty in such a nice little minute as that.

IMG_20150923_190327-1Apart from that, this book also provides background information about the author and the illustrator, that Gwen Raverat (1885 – 1957), the wood engraver and a fan of this children story, states that she feels no compunction in making new illustrations for the book to be republished for Macmillan in 1936.

This story is not wrought with morals but it offers fun insights into children’s innocent inner world which is hidden from “older and more world-worn eyes and hearts”. 🙂


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Wong Sarah

Making reading the essential part of my life

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