The Story of the Treasure Seekers

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The Story of the Treasure Seekers: Being the Adventures of the Bastable Children in Search of a Fortune

by E. Nesbit

Age: 9+

Interests: siblings, adventure, family, England, treasure, money

T. Fisher Unwin: 1899

192 pp – 16 chapters

Sequels: The Wouldbegoods (1901), The New Treasure Seekers (1904)

Also by this author: The Enchanted Castle, Five Children and It, The Railway Children, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Book of Dragons

Six imaginative and quarrelsome siblings attempt to aid their widower father and recover the fortunes of their family. Their various schemes include digging for treasure, selling poetry, marrying a princess, kidnapping (the kid next door), publishing a newspaper, inventing a cure for something, peddling sherry on commission, and visiting a money-lender. At each turn they encounter sympathetic adults, with the occasional scold, and in the end win over a fabulously wealthy relative to their cause.

E. Nesbit was an incredibly influential children’s author at the turn of the last century, and this was her first novel. While her later magic-themed books may hold greater interest for today’s readers, this one is rambunctious and funny enough to entertain.

On the plus side – The constant quarrels, alliances and reconciliations of a large mob of siblings is captured perfectly, as Dora, Oswald, Dicky, Alice, Noel and Horace Octavius (H.O.) Bastable try desperately to work together for a common cause. As well, I enjoyed the debates over whether a course of action is technically “good” or not, as the eldest sister’s conscience vies against the more criminal tendencies of the younger children.

This vision of childhood was actually new and fresh at the time, as Nesbit was one of the few authors to depict children with all their faults and quirks – children who don’t always do what they’re told, but who are still good at heart, and well-meaning.

The story is told from a child’s point of view, and is amusingly natural in tone. The narrator is the second child Oswald, and though he tries to keep his identity secret, he is so fond of heaping praise on himself that the reader can easily deduce who is speaking.

On the negative side – There is a bit of a disconnect in the narrative voice, as the otherwise intelligent Oswald never seems to put two and two together whenever an adult is putting them on. For example, when Albert-next-door’s uncle comes to their treasure digging site and miraculously finds shiny coins, Oswald never suspects they may have come out of the uncle’s pocket. (The author wants to let the young reader in on the joke without having the narrator get it, but the end effect is rather condescending.)

Typical of the era in which it was written, there’s also a brief but unflattering stereotype of a Jewish moneylender, with a “hooky nose – like a falcon”, who is nowhere near as kindhearted as the other adults the Bastables encounter.

Finally the wealthy-uncle ending is a bit too contrived, but there’s still enough humorous banter and ill-conceived schemes to make this a worthwhile and entertaining read (or read-aloud).

(available for purchase at

(read it free online at Project Gutenberg or here at Full Text Archive)

(listen to a free audiobook at LibriVox)

Illustrations below are by Gordon Browne:

the-story-of-the-treasure-seekers-3 450px-P111_(Treasure_Seekers) 450px-P198_(Treasure_Seekers) 450px-P324_(Treasure_Seekers)


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mary Gilmartin
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 20:55:13

    Edith Nesbit’s book, The Railway Children, is also a great one.


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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