Keeping up Appearances
Eve Garnett’s children’s novel was first published in 1937, with her own illustrations. At least eight publishers had rejected it on account of its supposed ‘grittiness’. Here was a story about an urban working-class family that detailed the endless struggles of Mr and Mrs Ruggles – a dustman and a washerwoman – to feed, clothe and shoe their seven children. In fact the book was probably the first ever British children’s book with working-class protagonists. Despite publishers’ initial reluctance, it was an immediate success. Serialized by the BBC in 1939, it won the Library Association’s prestigious Carnegie Medal – beating The Hobbit – and has been in print ever since. In a market saturated with stories about boarding-schools, nannies and improbable Swallows and Amazons-type adventures, parents and children alike warmed to the novelty of the Ruggles.