It’s always worth doing a bit of research before you travel, whether it be to somewhere you’ve been before or somewhere new. Before a recent walk, I did a bit of a search of the local area and discovered an authors grave I hadn’t visited before. So I took a quick detour to St Mary’s Church, Eversley to find the grave of the church’s former vicar as well as historian, social reformer, poet and author, Charlies Kingsley.
His most famous book as per the title is the odd but enduring children’s novel, “The Water Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby”. You may have become familiar with story via the 1978 animated film, which is where I was introduced to to it. The film’s storyline differs quite a lot from the book (there are a kingdom of sharks for example), although the main elements still exist.
The story revolves around a chimney sweep called Tom, who’s chased from an upper-class house and falls into the river. There he appears to drown and turn into a “water-baby” before going on a series of adventures and learn important lessons.
It’s very Victorian in many ways, obsessed with Christian morals and redemption. But it also saterises those who scoffed at Darwin’s work on evolution (he and Kinglsey were friends). And it takes a dim-view of child labour and mistreatment of the poor.
Unfortunately it also includes insulting references to Black people, Jews, the Irish and Catholics – Kingsley didn’t spare many groups from his bigotry. This is probably why, although some have a familiarity with the title, it’s not very popular today.
It’s the film I remember most. And the character Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, if only for how didactic her name is (there’s also Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid for good measure).
Kingsley wrote other books, but “The Water Babies” even with its flaws, is still often considered a classic and won a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1963.
The other interesting item in the visit is the enormous Sequoia tree in the churchyard. His daughter Rose grew the sapling from a fir cone which they had collected in the western United States. Today it stands 50 metres high, and is used by some as a memorial to their own loved ones.
What do you think? Have you read The Water Babies? Please share in the comments.