Richmal Crompton (1890-1969)

Richmal CromptonRichmal Crompton, author of the hilarious children’s Just William series of books, was the daughter of an ordained Anglican classics teacher. She trained as a classics teacher herself.

In 1914 she returned to her old school St Elphin’s School (for the daughters of clergy of the Church of England) as a teacher. Loss of the use of her right leg to polio, in her early thirties, caused her to retire from teaching and take up writing full-time. She had published individual stories earlier but Just William her first book had then been published only recently. She went on to satisfy generations of fans with thirty-eight more books.

The eponymous William is a permanently eleven year old boy, who lives in a world filled with opponents, ranging from his elder sister and brother (sometimes abetted by their amorous partners) vicious farmers, Nazi spies and females of all ages. His particular nemesis is Violet Elizabeth Bott, the daughter of a rich family (William’s are comfortably middle-class), whose main weapon in her perpetual attempts to infiltrate The Outlaws (William’s gang) is her threat “I’ll thcream and thcream until I’m thick. I can!”1

Crompton’s strong male lead and dubious female characters is interesting, especially as she was a suffragette as a young woman. It perhaps reflects the limited world available to “proper” girls at the time. Certainly the William books have had at least as many girls reading them as boys, enjoying William’s life as a preteen outlaw.

Although Richmal Crompton wished to be known for her mainstream fiction her writing for adults was never as successful as William.

Wikipedia provides a fitting summary:

Crompton’s fiction centres around family and social life, dwelling on the constraints that they place on individuals while also nurturing them. This is best seen in her depiction of children as puzzled onlookers of society’s ways. Nevertheless, the children, particularly William and his Outlaws, almost always emerge triumphant.

  1. I believe that Violet Elizabeth first appears in Still William. []

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