Entry updated 28 July 2021. Tagged: Author.
(1909-1998) UK critic and author, mostly of historical fiction for younger and Young Adult readers, publishing 113 books between 1934 and his retirement in 1997. Most of these were historical fiction and indicated his left-wing politics, beginning with the Communist-influenced Bows Against the Barons (1934). There is a strong Utopian element in some of his early novels, including the Ruritanias, The Call to Arms (1935) and Such Divinity (1939), though the lands described remain essentially mundane. For his time he was notable for his antipathy to jingoism, or racial prejudice, or any assumption that female readers were a lesser breed, and for the charitable acerbity of his left-wing understanding of historical issues.
Trease was generally unsympathetic to science fiction and fantasy, though some of the plays for children assembled in The Dragon Who Was Different (coll 1938) are fantasy. He also wrote two plays for adults, both set in the Near Future on Islands: the one-act "After the Tempest" (performed 1939 Unity Theatre, London; unpublished) features castaways in the Pacific; and "Colony" (performed 1939 Unity Theatre, London; unpublished), which was staged professionally in 1946, more ambitiously describes a contemporary group of people, marooned on an imaginary West Indian Island, who are rescued from wage slavery twenty years later by a Black woman air pilot. She explains that the revolution has occurred, aristocracy dissolved and a system of comprehensive education put in place, but only one woman chooses to return to this brave new world.
Tales out of School: A Survey of Children's Fiction (1948; rev 1964) was the first UK contribution to the field, and includes a chapter on fantasy, called "Fancy Free" which promoted authors such as Edith Nesbit. Trease also wrote historical studies, including Portrait of a Cavalier: William Cavendish, First Duke of Newcastle (1979) in which he discusses – and dismisses – the work of Margaret Cavendish.
"She poured out verse. She wrote of fairyland. She ventured into scientific and philosophical fields, weaving fancies round terms such as 'atoms' and 'vacuum', which she had picked up without fully understanding ... Prose or verse, her work was confused, sometimes chaotic, in thought and construction. It was not form that concerned her, but 'fancy'. Care she equated with pedantry." (171)
Robert Geoffrey Trease
born Nottingham, Nottinghamshire: 11 August 1909
died Bath, Somerset: 27 January 1998
works (highly selected)
- The Call to Arms (London: Martin Lawrence, 1935) [hb/]
- Such Divinity (London: Chapman and Hall, 1939) [hb/]
- Tales out of School: A Survey of Children's Fiction (London: Heinemann, 1948) [nonfiction: hb/nonpictorial]
- Tales out of School: Second Edition (London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1964) [nonfiction: rev vt of the above: hb/]
- Portrait of a Cavalier: William Cavendish, First Duke of Newcastle (London: Macmillan, 1979) [nonfiction: hb/]
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