Not just William: Richmal Crompton’s adult fiction republished | Books

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This content was originally published by Danuta Kean on 20 April 2017 | 3:43 pm.
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Richmal Crompton has long been overshadowed by her creation Just William, but the darker side of her imagination is set to be rediscovered, with several of her lesser-known adult novels coming back into print.

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Although best known for her 38 books about the errant schoolboy William Brown and his gang of Outlaws, Lancashire-born Compton was a prolific writer for both children and adults, often publishing two books a year, as well as writing short stories magazines. “She wrote 41 adult novels as well as the Just William books,” her new publisher Harriet Sanders said. “They did very well at the time and display something that you see in other writers of children’s books … the clarity with which they are written.”

The eight books are part of a forgotten backlist written by Crompton before the second world war. Her comic creation went on to eclipse these works aimed at older readers, but they were bestsellers when they first appeared. Featuring sharp-eyed spinsters, young women frustrated by the bounds of convention and hapless but well-meaning sleuths, the titles provide the flipside to English village life so evocatively captured in Crompton’s children’s books.

“These are much darker than her children’s books and reveal a rather gloomy outlook on life,” said Sanders, publisher of Bello, a digital imprint of Macmillan, which published the titles this week. “They are almost like soap operas, featuring divorce, infidelity and, in every one, a narcissistic character totally lacking in empathy.”

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Although not rumbustious like the Just William books, Sanders said Crompton revealed a wry sense of humour in the novels, which she likened to Jane Austen’s social observation. Austen’s Emma Woodhouse would find a companion in arms in Norma Felicity Montague Harborough, the heroine of Felicity Stands By, Sanders said, thanks to Norma’s misguided matchmaking attempts.

The darkest of Crompton’s books to be republished is Leadon Hill. Set in a quiet English village that is ruled by Miss Mitcham, who brutally tears apart the lives of those who cross her. At the time of publication in 1927, the novel was likened to Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.



The first Just William book by Richmal Crompton. Photograph: Alamy

Born in 1890, clergyman’s daughter Crompton started her adult life as a schoolteacher after becoming involved in the suffragettes at university. Though regarded as an excellent teacher, she was forced to give up aged 33 after contracting polio and losing the use of her right leg.

In 1919, she published her first Just William story in Home magazine, and turned to writing professionally. Within three years of leaving teaching her earnings from books and short stores had enabled her to have a house built for herself and her mother. While she never married, she was an aunt and great aunt to an extended family, which undoubtedly provided a rich source of material for her work.

She died in 1969, aged 78, but her children’s books have continued to grow in popularity, selling more than 12m books in the UK alone.

Despite this success, she regarded her real work as her adult fiction. Sanders said that she hoped the reissues would go some way to reviving her reputation as a writer for adults.

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