Pauline Clarke (19 May 1921 – 23 July 2013) was an English author who has written for younger children under the name Helen Clare, for older children as Pauline Clarke, and more recently for adults under her married name Pauline Hunter Blair. Her best-known work is The Twelve and the Genii, a low fantasy children's novel published by Faber in 1961, for which she won the 1962 Carnegie Medal and the 1968 Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis.
Anne Pauline Clarke was born in Kirkby-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire in 1921 and later lived in Bottisham, Cambridgeshire. She attended schools in London and Colchester. Until 1943 she studied English at Somerville College, Oxford, then worked as a journalist and wrote for children's magazines. Between 1948 and 1972 she wrote books for children.
She wrote many types of children's book including fantasies, family comedies, historical novels and poetry. Her Five Dolls books (1953–1963) were very popular but she achieved her greatest success with The Twelve and the Genii, published by Faber in 1962. She won the annual Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising The Twelve as the year's best children's book by a British subject, and the German Kinderbuchpreis. It was published in the U.S. by Coward-McCann as The Return of the Twelve and so named to the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award list in 1963. These books, like many of her others, were originally illustrated by Cecil Leslie.
The prize-winning novel, The Twelve and the Genii tells what happens in the middle of the Twentieth century when a small boy in an old Yorkshire house discovers the twelve wooden soldiers that had once belonged to Branwell Brontë in the early years of the Nineteenth century. Branwell's playing with the soldiers has brought them to life, and now they want to go home. Can Max, the small boy, and his family help the Twelve?
The Pekinese Princess, Clarke's first book, written so Cecil Leslie (living, then with Clarke) could illustrate her own two Pekinese dogs, is a long-ago fantasy of talking animals (and trees) in a fairy tale Chinese setting, a human-like world without humans, but referring to the Buddha. It is a questing tale which has the charm of the Willow Pattern Plate design with a touch of Arabian Nights adventure, leopards, monkeys, panthers. The fantasy ends with an apotheosis of immortality. The "merciful Jade Emperor ... picked up the kingdom by the four corners of the plain, as in a blanket, and planted it whole upon the mountain in the middle of the world, where the immortals dwell" (p 125). So they (almost) all live happily ever after, free of any further threat from wicked clever monkeys. "But some few Pekinese slipped out from the corners when the Lord of Heaven lifted the kingdom, and landed upon the earth again. These are they you see sometimes looking mournful ... for they are thinking with longing of their happy kingdom" (p 127).
Smith's Hoard (1955), also known as The Golden Collar, appears to be a typical British school-holiday mystery story. Two children, brother and sister, are sent for the school holidays to their great-aunt who lives in the country. During their train trip they coincidentally meet a boastful young man who tells them he is a dealer in second-hand jewellery, and shows them a strange gold item. The older brother immediately recognises the item as half of a Celtic or Iron Age torc, a decorative gold filigree neck-collar. He also realises that such a piece ought to be in a museum. Later, spending time with teenage friends in their aunt's neighbourhood, the bother and sister find evidence of a recently discovered hoard of bronze artefacts, and also discover an ancient Celtic coin. Clearly something very mysterious is going on, possibly including secret and illegal archaeological digging, theft of historical artefacts, and even the haunting by the ghost of the Celtic smith who buried the hoard and died in tribal warfare. The story is cleverly narrated by the younger sister (with some help from her brother and his friend), and, by the end, the mystery is satisfactorily solved. There is much in this novel that prefigures further developments in Clarke's fiction.
One of Clarke's historical novels Torolv the Fatherless (1959), Pauline Clarke's own favourite among her books. In her research for the book, amongst many resources, she used Anglo-Saxon historical material of the Cambridge academic Peter Hunter Blair. The story of Torolv works around "The Battle of Maldon", an Anglo-Saxon or Old English poem. This commemorates a bitter defeat at Maldon in Essex by Danish raiders in 991, led by a Viking called Anlaf, who is possibly Olaf Tryggvason, later the king of Norway, and himself a character in the Icelandic Heimskringla Saga. At the end of the book, Clarke includes her own powerful translation of the poem.
Clarke's The Boy With the Erpingham Hood (1956), contemporaneous with Cynthia Harnett's historical novels of the same historical era (Plantagenet England in the early Fifteenth century), is the story of Simon Forester, a fictitious boy, involved with real characters and events leading to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Her historical research brings the era and her characters to life.
Clarke could also write about modern children. Her realistic contemporary novel (once "contemporary", now creeping towards being "historical") Keep the Pot Boiling (1961) is about a vicar's family. Their efforts to amuse themselves constructively resemble the earlier family novels of Edith Nesbit, and the contemporaneous Rumer Godden and Noel Streatfeild. Remarkably, the vicar suffers from what we would now call bipolar disorder, which means his children often have to deal with his black depressive moods. But it is a happy story.
Fantasy, historical, and realist do not exhaust the genres of Clarke's major work. Her last children's novel The Two Faces of Silenus (1972) is that special kind of fantasy made popular by Alan Garner, where mythology from the past irrupts into a modern realistic setting. Visiting Italy with their parents, while their father attends a historians' conference, Rufus and Drusilla set free the ancient god-satyr Silenus, and his enemy Medusa. One striking achievement in Silenus is the feeling of a modern provincial Italian town: exotic, slightly operatic, cobbled and more brightly painted than an English counterpart, with detectable layers of older medieval and Roman ages; all of this set amongst the enduring landscape of fields, groves, and forests of antiquity, bursting with plant and animal life, immediate and fresh, with an almost evanescent sense of being haunted by a darker underlevel of ancient mythology. In fact the story grew from Clarke's visit with her historian husband to Spoleto.
Seven years after writing Torolv the Fatherless, Clarke married the historian Peter Hunter Blair in 1969. She edited his history Anglo-Saxon Northumbria (1984) and later wrote for adults as Pauline Hunter Blair. The first published was The Nelson Boy (1999), a painstakingly-researched historical reconstruction of Horatio Nelson's childhood. She followed with a sequel about his early voyages.
Written in her early 80s, and self-published, with minor typos and editorial slips, Jacob’s Ladder (Church Farmhouse Books, Bottisham, 2003) is a remarkable novel of village life, with a cast of mainly middle-aged people experiencing their approach to old-age, final illnesses, the death of partners, and the struggle to make sense of life and rebuild human contact and love. The story includes one murder, one suicide, two deaths, two remarriages and one marriage, and continual reflections on being human, while also being aware of DNA, black holes, mental illness (depression and paranoid schizophrenia), sexuality and sexual expression and love, and creativity.
One of the characters is a poet and university academic, another is a playwright preparing to begin a novel which, in some ways, is Jacob’s Ladder itself, although the would-be novelist does not get beyond a visual sketch of the story. The novel is threaded through with quotations and references to Egyptian mythology, notably Thoth, the ibis-headed god of knowledge, truth and justice, as well as the Metaphysical poet Thomas Traherne, and the Renaissance renegade monk Giordano Bruno, and the Hermetic writings, along with many other literary, musical, and artistic motifs. Religious belief and mysticism, agnosticism, and atheism are important issues.
The final sentences of the would-be novelist’s sketch conclude this pthilosophical novel: "After the ravages of death, life flowed in. … As the sea flows in at high tide, and absconds again, screeching down the shingle, stealing away with generations of sins" (p344). Pauline Hunter Blair, like Pauline Clarke, is a major writer, in the same league as Virginia Woolf, "Miss Read", Elizabeth Goudge, and Ivy Compton Burnett.
She died on 23 July 2013 at the age of 92.
As Helen Clare
- Dolls series, illustrated by Cecil Leslie
- Five Dolls in a House (1953)
- Five Dolls and the Monkey (1956)
- Five Dolls in the Snow (1957)
- Five Dolls and Their Friends (1959)
- Five Dolls and the Duke (1963)
- Merlin's Magic (1953)
- Bel the Giant and Other Stories (1956), illus. Peggy Fortnum; reissued as The Cat and the Fiddle and Other Stories (1968), illus. Ida Pellei
- Seven White Pebbles (1960), illus. Cynthia Abbott
As Pauline Clarke
- The Pekinese Princess (1948)
- The Great Can (1952)
- The White Elephant (1952)
- Smith's Hoard (1955) also published as Hidden Gold (1957) and as The Golden Collar (1967)
- Sandy the Sailor (1956)
- The Boy with the Erpingham Hood (1956)
- James the Policeman (1957)
- James and the Robbers (1959)
- Torolv the Fatherless (1959)
- The Lord of the Castle (1960)
- The Robin Hooders (1960)
- Keep the Pot Boiling (1961)
- James and the Smugglers (1961)
- Silver Bells and Cockle Shells (1962)
- The Twelve and the Genii (1962), illus. Cecil Leslie; U.S. title, The Return of the Twelves
- James and the Black Van (1963)
- Crowds of Creatures (1964)
- The Bonfire Party (1966)
- The Two Faces of Silenus (1972)
As Pauline Hunter Blair
- Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, Variorum by Peter Hunter Blair (editor, with Michael Lapidge) (1984)
- The Nelson Boy: An Imaginative Reconstruction of a Great Man's Childhood (1999)
- A Thorough Seaman: The Ships' Logs of Horatio Nelson's Early Voyages Imaginatively Explored (2000)
- Warscape (2002)
- Jacob's Ladder (2003)
- "Pauline Clarke". Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Gale, 2002. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 31 July 2011.
- "Pauline HUNTER BLAIR Obituary". The Times. 29 July 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013. (subscription required)
- Happy 85th, Pauline Clarke! . speedreading.com[dead link]
- (Carnegie Winner 1962). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
- Article "Pauline Clarke: Über die Autorin von Band 15 der ZEIT-Kinder-Edition" (German language). Zeit Online: Literature. Die Zeit. 2006.
- "The Nelson Boy – An Imaginative Reconstruction of A Great Man's Childhood" at the Wayback Machine (archived 21 July 2007). Naval History (reviews by title, Man to Pol). Gazelle Book Services. Archived 21 July 2007. Retrieved 6 October 2013.