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The Runaway

by Elizabeth Anna Hart
Persephone book no:

36 37 38

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155264

This 1872 novel by a mid-Victorian poet and novelist is about a girl named Clarice, living with her widowed father and her governess 'in a charming home at a convenient (railway) distance from the city.' One day she finds a girl of her own age hiding in the shrubbery. She is Olga and 'there is no question that she is the liveliest child character in English fiction' said the Observer in 1936. The subsequent plot is delightful rather than dramatic, for the joy of The Runaway is the way its style and tone pays tribute to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (which had appeared seven years before). 

The Runaway was a lifelong favourite of the artist Gwen Raverat: "I think that it is the sort of book which must always be liked, because it is such fun... It is not old-fashioned... Nor is it ever pious, or proper, or sentimental... It is a particularly good book to read aloud". 

It was at Raverat's suggestion that The Runaway was reissued with sixty of her wood-engravings, which we reproduce. Because of the delightful quality of the story, and the beautiful illustrations, this is a book that can be enjoyed by all ages.


For the endpapers we used a 1936 woodblock-printed curtain fabric designed and hand-printed on linen by Margaret Calkin James for the schoolroom at 'Hornbeams'.

Read What Readers Say

Beyond Eden Rock (blogger)

‘The Runaway’ is a story for children, but it is so very well written that I think it can be appreciated at any age. I loved spending time with Clarice and Olga. What I learned of their background enabled me to understand how they had grown into the girls they were. They complemented each other beautifully, and I found that I could empathise and understand each of them. I loved Clarice for her lovely mix of imagination and sensibleness; and I appreciated that she was good not for its own sake but because the world and the people around her cared for her and she cared for them and wanted them to be happy. I loved Olga for her vitality, her joie de vivre, and her gift for doing the unexpected. The story shows them both off so well, a dramatic conclusion bringing the best out of both of them, and I was captivated from the first page to the last. The illustrations are utterly charming, and they match the story perfectly.

The Spectator

‘The Runaway’ provides pure and by no means mindless enjoyment… This Victorian favourite has been reissued by Persephone with a lovely silvery cover and pretty endpapers and the woodcut illustrations by Gwen Raverat make it even more of a visual treat. Rarely can black and white have been used to such colourful effect. . . The social comedy is exact. It’s fresh and funny and it doesn’t preach, which is perhaps surprising for 1872.

Categories: Childhood Teenagers (books for)

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