1909 – 1998
Geoffrey Trease began writing for children in the 1930s ‘in revulsion’, as he put it, ‘against the sentimental romanticism then pervading historical fiction’ as well as its glorification of war, promotion of racial superiority and focus on the upper classes. The role of girls as ‘second-class citizens’ also concerned him. In his essay, ‘The Revolution in Children’s Literature’ (The Thorny Paradise, 1975) Trease recalled that ‘books were labelled, as strictly as school lavatories, “Books for Boys” or “Books for Girls”.’
Trease’s first book Bows Against the Barons (1934) was a Robin Hood story that depicted Robin Hood as a revolutionary in the mould of the heroes of Trease’s Spanish Civil War generation – the Merry Men called one another ‘comrade’ a lot. It was followed in the same year by Comrades for the Charter, which covered the Chartist uprising. In 1940 Cue for Treason about a company of strolling players in Shakespeare’s day was published and became his most popular and successful book, notable in part for its strong heroine. Trease wrote more than 100 books, characterised by their historical accuracy or social realism as well as by fast-moving plots, obvious villains and satisfactory endings. It is easy to overlook Trease’s contribution to children’s literature as we now take for granted such innovations as, eg, state school settings in children’s stories, not just private schools.
Geoffrey Trease was Chair of the children’s writers group of The Society of Authors from 1962-63, Chair of the Society itself from 1972-73 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.