TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles
Mary Norton was born in 1903 and spent much of her childhood in Leighton Buzzard, at first in "The Manor House" in Lake Street (now demolished) and later at "Cedars House" in Church Square. Mary herself described this as a large Georgian house with "strange buildings in the garden... an orangerie and a temple with palladian pillars". Many will recognise this as a description of the grounds of the present Leighton Middle School, others as the setting for Firbank Hall in her book "The Borrowers".
Mary Pearson was educated at convent schools and spent a happy year as an actress at the Old Vic before marrying Edward Norton and going to live with him in Portugal. Her husband's family were ship owners who had been based in Portugal for many generations and she stayed here until 1939, bringing up her family.
At the outbreak of war she returned to England and then moved with the children to New York for a year as a member of the British Purchasing Commission. It was at this time that she began writing in earnest - short stories, articles and translations, in order to pay the rent. It was not until later that she wrote down the stories she told her children.
In 1945 Mary published her first children's book "The Magic Bedknob" followed by "Bonfires and Broomsticks". These were later revised, becoming one story "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" which was eventually sold to Walt Disney films for a very small sum.
Then came the "Borrowers" books - delightful and original stories of a breed of manikins who live behind the wainscoting of an old house near Leighton Buzzard. The Clock family are distinctly working class. Pod Clock is a bowed little bread winner with a pudgy, joyless face. His wife Homily is an ironing-board slave and his daughter, Arrietty a waif with yearnings for the big golden outdoors. Their life is one of furtive insecurity and they live like fearful outlaws on the thin pickings from "the human beans" whose giant footfalls and shadows constantly hang ominously above them.
"The Borrowers" was awarded the Carnegie Medal in 1952 and was followed by "The Borrowers Afield" (1955) , "The Borrowers Afloat"(1959), "The Borrowers Aloft" (1961) and lastly "The Borrowers Avenged"(1982). "The Borrowers Omnibus" was published in 1990.
After her first marriage was dissolved Mary went to live in an Essex farmhouse with her second husband, Lionel Boncey and in 1972 they moved to County Cork. Here she completed her other full length story, "Are all the Giants Dead?".
Mary's second husband died in 1989. Mary Norton herself died in 1992 in Hartland, Devonshire and she is survived by her four children.