Also known as: Helen Zenna Smith
Death: April 17, 1985
Source: St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th ed. St. James Press, 1999.
Evadne Price's series for children, the 10 Jane books (1928-47), was written as part of a long and varied career which ranged from actress to astrologer. I find it very curious that there is no extended analysis of Jane, and that she should have been called a literary curiosity like Fanny Hill! Jane is a mid-20th-century version of that motif in literature, "the little monster," the naughty child, which is at least as old as classical Greek mime. Her more immediate literary ancestor, however, may be sought for in the "pickles" and "scamps" of the nurseries of children's fiction of the 1880s onward, whose main characteristics are high-spiritedness and kind hearts, untainted by any element of malice, exemplifying that post-Dickensian vision of the child in literature as the embodiment of "original innocence" rather than original sin.
Price has categorically denied that the adventures of Jane were in any way modelled upon those of Richmal Crompton's William, of whom she said she had never heard until a critic had taken for granted that such was the case. This would serve as a warning against over-hasty ascriptions of influence. However, the comparison is almost an inevitable one, since the Jane books are contemporary with the William series, which continued to be written and to be in print many decades after the last Jane book had been published. The similarities are obvious. The high-spirited middle-class child, leader of a small group of cohorts, the background of English village or suburban life, the setting up of an opposition between the "natural," naughty child on the one hand, the whited sepulchre on the other, the stock adult characters in the background (stern fathers, angular spinsters, comic servants, the local aristocracy), and the short, episodic narrative pieces, whose nature allows for neither aging nor development, the child characters merely being repeatedly put through their paces, are common to both. The basic pattern is to display again and again the havoc wrought by the group of children in the midst of such adult activities as love-affairs, amateur theatricals, public meetings and fetes, sometimes during the trials of civilian life during the Second World War. Both authors attempted to write "full-length" novels about their characters as well as collections of short stories, but these are in the nature of occasional experiments only.
Too much, however, can be made of the Jane/William affinity. It is to be hoped that one day Price's individual qualities will be recognized in their own right, without external reference. She seems to me radically original in a number of ways. First, historically, Jane is among the first female leader of boys in children's literature, providing a positive, active female model for the readers. Second, Price's depiction of adults in books for children is "subversive": the manipulations and adsurdities of Jane's mother, the will-to-power of her grandparents, and the tone of sensible camaraderie between narrative voice and reader are rare in fiction for children even today. Third, despite occasional lapses into very 19th-century sentimentality in the stories, the strategy for survival advocated by Vilet the Cockney cook ("Lay low, Miss Jane love, and don't 'arp") is not a version of "suffer and be still," but commonsensical in a way both comforting and refreshing. Finally, Price's sophisticated parody of and literary reference to various narrative styles, modes, and conventions, and her use of cacorthography, in badly-spelt letter-narratives ostensibly by the child-protagonist herself, reveal the artistry with which these books are constructed. It is a great pity that copies of them are so rare.
Pseudonym: Helen Zenna Smith. Nationality: British. Born: At sea, in 1896. Education: West Maitland, New South Wales, and in Belgium. Military Service: Worked for the Air Ministry during World War I. Family: Married 1) C.A. Fletcher (died); 2) Kenneth A. Attiwill in 1929. Career: Actress from 1906. Columnist, Sunday Chronicle and Sunday Graphic; feature writer, Daily Sketch; war correspondent, the People, 1943-45; astrology columnist, She magazine, and Vogue Australia, Sydney. Award: Severigne prize (France), for adult novel. Died: 17 April 1985.
Publications for Children
* Just Jane. London, John Hamilton, 1928.
* Meet Jane. London, Marriott, 1930.
* Enter--Jane. London, Newnes, 1932.
* Jane the Fourth. London, Hale, 1937.
* Jane the Sleuth. London, Hale, 1939.
* Jane the Unlucky, illustrated by Frank R. Grey. London, Hale, 1939.
* Jane the Popular. London, Hale, 1939.
* Jane the Patient. London, Hale, 1940.
* Jane Gets Busy. London, Hale, 1940.
* Jane at War. London, Hale, 1947.
* Jane and Co. (omnibus), edited by Mary Cadogan. London, Macmillan, 1985.
Publications for Adults
* Diary of a Red-Haired Girl. London, Long, 1932.
* The Haunted Light. London, Long, 1933.
* Strip Girl. London, Hurst and Blackett, 1934.
* Probationer! London, Hurst and Blackett, 1934.
* Society Girl. London, Harrap, 1935.
* Red for Danger! London, Long, 1936.
* Glamour Girl. London, Harrap, 1937.
* The Dishonoured Wife. London, Jenkins, 1951.
* Escape to Marriage. London, Jenkins, 1952.
* My Pretty Sister. London, Jenkins, 1952.
* Her Stolen Life. London, Milestone, 1954.
* What the Heart Says. London, Hale, 1956.
* The Love Trap. London, Hale, 1958.
* Air Hostess in Love. London, Gresham, 1962.
Novels as Helen Zenna Smith
* Not So Quiet...: Stepdaughters of War. London, Marriott, 1930 ; as Stepdaughters of War, New York, Dutton, 1930.
* Women of the Aftermath. London, Long, 1931 ; as One Woman's Freedom, New York, Longman, 1932.
* Shadow Women. London, Long, 1932.
* Luxury Ladies. London, Long, 1933.
* They Lived with Me. London, Long, 1934.
* The Phantom Light, with Joan Roy-Byford (as The Haunted Light, produced London, 1928 ; as The Phantom Light, produced London, 1937 ). London, French, 1949.
* Red for Danger (produced Richmond, Surrey, 1938 ).
* Big Ben, with Ruby Miller (produced Malvern, Worcestershire, 1939 ).
* Once a Crook, with Kenneth Attiwill (produced London, 1940 ). London, French, 1943.
* Who Killed My Sister?, with Kenneth Attiwill (produced London, 1942 ).
* Three Wives Called Roland, with Kenneth Attiwill (produced London, 1943 ).
* Through the Door (also director: produced London, 1946 ).
* What Lies Beyond (also director: produced Margate, Kent, 1948 ).
* Cabin for Three, with Kenneth Attiwill (produced Southsea, Hampshire, 1949 ).
* Blonde for Danger (produced London, 1949 ).
* Wanted on Voyage, with Kenneth Attiwill (produced Wimbledon, 1949 ).
Screenplays: Wolf's Clothing, with Brock Williams, 1936; When the Poppies Bloom Again, with Herbert Ayres, 1937; Merry Comes to Town, with Brock Williams, 1937; Silver Top, with Gerald Elliott and Dorothy Greenhill, 1938; Lightning Conductor, with J. Jefferson Farjeon and Ivor McLaren, 1938; Not Wanted on Voyage, with others, 1957.
* She Stargazes (on astrology). London, Ebury Press, 1965.
* Director: Plays--Through the Door, London, 1946; What Lies Beyond, Margate, Kent, 1948. Actress: Plays--in Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, Sydney, 1906; Nang Ping in Mr. Wu by H.M. Vernon and Harold Owen, tour 1914; toured in South Africa, and in Oh, I Say and Within the Law, 1915; Suzee in Five Nights, tour, 1919; Liliha in The Bird of Paradise, London, 1919, 1922; Sua-See in The Dragon, London, 1920; Tessie Kearns in Merton of the Movies by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly, London, 1923; Princess Angelica in The Rose and the Ring, London, 1923.