Margery Williams Bianco (22 July 1881 – 4 September 1944) was an English-American author, primarily of popular children's books. As a frequent contributor to Horn Book magazine, Bianco was:
“ also known for the quality of her criticism, to which she brought a vast knowledge of literature, impeccable standards, and a gift of insight into human nature. Her uncanny ability to almost crawl inside a child's mind made her an invaluable literary critic.”
Margaret was brought up in a conventional English Christian family. Even when the family moved to the United States, Margery was a student at the Convent School in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania. But it was not her upbringing per se that created the mystic in her, it was adversity, and poetry. Margery’s principal voluntary inspiration came from the works of the poet she called her "spiritual mentor", Walter de la Mare.
She also benefited from home schooling. Bianco's early years in London were influenced by her father's philosophy that children should be taught to read at a young age but should not attend school until age ten. Her favorite books from her father's library included the three volumes of Wood's Natural History, which contributed to her early study of animals that is reflected in so much of her work. Childhood reading also included Hans Christian Andersen.
Her first book, The Late Returning, an adult novel written when she was 17, was published in England in 1902.
But Margery achieved lasting fame at forty-one with the 1922 publication of the classic that is her best-known work, The Velveteen Rabbit. The story of the Velveteen Rabbit is not just any children’s story, however appealing it may be to children.
It touches a sacred cord in adults as well.
The Velveteen Rabbit – a Mystic’s tale
In mystic thought we are puppets. We are not ‘real’ - we are simply actors in the play devised for us that is part of the Great Work. The only way we can experience what it is like to be ‘real’ whilst we are alive is to follow the spiritual path. This path is intended to help us change, we [often unknowingly] get help from our spiritual mentors, Jung’s synchronicity suddenly makes more sense and by an often very long process lasting almost a lifetime, we are changed – we become ‘real’.
The other toys in Velveteen Rabbit are not ‘real’, nor are they ever likely to become ‘real’. And Margery made this very clear right at the beginning of the book:
Ego is in the way of them ever becoming anything other than puppets, toys. The Rabbit, however, has humility and innocence on his side:
Rabbits have always been potent mystic symbols in myths and legend. It was no accident that Lewis Carroll used a White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, they are the Magicians propelling us along the spiritual path. In other words this little book is an allegory of the spiritual path, but what makes it especially interesting is that Margery Williams lets her Rabbit follow the path of LOVE.
The Bunny has no ego problems, has no need to be judged, because from the beginning of his life up until he is looked after by the Boy, he has been in the toy cupboard . Thus there is no need for ‘rebirth’, he simply sweeps along the path of love, learning all the time.
The way Margery shows that his Real self is hidden, is by making the Rabbit well worn, stuffed with sawdust and somewhat neglected in appearance - battered. Life’s battles may well do the same to our characters too, hiding who we really are!
Trappist Monk Thomas Keating
"The false self is deeply entrenched. You can change your name and address, religion, country, and clothes. But...the false self simply adjusts to the new environment. For example, instead of drinking your friends under the table as a significant sign of self-worth and esteem, if you enter a monastery, as I did, fasting the other monks under the table could become your new path to glory. In that case, what would have changed? Nothing."
As such Velveteen Rabbit is one of the few stories that show this path of love as opposed to the more traumatic paths that require trials and tests, judgement and rebirth. In the Sephirot it is usually depicted by the central column, not the path of the masculine full of heroic deeds and trials, or the path of the feminine, but a middle way. The Rabbit, in fact could be male or female, it is a little androgynous being – and thus ideal for the central path.
But this central path can also be the path of sacrifice and at one stage in the story, it almost looks as though this is what the Rabbit is going to have to go through – death by bonfire –but Margery relents and the Rabbit is saved. There is a phrase on which we have based an activity on the site and it is ‘know thyself’, and this Rabbit comes to know himself, and by doing so becomes Real.
Identity and Inheritance in the Velveteen Rabbit - Posted by Aaron Denlinger
The Velveteen Rabbit ultimately discovers his own identity -- and so gives up his own "false self" as well as any false hope entertained of realizing his "realness" through false means -- in the love bestowed upon him by the Boy. The Boy's love doesn't (initially) change what the Velveteen Rabbit is (i.e, a Velveteen Rabbit). But it does impart previously unrealized value and identity to the Rabbit.
However,… in the end, love not only defines the Velveteen Rabbit; it also transforms him. The Velveteen Rabbit, true to the prophetic word of the Skin Horse, achieves realness on a new level by virtue of the love bestowed upon him, even though that love introduces, whether directly or indirectly, considerable pain and sorrow to the Rabbit's life. But, as every Christian knows and numerous New Testament texts confirm, the path to glory is paved with pain and suffering.
Life and other Books
A native of London, Margery Winifred Williams was the second daughter of Robert Williams (a barrister, distinguished classical scholar, and journalist) and Florence (Harper) Williams. Margery particularly remembered her father as a deeply loving and caring parent. She, along with her sister, was encouraged by her father, to read and use her imagination. Writing about her childhood many years later, she recalled ‘how vividly her father described characters from various books and the infinite world of knowledge and adventure that lay on the printed page’. She noted that the desire to read, which soon transformed into a need to write, was a legacy from her father that would be hers for a lifetime.
But, when Margery was seven years old, her father died suddenly.
The shock of this sort of loss can prove a life-changing event, and indeed it was for Margery Winifred Williams, in one way or another, it would affect all of her future creative activity.
As a number of people have noticed, “there are undertones of sadness and the themes of death and loss that flow throughout her children's books, but Williams always maintained that hearts acquire greater humanity through pain and adversity. She wrote that life is a process of constant change—there are departures for some and arrivals for others—and the process allows us to grow and persevere.”
1902 The Late Returning, 1904 The Price of Youth, 1906 The Bar
Her ambition to make a living as an author propelled her in 1901, at the age of nineteen, to return to London and submit her stories to a London publisher. A number of these saw print, as did her first novel The Late Returning, which was published in 1902 and aimed at an adult audience. It did not sell well and neither did her subsequent novels.
While visiting her publisher, Margery Williams met Francesco Bianco, an Italian living in London, “a graduate of the University of Turin and also a lover of books “. They were married in 1904 and after the birth of their son Cecco in 1905 and a daughter, Pamela, in 1906, the Biancos lived in Paris and London until 1914, when World War I took them to Turin, where Francesco served in the Italian army. Margery considered motherhood a full-time job, requiring suspension of her writing activities.
Margery Williams Bianco
"It is through imagination that a child makes his most significant contacts with the world about him, that he learns tolerance, pity, understanding and the love for all created things.
1914 The Thing in the Woods
In August 1914 Italy, along with the rest of Europe, was plunged into World War I and Francesco Bianco found himself in an Italian Army uniform fighting for his country along with millions of other soldiers from many nations. Margery remained at home with her children.
The Thing in the Woods, is about a werewolf in the Pennsylvania region. It was later republished in the US under the pseudonym "Harper Williams". In 1919, they returned to London.
1922 The Velveteen Rabbit
At the end of 1918 the Great War had ended, but postwar hunger and deprivation became a problem in Europe. Bianco had retained her US residency and by 1921 gained permission to return, along with her family, to the United States. Inspired by the innocence and playful imagination of her children, as well as the inspiration she felt from the magic and mysticism contained in the works of Walter de la Mare, she decided to resume her writing, and gained almost immediate celebrity.
The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real was Margery Williams Bianco's first American work, and it remains her most famous. It has remained a classic piece of literature through numerous adaptations in children's theatre as well as on radio, television and in the movies.
1925 Poor Cecco - The Wonderful Story of a Wonderful Wooden Dog Who Was the Jolliest Toy in the House Until He Went Out to Explore the World
Poor Cecco is an adventure story, featuring a number of characters who populate the nursery toy cupboard. The book describes their interactions with each other and with the human, animal, and toy members of the world beyond it, whom they encounter on their quest for adventure/search for a lost friend. It is described by Wikipedia as “a distinguished book that belies its somewhat priggish subtitle and is arguably better entitled than The Velveteen Rabbit to status as a classic. The relationship between the wooden dog Cecco, a natural leader, and Jensina, a highly independent and spirited wooden doll, is both subtle and funny. ”
1925 The Little Wooden Doll
The Little Wooden Doll, was illustrated by her daughter Pamela. The title character is badly mistreated by some children, but shown love and compassion by another child, which makes her whole again.
Each year, for the remaining two decades of her life, Bianco produced numerous books and short stories. Most of them continued her preoccupation with toys coming to life and the ability of inanimate objects and animals to express human emotions and feelings. “There was always sadness, but in the end the reader emerged spiritually uplifted”.
- 1926 The Apple Tree
- 1927 The Skin Horse
- 1927 The Adventures of Andy
- 1929 All About Pets
- 1929 The Candlestick
- 1931 The House That Grew Smaller
- 1932 The Street of Little Shops
- 1933 The Hurdy-Gurdy Man
- 1934 The Good Friends
- 1934 More About Animals
In her final nine years, Bianco interspersed children's books with novels for young adults. These all featured young people who were in one way or another isolated or alienated from mainstream society and the joy, success, prosperity and social acceptance seemingly enjoyed by their peers
- 1936 Green Grows the Garden
- 1936 Winterbound
- 1939 Other People's Houses
- 1941 Franzi and Gizi
- 1942 Bright Morning - an autobiographical story, based on her childhood in London with her older sister
- 1942 Penny and the White Horse
- 1944 Forward, Commandos!
Winterbound, about two girls, still in their teenage years, who are called upon to assume adult responsibilities in caring for their young siblings, when the parents have to go away suddenly, was a runner-up for the 1937 Newbery Medal showcasing excellence in youth literature. In 1971, upon the establishment of the Newbery Honor, the work was ‘retroactively distinguished with that prestigious citation’.
In 1939, as her native Britain entered World War II, Bianco began to include patriotic themes and references to European history in her works, such as 1941's Franzi and Gizi. Her final book, 1944's Forward Commandos!, was an inspirational story of wartime heroism, which included as one of its characters a black soldier. Acknowledging the contribution of African-Americans to the war effort was extremely rare in literary output of the time and that fact was noted in the book's reviews.
Margery Williams Bianco did not live to see World War II come to an end. As Forward Commandos! went on sale, she became ill and, after three days in the hospital, died at the age of 63.
In 1951, Valenti Angelo, to whom Bianco was a friend and mentor, summarized the author's contribution in his tribute "A Living Friendship," which appeared in the book Writing and Criticism: A Book for Margery Bianco:
Some of the illustrations on this page came from this lovely version of the book. Illustrated by Michael Hague.
The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams is available from numerous sources including as a Project Gutenberg eBook, but without the illustrations of William Nicholson, where it “is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included”.
So we have used this copy for the observations.
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