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Richmal Crompton

Teacher, Novelist, Short Story Writer

Country:England\

Lifetime: 1890 - 1969 Passed: ≈ 54 years ago

Richmal Crompton Lamburn was a popular English writer, best known for her Just William series of books, humorous short stories, and to a lesser extent adult fiction books.

 

Crompton's best known books are the William stories, about a mischievous 11-year-old schoolboy and his band of friends, known as "The Outlaws". Her first published short story featuring William was "Rice Mould Pudding", published in Home Magazine in 1919. (She had written "The Outlaws" in 1917, but it was not published until later.) In 1922, the first collection, entitled Just William, was published. She wrote 38 other William books throughout her life. The last, William the Lawless, was published posthumously in 1970.

 

The William books sold over twelve million copies in the United Kingdom alone. They have been adapted for films, stage-plays, and numerous radio and television series. Illustrations by Thomas Henry contributed to their success.

 

Crompton saw her real work as writing adult fiction. Starting with The Innermost Room (1923), she wrote 41 novels for adults and published nine collections of short stories. Their focus was generally village life in the Home Counties. Though these novels have the same inventiveness and lack of sentimentality as the 'William' books, after the Second World War, such literature had an increasingly limited appeal.

 

Even William was originally created for a grown-up audience, as she saw Just William as a potboiler (Cadogan, 1993). She was pleased by its success, but seemed frustrated that her other novels and short stories did not receive the same recognition. Her first published tale was published in The Girl's Own Paper in 1918, concerning a little boy named Thomas, a forerunner of William who reacts against authority. Crompton tried several times to reformulate William for other audiences. Jimmy (1949) was aimed at younger children, and Enter – Patricia (1927) at girls. Crompton wrote two more Jimmy books, but no more Patricia, and neither was as successful as William.

 

Crompton's fiction centres around family and social life, dwelling on the constraints that they place on individuals while also nurturing them. This is best seen in her depiction of children as puzzled onlookers of society's ways. Nevertheless, the children, particularly William and his Outlaws, almost always emerge triumphant.

The William books have been translated into nine languages.          

 

Richmal Crompton Lamburn was born in Bury, Lancashire, the second child of the Rev. Edward John Sewell Lamburn, a Classics master at Bury Grammar School and his wife Clara (née Crompton). Her brother, John Battersby Crompton Lamburn, also became a writer, remembered under the name John Lambourne for his fantasy novel The Kingdom That Was (1931) and under the name "John Crompton" for his books on natural history.

 

Richmal Crompton attended St Elphin's Boarding School for the daughters of the clergy, originally based in Warrington, Lancashire. Crompton graduated in 1914 with a BA honours degree in Classics (II class). She took part in the Women's Suffrage movement.

 

In 1914, she returned to St Elphin's as a Classics mistress and later, at age 27, moved to Bromley High School in southeast London where she began her writing in earnest. Cadogan (1993) shows that she was an excellent and committed teacher at both schools.

 

She never married and had no children; she was an aunt and a great-aunt. Her William stories and her other literature were extremely successful and, three years after she retired from teaching, Crompton was able to afford to have a house (The Glebe) built in Bromley Common for herself and her mother, Clara.

In spite of her disabilities, during the Second World War she volunteered for the Fire Service.

 

Crompton died in 1969 at the age of 78, after a heart attack, in Farnborough Hospital. Crompton had fallen ill on the drive home from visiting her niece's home in Chelsfield, Kent. After feeling unwell during the night, Crompton telephoned friends the next morning and died within an hour of being taken to hospital.

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