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Hesba Stretton (1832–1911) was the nom de plume of Sarah Smith, an English author of children's literature. The name Hesba came from the initials of her siblings.
Total Books: 87
She was the daughter of a bookseller from Wellington, Shropshire. About 1867, she moved south and lived at Snaresbrook and Loughton near Epping Forest and at Ham, near Richmond, Surrey. She is considered one of the most popular Evangelical writers in the nineteenth century. She used her "Christian principles as a protest against specific social evils in her children's books." Her moral tales and semi-religious stories, chiefly for the young, were printed in huge quantities, and were especially widespread as school and Sunday school prizes, She won wide acceptance in English homes from the publication of Jessica's First Prayer in 1867. She was a regular contributor to Household Words and All the Year Round during Charles Dickens' editorship, and wrote more than of 40 novels.
Stretton's most popular book, Jessica's First Prayer, was first published in the journal Sunday at Home in 1866 and the next year as a novel. By the end of the nineteenth century, Jessica's First Prayer had sold at least a million and a half copies. Brian Alderson notes that number of copies was "nearly ten times as many as Alice in Wonderland." Stretton's popular book began a genre of stories about homeless children "that successfully combined elements of the sensational novel and the religious tract and helped introduce the image of the poor, urban child into the Victorian social conscious." She wrote a sequel, Jessica's Mother, published in Sunday at Home in 1866 and as a book in 1904. The Jessica books are about a homeless girl in Victorian London, abandoned by an alcoholic mother who is an actress, who finds comfort and religious support in a friendship with Daniel Standring, an owner of a coffee stall near a railroad. Jessica is a child actress who then becomes too big for children's productions. She is beaten by her mother, receives little to eat, and wanders London. Standring, as a chapel keeper in a Methodist church, helps her out and, as a result, re-evaluates his concept of religion and respectability.
Stretton became the chief writer for the Religious Tract Society. Gillian Avery writes that Stretton's experience of working with slum children in Manchester during the 1860s helped give her books a sense of authenticity and less smug piety of similar books. Avery write that Stretton's books "drive home the abject state of the poor with almost brutal force."
Stretton was one of the founders of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1884. She worked to eliminate child abuse and poverty.