EDITH NESBIT was born August 15, 1858, the sixth child of Sara Alderton and John Collis Nesbit, an agricultural chemist. John Nesbit died when Edith was four, leaving Sara to raise her six children alone. At eight, Edith was sent to one of the many boarding schools she would attend, and it was at about this time that Sara had to move the family from their home at the Agricultural College where John, and later, she, had served as administrator, because one of the older children, Mary, came down with consumption. With Mary's death in 1871, Sara Nesbit rented a house in Kent and recalled her children from boarding school; during this relatively happy time Edith had some of her verses first published in periodicals. After four years in Kent, however, the family moved to London because of financial trouble.
Edith was seven months' pregnant when, in April of 1880, she married the father of her child, Hubert Bland, the son of a clerk. The unorthodox circumstances of the marriage were heightened by the fact that Hubert was already engaged to his mother's long-time companion, with whom he would later father a son; this sort of infidelity persisted throughout the couple's marriage despite Hubert's pose as a conservative. Edith had given birth to three children by 1885, when her fourth child was stillborn. The Blands asked a friend of theirs, Alice Hoatson, to nurse Edith through her grief. Within a year, however, Alice herself was pregnant with an illegitimate child, and only after Edith had offered to raise the child as her own and to have Alice live with them as a housekeeper did she discover that the child, Rosamond, was fathered by Hubert. Nonetheless, she adopted Rosamond, as she later adopted Alice and Hubert's son, John. Alice continued to live with the Blands as a housekeeper.
The strain these arrangements caused Edith and her conspiracy in concealing them are recorded by her admirer and frequent visitor, H. G. Wells. He had met the Blands through the Fabian Society, which the Blands had helped to found. The society brought many interesting people into the Bland household (Well Hall), among whom were George Bernard Shaw, Annie Besant, Beatrix Potter, and Joseph Conrad. Edith, who was Bohemian in her dress and appearance, was admired for her flamboyance, wit, and playfulness and became tangled up in several affairs with members of the society. She later used the names of some of her suitors in her children's books.