Three Little Maids From Goudge

 

During the early 1960’s Elizabeth branched out from writing books and worked with the Parnassus Gallery for the Curnew Press who produced greeting cards. She wrote a series of seasonal and general pamphlets which could be bought as gift as well as card, innovative for its time. They were charmingly illustrated by Isobel Morton-Sale whose husband drew the dust jackets for many of Elizabeth’s novels, Gentian Hill and Green Dolphin Country among them. They were targeted towards the younger readers of Elizabeth’s work, and enhanced by the delicate watercolours that accompany the text.

Both Isobel and her husband John were prolific artists and worked out of an art studio in Devon .John contributed work to the Red Cross hospital promoted during the war by the late Queen Mother. They also founded an art dynasty, their Grand son is now a renown Italian sculptor. I find John’s illustrations more edgy, there is a tension in the faces, and many of his figures appear to be in motion or have just come to rest. While Isobel draws more on the nostalgia of her themes, her figures seem posed as if sitting for a portrait.

 

The three pamphlets are; Maria or The Good Little Girl, Arabella or The Bad Little Girl and Serena The Hen. On first appearances they are a throw back to Elizabeth’s childhood and the moral tales about the virtues and innocence of children, the Victorian perspective of a childhood that we now all aspire to give our children. But Elizabeth was made aware from an early age that not all children were as lucky and sheltered as she was. The Ritual of Giving Away The Toys alluded to in City of Bells was a yearly donation to under privileged children that the Reverend Goudge encouraged her to make.

They are simple stories, more like long poems than a tale, and deal in the various dominating themes of early childhood. The rather selfish and self centred nature adopted by Arabella being common to most under fives. She reminds me of Bella in The Dean’s Watch, a perfectly amiable creature as long as her wants are granted. While Maria could be a portrait of Elizabeth herself, being shown a box of shells by a relative in the Channel Isles, the wonder of children being shown the natural world for the first time. Serena the Hen was probable produced for the Easter market. Unusually for Elizabeth it is the only one that doesn’t make sense. Serena The Hen escapes the farmyard so that her eggs will not be eaten and goes to ground in The Wild Wood. She is rescued by the laird’s daughter Flora who wakes up and decides that she will ” take her basket and row across the lake to the Wild Wood and look for edible toadstools” ( Goudge 1960). How has Serena the Hen managed to get an island?

But as in all her work Elizabeth doesn’t patronise her audience. The idea of the eating eggs being like eating embryo chicks is not something most people, let alone children, think about. Does this mean that Elizabeth felt this way? Her prose is beautiful and she uses appropriate words even though they may not be understood by her target audience, ” her air of fastidious delicacy was as aristocratic as Serena’s own” ( Goudge 1960).
” she saw a great illimitable sea, very calm and safe, and upon it a little boat travelling along in absolute security.” ( Goudge 1960) ” Algernon could sing as loudly and with as effective a tremolo as Caruso himself,” (Goudge 1960) They make the right music and allow the adult reader to enjoy the tales as well.

It says in the front piece that more titles are to follow, but I can only find one more title in the series which is enigmatically entitled The Shufflewing, which is the old country name for Dunnocks or Hedge Sparrows depending on where you live. It is used to describe the way they shuffle their wings when flitting through shrubs and hedges. Perhaps this illustrates the beauty in the over looked, the mundane, the shy, as John in The Rosemary Tree extols the beauty of the dead sparrow, as perhaps Elizabeth saw herself. To date I have been unable to find a copy.

Elizabeth also produced an advent calendar with the story of David The Shepherd Boy for the publishers Hamish Hamilton. Christmas was one of the most important events in her year and an event she wrote about extensively. It would have enchanted her with its open lit windows like the festival of lights itself, becoming brighter and brighter as Christmas Day drew ever nearer.

Elizabeth Goudge 1960 Arabella Or The Bad Little Girl Curnew Press
Elizabeth Goudge 1960 Maria Or The Good Little Girl Curnew Press
Elizabeth Goudge 1960 Serena The Hen Curnew Press

 

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