White Wings is a compilation book, combining the selected best of a large out put of short stories that Elizabeth wrote between 1937 and 1966.
White Wings were also a potent symbol for Elizabeth and captured the bliss of freedom; the freedom of the physical being as it sped away under the white sails of a boat, and the Spiritual release of the divine in life. They wove a spell that captured her imagination early on in her life and stayed with her always. So that she only had to see pigeons wheeling round a square, or gulls coursing a field against the sky, to be transported back there.
Inside it’s covers we find recorded a unique record of a writer learning her craft. In her auto-biography, “Joy Of The Snow” Elizabeth pays tribute to the publishers of short story Magazines, which once had a wide and lucrative market. “The first thing she did for me ( Nancy Pearn) was to get me a commission to write short stories for The Strand and David Higham settled that stone in place with a piece of advice. “Write short stories for a living while you build up a reputation with your books. Don’t, yet, look to books for a living.” That was good advice at that date, when there was a large public for magazines and I followed it. Now, I don’t know what they do in the cradle, apart from journalism. I am afraid they must often go hungry.” ( Goudge 1974).
The book begins with a foreword titled, ” The Entertainment of Story-telling.” Before Elizabeth died, I hadn’t paid much attention to the foreword of any book, considering them an intrusion, an unnecessary preliminary to the excitement of beginning a new experience. But I realized that the anticipation of making new and absorbing fictional friends, and all the wonderful words of this gifted writer had dried up. It was then that I discovered forewords, and was delighted with the insight they provided into the workings and thought processes of the mind that had produced those alternative worlds.
In this piece Elizabeth talks about her job of creative writing, why she does it, what makes it the most satisfying craft to undertake, and its pit falls and short comings. Some people were full of admiration which she felt was unmerited, “As for admiration the story-teller knows he does not deserve it; he knows perhaps that he turned to woo the lady make-believe because he was too unpractical to manage a business, lacked the courage to become a doctor, was too weak of character to impose discipline on classes of unruly children;” ( Goudge 1966 )
Others considered the job to be an easy undemanding way of earning a living, ” He merely sits down, dips his pen in a bottle of ink, and inscribes upon paper the ideas that flow in a never-ceasing flood of brilliance through his fertile brain” Goudge 1966)
She tells us of the good and bad days of being a writer. Days when she feels that she will never write anything worth while again, which are lack lustre, boring and just down right hard graft. It was a lesson she learnt from her father who instilled in her that she couldn’t just be a writer when she felt like it, but had to work through bad patches and treat the process as if it were a job of work, which of cause it was.
Elizabeth rails against the intrusions of the mundane world which drags her back from the world of the imagination where perhaps, David and Nadine are tearing each other apart, or Jenny looks through the hedge at her lover, tricked out in his civil war Royalist finery, drawn back to the dinner and whether the money is there for that pesky bill. She is perceptive enough however to realize that a total withdrawal is neither necessary or desirable. She lets us peek into the ” storehouse of treasures ” that are her memories of the past, the people, places and of cause dogs that have inspired her to write about them. ” for memory has a happy faculty of shedding a clear light over past joys and dimming the outline of pain.” ( Goudge 1966).
She feels that no one is more childish than the story-teller, “sitting by himself in the corner building towns and houses ” (Goudge 1966) but in this she is being disingenuous. What she has is the gift of being child-like in the depth of her emotions, her ability to verbalize them and to show us the wonder and mystery she sees in the world. But with maturity and depth of insight, she can get right to the heart of an issue such as the displacement of Mt Pettigrew and countless others like him. She drags out for debate uncomfortable truths about, greed, hatred, avarice, and pride, and is then capable of the most thrilling intricate uplifting descriptive passages.
In these stories Elizabeth is hammering out her perpetual themes of self sacrifice, love of fellow man, the beauty of the world, the teachings of myth and folklore, and the importance of family, not just blood relations, but a greater spiritual family. She writes about places such as Keyhaven and war torn London that we will visit with her again. She writes about Greece on the eve of the second World War which she visited as part of her “grand tour”, and she takes us to fresh scenes such as the Cotswolds, and the hills of Cumberland. As always coincidence plays a role in her narratives. The Shepherd and Shepherdess that return home, the race horse bearing the same name as the title of the collection, and the books of a second-hand book seller, who end up back with the original owner. The stories range from the historical The King’s Servant to the, for her, contemporary Gap In The Hedge.
In stories such as Sweet Herbs we see the beginnings of her community based “spiritual families” as the famous writer Maurice Wentworth decides the fate of many previously unknown people. “How wondered Maurice, did old Mr Archer mange to live? And surely, he thought, he stood convicted of the most utter callousness in that he had never inquired into Mr Archer’s state? He owed his vine, one of his greatest joys, to Mr Archer, and Mr Archer had lived here before him in this house, had lived and loved and suffered here. Surely he thought, the mutual love of a house should be a bond between two men, and surely the one whose prosperity had ousted the poverty of the other had his obligations?” ( Goudge 1966 )
These themes of thoughtful generosity and subtle charity were to be drawn ever more finely as her power as a writer progressed. Homes were always important entities to her, as they gave her the time, space and atmosphere she required to work in. Those who were lucky enough to have their lives touched by Elizabeth, knew that this was not an abstract that she just wrote about, but was the way she lived her life. She too maintained people who had looked after her when they had retired, and her home became the home of a small extended family, as she had no children of her own. She never turned anyone away although Jessie did protect her privacy and her writing time as best she could.
Writers need to have strength of character and discipline to successfully work, courage to face their publishers and readers with an exposure of their hearts and thoughts, and the practical nature to deal with the world in the form of publicity, writing on commission, and to a dead line. Elizabeth had to and did cultivate all the qualities that she so admired in her friends who had “proper” jobs. She used them to craft stories that have stood the tests of time.
White Wings book cover
Goudge Elizabeth 1966 White Wings Duckworths
Goudge Elizabeth 1974 Joy Of The Snow Hodder & Stoughton