Archive for Biography

Pen Friends

In my quest for knowledge about the works and life of Elizabeth Goudge, my research has lead me to strange little odds and ends of information, which when put together add a piece to Elizabeth’s tapestry.

One of these was an ebay purchase I made a number of years ago. Another writer I admire is Rosemary Sutcliff and I noticed that a hard backed 1st edition of her Arthurian Trilogy was up for sale. I won the bid and waited for the books. When they came I was pleased to find that their condition was as described. When I opened them they were all three inscribed “Elizabeth with much love Rosemary” and from one of them fell a letter, which had been written by the author.

I have written about this find elsewhere, so lets just say that after a bit of detective work, I found out that Rosemary Sutcliff and Elizabeth had been friends, and both writers belonged to the same literary agent. Elizabeth wrote the forward to one of Rosemary’s over looked works “The Rider of the White Horse.” A quiet, descriptive novel set during England’s civil war.

“There is nothing nicer than being asked to write an introduction to a favourite book. ” Elizabeth writes, “But at the same time it is a difficult task. It is like being asked to describe the charm of a face you love. If you did not love the face so much, and even more the person behind the face, it would be easy.”

This book was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1967, and chronicles the military career of Thomas Fairfax and the fate of his family during the civil war. A theme Elizabeth had already visited in The White Witch.

But a deeper connection to Elizabeth’s work is the significance that the herb of grace, or rue has for the Fairfax family.

Anne Fairfax is waiting to meet her husband on a brief visit from the fighting in a dark, disused chapel. She is anxious, grieving the death of her youngest child  and restless, knowing that her husband has never loved her as she has him. She takes comfort from the ancient preaching cross that is part of the chapel, its rugged strength and symbolism.

“Somebody else, she realised suddenly, had felt the warmth as she felt it. for on the chest of rough black oak that stood against the wall below it, an unknown hand had set a knot of blue flowers in an earthen cup. For Anne they rang a small silver note of memory. but it was a moment before she realised that the flower was rue. The Herb of Grace. The Herb of Grace springing from the ruins among which the wild white unicorn trampled with his proud shining hooves; Herb of Grace set here at the foot of the old preaching cross that was the living heart of the besieged church, as though for a statement of faith.”
(Rider of the White Horse Rosemary Sutcliff)

This book contains many of the themes we have come to recognise in Elizabeth’s books, dealing with unrequited love, faith and family in a way that is familiar to readers of her work.

That they read each others work and seemed to have been inspired and enlightened by them is obvious.  Elizabeth admires Rosemary’s ability to map battle scenes, a prospect she admits to finding difficult. Although she has no trouble in mapping out the intimate worlds her families inhabit. I’m sure Rosemary found the emotional depth Elizabeth gave to her characters something that commanded respect.

It is tempting to think that the symbolism of the blue flowered rue in Elizabeth’s book “The Herb of Grace” slipped into Rosemary’s unconscious to emerge years later as a valuable motif in her civil war novel.

Elizabeth also wrote promotional pieces for Rosemary’s excellent Arthurian epic “Sword at Sunset”, in which she praises Rosemary for so identifying with the characters that “the distant time, so difficult for many of us to realise, glows with present reality.”

At this time of fire light and lengthening evenings, find companionship, open a good book and reacquaint yourself with old friends or make some knew ones by exploring one of Elizabeth’s worlds.

 

 

 

 

 

Last of the Summer Sun

This wonderful old photograph of Keyhaven with the boats at low tide was sent to me by Marion Sheath, a long time supporter of the website. It shows the river Beaulieu at low tide with all the sail boats at rest, the white wings of their sails furled. When we visited Buckler’s Hard and the surrounding area I looked for the precise site of Damerosehay, but was unable to locate it. Harewood House, the inspiration for Damerosehay had been knocked down and redeveloped many years before.

We took a trip on the river, on a boat we had all to ourselves in the wet grey morning and we passed many a house covered with wisteria and vines who’s gardens ran down to the river. But inland the woods hid any house that might have been. Perhaps it is as well that the house is ephemeral, a place of the spirit and imagination, where anyone can find healing and rest. The Bird in The Tree is a favourite autumnal read.

Photograph of Harewood House, Elizabeth’s spiritual retreat and the inspiration for The Eliot Trilogy.

The Bird

I have grown tired of sorrow and human tears;
Life is a dream in the night, a fear among fears,
A naked runner lost in a storm of spears.

I have grown tired of rapture and love’s desire;
love is a flaming heart, and it’s flames aspire
Till they cloud the soul in the smoke of a windy fire…..

Arthur Symons

As the sun slips further down the sky and autumn begins its run through the woods, which of Elizabeth’s books do you chose for company?

 

 

 

Being Inspired

One of the many gifts that Elizabeth has bequeathed to us is the desire to make a collection of “little things” such as cousin Mary makes in The Scent of Water.

I have a collection myself, some inherited, some given as gifts, others found by browsing second hand and junk shops. They don’t live together, but have found their own niches in our home.

This little cat came from my husband’s childhood home, and is currently, like most cats , enjoying a patch of sunshine. A bronze boxing hare stands on the frame of an ink drawing of a Hare caught hiding in a Welsh cwm. An owl blinks down from a beam.

After my last post, Jana Jopson got in touch with a selection of photos and stories about her own collection, so that she could share them with other readers and collectors.

The following is taken from her email to the group:

“The collection is a work in progress, some arrive as gifts and some I find.  I imagine it will continue to evolve.  It lives in a glass-fronted bookcase on the shelf with all of my Elizabeth Goudge books and warms my heart whenever I see it.

The top shelf holds small rabbits, the smallest being made of brass and only 3/4 of an inch in length.  I appreciate rabbits of all sorts, in nature, story, and myth.

  • Second shelf includes a handmade clay squirrel (winsome and devious creatures!), a bluebird of happiness, and a sea turtle (another animal that has my admiration).
  • The bottom shelf has a figure of collie dog because I couldn’t find a Shetland Sheepdog (I’ve been companion to three), and a wild duck figure purchased for me by my father at an outdoor fair decades ago
My kindred spirit friend and I once saw a tiny coach-and-six with an elegant woman inside in a display cabinet at an antiques shop.  When we went back the next time, it was gone and we still say one of us should have purchased it.  I have had tiny tea sets but they have gone into shadow box creations rather than my tiny things collection, but I do watch for one made of blue glass.”
I wonder if we will be able to see some of her intriguing “shadow box creations” they sound wonderful.
I know very little about Elizabeth’s collection, beyond knowing that they still exist. Some pieces may have come from Guernsey where her Mother lived, like this exquisite silver writing desk, which currently belongs to the family of the late poet Anne Lewis-Smith who was Elizabeth’s neighbour in Dog Lane.
The value of any collection for me and I suspect for others who collect too, is the connections and tales the objects tell.
If you too collect and would like to share, we would love to know about your favourite “little things.”

 

 

 

 

Green Dolphin Country

“Though this book is fiction, and the characters, not portraits, it is based on fact. That a man who had emigrated to the New World should after a lapse of years write home for a bride, and then get the wrong one because he had confused her name with that of her sister, may seem to the reader highly improbable; yet it happened. And in real life also the man held his tongue about his mistake and made a good job of his marriage.”

Preface to Green Dolphin Country

The book is based on the life experiences of Elizbeth’s Great Uncle William, who left the island to join the British Navy, went on shore leave at an eastern port, missed his ship after “getting into a scrape” and found a ship bound for Australia. His story is William’s in most particulars.

Elizabeth herself said she “made it New Zealand because my ignorance of Australia was, even more, total than my ignorance of New Zealand.”
(Joy of the Snow)

It took her a long time to write, a project that she took up and laid aside during the early days of the Second World War. Elizabeth and her Mother were living at that time in Marldon, a small village on the flight path to Plymouth, and endured many nights of sleepless listening as the German planes roared overhead on their way to bomb Plymouth. As the planes returned there was always the worry that they would jettison their bombs over their village.

Her Mother and Elizabeth shared a bed while this was taking place, determined to be together should the worse occur. Her Mother’s jewelry box and Elizabeth’s manuscript of Green Dolphin Country was with them.
“Perhaps, like the Egyptians of old, we subconsciously thought that what was close to our bodies in death would accompany our spirits as they entered a new life”
(Joy of the Snow)

Green Dolphin Country is arguably one of the most famous adult novels that Elizabeth wrote. It’s a blockbuster of a book and was made into a film in the 1940’s. It caused Elizabeth all sorts of problems as people wanted to visit her and the tax man became interested in her earnings for the first time.

Elizabeth always researched her work meticulously and for this epic, she found a work by F.E. Maning entitled “ Old New Zealand.” It was a chronicle of the author’s experiences in the New Zealand of the late 1800s and his relationship with the Maoris. With the benefit of the internet, I was able to find out that the character of Tai Harura is based on that of Maning himself. They both made their money from timber, both took part in the wars between the indigenous people and the settlers and both had a love-hate relationship with the Maoris. Maning was over six foot tall, had great physical presence and strength as well as a good sense of humor.He was known as a “Pakeha Maori”, the term given to white settlers who became immersed in the Maori culture, a “white Maori.”

Into the book’s opening chapters, she pours all her love for the island that was the home of her Mother’s family. It is lyrical in its descriptions describing minute details and broad vistas as only Elizabeth can. It was the last time she used Gurnsey as the setting for a novel, and she paints a vivid picture of the isolation and beauty of the place and time into which her Mother was born.

 

Modern photo of St Peter’s Port Guernsey

Elizabeth’s books always contain quotes which I like to imagine are the starting point for the moral content of her story, and Green Dolphin Country begins with one by Evelyn Underhill.

“Three deep cravings of the self, three great expressions of man’s restlessness, which only mystic truth can fully satisfy. The first is the craving which makes him a pilgrim and a wanderer. It is the longing to go out from his normal world in search of a lost home, a “better country”; an Eldorado, a Sarras, a Heavenly Syon.”

New Zealand is all these things. Even today with our ease of world travel, it is still the other side of the world, Middle Earth where Lord Of The Rings holds sway. How much more exotic and unimaginably far away it would have been in the 1940s.

 

Marianne and Marguerite

Elizabeth, always a homebody, would shortly be making her own way in the world, and unknown to herself was at this time forging the tools to do so.

It was the springboard that gave her the recognition and financial space to become a professional writer. At first, it all seemed unlikely, as she was told that the book was too long, and with the war on there was just not enough paper to justify printing it. But thanks to an American Publisher, it was sent in as a candidate for a Metro Goldwyn Mayer film prize and won. The film sadly does not live up to the book but is a better rendition of the story than the film version of The little White Horse.

As Elizabeth, so often does she uses the local legends to give depth to her characters, such as the footprints of the Abbess in the “bay of fairies.” She uses her family home as the home of the Le Patourels, in Le Paradis, “built high up in the rock citadel of St-Pierre.”

The book deals with the themes of class, the upper-class Patourels and the “trade” Ozannes. The material wealth that one has and the noble calling of the doctor. Yet another doctor who has chosen his work over the love of his life, this time in the person of Dr. Ozanne. The same device which was used in “Bird in the Tree.” Are these echoes of a love that Elizabeth once knew? Was there an unsuitable boy who went away to study to become a Doctor, who promised to return but didn’t?

The book charts the growth of the inner as well as the outer life, the person who stays at home and the one who goes as far from the cradle of her birth as is possible. Yet who changes the most and where and when it takes place is unexpected.
“ They were alike only in their mutual realisation that whatever one expects to feel in this life one will probably feel the opposite.”
(Green Dolphin Country p481)

Moving from one set of small islands to another, both isolated from the changing modern world that was rapidly developing, it is a tale of adventure, both of the natural world and the inner world of the spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

Voices from the Ether

A chance to hear Elizabeth speak about her home in Hampshire

I have recently discovered your Elizabeth Goudge website and thought I ought to add my ‘pen’orth’.

I first met Elizabeth and Jessie in 1957 when Elizabeth Goudge invited me to Rose Cottage. I had come across her books as a teenager and admired the intricate webs she wove, all loose ends so propitiously tied up at the end, and the strong Christian moral basis albeit somewhat mystical to most of her fiction and non-fiction.

I got to know her as an impecunious student in London who applied to the World University Service for a tide over grant, and when trying to repay what I thought was a loan they told me that the donor did not wish to be repaid. I nagged them till they revealed the donor’s name, and yes you guessed it

I wrote to thank her, and there followed many years of friendship, many visits to Rose Cottage, later with my wife Sally and four boys. She and Jessie gave us much support when our second son Richard contracted Leukaemia and died aged 8 in 1976, we have never forgotten their concern. She put us in touch with Sister Mary Agnes of the Poor Clare’s Order, who became our spiritual mentor. Jessie insisted we use her cottage ‘Bryn Alban’ in Pembrokeshire several times as it “would do Richard good”. So, you see, Elizabeth Goudge was not just a unique literary figure (a genius I would say) but a deeply caring and practical friend.

She told my boys stories of her years in Oxford to prepare our eldest son David just before he went up to Lincoln College.  She showed us her treasured ‘little things’ in the display case which featured in one of her books, I can’t recall which one.  We were treated to exquisite teas at Rose Cottage, the damson cheese being a speciality, and sat on the sofa stroking Tikki or Froda (I am a bit hazy about the dogs now). The well in her garden and the many herbs grown by Jessie were a source of more stories (The White Witch?), I just wish I could remember them. We visited when she was bed bound and still found her cheerful and welcoming and full of faith. I have a recording of Elizabeth Goudge and Jessie being interviewed for a BBC programme, and somewhere I am sure we have some photos, I must dig them out. I also have many of her autographed books and a splendid photo of Elizabeth Goudge in pride-of-place on our bookshelf. It has been a privilege having the friendship of these two lovely women

My granddaughters are avidly borrowing her books and boasting in school that their family were friends with the author, their favourites – Henrietta’s House and the Little White Horse.

Peter.

Reaching Out

Reaching Out

My chief joy in running the Elizabeth Goudge site is the interesting correspondence that I receive from around the world. Many of those who contact me wrote to Elizabeth, and the letters and the writers feelings on her replies flesh out the knowledge of the woman Elizabeth grew into. They contain a universal message of hope in adversity and love for her fellow man, all say how inspiring she was, and the positive effect she had on their lives. What a wonderful legacy to leave.

But back in March of this year I was contacted by Javier V’zquez from Spain with a short email which touched me deeply.

“My family has letters to my mother, Lucila Alvarez. My mother was the wife of a victimized during the Franco era. If they were of interest, I think that would be fine to send copies of most of these letters.”
Javier Vazquez

It is well documented that Elizabeth felt keenly for those who suffered persecution and imprisonment. I don’t know how she found out about the sad plight of this family from so far away. But their circumstances and tragic story touched her so much that she wrote to them for many years, giving them her support and friendship.

There is a prayer in her Diary of Prayer which is headed “For Prisoners’ Families” and starts,

We pray to you, O Lord, for the broken homes of prisoners, wives left without their husbands and children fatherless, whole families in fear as they face the loneliness and hardship that lie before them. Help us, O Lord, to help them. Show us how to bring to them all the love and aid in our power, in whatever way is possible for us.”
(Diary of Prayer. Goudge 1966)

As the prayer is not attributed to anyone it seems fairly certain that it was one Elizabeth wrote herself as part of her private devotions. It was written not long after she got in touch with the Vazquez family. We can only imagine the lift the gift of friendship would have been, the practicable support offered would have been a life line.

Lucila’s husband Miguel was an artist and an out spoken critic of the Franco regime, and was someone with whom Elizabeth would have found it easy to empathize with. We know from her letters that she considered him an artist of some merit, congratulating him on an exhibition he was staging.
Elizabeth always felt compassion for prisoners, her books are full of them, from Thomas More to Michael in The Rosemary Tree, her concern for their well being shines out. It seems to me more than a coincidence that The Eliot’s matriarch was named Lucilla.

We do not have Lucila and Miguel’s letters to Elizabeth as her correspondence was destroyed after her death, but the letters she wrote to them have been a treasured part of the Vazquez’s life ever since and I feel privileged to be able to share them with you.

Thank you Mrs Vazquez and Javier.

Spanish Letters 1

Spanish Letters page 2Spanish letters 3Spanish letter 4

 

The White Witch

She awoke to darkness and unfamiliar sounds. It took a few moments to remember that she was not in her bedroom at Providence Cottage, but in her new home tucked into a Chiltern lane. Her roots had been torn out of the red, fertile soil of Devon and roughly transplanted to this chalky, Oxfordshire pasture land. She would never be happy again and as for writing,,,,,,,, that had been left behind in Devon too.

Bedrooms were important to Elizabeth, a place of retreat when the pressures of life made her long for the solitude of a nun’s cell. She could always refresh herself in the shell of her room. It was an intensely personal space where all pretence could be laid aside, a place of prayer and meditation. How long would it take for this slope ceilinged room to become as dear as the one left behind?

All her life Elizabeth had been prone to bouts of depression, and the fatigue bought on by the move and the total rearrangement of her life must have been overwhelming. She was still grieving over her Mother’s death; the loss of her gentle tyranny must have seemed like a hand being taken off the tiller of her life. She had to make her own decisions now and live with the consequences. The first of them had been good, her companion and help mate Jessie had been suggested by her family who had worried about her ability to live alone and cope with the stresses and strains of life. Jessie was the answer to her prayers; she gave her independence and the time to write. The second change, that of leaving Devon had also been her family’s idea, and about this she was much less certain. Elizabeth needed the familiar to feel safe and she was not good at making friends or meeting new people. Society, even the literary one she was forced to occasionally inhabit for the sake of her work was anathema to her.

Rose Cottage from Dog Lane

Devon had been the place where she had found “roots” even though she had been born over the border in Somerset. She loved the places and the people that surrounded her, the small rural community of Marldon that had sheltered her and her Mother for so many years. First in the sad stricken days after her Fathers’ sudden death, then throughout the uncertainty and fear of the war and finally supporting her through her Mothers difficult last illness and demise. She had achieved a measure of success here, her work becoming known worldwide. Green Dolphin Country was made into a film during her Devon years and many of her bestselling novels such as Gentian Hill, Smokey House and of cause the award winning Little White Horse were written here. What would she do, how would she feel in the park like tamed Chilterns so far from the sea?

The darkness outside her window was beginning to lighten and from some tree top a blackbird began to tune up for the dawn chorus. She had always loved the moments of transition, a pause for contemplation and renewal. Getting out of bed she went to the window and drew back the curtains.

She was met by a vision of light. An old apple tree, part of the hedge of trees around her new home was strung with raindrops and the rising sun had set a diamond in the heart of every one of them, the whole tree was cloaked in light. Framed in the branches, resting in the field behind the house was a gaily painted gipsy caravan, an old white horse cropping the turf nearby. Elizabeth was transfixed, here it was happening again, and something she had feared and dreaded had been transformed into something of wonder and joy. Life here was going to be alright. She would get to know and love the countryside and history of this place, just as she had in Devon.

Later on after they had been at Rose Cottage a while and begun to settle into the local community, she had her second vision of Froniga walking through the hedge and up to the well where she sat on the rim with her basket of herbs.

Jessie took her on long countryside drives round the hamlets, villages and towns in their locality. They walked the beech woods, joined the local church which they could walk to across the fields from the cottage and they began to make friends with the other inhabitants of Dog lane.

IMG_7685

She discovered the story of the capture and hanging of the Catholic priest in the market square of Henley, caught and convicted of being a Royalist spy, as Yoben is in the book. King Charles really did spend the night at a local Inn nearby, so that Will and Jenny could go and get Will cured of “The King’s Evil” as scrofula was called. Her own cottage as well as others in the area was built partly from old ships timbers. She vowed that on hot summer days the scent of old spices permeated the house.

Jessie herself was a knowledgeable gardener those love of herbs helped form Froniga’s character. I’d love Elizabeth’s description of Froniga’s garden to be her own, but with two small dogs to accommodate this seems unlikely! The well however is well documented, as we have a picture of Elizabeth sitting on its rim as Froniga had done. The hedges around the cottage contained old roses and the small wild dog rose, and Jessie grew herbs in the garden borders.

All these revelations fed her imagination and formed the bones of her new book The White Witch, published in 1958.

This book is about how civil war rips families apart, opening rifts and fostering miss-understandings that last for generations. But the war was fought on religious grounds not just over earth and dust, but over human minds, hearts and ultimately souls, becoming more bloody and obdurate as a consequence. The belief of divine right invested on both sides, gave an added dimension to the fight.

Set in an Oxfordshire village the story centres on the Haslewood family and those who are connected to it. Robert the local squire lives in his small manor house with his wife Margaret and their twin children Will and Jenny. Their cousin and Robert’s childhood sweetheart Froniga lives just across the common from them and is the white witch of the title. This family and the small community with the local parson, tribe of gipsies, and an itinerant painter are the characters we follow through the years of unrest and upheaval the civil war brings to their lives. To Elizabeth’s characters the spiritual battles are as hard to overcome as the physical and it is not just the politically awakening Robert who undergoes a radical transformation.

It turned out to be a pivotal novel for Elizabeth too, a “coming of age” of sorts, because after she wrote it, she seems to have put away “childish things” The spiritual struggles of the civil war mirrored her own quest for enlightenment and understanding. While never losing her love for the old tales of folklore and legend that had surrounded her from her cradle, from now on her novels take on a maturity and depth of spiritual conviction.

Elizabeth had grown up surrounded by the beauty of the church, its celebrations marking the turn of year. Now she whole heartedly embraced the Anglican faith which satisfied her love of ritual and answered for her the fundamental questions of life and death. She had found purpose and meaning in her life. Her father’s example of charity and good works was perpetuated by the increased income her success as an author gave her.

Her books, never preachy, became manuals on life, holding out the hope of understanding, compassion accompanied by the gift of the storyteller held between their pages. No longer did “a little knowledge go a long way” (Goudge Joy of the Snow)

Her life at Rose Cottage was strictly regulated, with a routine of prayer, work and study. While her health permitted she still walked the countryside with her dogs and played an active part in the church. Later she became reclusive and Jessie guarded her privacy fiercely, enabling her to write six of her best novels during the next fifteen years. Elizabeth also compiled and edited six Poetry anthologies, and wrote a biography of St Francis as well as her auto-biography before she died. But she still found the time to personally attend to a correspondence which grew over the years from family and friends to an ever widening circle of fans, extended family and petitions from all over the world. She maintained the literary contacts with her publishers and wrote promotional pieces for other writers, as well as short stories.

Elizabeth Goudge

The themes of the White Witch let Elizabeth explore the different paths of faith and the way people from different sects love, revere and follow the disciples of God. It solidified her faith while it opened her to a respect for the faith of others. Someone who knew Elizabeth well in her later years once told me, that she was the most tolerate and compassionate person she knew. She felt that the present Middle Eastern conflicts would have saddened her, not with their radical views and intolerance, but because of our own

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The Art of Coincidence

First, I would like to compliment you on the lovely web-site in honour of Ms. Goudge, who has become a dear “companion” of mine in recent years. Thanks to the info you posted, I just purchased her “Joy Of The Snow” & am enjoying it immensely.

I would like to relate the following account of my experience with Ms. Goudge & her work.

In 1974, I was living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, near the Mexican border. I purchased a book one day by Ms. Goudge that was in a used book store in McAllen, TX.

In the book, was a name label & a birthday card to a friend & it was signed, “Jessie.” The name label indicated that the former owner of the book & the recipient of the book was a Mrs. F. E. Rogers, Culver House, Middlewich, Eng. I have been unable to find Mrs. Rogers’ given name but I believe she died in Crewe, about 20 years ago.

I wondered, at the time of my purchase, how in the world the little book, “The Scent of Water”, had made the journey from Chestershire, UK to So Texas, but I never made an attempt to trace its journey. It is a tourist area but that is certainly a long distance to go for a holiday.

In 2000, I was researching our family genealogy & was trying to find information on my grandmother’s cousin’s husband. I had some wonderful old photos of him & wanted to share it with any descendants of his that might still be living. A gentleman from England answered my inquiry & said that he had a relative by that name, that had lived in Texas at that same time & we thought for a while that our relatives were the same person.  As it turned out, we were mistaken, but this gent’s address was just across the lane from the address in my little Goudge book, purchased 26 years earlier.

We have marvelled at this coincidence many times. Recently I happened upon your web-site & noticed that Ms. Goudge’s companion was also named Jessie.  Now I am wondering

If my little (undated) card, that had been tucked away inside my book, could possibly have been from Jessie Monroe/Munroe.

Could you please tell me if Jessie is still living? Would you happen to recognize her hand-writing or have any info that might help me to determine if our ladies are the same? This signature appears to have been spelled “Jessi” but I’m not certain of that. I can scan & send a copy of the card if it would be helpful.

Diane

Dear Diane
Thank you so much for sharing your Goudge story with me. It is just the sort of wonderful coincidence that Elizabeth loved to weave into her stories.

Elizabeth’s companion spelt her name Jessie with an “e” and as far as I know had no links with Middlewich. The only Mrs Rogers I know of in connection with Elizabeth is her char woman from Oxford who lived “just off St Aldgates with her sister and fifteen cats! ” I don’t think the dates would match up and Elizabeth was quite young when she lived with her parents in Oxford and lived there long before she knew Jessie.

Jessie came from a wealthy Scottish family and after Elizabeth died moved back to Pembrokeshire Wales where she had family. Sadly she died about 8/9 years ago in a nursing home.

However if you could send me a scan of her card, I do know someone who would know if it’s her writing or not. So maybe we could find out a little more for you about your interesting find.
Thank you for visiting the web site

Thank you for your answer to my email & I will send a scan of the little birthday card to Mrs. Rogers today. My list of “coincidences” with regard to Ms.Goudge just seems to continue to grow to the point where it’s beginning to feel more like she’s perched on my shoulder. In your web-site information, you mention a “Harwood” family & that is the name that I was researching, in Texas, when I found (or he found me) the gentleman who lives across the street from Mrs. Rogers’ former home in Middlewich.

Also, I recently decided to collect all of the Goudge books & was surprised to see that she wrote a tribute to St. Francis. I have the good saint’s image, in one form or another, all over my home & garden & couldn’t be without him. Needless to say, I have now ordered & received, “My God and My All” from Amazon. I wasn’t aware that there was a book on him by Elizabeth Goudge. When I received the book from a seller in Pennsylvania, there was a signature of the former owner on the fly page.   That lady was very well-known & years ago, she was the founder & director of a large Children’s hospital. Whether or not our Jessies are the same lady, I have consistently been amazed at the number of surprises that keep springing from this little book of mine

Dear Diane,

Here is another coincidence for you. Harwood was the name of the house where Elizabeth spent time convalescing in Hampshire after her nervous breakdown and the death of her father. It was by the sea marshes and faced out to the estuary of the River Beaulieu She re named the house Dameroshay.

Having seen the scan, it just might be Jessie; Elizabeth’s writing was loopy and extremely untidy, as you can see if you click on letters she wrote which are posted on the site.

Dear Deborah

I have had another coincidence “from Elizabeth” since we last corresponded. The book that I purchased in 1974 was from the Salvation Army in McAllen, TX. That book is the one with the name label & card from Jessi to the lady in Middlewich. Recently, I purchased on Amazon, the book “Green Dolphin Street” The previous owner of that one was a Rosemary Cutshaw from Indianapolis, Indiana. She was a member of the Salvation Army there, per info that I found on the internet. These coincidences just keep coming & I find myself looking forward to the next one which seems to happen every time I order another book!

Friends & Neighbours

Interview with Nicki Lewis-Smith

Nicki Lewis-Smith was waiting in the garden for me to arrive. Nicki is the daughter of the poet Anne Lewis-Smith who had been Elizabeth’s neighbour in Dog Lane for a decade or more. I had been urged to contact Nicki by her Mother, Anne, with whom I had corresponded both before the site was set up and afterwards. It had taken me a couple of years to work out that she was one and the same as the published poet that I had read.

I was taken inside her old cottage, which had obviously been here long before the estate which had grown up on three sides of it. This was now completely hidden by trees, shrubs and fencing, so that the cottage could still have been in the countryside on the outskirts of Ludlow.

Nicki made us tea and offered biscuits and over these we began to talk. She started by telling me that it wasn’t until after Elizabeth had died that she had really appreciated what a prolific and successful writer she had been. Until then she had just been an elderly lady who was friends with Mum and lived in the cottage down the lane. They then lived in Primrose Cottage which is the cottage a little nearer to The Dog pub. She knew she was a writer because so was Mum, and their talk had been peppered with literature and poetry.

The Poet's Desk

Nicki went upstairs and came back down carrying three boxes, two considerably smaller than the other. Sitting down opposite me at the table by the window so that what light there was fell on the surface, she opened the first box to reveal a small, intricately carved silver writing desk. This she told me was called “the Poet’s Desk” and it had come from the Channel Isles. Originally it had belonged to Elizabeth’s mother Ida Collette, and had then been handed down to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was poetic to her core; it was the ultimate expression possible in the written word to her and she venerated the poet’s craft. She was friends with Ruther Pitter who lived in the Cotswolds and Anne Lewis-Smith a poet living next door must have been a great boon to her intellectual life. A little like Cousin Mary in Scent of Water, Elizabeth must have been pleasantly surprised to find someone she could discuss Literature with in a small rural village in 1960’s Oxfordshire. This wasn’t the only time I was to be reminded of the similarities between Cousin Mary and Elizabeth that afternoon.

It was exquisite, obviously a family heirloom, and a great bequest to have been given from a neighbour. Elizabeth had no children of her own, and perhaps she felt that as a poet, Anne would be the most fitting person to bequeath it to, someone who would value the symbolic nature of the gift as well as its beauty and value.

The other box was much smaller and was obviously going to contain jewellery of some sort. But the pendant it revealed took my breath away. It was a small amethyst carved with a writers quill and the word “Truth” in its faceted surface. It was a beautiful and most appropriate piece of jewellery for a writer to wear. Nicki told me that Elizabeth had worn it every day, but was unable to tell me where she had obtained it. My impression of Elizabeth is of someone austere; who like Sebastian in Heart of the Family, or Cousin Mary (again!) would rather that any money surplus to her meagre living standards she earned was better spent on the wider community rather than on an expensive trinket for herself.

Perhaps Jessie gave it to her as a gift on one of her birthdays, or indeed another family member, maybe she did buy it with some of her hard won earnings. However Elizabeth had come by it the intimate nature of holding something she had worn was powerful, a talisman from her life.

The third was a box containing letters and cards written to Nicki’s family from Elizabeth spanning many years, even after they had left Peppard Common behind for the wilds of Wales. I could have spent all afternoon handling and reading these treasures, but I felt a little like I was snooping into something really private. They were all fragile, some almost falling apart and I couldn’t help thinking how rare anything in the way of personal writing from Elizabeth was, in light of Jessie’s destruction. They were mainly chatty little notes and cards, both Christmas and birthday, with some slightly longer letters among them. What insights they might give into her character or thoughts there wasn’t the time then to find out.

I had got the impression from Sylvia Gower that Elizabeth had tolerated her less famous neighbour in a spirit of Christian charity. But I cannot retain this image after talking to Nicki. She remembered one incident vividly from that time, when she had been a young teenager and “a bit of a hippie, into my long cloaks and skirts,” Elizabeth had watched her riding past Rose Cottage and around the field at the back of her garden. The young girl with her flowing clothes and long hair on her horse must have seemed to have ridden from the pages of one of her stories. Or perhaps she was remembering the rides she took as a young woman through the fens near Ely.

It was obvious that they had been very close. Why else would one gift such family treasures to neighbours who had moved away? Elizabeth had a wide circle of admirers and many friends in her church and community. But she was a private person who valued the quiet pace of the devotional life she had chosen. Jessie protected her privacy fiercely giving her the time and space she needed to be creative. But the Lewis-Smith family seem to have been one of the exceptions to this, with Elizabeth letting them into her life and affections.

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Towers In The Mist

“It is impossible, Elizabeth wrote, to live in an old city and not ask yourself continually, what was it like years ago? What were the men, woman and children like who lived in my home centuries ago, and what were their thoughts and their actions as they lived out their lives day by day in the place where I live mine now?”

Her book Towers In The Mist is the result of all these musings. She had not wanted to leave her beloved Ely and the situation was made almost intolerable by her Mother’s swift decline and long illness. The young, shy Elizabeth was forced to take on the role of hosting the great and the good of Oxford, as part of her Father’s increasingly powerful and intellectual social circle. He had moved to Oxford in order to take up the Regius Professorship of the college, a vocation he thoroughly enjoyed. Elizabeth did not. It seems unfair that her mother who was imminently suitable for the task was not up to performing it. One of the prevalent deciding factors in Henry accepting the post had been the status it would infer on his beautiful, clever wife.

Elizabeth peoples her home with a young vibrant family called Leigh, who are coping without a mother, as she herself does, the matriarch of the household being a bedridden Aunt. Their father is Canon Leigh, a dignitary of the college, much like Henry, and it is tempting to say that Elizabeth brings in the young, vibrant family of the Leigh’s to fill the emptiness of the big old house. Maybe they helped keep the ghosts at bay. It’s a tale as frothy and sparkling as the foam on Raleigh’s beer tankard, tempting to label it a lesser novel. One written to fulfil literary obligations rather than one inspired. It is the novel about which Henry said “You make a little knowledge go such a long way”

Faithful is a poor aspiring scholar who in the company of gypsies has made his way to Oxford where he dreams of becoming a member of that great University. Gypsies seem to have held a fascination for Elizabeth as they play a part in more than one of her novels. During a May Day procession he meets the young Leigh twins who help to make his dream a reality. Joyeuce, the inappropriately named eldest daughter of the Leigh family is struggling to find some time for herself in the busy life of surrogate motherhood that she has been forced to take on. These are the two main characters of the story, through whose eyes Elizabethan Oxford unfolds, with all its riots, dirt, squalor and beauty. In its pages we meet with the good and great of the age, ending with the visit of the fairy queen Elizabeth I. The whole book is a mixture of history lesson and guided tours of the city.

This is a coming of age novel, charting the uncertain waters of love, aspiration and work. But like all teenagers throughout the ages the desire to “kick over the traces” of convention is ever present. As perhaps Elizabeth longed to do but never dared. There are shades here of that mysterious unknown and unsuitable suitor left behind in the Cambridgeshire fens. Which gate did she meet him at I wonder?

Elizabeth I

At the time this was written, Chamberlain was telling the world that it was “peace in our time.” How remote and shining the inviolate isle of Elizabethan Britain must have looked in those troubled times. We had beaten the Spanish Armada; surely we could do so all over again? Like all of Elizabeth’s work it is filled with the quiet optimism that all will be well, and the scent of nostalgia breathes from its pages as potent as violets after rain.

I first read this as a teenager in the omnibus edition of her work Three Cities of Bells, and was impatient with this sandwich filling between two books that I loved. Perhaps she had to write it, to convince both herself and her father that she was taking her writing seriously, viewing it as a contractual obligation of her profession not as a hobby.

Goudge Elizabeth Towers In The Mist 1938 Hodder & Stoughton

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