Archive for Childhood

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?




Matrilines: Elizabeth Goudge: Glimpsing the Liminal :- Feb 2016

Most readers have favourite writers. But sometimes you find that, over time, these change. A writer who spoke to you directly at one age can fade as your circumstances change, while another writer who was formerly less appealing may reveal new value. Certainly this is true of me. There are writers I read and reread as a teenager, in my twenties, in my thirties, whom I still love, but no longer need to read. But there are a handful who have stayed with me lifelong, in whose books I continue to find new things. One of these is Elizabeth Goudge.

I was five or six when I first encountered her, via her Carnegie Medal–winning children’s book, The Little White Horse. It was one of my favourite books as a child, and it remains a book I consider essential to my personal library. I reread it last week, as I prepared to write this piece, and found it as engaging and magical as I always did. Goudge—like Dodie Smith and Rumer Godden, two more of my lifelong writers—wrote for both adults and children, although I suspect these days it is mainly her children’s books for which she is known. For most of her career, moreover, the idea of genre was minor, and all her books were published as mainstream novels. Some were set against historical backgrounds, including all her children’s books; others have contemporary settings. The central concern in all of them, however, is the life of the spirit, and the blending of the mundane and the transcendent, and all of them are in certain ways profoundly magical.

Goudge was a devout Christian and her faith informs all of her works. I can at this point hear some readers of this turning away. But I ask them to bear with me—and with her—for unlike many of the best known religious writers (including C. S. Lewis) she never preaches, nor lays out moral parameters, and, to paraphrase Louisa Alcott, she does not reward the “good” with gilded treats and the “bad” with dire punishments. Indeed, I’m not sure she deals in good and bad at all: she writes rather about compassion and understanding and resolution through empathy. Her work is not showy and it is not melodramatic. It is, however, often surprising and sometimes startling. And she rarely if ever does what the reader expects.

With the exception of her children’s books, most of her work is not what most people would think of as fantasy. The children’s books are all set in a version of our real world, too, though her towns and landscapes in them are imaginary. Yet in all her work the boundaries between worlds are thin. Folklore and poetry, transcendent experience, and glimpses of the immanent pervade them, and her characters—especially the youngest and the oldest—slip between these worlds easily. Her characters channel folktales and legend through their lives and their connections with others. This is most clear in her children’s books, in particular, her three best known—The Little White Horse, Henrietta’s House, and Linnets and Valerians (recently retitled The Runaways). In The Little  White Horse, which is the most directly fantastical of Goudge’s books, the protagonist Maria must explore the history of her family and their ancestral home via a blend of fact and magic—the injustices done by her forefather Sir Wrolf were real enough, but their context and consequences belong as much to the realm of magic and the liminal as to reality. A white horse and a giant dog come and go throughout the history of her family—and her own experience—guiding, observing, and sometimes leading Maria to the discoveries she needs to make. The dog—another Wrolf—is real enough but seemingly immortal, but the horse is a unicorn and a creature of the sea and not to be grasped or owned. The story sounds soppy, and the recent film (titled The Secret of Moonacre) tried hard to make it soppy by replacing the very real magic of Goudge’s writing with sentiment and gloss, but in the book, it is not. Rather, everything is tied together by extra-mundane bonds, so that Maria’s friend and ally, Robin, is at first a boy in dreams who becomes real, and the white horse brings not only Maria but the book’s main antagonist to a solution to the ancient problem they face that is partly realistic, yes, but rooted in liminal experience.

Henrietta’s House leads a cast of characters through a series of experiences from fairy tales, including “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Giant Who Kept His Heart in a Bag,” all set in a realistic landscape and blended with new legends invented by Goudge herself about saints and bandits and the continuity of myths within certain locations. In Linnets and Valerians there is a witch to defeat, and an old evil that has damaged the present. All three books are populated by a rich cast of characters, of all ages, not all of them human (Goudge wrote animals well and with sympathetic realism), all of them nuanced. Unusually for a writer of her period, she includes characters of colour in positive roles, and people with disabilities who have full and valuable lives (this is also the case in her adult books).

Her children’s books are easy reads and highly entertaining. Her adult ones are more challenging. They can be deeply philosophical—Goudge spends more time on the life of the mind than the “what-happens-next” in many of them. Characters make sacrifices that are not necessarily rewarded or even recognised. But as with the children’s books, the adult novels weave mundanity with the liminal. If she were alive and writing today, she might well be classed as a magic realist writer. Thus A City of Bells is both a bildungsroman for the protagonist Jocelyn and a recreation of the tale of the Pied Piper, and the story of the latter—represented by the figure of the lost, perhaps dead poet Gabriel Ferranti—weaves in and out alongside details of Edwardian omnibuses and the problems of bookselling and raising children in old age in a way that makes each add to the depth of the other. And there are ghosts, benign and painful.

The Rosemary Tree is perhaps the most overtly religious of Goudge’s novels, but this element is present far more through glimpses of Otherness and of human attraction to the transcendent than through any direct reference to Christianity (or any other faith—and Goudge presents the latter as valid and true when she does speak of them). And the spine of the novel is the story of the Ugly Duckling, with the characters each finding ways of dealing with their particular problems and self-defined weaknesses. Goudge does not restrict this access to the liminal to approved characters, either—in The Scent of Water, the walls between past and present break down not only for the main protagonist Mary but for a minor character, a venal businessman, who finds his own comfort through his glimpse of something outside himself.

And in all Goudge’s novels there is a profound sense of the magic, which is contained in the everyday (a skill she shares with Ray Bradbury, who in many ways she resembles as a writer). Thus in Island Magic—a historical novel set on Jersey and deeply imbued with the folklore of that place—Peronelle has a deep experience of otherworldliness while washing the dishes. The most overtly magical of Goudge’s adult books is probably The White Witch, which is set against the early years of the English Civil War. The protagonist Froniga is, as the title suggests, a working witch, the daughter of a settled father and a Romani mother, and she possesses both the power to heal and the power to see the future. Yet while both are important to the plot, the book is not about her powers, but about her selfhood and character and her effect on those around her. A lesser writer would probably have taken this theme in the direction of witch trials and melodrama. Goudge uses it to examine the effects of divided politics on families and communities and the ways in which our beliefs affect others outside ourselves. Her characters do bad things, sometimes, and those have consequences, but she rarely writes bad people—I can think of only one, the greedy and self-obsessed school-owner Mrs. Belling in The Rosemary Tree. Goudge was concerned not with judging others but with understanding them with compassion. In her case, that compassion is linked to her sense of otherness—the most profound experiences of liminality her characters experience are often when they are most concerned with others than themselves.

Like a lot of writers of her generation, she is fading from memory, save as a children’s writer, and awareness of her other work tends to focus on her faith, which some readers find off-putting. That’s a shame: her ability to express the magical, the liminal, the fantastical is peerless, and I recommend her works highly.

Kari Sperring is the pen name of the Anglo-Welsh historian Kari L. Maund. She has published six books and many articles on Welsh, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, and Viking history and has taught the history of these peoples at university level. As Kari Sperring, she is the author of two novels, Living with Ghosts (DAW 2009), which won the 2010 Sydney J. Bounds Award, was shortlisted for the William L. Crawford Award, and made the Tiptree Award Honor List, and The Grass King’s Concubine (DAW 2012).

The World Shot Through With Magic

L & V Interior

Linnets & Valerians interior of The Manor

At first glance, Linnets & Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge, doesn’t look like children’s fantasy at all: No one goes to a school for wizards, or meets an elf, or a fairy; no one travels to another dimension, or to another time; there are no talking animals, no invisibility cloaks, no magic mirrors or poisoned apples. And not one character flies through the air on a broomstick, or on anything else: everyone’s feet are firmly planted on the good rich English earth.

And yet, in some ways, none of that is true, and many of those things DO happen. Because Linnets and Valerians is a book of both the purest naturalism and the purest magic. There are guardian bees and a shapeshifting cat and a book of evil spells, and at least three people are bewitched. There is one character who may be an elf and another who is almost certainly a very nasty witch. There is a mirror that on one occasion seems to reflect something, or someone, from the past. There is a statue that may or may not occasionally come to life. There are corridors, and woodland paths, that lead different ways at different times. There is evil, and there is good, and both those things have demonstrable power.

The plot is like a delightful mash-up of E. Nesbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett: the four Linnet children run away from their prim-and-proper grandmother and, almost by accident, end up with their curmudgeonly but secretly doting Uncle Ambrose, a curate and retired schoolmaster. The children ramble freely in the nearby countryside and village where they meet a bevy of characters: Lady Alicia Valerian, a recluse who, grieving for the long-ago loss of her family, never leaves her manor; Daft Davie, a mute hermit who lives and paints in a cave on the mountainside; and Emma Cobley, who owns the village shop and whose sweet candy-selling surface disguises sour intent. There is also, importantly, Uncle Ambrose’s servant, Ezra, who sings and dances in the moonlight and talks to the household bees, which he insists need to be told about any new residents or other important events. Through curiosity, friendliness, and sheerest bumbling, the children uncover long-held village secrets and enable generations-old wrongs to be put right, and in the end, everyone lives happily ever after.

The real-life magic of the English countryside is part of why the book resists easy categorization, why it’s a toss-up to describe it as a book that feels naturalistic although it’s all about magic or one that feels magical while being firmly grounded in the natural world. The beauty of the landscape — the flowers, the woods, the hillside, the tor — literally enchants the children, who’ve grown up in India and don’t know anything first-hand about England. So the magic seems natural, and nature seems magical, and it all gets mixed up together in their experience of the place and their new life.

The natural and supernatural are intertwined for the author, too. In her afterwards, she describes talking with people in a Dartmoor village much like the one described in the book, and the stories she heard of woods appearing out of nowhere one evening and never again, and of people seeing elves on the stairs, and of witchcraft black and white.

I read Linnets and Valerians as a child and remembered it as one of those books like The Secret Garden that plays with the tropes of fantasy, and with the reader’s desire to believe in magic, without actually being fantasy. I started rereading a few weeks ago, armed with sticky notes, and a plan to mark each point where something magical, or something that could be interpreted as magical, was mentioned. I figured I could review the marked places when I was done, and see if the balance tipped towards fantasy or realism. But when I finished, my copy was bristling with sticky notes, too many to count: the whole book is shot through with magic.

It’s all, to use Jo Walton’s lovely phrase in, “Among Others” deniable magic: nothing happens that couldn’t be explained naturalistically. The shape-shifting cat could just be frightened children imagining things. The bees leading them into discovery or out of danger could be…bees, flying around. The book of magic spells could be mere ill-wishing. What Nan, the oldest child, sees in the sewing room might simply be an odd reflection in an old and wavy mirror. The most frightening scene where the two boys are trapped in a beech tree, and Emma Cobley and her confederates plot to counter the protection of the beech with their own wicked power could just be grownup bullies trying to scare kids.

But there are other explanations, that Ezra believes wholeheartedly, and the children come to believe, and even Uncle Ambrose, who explains at one point that as a curate he is not permitted to believe in ancient gods or supernatural powers, shows signs of accepting as real. Emma Cobley certainly does believe she’s casting spells, with intent to do harm, and harm is done. And Ezra and the children set out to undo — and, it’s not too much of a spoiler to say, succeed in undoing — that harm, on the same terms.

So the question hangs in the air: if everyone believes it, and it has the desired effects, is it real?

The answer, for the characters and the author, for the bees and the woods and the statue in the garden, is a resounding “yes.”

Elizabeth Kushner



A Torminster Tale


IMG_3058Wells Somerset, a perfect late summer morning. A dark dogs leg of an arch and we enter the circle of The Green, lined with its gracious houses and the back of  The Swann Inn, the very one from which the pumpkin shaped coach left to pick up travellers from the train station when Elizabeth lived here. The grass, velvet in the shadows, gardens hung with their late season’s colours and a few people wandering or going purposefully about their business.

We had come to find Tower House, where Elizabeth had been born and where is lived out the first few years of her life. We knew, thanks to Sylvia Gower approximately whereabouts it was, but I thought I would ask at the local museum anyway. After a little investigation with the help of Google, the curator told me she thought it was in St Andrews Rd and gave me directions, it wasn’t far.

We passed mullioned windows where the notes of practising musicians fell over the pavements, an older melodious sound in contrast to the modern noise of traffic. Tall stone walls and mature trees seemed to hide the most likely candidate. But although there were doors in the wall, there was no indication of a name or anything to confirm our belief. Along one side of the garden wall the ground was raised and we tried from here to glimpse a view, to gain some clue as to what lay behind its defences, but no luck. We crossed the road and mounted the step to a Music college, balancing precariously, but still trees blocked a view. We walked back around the perimeter, and I picked up a chestnut from amongst the debris fallen from what we really thought was Elizabeth’s garden. She was fond of redheads, and the poll of the cob in my hand was a small consolation.


My partner, however, was a little more pro-active and tried the green door in the wall as we passed. I think we were both a little surprised when the handle turned and the door opened to his touch. There could be no doubt, we had found Tower House, easily recognisable from George’s black and white photo. Nick quickly snapped a few shots and we were just about to close the door and quietly leave when the most Goudgian moment occurred.

A woman was walking towards us burdened with bags of shopping and I knew from her expression and the route she was taking that she was the owner and resident of the house. I stepped forward and asked her if she was indeed the person who lived here, and if this was Tower house, the Tower House that Elizabeth Goudge had been born in? At the mention of Elizabeth’s name she smiled and assured us we did indeed have the right house and then invited us in for a better look!

After putting her shopping away she introduced herself as Pam. She told us she had lived here for many years and had got a little wary of tourists. I told her about the website and she confessed that “she didn’t do them” but seemed pleased and interested that we had met so fortuitously.

She asked us if we would like to see something rather special, indeed something unique to the place we were in. We were as intrigued as she intended us to be and followed her, without turning round as she also requested. We walked through the walled garden, past herbaceous beds and through an orchard which would have delighted the young Elizabeth, tawny grass with the dew still on and caught leaves dealing out splashes of colour. It was quiet, the sound of traffic muted by the high old walls, covered with climbers.

As we drew closer to the wall we had tried so hard to see over, she asked us to turn around and look.

Wells Somerset

Wells Somerset

It was a view that only those who lived there would be able to see. The towers of the cathedral rising over the walls and greeting the tower of her home across the city streets. A ripple of roofs, a mountain side of carved stone and pinnacles, trees from other gardens. The view that Hugh Anthony and Henrietta would have seen from their bedroom window, the view that had shaped Elizabeth’s early world.

Pam had also met Kate Lindeman from the states and had shown her a rosemary tree such as Elizabeth had written about, growing to “the height of Our Lord while he was alive on earth.” My partner snapped away while we spoke and then we took our leave, speechless at our luck. If we hadn’t persisted and hung about, if we hadn’t had the courage to try the door, to “walk into the painting”  we would not have been in the right place at the right time to have gained access to a place so connected with Elizabeth, which had helped to shape the person she became.






Children & Childhood

Article of the Month September 2009
Deborah Gaudin

Children & Childhood
(In the books of Elizabeth Goudge.)

Elizabeth was born and grew up an only child of loving parents in the safe and privileged environment of Edwardian Wells. She herself tells us that she led a life of bliss and comfort, secure in the knowledge of being loved and cared for. One of her first memories is of her mother and father and herself ” The three of us were on the same hearthrug together, our arms about each other and my mother was saying in her clear voice A three-fold cord shall not be broken.” ( Goudge p 5 1974). Her life revolved around the gentle and well ordered lives of her parents, a clerical father and her well educated mother.

She was fortunate, most children in the Edwardian age had left what little schooling they were going to have and were working by the age of nine. They would have been seen as valuable contributors to the family income. Children ‘s education was arranged in such a way that they could attend school and hold down a job at the same time, a state of affairs that did not change until 1918 when the school leaving age was raised to 12. Schools still arrange long summer holidays which used to coincide with harvest time.

Elizabeth like the majority of children living then could have grown up having no contact with other children not in her social class. Class conscious parents were worried about their off-spring not only catching physical infections, but catching bad manners and speech as well. This was not the case in Elizabeth’s upbringing, she says, ” My parents were more aware of the suffering of the world beyond the charmed circle than were many of their friends, my father because he had been born in London and as a young priest had worked in a factory town, and my mother because she was deeply compassionate and had made it her business to know.” ( Goudge p60 1974) Any one who has read The City Of Bells will remember the children giving away their toys at Christmas, something that Elizabeth herself was encouraged to do every year. At a very young age she was made aware of the unequal nature of social existence and its harsh realities stayed with her for life.

About herself at this age Elizabeth says” I have met many delightful untarnished only children but I was too spoilt to be one of them. I do not see how the spoiling could have been avoided. In my early years no one expected that my mother would live long. She herself was quite sure she would not and like so many sensitive extroverts her own suffering caused her not only to be acutely aware of illness in others but even to imagine it was there when it was not. She considered me a delicate child who might not live long either. Whichever way she looked at it fear of being parted from this adored child, whom she had nearly died to bring into the world, was always a shadow upon her. And so she, who if she had been a well woman would have been the wise mother of many children, was in illness the reverse.” (Goudge p 76 1974 )

Contact with children of her own age, would have occurred only when she was on holiday with her Oxfordshire or Guernsey cousins. On the Island away from the strict conventions of the cathedral close and her anxious parents she had a larger degree of liberty. Her childhood Island reminisces are of family beach parties where she hunted in rock pools and climbed cliffs, or helped her grandfather with his weather station, an idyllic time, her “rainbow days ” as she describes them.

At home in Wells she attended a small day school run by a gentle governess, Miss Lavingham, undoubtedly in the company of children of the local Clergy. One of her friends was Dorothy Pope to whom she was to dedicated her book Henrietta’s House I’d like to think that a “Hugh Anthony” also attended the school. He comes across as such a forceful and likeable boy, just the sort of companion needed by a lonely young girl, whose only masculine company would have been her busy father and their gardener. Somewhere along the way, instead of becoming self obsessed as many only children do, perhaps bred into her, perhaps learnt from Mrs Kennion, the house keeper of the Bishops Palace whom she loved to visit, was born a love of children.


When as an adolescent Elizabeth was returned to Ely at the end of her school education, her parents were perplexed as to what to do with her. It was her Mother who suggested Reading College of Art, as it would lead to teaching, and Elizabeth had “always loved children.”

There is a revealing piece in the forward to A Child’s Garden of Verse by Robert Louis Stevenson written by Elizabeth in the early fifties. She speaks of her own room in Wells, and unwittingly paints a picture of a rather lonely child who like Robert Louis looked out of the window for inspiration and companionship. There is however no sense of self pity, instead she sees that time of her life as having a “very special magic.” Of her childhood Elizabeth says, ” Childhood then was a world to itself. The door which shut off the nursery wing from the rest of the house made a very real dividing line between the life of the child and the adult. Behind it Nanny and her charges lived in their own kingdom, from which they issued at stated times to shed the light of their countenances upon the outer world. Visitors from this outer world, even mothers and fathers, did not enter the kingdom without hesitating at the portal and saying politely “May I come in, please Nanny?” This state of things made for magic in both worlds, the same sort of magic that an island holds. There was a concentration of quietness and orderliness within the world, a feeling of adventure in leaving it, that fostered imagination and a sense of beauty.”
( Goudge p 23 1955.)

Here we find the template for the Eliots nursery and Ellen who looked after them so devotedly with the help of the long suffering Margaret., a throw back to the Edwardian era she had grown up in

All her life Elizabeth found the openness and lack of guile that most children posses to be very engaging, and any child that she came into contact with seems to have taken to this shy, retiring woman. She had the time to listen to them, probably taking their views and concerns seriously, as Mrs Kennion had hers.

Like the aunts that she speaks so eloquently of in her auto-biography, Elizabeth too had young relations to stay.

” I looked out of my window not long ago and saw almost an exact replica of “A Good Play.” The two small boys who were staying with me had climbed the roof of the wood shed, and with flag flying were going ” a sailing on the billows” there. They had dragged chairs to the top of the wood shed and provisions from the larder, and it was really a better place than the stairs because there was no way of getting them down”
(Goudge p 29 1955.)
A vivid picture of her nephews from a holiday taken with their Aunt, and obviously having a great time, knowing that Aunt Elizabeth would have secretly been thrilled with their imaginative play. It was probably Jessie who had the unenviable task of enticing them safely back down. I still see Elizabeth as more Lucilla than Margaret, certainly during this stage of her life.

Although Elizabeth doesn’t explore the psyche of seriously troubled children, the portraits that she draws of them are not black and white; Ben with his fears and phobias, Tommy with his selfishness and anger, Caroline’s chronic shyness and their relationships with there mostly absent parents are at times painfully described.
The little girls who are evacuated from London in The Castle On The Hill and who are then orphaned with their feelings of abandonment and confusion.
The terror and fear of the young John from the Rosemary Tree, and the schooling and upbringing of his three girls all speak of an inherent understanding of the anxieties suffered by the young.

Like all experienced writers, Elizabeth writes about the world she inhabits and the people she comes into contact with. Her young nephews, a god daughter of Jessie’s who stayed with them in her school holidays and her neighbours children would have kept her informed about the rapidly changing world of child care and education.

When the Goudge Convention visited All Saints church at Peppard Common last year, we were met by Sylvia Seymour who had visited Elizabeth many times when delivering the Parish Magazine. “She always enquired after my children” she said, ” and was pleased to hear any news about them and their lives.” Elizabeth retained her childhood sense of wonder and adventure, something which enabled her to extract maximum enjoyment from the small pleasures of life. She too goes for the heart of an issue as she perceives it without guile or subterfuge. her empathy is with the children and the young at heart, it is always the adults in her books that are the grabbers, the self obsessed and selfish. They have to be reminded by their off spring to take the right course and make the right decisions, decisions that effect all of their lives.



Sister of Angels

A Christmas Story, for all those who loved Henrietta.

So runs the dedication of this book which was written in 1939 three years before Henrietta’s House, as a short sequel to City Of Bells. It is a charming seasonal tale of Elizabeth’s fairy tale home in Wells Somerset, which draws on her own childhood memories and experiences.


Although Henrietta sounds like the description Elizabeth gives of her cousin Helen with her dark hair and fragile face, many of the child’s thoughts and emotions were probably Elizabeth’s own. ” She pictured Torminster lying under the moonlight, its steep roofs white and sparkling with frosted snow, its lighted windows patches of orange upon the shadowed walls, the great cathedral cutting patterns out of the sky with its towers and pinnacles and the tall houses throwing blue shadows across the snowy streets. Torminster was making itself very beautiful to greet the rising moon, creating ever shifting patterns of loveliness, quite uncaring that there was no one but the moon to see……..It was creating, and that was enough for Torminster. Ten o’clock struck from the cathedral, ten booming strokes that fell through the night as though ten great stars dropped from the sky” ( Goudge 1939 p81/82). Here Elizabeth is depicting the prospect from her bedroom window through the eyes of her child self of night falling over the tiny city.

Other thoughts and ideas seem oddly mature for so young a girl, such as her musings in the cathedral, ” Everywhere was this sense of space and height and a reaching out to an end that was never found. There was no time here, past and present and future were all one. Here she was a little midge of a thing, alive whether she liked it or not, gripped by life as she was gripped by this great cathedral.” ( Goudge 1939 p 25/26 ) Perhaps physically by the time these thoughts came to her she had moved on to Ely, and what we are hearing are the thoughts inspired in her slightly older self by another beautiful, holy place.

The story is one of outcasts brought home, prisoners paying the full price of their crime and then finding redemption, and an old legend concerning the oldest part of the cathedral, the mysterious crypt. All under pinned by the love and security given to Henrietta by Grandfather, Grandmother and Hugh Anthony.

Henrietta’s father, the by now successful poet Gabriel Ferranti takes an important part in the tale, cutting a wonderfully eccentric figure, as flamboyant and unusual as Poets are meant to be. Elizabeth had a great respect for the poetic Art, and became friends with many eminent Poets.

She gives us lovely insights into the less romantic aspects of Victorian daily life such as washing in cold water, on a freezing morning in an unheated bedroom, ” but on others days they were expected to wash all over, in their rooms, “by bits.” It was a process that called for great skill. The technical problem was how to wash a square foot of back, for instance, without uncovering the rest of yourself to the icy air……” (Goudge 1939 p 10 ) In fact any form of heating in bedroom was considered to be “coddling” (Goudge 1939 p 9)

The heart of the story takes place in the crypt at Wells Cathedral, a place that technically doesn’t exist. There is an Undercroft which is currently undergoing repair and renovation.

The fresco’s that decorate the Undercroft have a ghostly resonance in Elizabeth’s life. In her biography she talks about the “angel” or ghost seen in the “next door house but one” ( Goudge 1974 p 123) Here is what one poor unfortunate guest witnessed when staying in the spare bedroom. ” I cannot stay in the room with that!” cried the terrified guest, and pointed to the beautiful figure who stood in the moonlight against a blank wall.
” Why that’s nothing to be afraid of ” said the old maid soothingly. ” I can see it in my room too and I call it my angel. When the moonlight leaves the wall it will go.”
She fetched her mistress to comfort the girl and when the moon moved on so did the ghost”. (Goudge 1974 p123/124)

When this house was recently undergoing major renovations, the floor was removed for repair, and the workmen discovered a long concealed fresco, of an angel/woman on the wall. So maybe the moonlight picked out the painting behind the loose plaster. Which would explain why it disappeared when the moon moved on.

I have not been able to find out a definitive answer as to why Elizabeth felt such compassion for prisoners. They enter her work in many forms, from the Prisoner of war in The Castle On The Hill, or of Conscience as Parson Hawthorn in the White Witch, but usually just as prisoners who have served their sentences as Michael in The Rosemary Tree, Mr Hepplewhite in Scent Of Water, Annie-Laurie in The Herb of Grace, and of cause Nicholas in Sister Of The Angels.

None of her family were wrongly imprisoned, and I have been unable to find out if the Rev Goudge was a Prison Visitor, he certainly doesn’t seem to have been a Prison Chaplain, so it wasn’t something learnt at home. Perhaps it was because she felt imprisoned by her illness, her acute depression a form of gaol from which she was periodically released. Or perhaps it serves as an illustration of the Christian ethic of redemption, that following the teachings of Christ brings.

There is no doubt about the out come of the tale, it is the expected resolution, a closed circle of a story complete unto itself. Even though we are permitted a glimpse of Henrietta’s artistic future, for us she will always remain the little girl running through the streets and days of her enchanted kingdom of Torminster and its surrounding hills.

Sister of Angels is a Christmas card of a novella, a perfect story for reading aloud round the Christmas tree, a seasonal greeting from the pen of Elizabeth, a gift for us to enjoy.



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