Archive for Children’s books

Smokey House

If this had been the book that I first picked up and read by Elizabeth Goudge, I doubt I would have looked for another. Which would have been a pity, as it would have deprived me of a lifelong friend and the pleasure of all the other books she wrote.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pleasant enough read. It has plenty of vivid descriptions of the west country she so loved, evocative in the way that only Elizabeth manages to accomplish.

“A network of lovely lanes wound about the village and in and out of the round green hills. They were very beautiful. Their steep banks were cool with shining ferns and bright and fragrant with flowers; primroses and white violets, periwinkles and pink campion, foxgloves, roses and honeysuckle, with in autumn the scarlet berries of parson-in-the-pulpit and the silver froth of traveller’s joy. Nut trees arched overhead, giving grateful shade in summer weather and down the side of each lane ran a twinkling silver stream…” (Smokey House p 15)

It is a book dedicated to “Nannie” that stalwart of the Edwardian era.

“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.” (page 22 from the introduction of A Child’s Garden of Verses)

However, if you part the fronds of her words you will find hidden as the flowers in the hedgerows, glimpses of her thoughts and life.
“Because music never forgets anything. It is the voice of eternity speaking in time and it gathers the past and the present and the future all together, making past happiness eternal and pulling future happiness into the here and now.” (Smokey House p 231)

Music played an important part in Elizabeth’s life, from concerts she attended with her father to church services and carols. I would have loved to have known her Desert Island Discs.

The book is full of songs and verses, written by Elizabeth, though she never considered herself a poet, but did publish a slim volume of Songs and Verses, some of which appear in this book.

But the biggest revelation for me comes when Spot the dog goes underground to escape from the red coats.

Don’t know if Elizabeth read the Apocrypha, with her love of myth and legend, I would be surprised if she hadn’t, but

“Gentlemen, said the Squire, “The Unknown!”

if she had she would have remembered that dogs are our guardians and guides on our journey to heaven. Not scratting outside the door of paradise like the loyal little dog of Sir Murgatroyd in City of Bells, but as a helpmate, and protector.

Spots journey, (p 255 – 256) gives Elizabeth the chance to explain to us how she interpreted the worlds. It is a rare insight into the fundamentals of her belief, the creed she lived her life by. Perhaps she felt safer exposing these to non-judgemental children, more comfortable with their questions than the scepticism of her contemporaries.

It lifts a pleasant, often predictable children’s story into the realms of the esoteric, effortlessly.

Searching For Henrietta

Dear D. Gaudin,
When I was a child (I’m 67) ‘Henrietta’s House’ was one of my favourite books. I have since read many of Elizabeth Goudge’s books and am presently re-reading ‘City of Bells’

I would love to find a copy of the book I used to get out of our local library, and I wonder if you know of this one.

It was a hardback, with, as far as I can recollect, green boards. There were full-size colour illustrations on shiny paper. One showed Henrietta in a lovely pink dress, and one showed her in a white dress as she welcomes everyone into her house.

I’ve searched Abe books but none of the 13 books there seem to be the one I remember.

Can you help?

In hope, and friendship,

Vivienne Rendall,

Dear Vivienne,

Thank you for visiting the site, hope you return again.

I have a 1949 re-print of Henrietta’s House published by the same company as produced the original, University of London Press Ltd

The front cover and two of the coloured illustrations inside, on shiny paper show Henrietta wearing a pink dress, and indeed a white one when she welcomes them to the house at the end of the story.

The boards however are orange. Perhaps this is the copy you remember?

Elizabeth’s books are getting harder and harder to source, especially her children’s books, as children tend to not look after them and they disintegrate.

I have a friend who runs a bookshop via the internet and I will ask him the next time I see him if he has a copy.

I hope that this helps


I Saw Three Ships

“In the mid winter gloom Christmas comes up over the horizon like a lighted ship homeward bound. The arrival has been prepared for and expected, yet as the archaic shape draws slowly nearer and nearer, the lights of the lanterns reflected in the black water like moons and stars, the sails luminous as huge moth’s wings in the dark, we feel profound relief. The great ship has not been wrecked. We in its absence, have escaped destruction. It is to happen again……..”
( Goudge page 7 1967)

This is one of Elizabeth’s loveliest visions of Christmas, drawing on an ancient Celtic symbol, The Ship. A wonderful, calming picture to hold onto in the chaos of a modern Christmas, with all its expectations and hard work.

I saw Three Ships is a Christmas carol of a tale set in an idealized Napoleonic Torbay, the setting used for her novel Gentian Hill. Indeed some of the characters from this book are reused too, an economy that doesn’t offend. The orphan girl is the most obvious transfer who though young is wiser than the elderly aunts she has been sent to live with. Then there is the French “migrant” fleeing the terror and his own terrible secret short comings, and finally the mysterious beautiful woman, standing serenely in the bow of a ship who features in more than one of Elizabeth’s works.

This is a tale of home coming, not only of a long absent brother, but of those rescued from danger, and the ultimate home coming of death.
“When he put his fingers on the table Balthazar left myrrh” said the Frenchman. His death, you understand, to enrich their life.” (Goudge p 38 1967 )

“And what was in those Ships all three?”

All our hopes, dreams and wishes for the future, bright, untarnished and full of possibilities.

The Ship

Christmas and the New Year was a very special time for Elizabeth and she celebrates it in many of her books. In fact the story of the Three Wise Men is a tale for Epiphany, 6th January, and tells of a revelation that changes the lives of all those in this story, as the end of their journey changed the lives of the Magi forever.

“We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,”
(Journey of the Magi T .S. Eliot.)

This is a small tale like an advent window into her imagination. In it a young girl wants to honour the legend of the three wise men that she had observed with her parents, she wants to leave the front door of their home unlocked on Christmas Eve to let them in. A prospect that the two maiden aunts take great exception to, as it leaves them vulnerable, who know whom or what might get in?

What gets in through the open parlour window with the help of Polly, will change the lives of all who live there.

The book is filled with the simple effective line drawings of Richard Kennedy, an illustrator who started work at the Hogarth Press for the Bloomsbury set, most notably Leonard and Virginia Woolf. They make a strong frame for the simple style the story is told in, giving us glimpses of the action. He also illustrated books for Rosemary Sutcliffe a contemporary and friend of Elizabeth’s, they worked for the same agent and publisher. Rosemary Sutcliffe wrote a poem called The Feast Of Lights which starts like this

This is The Feast Of Lights.
We have put the holly and the ivy up, a sprig or two
Behind each picture, three behind the largest,
As it was in my father’s time, and his father’s before him, world without
The scented candle, gift of a friend far off, is lit before the crib.
Spicy, aromatic, warm and faintly bitter, censing the whole house
As though three kings had just walked through it.

(Rosemary Sutcliffe p 147 1986.)

Maybe the gift was given by her friend Elizabeth, to celebrate the birth of Light.

” And so Christmas is still the Feast of Lights. So many of them. Once it was the Yule-log, the burning brandy of the snap dragon game, and the flames round the Christmas pudding. Then it was the twinkling wax candles on the Christmas tree. Now the candles are mostly electric, and if safer are not so beautiful, and the blazing lights of Regent Street are rather garnish. But it does not matter, for whatever they are they continue to be reflections from the light that at the beginning of all things moved upon the face of the waters. ”     ( Goudge p 8 1967)

For me Elizabeth seems to lean a little closer at this time of year, a pleasant ritual to read one or more of her books, deepening my understanding of her writing, getting to know her a little more, and enhancing my love for the true meaning of the season.

May the New Year be a Peaceful and Prosperous time for you all.

Deborah Gaudin

Elizabeth Goudge 1967 A Christmas Book  Hodder & Stoughton
Elizabeth Goudge 1969 I Saw Three Ships Brockhampton Press
Richard Adams 1986 Occasional Poets An Anthology. Viking