Archive for Faith

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Diary of Prayer

From Tangled Thoughts to Tranquillity

Twisted Boughs

One of my constant companions, a book that I dip into almost daily, is Elizabeth Goudge’s Diary of Prayer. Published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1966 it is set out in diary form with a prayer or two for each day of the year. The prayers are taken from different faiths and pertain roughly to the Church’s calendar, although as Christmas is the only static festival of the Christian year they do not always correspond to the relevant date, this does not detract from the anthology in any way.

People sent Elizabeth prayers and poems knowing that they would always delight her. One person, a lady called Adelaide Makower, sent her all the Jewish prayers that she uses and Elizabeth also credits her with sending or finding others for her too. The whole anthology took many years to put together, and there is no doubt that Elizabeth used them on a daily basis herself. They were not collected with the intention of being put together as a book at first, but to help Elizabeth learn to pray in an organised and methodical manner. One of the Jewish prayers that speaks to me in particular is the entry for September 3rd which starts “Though our mouths were full of song as the sea, our tongues of exultation as the fullness of its waves,”

Each “chapter” or month starts with a verse that sets the tone. For example, April’s begins with a poem by the Welsh writer David of Gwylym. In it the poet is describing the dawn chorus in a cwm in Wales and attributing clerical roles for all the birds he can hear. “The Chief Priest was the nightingale: the lark and thrush assisted him: and some small bird (I do not weet his name) acted as Clerk.” Both Elizabeth and her Father were enthusiastic Ornithologists so the poem appeals directly to her as it is full of detail about birds, their calls and habits.

April is also the month most likely to contain the celebration of Easter, so the poem is echoing the most important Mass of the Christian Year. In fact the year the Diary was put together, Easter fell on April 1st.

The depth of Elizabeth’s reading is obvious throughout the work; she doesn’t use the trite or overworked. David of Gwylym was a 14th century medieval poet little known outside of Wales. Maybe she discovered him through Jessie who had extensive Welsh connections. She transposed this love for obscure writers to Hilary in the Eliots; he you will remember was always being accused of quoting from them at the slightest provocation.

There are sections for various afflictions and all conditions of humanity, as in June’s section for the poor, and homeless, the refugees, the lonely and the unemployed. Refugees from the Second World War were a common sight in the London of the 40’s and 50’s and later on in that decade the migration of thousands of Commonwealth immigrants occurred. June’s entries portray the range of faiths that Elizabeth used to touch the heart of the matter; from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali No X

“Here is Thy footstool and there rest Thy feet where live the poorest, the lowliest, and the lost.”

to Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury’s

“O God, the Father of the forsaken, the Help of the weak, the Supplier of the needy, who teachest us that love towards the race of man is the bond of perfection….”

Elizabeth had a vast compassion for the dispossessed, born perhaps out of her deep love and connection to place. Maybe it was akin to her secret fear of the shapeless darkness that waited for her in her depression, that fear of becoming nothing. She kept the extent of her charity private, but it was large, personal and at times took intensely practical forms, such as continuing to pay past employees when they retired.

Elizabeth quotes extensively in all her works, which adds another dimension to her writing. I’m always being sent off on literary adventures, discovering writers and poets that have helped to enrich my life. One of my favourite finds from this book was”The Prayers from the Ark “by Carmen Bernos De Gasztold, a poet and Benedictine nun who lived at the Abbaye Saint Louis de Temple at Limon-par-Igny, France. Most of the prayers/poems had been written during the war when she was forced to do uncongenial work in the laboratory of a silk factory near Paris. This took place under the Nazi occupation, when life was hard, cruel and she was often cold and hungry. She takes the animals and our attitude towards them and turns it around so that we can learn from them the virtues of their strengths of patience, hard work, and the putting to use of talents and abilities to the greater good.

The Bee

Lord,
I am not one to despise your gifts,
May you be blessed
who spread the riches of your sweetness
for my zeal………..
let my small span of ardent life
melt into our great communal task;
to lift up to your glory
this temple of sweetness,
a citadel of incense,
a holy candle myriad-celled,
moulded to your graces
and of the hidden work.

The book is dedicated to Sonia Harwood, and her son Andrew Harwood explained the reasons behind this.

“My mother so liked Elizabeth’s book “The White Witch” that, in January 1960, she wrote congratulating her and enquiring about the location of the cottage featured therein. Elizabeth replied on January 28th stating that she actually lived in the cottage! From this small beginning a regular swapping of correspondence was started, and eventually the shy Elizabeth said she would like them to talk on the phone and so they did in 1965. Finally Elizabeth decided she wanted to meet my mother in person and so in 1967 she travelled up to Rose Cottage. Their friendship flourished and they would meet in the spring and autumn of each year.

 

In one of her letters Elizabeth said she wanted to dedicate a book to my mother and offered her a choice of two – “Linnets and Valerians” or “An Anthology of Prayer”- she chose what turned out to be called “A Diary of Prayer”. But when the “Linnets and Valerians” was published Elizabeth sent my mother a copy inscribed as follows -“Dear Sonia, This is the book that would have been dedicated to you had you not preferred to wait for the prayer anthology, and so its half yours. Love and best wishes from Elizabeth Goudge”

Elizabeth strikes me as being the sort of person who needed to make the best of each moment of her day, especially in the important task of prayer. Setting out the prayers in a structured manner, gave her a focus and helped to resolve her tangled thoughts into tranquillity. Whatever the reason for the book’s conception, this collection was undoubtedly put together by someone who loved poetry and the way that words can be made to sing on the page.

IMG_0804

Deborah Gaudin

With thanks to Andrew Harwood.

Goudge Elizabeth 1966 Dairy of Prayer Hodder & Stoughton
Carmen Bernos De Gasztold 1963 The Prayers from the Ark MacMillan & Co

 

The Spirituality of Elizabeth Goudge

The Spirituality of Elizabeth Goudge
By Elspeth Parris, who wrote it as part of a ‘certificate in theology’ course at St Michael’s College, Cardiff. She says of the piece; “my last module was on spirituality. We were asked to write about someone who had inspired our own spirituality – the assumption was that we would choose one of the spiritual ‘greats’ such as Augustine, St John of the Cross or St Julian of Norwich. I chose to write about Elizabeth Goudge because she has been such a strong influence in my own life.    Summer2012

The principal of embedding spiritual guidance within fiction is a very old one: the books of Job and Ruth for instance appear not to be recounting facts but telling stories which suggest to us how we should be relating to God. We tend however to look for our spiritual guidance to the great writers of the church, and they tend to embed their spirituality into their theology or into accounts of their lives which were usually monastic. The spirituality of Augustine, St John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich or Brother Lawrence can all be hard to read to many people today, with language which is archaic, embedded within lifestyles far from our own or utilising theological concepts which many don’t understand.

We have modern examples of authors who express their Christian understanding in fiction: recently, the Shack expressed a particular understanding of the Trinity and the Atonement and, being fiction, was able to reach an enormous audience which a theological tome would have missed; C.S. Lewis wrote many books of Christian apologetics but he also wrote the Narnia stories which are still popular with children today, and in those stories he embeds concepts of Christianity which, written as a textbook, would be rejected by many of the same children. One of the great authors who expressed her spirituality in fiction was Elizabeth Goudge and her writing was one of the factors which led me, eventually, to become Christian, and still has an influence on the style of my Christianity today.

Elizabeth Goudge was born in 1900 in Wells, Somerset. Her father was an Anglican priest and principal of the Theological College and they lived in the “liberty” of the Cathedral. In 1911, Elizabeth’s family moved to Ely where her father became principal of the Theological college there and a canon of the Cathedral. When she was 23, they moved again, to Oxford where her father became Regius Professor of Divinity and they were provided with a house in the University. Because her mother found Oxford too busy and noisy they found a bungalow at Barton in Hampshire where her mother could live for most of the year. She had an education suited to the life of a gentlewoman but the world was changing and she was going to need to earn her living.

When Elizabeth finished school it was unclear what she was going to do, there was a deficit of young men after the war and marriage was only an option for those who were outstandingly attractive, which Elizabeth wasn’t, either in looks or social graces. She would have liked to be an actress but she had a stammer and was shy and nervous, since she wasn’t sufficiently educated to become a teacher that left only nursing and for that her health was too poor. It was decided that she should go to art college to study crafts and could then find a post teaching disabled children. She seems to have enjoyed the crafts and did set up a studio in the house in Ely where she had a few students but no employment resulted and even the home teaching failed when the family moved to Oxford where the house was too dark for the work and students were sadly lacking.

It was after her mother had gone to live for most of the year in Barton that Elizabeth, on her visits there, started to write. Her first book was published in 1934 and she eventually became a success when, in 1947, Green Dolphin Country was accepted by a film company. By that time her father had died and she was effectively the sole supporter of herself and her mother until her mother’s death. She and her mother had settled in Devon but after her mother’s death she moved to rural Oxfordshire, where she lived with a close companion until her death in 1984.

Elizabeth never kept her faith separate from her writing. Her characters faith (or sometimes lack of it) was always an important part of the workings of the plot. More than that, her own deep spirituality shows through in the many lyrical passages describing the places and people among whom her plot operates. Her characters work their way through often difficult circumstances, always in the end to be redeemed by love, and often by faith. This matches with the faith she describes in her autobiography, where she describes hell as being an experience we have here on earth and redemption as an experience we can know in our daily lives.

The biggest influence on Elizabeth’s spiritual development was clearly her father; luckily he published books so knowledge of the nature of that influence is not limited to her own description. He had rebelled against his own Anglican Evangelical upbringing and appears to have developed a tendency toward the Oxford Movement.

The best picture of her father’s attitudes is given from Elizabeth’s autobiography where she quotes a friend’s description of her father “He was a fast, light walker but he had slowed his steps to match those of the old tramp walking beside him. They were deep in conversation and my father was carrying the tramp’s bundle. They were on their way to our house so that my father might get the old man a meal.” In a domestic setting, her parents had always brought her up to be aware of the needs of the poor, taking toys to poor children when she was young and joining her father on parish visiting during the war when the theological college was closed and he was taking on the work of the various priests who had gone to be army chaplains.

There was a period when Elizabeth’s faith failed her, her mother’s constant ill health had shaken it, when she became ill herself she simply could not believe that a loving God would permit such suffering. As a result, she concluded that God could not really be Almighty; she could “love a God who was weak” and who wanted to prevent suffering but was unable to do so. This led her to the realisation of a God who suffered with us through the life and death of Jesus.

Among authors she mentions who have contributed to her spiritual journey are C.S. Lewis, who was contemporaneous and who she clearly looked up to, Teillard Chardin and Tomas Traherne. There is also evidence from her fiction that she had read Brother Lawrence, St John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich.

Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) was very aware humanity was being split in two by the need to turn to God and move forward with the world. There was at the time (and still is in some circles) a perceived conflict between science and religion, since science underpins the technology, that even more since his time, we rely on in our everyday lives, this apparent conflict presents our faith with a real dilemma. Do we, in general, believe every word of the Bible to be true, even when it contradicts science? Do we, in particular, believe the Creation story in Genesis, or the evolutionary story from modern Biology? Teillard de Chardin looked for a resolution of the problem producing a theology which enabled religion and science to be reconciled in Christ. For him, “the cross is no longer a sign simply of expiation, but the symbol of growth and progress accomplished in pain and through suffering.” We are to follow Christ, in the World. This seems to fit quite naturally with Brother Lawrence’s depiction of living all our daily activities from within our loving relationship with God.

De Chardin’s influence is very clear in Goudge’s work, her work is very much of the world, her characters are ordinary people, not monks or nuns and their concerns are the ordinary daily concerns that any of us might have, their work, their family, their marriage, their house. She is following Christ in the world by imagining how each of these people can change under the influence of a love which lives in Christ.

Tomas (or Thomas) Traherne (1637 – 1674) was an Anglican priest whose work seems not to have received much attention until 1908 when his Centuries of Meditation was discovered and published. Many of his works were then re-published in the 1960s and it is these that Goudge is likely to have read. Although the Anglican Church was much influenced by Calvinism in his own time he himself is deeply optimistic of man’s redemption. He sees mankind as being in need of restoration to spiritual wholeness. He is clearly influenced by Augustine who perceived sinful humanity as suffering from a “spiritual sickness” which needed to be healed. Goudge’s books all show her characters as suffering from a spiritual sickness which results in disruption to their ability to relate to God and man, the redemption they receive is a healing of that sickness.

What Elizabeth Goudge has in common with C.S. Lewis is her capacity for observation of the quirks and oddities of humanity, an observation seen through a love of man which is inspired by her love of God. C.S.Lewis once observed that next to the Eucharist our neighbour was the most holy thing we should ever encounter. That is precisely how she treats the characters in her books, they are examples of all the ordinary people she has met, all the ordinary people her reader has met  and she loves them all, with all their faults and weaknesses. The difference between these two authors is that, while Lewis’ characters are often redeemed at their death, Goudge’s characters are always redeemed in their lives. Individuals are healed, marriages are renewed, conflicts are resolved, communities are healed and all by a love which is deeply rooted in faith. Such sweetness might seem unlikely, books which always have a happy ending can be facile, and might be expected to be cheap romances, but these happy endings can be bitter. Joy can be found in watching the renewal of a marriage which permanently denies the love of the central heroine of the book, or the re-instatement within the community of a family where the husband will spend years in prison for a fraud just discovered, or a young man wander off into a series of dead-end jobs with no future and no home. And yet the circumstances of each of these people has been so filled with love that their lives are changed. They have found the ability to forgive themselves and others, they have made a new beginning to the relationships which are most important to them and which were, previously damaged. Where Lewis warns us, in Screwtape, of the small evils to which we can so easily fall prey in our ordinary, daily lives; Goudge shows us how to create goodness and fill the lives around us with love.

 

“..her endearing capacity to [empathise] with others and to find the comic in the darkest of situations helped her through. “This is the wonderful light she shed in her books, her characters finding salvation and redemption through living for the greater good, of friends and family, rather than selfishly for themselves.

Themes in her work

Overall, her theme is Redemption, how it can actually work in our lives, change us, heal us. There are a number of themes relating to how people act in her books, not in order to receive redemption since that is in the hands of God, but to align themselves with God so that they can be redeemed by him.

Adherence

In her biography Goudge talks about adherence as a vital Christian quality:

“To love God subtly alters a human being. If the simile is not too homely the lover of God has glue in his veins and tends to be more adherent than other men, The more he loves God the more, for God’s sake, he sticks to his woman, his job or his faith.”

This is a quality she often demonstrates in her books. In Green Dolphin Country a man, long exiled from his home country, writes home to ask if the woman he had loved ten years before would join him in his exile. To his delight she agrees, but when she arrives, he has given the name of the wrong sister. The situation echoes the story of Jacob but there is no option to wait to have the right sister as well. He has to choose, there and then as he meets her from the boat. Overwhelmed by pity, he feels that he can’t send her home shamed and unwanted after her long journey. The marriage which results comes to be filled with hatred: his for her; her for his friends and his lifestyle. She loves him, as she understands love, but her understanding of love is faulty: she thinks that in loving him she is to be ambitious for him, to make him change to become an aristocrat of the new country. He, however, is happy with his life as a working man, he has built a nice cottage with a garden and has a sufficient income to keep himself, his wife and any children there might be. His mistake in asking in marriage the wrong sister is his only regret. He has only a vague belief in God but respect for the parson and it is the parson who convinces him to live his life in the memory of that moment when he met his wife from the boat. He gets his drinking under control by himself, and learns the humility of allowing his wife to think it is her scolding which has achieved it although it is her scolding which makes him want to drink. He lives his life as an act of obedience to his own choice and thus he is able to adhere to his marriage and while love for some time is only a pretence in time, it becomes real. In the end, it is his love for her which rescues her when her false belief structure, based on pride and self-importance collapses around her. Again, love redeems.

Obedience, humility and trust in God.

In her biography, Goudge reveals her nervousness, her lack of social graces, her fear of new people. These qualities she built into the character of Jean Anderson in The Scent of Water. Here she demonstrates how, by giving up her troubles in obedience to, and trust in God she is able to overcome her fear:

 

“She had stopped struggling, her hands sticky with fear and anxiety, and taking her shoes right off had turned back with blind trust to the beginning again, to the beginning of the action of obedience that always had a wholesome sweetness in it, though it was hard, a foretaste of the end with its humble thankfulness. After that the knots had come out of the laces quite easily, she had put on her hat and gone. The fear had gone with her of course, but it had become bearable. And now look how easy it had all been and how he had helped her.”

(my emphasis, it is clear in the context that it is God she means by “he”)

God as seen in nature

This is a very basic element of Goudge’s spirituality, not just every book, but probably every chapter, possibly every page of every book gives examples of the way she sees God in the natural world around her:

“It was in a world of sunshine and birdsong that I had my first conviction of sin. ..It overwhelmed me. I know the exact spot on a field path where I first knew the vileness of sin in myself; and can recapture the misery I felt because it has been repeated so many times since. .A little later I was alone in the garden, at a spot where hyacinths and deep red wallflowers were in bloom against a grey stone wall, and God revealed himself in a shining world.”

When, in Green Dolphin Country, Marguerite’s whole personality seems to be disintegrating in response to the distresses and traumas of her life, she loses everything of herself that matters to her, that provides her sense of identity:

Except one thing. It had only been at the blackest hour of that dark night that she had ceased to believe that God is. When he had given back to her night and morning, birdsong and the scent of the earth, she had believed in Him again; with no joy, no adoration, just a blind reliance upon the fact of Him, that same blind reliance that was hers when she got out of bed in the morning and knew that some solid surface would support her feet. That was all. For the rest, her own life and the universe seemed just a tumbling chaos.”

God as seen in “the other”.

This is discussed in comparison with C.S. Lewis above as is her tendency to see Redemption as an event which can occur during our lives rather than something to await after death.

A presentation for the Mother’s Union in Merthyr Tydfil on the  Spiritual Aspects of the writings of Elizabeth Goudge.

Preparing this presentation, I wanted to demonstrate that this is “easy reading”. Elizabeth Goudge presents her spirituality in a format which does not require the ability to read heavy tomes of theological musings in archaic language. As a result, it is more

accessible to people who think of themselves as being “not academic, or intellectual”.

What the reader is reading about is the story of a man, woman or child as they encounter whatever set of circumstances makes up the plot of the book. The spirituality of Goudge’s Christian faith is absorbed along the way as easily as the vitamin C included in a glass of fruit juice it’s simply an integral part of some very fine fiction writing.

There is a problem with availability of the books themselves, although some of them are in print, they are not usually stocked in bookshops; there may be many of them in the library, but they’re not kept on the shelves. I have suggested to our Rector that we could provide a “parish library” by each of us putting some books out that members of the congregation could borrow. If we do that, then I am happy to put my own books there and could include all my Elizabeth Goudge books at the time of this talk.

A further option is that the local library may be willing to co-operate by getting all their Goudge books out of storage and making a display of them timed with my talk. The library is next door to the church so this could work well. Advertising the talk in the library could draw in people who don’t normally come to the church. Having recently been to a diocesan training session on “parishes and the media”, I realise that such a cooperative event could also make a good newspaper article, which could again draw in people who wouldn’t normally come to church. Offering such a talk in a way which operates as mission as well as an opportunity to enable people to deepen their spirituality appeals to me.

I wanted to give a general “feel” of what her books are like. Why I consider them to be both a “good read” and spiritually uplifting. I notice that this descriptive paragraph which I wrote as part of the presentation is written in a style reminiscent of Goudge herself:

 

There is a sort of “light” in all of Elizabeth Goudge’s books, it’s like the light of a sunny day just before the sun has properly risen. A light that catches on dew drops on the roses or icicles hanging from the gutters; a light that shines into people’s lives, a light that can shine into the dark places of the reader’s life.

I picked out one book in particular to give a flavour of what the writing is like and used “The Scent of Water” for this purpose. I gave a brief summary of the plot, illustrated by some quoted passages demonstrating how her characters come to be redeemed from hatred, fear, and pain by love, faith and obedience to God.

A love which holds the whole community together to rest safe in God’s hands. Along the way, and through Cousin Mary’s diary, Jean’s fear, the humility of the elderly couple, the striving of the blind author, the despair of a young man “up to no good” and the disaster of the squire’s business enterprises the reader is carried within the safety which is achieved by obedience to, and trust in, God to a glory of redemption achieved in their ordinary lives rather than in some hard to imagine heaven.

It was while preparing the presentation that I realised the usefulness of a comparison with C.S.Lewis. They had in many ways a similar attitude which makes the comparison of their differences easy to understand illuminating both authors. An additional advantage is that while modern readers may not have heard of Elizabeth Goudge, most people have heard of C.S.Lewis, even if only as the author of the Narnia stories which are still very popular.

This comparison really helped me to bring out the compassionate interest Goudge has in the little problems of people’s lives. Most of us are unlikely to have to face major ethical issues more than once or twice in our lives, but little ethical problems face us every day. For both authors, how we react to those problems is the stuff of which Christian living is made, but they treat the issue very differently in their books.

The difference between them is that Goudge looks upon those small evils with eyes that know redemption, not just as being saved after our death but as a great power that changes our lives for the better; knew it, because had changed her own life over and over again in her times of despair and her experience of depression.

I considered including prayers which reflect Goudge’s spirituality but decided that if I want this to appeal to members of the general public, not just members of the Church then I might be better to limit this to the prayer from Tomos Traherne with which she finished her autobiography. I am aware that many people are attracted to spirituality without being comfortable with Christian prayer. Goudge’s books include many references to Christianity but, held within the context of the story, and recognising that she emphasis the importance of the love and compassion felt by those characters who are not Christian I feel that her books would be attractive, and have something to offer even to non-Christians. I consider that satisfying the longing among non-Christians for spirituality is an important part of mission so I don’t want to put such people off with a lot of Christian prayer.

I am aware that many people can’t cope with listening to someone talk for 20 minutes which is the length of time this presentation would take. I need to break it up somehow. Our parish has applied for funding for a projector to operate from a lap-top. That would enable me to add some relevant images and music to give breaks in the talking. Appropriate images would be of scenes from nature, scenes of country life and scenes of people in very ordinary situations. If we have obtained the projector by the time the presentation is to be given then that would be very helpful. It would make the presentation longer, but easier for people to remain attentive.

Theological Reflection on Quotes from Goudge

From her autobiography  The Joy of the Snow:

If our own small intuition, upheld by the experience of the saints and the mystics of all religions through all the centuries, persists in murmuring that God exists then there is nothing left for us except the humble acceptance of paradox and mystery. If it is true that God is Almighty, it is also true that he needs us, since he chose that his son should be true man as well as true God, by this choice making Christ and man inseparable. Apart from Christ we have no life; we are merely a dead leaf fallen from the tree. Apart from us he has no body in the world, no hands and no feet and heart and voice to bring God’s mercy to a suffering world.

God and the suffering caused by sin are inseparably united, and will be so until sin ends. The mind boggles but there is enormous comfort here. For one thing it is hard to doubt the love of a God who is ready to suffer and die for us. For another thing, when we suffer we must be as close to God as we are to the pain.” (p 202)

And so having let go of the horror of eternal punishment what do I think about hell now? I believe that in the old sense of the word there is no hell, but that we can use the word in a new way. We can say that all that is contrary to the will of God is dreadful enough to be called hell, in the sense in which most people still use the word. Those who know what it is like to be in such darkness of mind that they feel God has forsaken them think they know what hell is. Those who have been in concentration camps, and have had the whole power of evil concentrated upon them, and those who have endured pain so bad that it is practically beyond human endurance say “it was hell”. And they are right, since these things are contrary to the will of God and their origin is not in his creative love. In Christ though, God allowed himself to experience the hell we live in and thus can redeem us. (P. 264/5)

In the early twentieth century Christian thinking was reacting rather than striking out in new directions. The Enlightenment of the 18th century was still very much an issue, putting God at a distance as if he had done his work and gone. This had arisen from the new scientific way of thinking and the issues of science, as if in conflict with religion was still very much alive too. And then two major wars, and the horrors of the trenches and the concentration camps had a theological effect. How, people were asking, could a loving God allow these horrors to happen? Writers even began to question if God was still alive. At the same time, the divergence between the Evangelicals and the Oxford Movement within Anglicanism was producing big questions about the Atonement, and the nature of hell. Does the penal substitution theory favoured by the Evangelicals deny God’s love for all mankind that the Oxford Movement priests were enthusiastically preaching to the people of the slums? The quotes I have chosen from Goudge’s biography show where she stands on these issues.

Goudge had come to the point of deciding that hell, as she had previously understood it, did not exist after pondering the possibility that if God existed at all, then he could not be Almighty. While her father quashed that idea she was in fact toying with ideas which many had considered. She resolved that by concluding, as others had before her, that the problem of suffering is resolved by free will, permitting him only to persuade us rather than over-ride our will as suggested by Whitehead. The issue of God’s attitude to our suffering becomes vastly importance when considering the concept of hell. There are still arguments against the penal substitution theory because it implies a willingness of God to permit, indeed, engineer, human suffering. Although these are modern arguments, the concept develops naturally for someone who has almost discarded God himself in her unwillingness to accept his apparent tolerance of our pain. And so, rather than discarding God, or the concept of his power, she came to the conclusion of a God who suffers with us, and in particular, who suffers with us through the life and death of Jesus. Here she seems to be following Barth:

 

For Barth, the notion of the omnipotence of God must always be understood in the light of Gods self-revelation in Christ. [which leads to a] belief in the triumph of Gods grace over unbelief, evil and suffering.

 

So, having discarded Hell, she began to think about what “hell” might be. Again, she seems to have come to the same conclusion as Barth in this, and may indeed have been reading his work. His concept of “nothingness” refers to anything which God did not will in creation, anything which goes against God.

Why Elizabeth Goudge is important to my own spirituality.

I started reading Elizabeth Goudge long before I became a Christian. I read the books simply as stories and although I would have been extremely irritated by anyone preaching at me I didn’t have a problem with the constant reference to God in her books, it was simply the faith of the character concerned, that was OK, no-one was expecting me to agree with that faith, just to understand the character and how they were shaped by their faith. It somehow seemed that I came across one of her books by chance at times when I was in great distress or had a major ethical decision to make. Each time I was able to somehow find relief and clarity in the clear light that she generates in her books. I might find a new determination to stand by what I perceived as right, or comfort for my pain. Whatever I found, it felt good and right.

Having been a Christian for some years now it has been interesting to re-read her books, not in any particular situation requiring her clarity, simply to discover them from a new point of view and to look for the influence they have had upon me.

Thinking about this the last few days a phrase kept coming to mind and I’ve finally identified it, apparently from Macbeth: “But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.” This is something I definitely got from Elizabeth Goudge. In all the years when I was struggling with the memories of pain and trauma of my early life there was a quality she was telling me about nowadays we’d simply say “hang in there” but it doesn’t have quite the same impact. It’s a quality she calls in her biography, “stickability” or adherence, the willingness to hold on to what we have committed ourselves to. In all my troubles, it was a quality I was quite incapable of but her requirement of it was embedded in the wonderful sense of light that fills her books. The more I tried and failed to support my commitment, even my commitment to simply being me, the more I felt the need of that light.

I think the next point I saw, was that my commitment to being me could only be supported by obedience to God. I had a vague sense of God at the time, none of Christ. But I desperately needed there to exist something greater than me to which I could be obedient so that I could rest. It seemed that I always had to be in control or my entire world would collapse around me. By giving my obedience to God I could let go, allow him to be in charge. I didn’t understand the concepts I was dealing with, but somehow, Elizabeth Goudge led me to be able to do it, at least some of the time.

And then slowly, the concept of hope began to get through to me. In a time of despair I found one of her books in a charity shop. I don’t remember which one. I can see how the pattern of thinking which allows that people can be redeemed by the healing of their relatedness to the world around them began to become real to me.

This is love expressed in little things, acting to heal relationships. It is this living out of the command to “love one another” which is real to me about Elizabeth Goudge. To me, a “command” to love is a contradiction in terms. Love by definition can only be given freely. God has given us free will and we assume that he does so precisely because, although being Almighty he has the power to command us, if he did then our love would be worthless. In a recent incident in my community, I had to deal with a problem of a girl who was telling others (incorrectly) that I had a dangerous dog. If I had been commanded to love her, I would have felt rebellious and annoyed, arguing that I was in the right and she in the wrong. Instead, being steeped at present in reading for this essay it seemed natural to take an interest in the girl, to care about her fear, to join myself to groups of friends around her if I had previously chatted with at least one of them. My normal fear of being unwelcome among groups of people who don’t know me seemed to have disappeared, I was there for a reason even though I didn’t yet know it. In Green Dolphin Country one of the characters advises, “act as if you love her, even though you hate her”. Once the recipient of that advice tries to live by it, he finds himself having to find qualities in his wife to love and from then on, although their relationship is never easy it does at least function, resulting in a child who he finds easy to love. I found myself acting as if I loved this girl, and as a result I am in fact growing fond of her, she seems a bit bewildered by it why should I, to whom she has addressed some quite unpleasant comments, take an interest in her? If Elizabeth Goudge was writing this story then some angle of the plot would turn upon my refusal to return anger for anger. In the meantime, somewhat to my surprise since it was none of it planned, I am learning how it feels like to live Jesus’ request that we love one another and it feels rather good!

While writing the section (above) on Goudge’s theology, I found the closeness of her thinking to Barth in her consideration of the nature of hell. I also found, in my own college notes on Barth an aside from myself describing my own understanding of hell, simply an absence of God’s presence which I noticed was very close to his thoughts on it. It seems likely that in my pre-Christian reading of Goudge I was working through my own difficulty with accepting the apparent conflict of a loving God who sends people to eternal torment. I certainly wouldn’t have read Barth, but reading Goudge’s novels I seem to have picked up the idea which she only expresses formally in her biography. This is the nature of her influence upon me, an influence which only leaves me saying I love her novels, and they help me when I am distressed or confused,  but which has in fact imparted to me a depth of understanding of some difficult theological points expressed within a spirituality which shows how we can live our lives within God’s love. And so I have learnt to do.

 Bibliography

Elizabeth Goudge – Many of her books are in book club editions which don’t show publication details properly. I rely on the Elizabeth Goudge Society for dates of publication.

The Joy of the Snow (autobiography) Hodder & Stoughton 1974

The Scent of Water

Green Dolphin Country

 

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

Save

Conversation Piece

Excerpts from an email conversation about Elizabeth Goudge
Between Carol McDonough and Lorender Freeman, Australia
LF             Climb the stairs to the upper floor of the Bendigo library [regional Victoria, Australia] and there is The Stack. These are the books no longer in demand, but which the library, fortunately, considers too good to be discarded. They may be borrowed and include many fine novels published in the 1940s, 50s and 60s and now largely forgotten. They have a generous collection of Elizabeth Goudge.

I first encountered Elizabeth Goudge (1900-1984), when my father read The Little White Horse to my brothers and me. When I left home I became the guardian of our family’s copy of this book and read this ever-delightful story to my own children, but it was only about fifteen years ago that I began to read her many adult novels, realizing that these apparently genteel stories were passionate and revelatory.

CMcD       Ah! The Stack! That is where I first read The Valley of Song, one of her children’s books which profoundly speak to adults. An inspirational book, written during WW2 in a chaotic, despairing time for Elizabeth, it is not one of her favourites. For me it speaks to “See how they love one another” as foundational for a town or a Christian community to live in poured-out resourceful harmony close to the inter-penetrating “king/queendom” of heaven. A long meditation created as delightful evocative story, I always think the pre-text for that book is “unless you become as a little child you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Tonight I found myself saying to a friend that Elizabeth Goudge is as deep, broad and wide as her contemporary Evelyn Underhill, as theologian and spiritual guide in the English spiritual tradition. Her over half century opus of children and adult novels, stories, poems, prayers, and collections, concluding with her autobiography, was published from 1919-1974. Who is Elizabeth for you?

LF       If I look into a novel I consider among her best, The Herb of Grace,  I’m reminded that yes, Elizabeth Goudge is a spiritual guide, and in the English tradition, or rather, my view of the English spiritual tradition, deeply coloured by the Arthur Mee Children’s Encyclopedias and English poetry. Beneath the patterns of admirable and satisfying romance, and the deep sense of place, lie simple structures of necessary goodness. Goudge needs the pleasure of the stories as much as this reader and she needs to instruct. How much do you think this goes back to her childhood, part of it lived in the shadow of Ely Cathedral?

CMcD   Her childhood was spent first in the Cathedral Close of Wells Cathedral in Somerset, then the family moved to the great fens where her family lived in the Cathedral Close of Ely. Her father, Henry, whose silk weaver family back ground was Evangelical, and who in his teen years immersed himself in the Catholic tradition of the Church of England, was priest, theologian and author. In his Theological College Principal positions, he took the family to Wells, Ely and subsequently to Oxford where he was Regis Professor of Divinity. By virtue of her being, her father’s scholarship and devotion profoundly formed the young Elizabeth. As did her mother, Ida Colette, daughter of St Peter’s Port, Guernsey, whose weaving of myth and legend into vibrant story was a passionate gift to Elizabeth. She says in her last book, an autobiography, The Joy of the Snow:  I began to write…as a child at Wells and have hardly left off since…  First published when still living at home, she speaks of her father and her sitting on the floor wrapping copies of that first novel, “They are our children”, he said.”  And of Ely:

How can one describe the place? Wells was fairyland, in my memory a diaphanous Cathedral and a city so hidden from the world that is seemed to have dropped out of the world, but Ely had the hard strength of reality. The cathedral leaped on you like a lion, taking you captive beyond hope of escape, but the lion was Aslan the divine lion. Once the bondage had been accepted, the pursuer became protector…  Without it one might have felt lost and desolate in the vast flatness that lay helplessly beneath the huge dome of the sky, but with it, one was safe, tied to it by an invisible cord.

Cords are a recurring thread in her novels. Good heavens! I just picked out the award winning, and filmed, Green Dolphin Country. I had forgotten that her beginning quote A threefold cord shall not be broken is by Evelyn Underhill! It is oft quoted in the text and is the theme of that longest novel where she, not claiming mysticism as her home, personifies the qualities Elizabeth describes in the “cord” between her three primary characters, Margeurite, Marianne and William.

Three deep cravings of the self…which only mystic truth can satisfy. The first is the craving, the longing to go out from the normal world, which makes him a pilgrim and a wanderer…The next is the craving of heart for heart, the soul for its perfect mate which makes him a lover. The third is the craving for inward purity and perfection which makes him an ascetic, and in the last resort a saint.

In her epic storytelling, Goudge gently, explicitly, unfolds the growing of these from one “natural” element in each as a child towards the wholeness of the three elements expressed in them all in stimulating old age; a life journey to which she inspires each of us, without preaching.

As her thought and expression unfold through, as you say, the “goodness” of her works, in the mystic and other elements of the English spiritual tradition, “shot through with brightness” of her life experience, do you find these or other qualities maturing to wholeness as she journeys into God?

LF  A big question. The Herb of Grace is about movement toward wholeness. Each character must pass through the flame which burns away self-delusion and ignorance. They work at their own fates, but their fates are dependent on each other and on God, and the story provides all manner of revelation, sometimes confronting, sometimes beautiful, sometimes deliciously outrageous as Goudge imposes her necessary order. (Not to mention her inevitable loving portrayals of houses and dogs. Being a cat person I find the dogs wearying, but the detailed evocations of houses, and their importance to the story, is deep and satisfying).

If I look into The Herb of Grace as a child might, I’m almost immediately confronted by piercing dilemmas of love and self-knowledge, as disturbingly relevant as the other times I’ve read this book. How does she know all this stuff?! In The Joy of the Snow she lets little slip about these aspects of her own life. Or am I obtuse?

CMcD      How does the entering into intimate piercing dialogue with her world enable us to penetrate ours in the increasingly different (or is it?) twenty-first century?

I wonder…..What words most encapsulate her opus for you? At present, the words, which seem similar to yours, are “yearning towards wholeness”. That, in all or most of her works, as she traces the relationships with place, time, animals and people, she is unfolding that desire in the human spirit for integration, for dynamic harmony within and with all…..for peace. Consciously or unconsciously or both, might she be charting her own journey? The long slow times; the sudden leaps forward in understanding and knowledge which, when reflected on and lived into, might lead towards wisdom. While delighting in the healing balm and inspiration of beauty in all its forms, in the natural world and in relationship, she endured the transformation which comes, when given to God, of the suffering of her dark times, both inner,  from which she certainly suffered and gained great insight- and outer, on the stage of world history as she experienced it. She lived consciously, sensitively, painfully and reflectively in the domestic, local community and church spheres through two world wars, impacting in her immediate present, and beyond.  Might she “know all this disturbing stuff” because she took time to observe and reflect; she took time to be still; she took time for exploring and growing into a deep and deepening relationship with her God. Though life circumstances moved her around southern England, she took time in each place to put down roots and source stability. She reveled in beloved poetry. All these were, for her, sources for the “dearest freshness deep down things”, as George Herbert tells it.

LF To enter into dialogue with her world… unavoidable in the reading of her, I don’t  think that it makes any difference, 20th century or 21st, the problems of living honourably are the same,  to fully stand in the realities of her world is to acknowledge our responsibilities to creation. Which is wonderful , as in exciting and pleasurable  and wonderfully demanding, for in that heady atmosphere float the implicit questions,

“Can you change? can you be fully human? can you act from your higher self?”

In wondering about her knowledge of love and its follies, I’m also being curious, looking between the lines for gossip. I remember my surprised delight when the estranged husband in The Scent of Water goes into the bedroom and tells his wife to shove over, yet my low curiosity about Elizabeth Goudge’s experience of fleshly delights soon fizzles out in the face of her greater preoccupations.

A story. The last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot, and went to look for Goudge’s in Book Heaven, finding two “juveniles” – Linnets and Valerians and, never sighted before, Smoky-House – which I immediately read from beginning to end. The last chapter is titled Happy Ever After, and me being mildly sick, I no doubt read it as a child, wholly entranced and bemused. And was drawn back into childhood…

In the 50s my parents would often push their boys into the car on a Saturday morning and drive to the old lending library in La Trobe Street, Melbourne, then part of the grand State Library, Museum, and NGV building. We’d borrow a pile of books and park in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton, Mum and Dad disappearing into Jimmy Watson’s wine shop (in its original humble shop front) while we settled to our fate of being stuck in the car with naught but brothers and books for an hour or two.

Around this time I read a book which bowled me over with its rich sense of possibility, I’d never read anything like it before, where the events in the book were so obviously right and wonderful and magically fateful. Sometime after the book was returned I wanted to read it again, and began a long and hopeless search. I never found it, I didn’t remember the title or author, it seemed that I’d had a glimpse into another world and would never again enter that portal. As time passed my memory of the book diminished to a vague memory of a ship, a cove, possibly pirates. I’ve thought about it over the years, and come to the conclusion that even if I came across the book now I wouldn’t, couldn’t, know whether it was the one.

Deep into Smoky-House, in the chapter The Ship in the Cove, I come to a striking illustration by C.Walter Hodges of a boy gazing upon a sailing ship that seemed made out of night and sunshine… This may be the lost book, well, I think it is. But can never be certain.

CMcD Children! I watch my growing exploring granddaughters with delight. Reading with the eyes of a child…fractalled through the eyes of the adult…  I have just reread her trilogy of Henrietta, growing through nine to eleven,  A City of BellsThe Sister of the Angels: A Christmas Story, and Henrietta’s House, which maybe, even more than The Scent of Water, tells us of her journey. Henrietta is modelled on her “child”, in her formative life in Wells, celebrated in A City of Bells. For purposes of this novel, Wells is renamed Torminster, bringing together Wells and mystical Glastonbury Tor, Avalon. The dedication of Henrietta’s House, time slipping, moving between what might be fantasy and reality, as does Avalon, commences

There were once two little girls, and one had fair hair and lived in the Cathedral Close of Torminster and the other had dark hair and lived up in the Blue Hills above the city, and they were friends….

At the end of this tale she excessively concludes

So this is the end of the story of Henrietta’s house, and even though it is not strictly speaking a fairy tale –  because except for the possible exception of the disappearance of the motor car nothing out of the ordinary happened on Hugh Anthony’s birthday, it can be turned into one by saying that everybody lived happily ever after.

Outrageous! The disappearance of the car is the easiest thing to justify a simple theft! The rest of that afternoon birthday party, nothing out of the ordinary? Well! Through entrancing story we do learn of the power of prayer and the triumph of good over human inadequacy and intentional evil.

I wonder…. in many of her books, both so called “children” and so called “adult”, which all ages can read for delight and personal profit, she intimates the interpenetration of the world of the senses and the worlds of “intuition”, “spirit”, “faery”, “the kingdom of God”, all “working together for good for those who love…”

As in Herb of Grace (and the whole Damerosehay trilogy), in the outworking of Lucilla’s family over three generations, here she is searching piercing dilemmas of love and self knowledge, through the heart-wrenching inspiring stories of Henrietta, a supposed orphan, becoming reconciled and accommodating to her painter father’s odd lifestyle, whilst living with Hugh Anthony, his grandparents [a priest, canon and his wife] and their surrounding adults.

When one’s child’s heart becomes Love-pierced by Mystery through life’s hard knocks and redemptions, what might there be of possibilities in the child soul for movement towards wholeness for the adult person one is becoming? Elizabeth Goudge asks and explores this mystery, for her, “shot through” with the English “Anglican mind”, culture and tradition.

“To fully stand in the realities of her world is to acknowledge our responsibilities to creation,” you say. I broke into sparkling-eyed smiles. That’s IT! She was immersed in the natural world and the place of human beings within, not over, as ways of the unremarkable responsible relationship with all creation we humans used more to live. We don’t see the more recent kinds of self-critical, self-obsessed or its opposite, denial, about Earth, scourging us who have reaped the benefits, and the escalating bane of earth’s resources exploitation to the cost of future generations and even our own.

[DELETE IN BRACKETS MAYBE coz too many allusions to the Anglican style genre? Here are excerpts of her prayers from A Diary of Prayer, rhythmically swinging through the Anglican liturgical year. It took me forever to realize the unacknowledged ones in her prayer diary are her own….

A prayer before starting any work.

Lord in union with the Love which made Thee deign to occupy Thyself in work,     I Elizabeth Goudge Thee to unite my work with Thy most perfect acts and make it perfect;         as a drop of water, poured into a great river, does all that river does.

What intrigues me here, for her prayer for union within and with the work of Christ is similar to many of the greats, in century order among them Benedict, Teresa, Ignatius, Wesley, Charles de Foucauld – is her phrase “does all that river does” not the river; implicit is “River”. She communicates the sense, not only are we one with the great River of Life of the visions of Ezekiel and John the Divine, in time before and after Christ and fulfilled Christ Consciousness,  but also that River is entity-in-itself, with life, honored place, essential purpose in creation. ]

LF   11th February, 2009, windy, cool, sunny, far from tragedy but not far.

Nearby donkeys call into the bright and wild air. Last night, visiting Samantha and Sid, reading a poem Sam had just written about the last week , the heat, Eli’s first days at school, the fallout from the fires,  I felt the poem was about our collective immaturity, the fires (like global warming) a manifestation of our over-abundant emotional outpourings and needs, untempered by reflection and empathy. Yes, we can be sentimental and expressive, but how we deny the laments of nature, the demands on sanity and clarity, how easily feeling becomes violence.

Yesterday morning, Father Ken led a little requiem mass for the 173 bushfire dead on Black Saturday 2009. It was moving and deeply shared I think by those present. One of the readings was from Job, as used by Elizabeth Goudge to introduce and title The Scent of Water. A few weeks ago I re-read this book, the story of a late middle-aged woman’s, impulsive but conscious journey into her past, the wonders attending her decision to experience the real England before it vanished. It’s an odd, messy book, too many people, too many ship shapely resolutions, but beautiful in its discoveries and range, thrilling in its vitality. And again, the question of Home, such a big thing in Elizabeth Goudge’s writing, and of course her life, as in the way Mary, in The Scent of Water, approaches the cottage that has been left to her; indeed the whole book is, on one level, a very slow journey through that cottage, like something out of Tarkovsky, just as The Herb of Grace is most wonderfully about the bit by bit revelation of a house (and Home), and the depth of hospitality that a building can hold. I’ve always been perplexed by these things, I grew up with notions of the English village and cottage as ideal, but my first visit there, at 32, found me overwhelmed by the sense of past lives, the feeling of history palpably underfoot, almost claustrophobic. Yet reading The Little White Horse to my children provoked an epic sense of enfranchisement, the coming to Moonacre Manor and all that that involves.

CMcD 16th May 2010

Elizabeth Goudge’s opus fills nearly two bookshelf meters. Nearly all out of print, from op shops and second hand bookshops, it has taken decades to collect all but the first rare two. My joy, when I found her hardbound Damerosehay Trilogy in Castlemaine itself, for the vast sum of $6!  Over the last few years Elizabeth Goudge has been “found”. Partly because of internet bookselling? Partly because of the website www.elizabethgoudge.org Or, truly, as I would believe, because her time has come?  As I wrote those words, I had a small flash to our twentieth century re-finding of twelfth century “my friend, Julian of Norwich”, also much beloved by Elizabeth Goudge. Might it be, in such a short time from mid-twentieth to twenty-first century, as we contemplate the vast problems of our time, too big for mind to compass, she is a necessary antidote: a teller of how life in its mutual loving and mutual service in right relationship in community and all creation ought be, held in Trinity, in the resurrected life of Christ. Her descriptions of the people who pray in her novels teach us greatly about the life of prayer faithfully lived day in, night out. Others of her novels teaching about the ways of prayer and of growing in love and forgiveness include The Rosemary Tree, The Dean’s Watch, Gentian Hill. [To be continued in our conversation?] A visionary, a prophet, a storyteller of goodness and wholesome community and family relationships, through the medium of story she gives us invitation, pathways and wells of quiet. Very often I turn to the works of my “friend and companion” Elizabeth Goudge in the night hours and am comforted, inspired and given depth to live the next turning of life’s wheel. Thank you, Elizabeth.

 

Herb Of Grace

Herb of Grace

There’s rue for you: and here’s some for me:
we may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays:
O, you must wear your rue with a difference.
Hamlet

Riverside Inn

The sun rising on the first page reveals Sally, waking up to a new day in her London apartment. Who is she? What will be her colour in the tapestry of the tale? With the sure sweep of the experienced film director, Elizabeth opens the story in a completely unexpected place, with people we have yet to be introduced to.

The Herb of Grace or Pilgrim’s Inn as its called in America, is the second in the Eliot trilogy and was published in the dark days of 1948. The war was over, but life was still hard in Britain, rationing was in force, every thing from fresh fish to houses was in short supply. The Marshall Plan which was helping a devastated Europe rebuild itself, was intended for the losers of the conflict, not the cash strapped nominal winners. Some of the key moments of the story take place against these stark facts. The first meeting Sally has with the Eliot children is in a Greengrocers where the children lament the lack of grapefruit for their Mother and Sally becomes guilty about being in a position to buy flowers. Later on in the same chapter Sally uses her last rations to complete an outfit for a party, “To save coupons she had made it herself out of a very fine grey wool material, soft and thin and she had spent the very last of her coupons on grey silk stockings and grey suede shoes to match.”( Goudge 1948 )

Life was slowly returning to normal, in fact Britain was hosting the “Austerity Games” as the Olympics were known that year. Can you imagine the athletes of today using recently vacated army barracks as their Olympic Village? Or people arriving with packed lunches on buses and commandeered army vehicles, as there were no catering facilities or public transport?

Everyone was mad for a little colour and glamour in their lives after the unrelenting greyness of the war years. The entertainment industry bloomed; Powell & Pressburger bought out the film The Red Shoes, Lawrence Olivier starred in and directed the film version of Hamlet, and Champagne Charlie with Stanley Holloway as the lead, was the hit musical comedy of the day, perhaps it was the one from which Sally hums a tune in the opening sequence.

The plot is the continuing story of the Eliots, and their homes which are important characters in their own right. It lets us catch up with and then accompany members of a family that we have come to care about. We follow George and Nadine further into their troubled marriage, watch Ben, Tommy and Caroline grow and develop into young men and women, get to know the twins and revisit Lucilla, Hilary and Margaret at Damerosehay. The tension in the book doesn’t arise through the subtleties of the plot. We know that Sally is destined for David, that the family will buy the inn and that the old, strange octagonal store-room will turn out to be special, that Jill will win the love of the twins. The drama comes from the emotional and spiritual growth that we share with characters.

The supporting cast of subsidiaries of which Annie-Laurie and Maloney are chief, help to emphasis points that Elizabeth wishes to make. In this case ones of loyalty, commitment and unconditional love as promised in the marriage vows that all the partners have taken or will take. There is nothing new under the sun, and although it seems a modern idiom to have people living an itinerant lifestyle, it was far from uncommon at the time, people needed homes and would make them where they could.

In this work with its theme of painting and artistry, Elizabeth uses the metaphor of the old masters to describe the crowded canvas she is painting. Sally’s father the eminent portrait painter says upon arrival at the Inn, ” there’s no coincidence. You stepped into a picture Sally, so you said, when you came into this house. The great masters, no matter how densely populated their canvases, never get a single figure there without deliberate intention. ( Goudge 1948).
One of the main characters of the novel is a monk from the local abbey, whose legacy of hospitality and healing is integral to the book, he too is also a consummate artist, writing his story so hugely into the fabric of the house that he is still a dominate presence hundreds of years after his death.

While in Hampshire we located the ruins of the Benedictine abbey, vast, roofless, reaching up out of the surrounding fields and farm. In the article titled Hampshire Pilgrimage is a description of the ruins made by Cobbett, and both he and I think that this was the original Beaulieu, as the situation is a more open and beautiful place than the “newer” Abbey. Although called St Leonard’s by the locals and the farmer whose land it is on, it lies in the right relation to Buckler’s Hard. Elizabeth would have driven by this stirring romantic site many times, with is view across to the needles, that distinctive rock formation that strides away from the Isle of Wight.

Throughout the book, the characters refer to the children’s classic The Wind in the Willows. It was obviously a favourite of Elizabeth’s, it was published when she was eight, and The Herb of Grace has many parallels with the story. The twins pretend to be Mole and Rat, consider Ben to be badger, Tommy the boastful toad, and Caroline the Gaoler’s daughter. Ben’s first thoughts on seeing the river are to quote Rat ” Believe me my young friend, there is nothing,– absolutely nothing- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” ( Grahame 1908 ).The twins see the wood as the Wild Wood from the story and when Sally takes them to the wood they tell her they are going ” deep in to the Place Beyond, where the fairy person with the horns is.” Before they have been as far as Ben’s special place “where the person is who plays the pipes” ( Goudge 1948 ) Sally describes Damerosehay as ” the house of the perfect eaves” all phrases from the “Willows” But has she borrowed more than this? Is the Cistercian monk a representation of the “Piper at the Gates of Dawn?” Both were healers having sympathy for trapped and hurt creatures, showing compassion for those less fortunate than themselves, both lived far from the haunts of man, both were the genus loci of the countryside.
Most importantly, both books have the value of hearth, home, and the worth of family and good friends at the heart of them.

I have tried to find out if there was a legend about a local monk in Knyghtwood, but although I found a Knightwood Oak at a place called Boulderwood, I was unable to find the man. So along with the imagined Inn, I think that this was a device of Elizabeth’s. The tale that Ben hears from Auntie Rose and fleshes out for the Christmas play seems to be a Christian version of the ghost of old countryside gods

Hampshire

Hampshire

Throughout this book as with others, we gain insights into Elizabeth’s life.
The first is the description of Sally Adair, clothed in Elizabeth’s favourite colour yellow, and sounding remarkably like her first glimpse of Jessie. ” She had a glorious mop of unruly red-brown curls, the white skin that goes with such hair and golden eyes like a lion’s that looked you straight in the face with a lion’s courage. Her voice was deep and beautiful, and the Scotch Nannie who had looked after her had imparted to it a Scotch lilt that increased its beauty.” (Goudge 1948) Her description of Jessie whom she met for the first time after her Mother’s death at Providence Cottage says, ” I saw an upright, capable-looking young woman with a head of hair like a horse-chestnut on fire, and the white magnolia skin that goes with such hair. Her eyes were very direct.” (Goudge 1974) Jessie too had Scotch connections. so may well have had a lilt to her voice. Red hair is a physical attribute that Elizabeth admired, it is given to many of her heroes and heroines. Perhaps the mysterious Ely lover had such hair.

The wonderful train journey that Caroline takes home is another instance. ” She was glad, for this was the first time she had done the journey from school to The Herb of Grace, and she wanted to be alone so as to get the landmarks well into her mind. She saw a group of pines outlined starkly against a lemon-coloured sky, a farmhouse with higgledy-piggledy roof and lights in the windows, a white wooden bridge crossing a stream, and knew that she would not forget them as long as she lived” ( Goudge 1948 ). These sights could be from anywhere, are we hearing the young Elizabeth returning to Ely, her home of homes, from boarding school?

The Herb of grace is a symbol for clear sightedness, intuition, self knowledge, the ability to forgive even yourself for past mistakes and then the strength to go forward with conviction. The Inn helps The Eliots to do this, it has a strong personality of its own as Damerosehay has, giving to those who seek it an inner strength. Nadine comes to realize as Lucilla does that the war has swept away all the old certainties, but that there are some worth the effort to recuperate. ” she recognised Lucilla’s efforts at preservation as what they were, not so much the salvage of useless trash from a lost past, but paving-stones set upon the quagmire of these times, leading to a new dignity whose shape she could not guess at yet.” ( Goudge 1948.)

Through the whole book weaves the sights and sounds of the river as it winds its way through the New Forest to the Solent. ” All was a-shake and a-shiver-glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man, who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and then tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.” (Grahame 1908) We too are held by the narrative until we arrive at the climax of the year and the satisfactory ending of the book.

This is the best book in the Eliot trilogy, and one that I find myself re-reading constantly. The whole ethos of the book speaks to me of values that are enduring, and although placed in a specific time and place gives us a grounding in the eternal merits of strong family bonds and home. It remains as valid today in the shifting patterns of family life, and the constant moves that work demands, as when our careers and lives fixed us to the same place.

Deborah Gaudin

Goudge Elizabeth The Herb of Grace Hodder & Stoughton 1948 pp 9 22 72 136 252
Goudge Elizabeth Joy of the Snow. Hodder & Stoughton 1974 p 244
Grahame Kenneth Wind In The Willows Methuen 1908 pp 3 5

Save

Bird In The Tree

Bird In The Tree

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.

Arthur Symons

Hampshire

Hampshire

So begins the poem used to prefix Elizabeth’s novel, Bird in the Tree. It must have spoken directly to her heart at a time in her life when she truly felt that life was “a fear among fears” A book which she began in the security of a loving family and the fame of her successful writing career, was taken up again in the darkness of her fathers tragic last illness and subsequent death. Her mother’s grief and frailty a palpable sorrow, and all around was the chaos and fear caused by the outbreak of the 2nd World War. Now it was she who was head of the family and must provide both a home and income.

Elizabeth always frail had a nervous break down under the strain and went to recuperate at Harewood House in the Hampshire marshes. She retreated here just as the battered Eliots would come to do. The house was run by a local lady called Mrs Adams who had visitors recommended to her that would appreciate the peace, quiet and homeliness of the house. The break did help her to get her life and grief into perspective and once back at The Ark in Devon she did, slowly, painfully begin to write again.

But the writing for once went badly, and no doubt with her Father’s words ringing in her ears, “your not a professional writer if you only write when you feel like it” she got completely bogged down and the characters refused to act. “At one point I reached deadlock. Usually my characters manipulate me, not I them, but now they suddenly went dead as dormice. I could see no way through, and nothing that could possible happen next.” (Goudge 1974)

There have been various theories as to where the break in the narrative occurred, but there seem to be so many possible places, from the time of Lucilla’s dream in the newly found house to the telling of Lucilla’s story to Nadine and David, that I don’t have a definitive choice. Sylvia Gower in her book discusses this in some depth. To me, not knowing the circumstances until recently, the stream of writing seems continuous.

But her method for over coming this difficulty was a typically Goudge one to make. She prayed about it, a bit sheepishly because it was one of the things she was asking for for herself, but it worked. “In desperation I prayed that I might dream the rest of the book, and I did. In a dream full of lovely light the story unrolled smoothly and afterwards I only had to write down what I had dreamed.” (Goudge 1974)

The story revolves around the Eliot family, their loves, passions, life and spiritual growth. It is set in one of Elizabeth’s special places, that piece of the Hampshire coastline opposite the Isle of Wight. They became her surrogate family, maybe the sort of family she felt comfortable in. She wrote, “Of my various book people the dearest are the Eliots. I am almost ashamed to confess how devoted I am to them.” (Goudge 1957)

All of the characters are lovingly drawn, their inward and outward appearances, down to their faults and foibles The matriarch Lucilla, whose regal habit of attracting all to her, is a portrait of her Mother with perhaps a pinch of her maternal Grandmother, while the quiet strengths of Margaret and Hilary her children are characteristics Elizabeth possessed herself.

But to David, Lucilla’s beloved grand son. Elizabeth poured out the entire frustrated Mother love for a son she would never physically have.

He is handsome and charming, an actor in the mode of the young John Gielgud who she had seen play Hamlet on stage at the Old Vic during the 1929/30 season. He is a lover of words and poetry as she was, and felt life intensely, suffering depression and nervous breakdowns as she had done. He has been attributed to a young Henry Goudge, and although I’m sure that his good looks may have been, his morals certainly weren’t. I can not imagine Henry having an affair, definitely not one with his uncle’s wife. David also struggles with his faith and is envious of Lucilla in her strength of belief and her ability to put it to use in her every day life, a trait Henry either never had or overcame early in his life, his faith was unshakable.

After I had visited Buckler’s Hard, a place that is special to the Eliots as it was to Elizabeth, another role model occurred to me. The chapel at the Hard is dedicated to the son of Lady Poole, who was called David, and was a keen sailor and sports man. Could the love and romance of this have imbued her fictional son?

“Visitors to Damerosehay, had they but known it, could have told just how much the children liked them by the particular spot at which they were met upon arrival. If the visitor was definitely disliked the children paid no attention to him until Ellen had forcibly thrust them into their best clothes and pushed them through the drawing-room door at about the hour of five; when they extended limp paws in salutation, replied in polite monosyllables to inquiries as to their well-being, and then stood in a depressed row staring at the carpet, beautiful to behold but no more alive than three Della Robbia cherubs modelled out of plaster. If, on the other hand, they tolerated the visitor, they would go so far as to meet him at the front door and ask if he had bought them anything. If they liked him they would go to the gate at the end of the wood and wave encouragingly as he came towards them. But if they loved him, if he were one of the inner circle, they would go right through the village, taking the dogs with them, and along the coast road to the corner by the cornfield, and when they saw the beloved approaching they would yell like all the fiends of hell let loose for the afternoon.” (Goudge 1938)

So starts the first book in the Eliot trilogy, and at once the spell is cast, Elizabeth wishes us to know that we, the readers, will become part of the inner circle of this remarkable family. In essence nothing much happens, like much of life all the dramas and traumas are under the surface. The children are living an idyllic life with their Grandmother by the sea, in a large house, looked after by Margaret, Ellen and the long suffering nanny Jill. The boys are taught by their Uncle Hilary in the vicarage and the youngest, Caroline at home by Lucilla. Despite the fact that they miss their parents, and as all children, are more aware of the dangerous undercurrents than their parents think they are, they live life as most of us would like our children to do. They have the freedom of garden, house and surroundings, dogs, books and the stimulus of love to round them out and make them grow.

All of the children are sensitively given and one wonders where and how the spinster Elizabeth gained her knowledge of them. Granted, her Father always had a bevy of students surrounding him, but at Ely when she would have been old enough to take notice of the compassionate way he cared for them and their stories and responses, she would have spent most of her time at boarding school.

She did have 2nd cousins and young people from both her own and Jessie’s family, who were part of her life and they all came to stay with her, but how big a role she played as family “Aunt” she doesn’t reveal.

Perhaps she learnt her sure but light touch from Mrs Kennion, a friend of her Mother’s whom she visited in the Bishops Palace at Wells. At that time she was only a child and an inarticulate and shy one at that. Elizabeth says of her “But perhaps also she loved children in general with that painful love of a childless woman. She certainly knew how to talk to them in her soft Scottish voice, treating them as though there were no age barrier at all.” The voice down the years of one childless woman to another.

But the Eliot children live. Caroline, the prime shy child, youngest of the brood, a Daddy’s girl whose love for her father is all consuming. Her knowledge that Mother really prefers boys and she will never be able to please her. Her love of tidiness and dogs and her shinning cap of hair balanced by the thumb sucking of the insecure, (and Ellen’s method of curing it,) vivid insight.

Ben a sensitive youth, swinging from boyhood to a young man in the course of half an hour. His response to David when he thinks he may become a threat, his moods and awkwardness typical of his type.

And, Tommy, where did he arrive from? That bold modern youngster, always striving to leave the old behind, until he comes to realize later on the value of family and roots. A loyal brave mischievous soul, messy, loud and aggressive, a proto-type of many a modern home, I want and usually gets.

The older Eliots can only visit Damerosehay, so that for them it takes on a quality of retreat and renewal, enabling them to face the stresses and strains of the modern world. As Elizabeth drew strength from Harewood house and the atmosphere that Mrs Adams created, so they are strengthened by their time in the Hampshire marshes and the presence and good sense of Lucilla. During one such visit, David arrives with the news that will tear the family apart, and Lucilla finds herself allied with her home in an attempt to prevent this happening. This clever device enables Elizabeth to weave in all the local history that she loved to collect and tie them into the house and family giving to both depth and colour.

Hampshire

Buckler’s Hard & The Master Builder’s House

One of the weapons that Lucilla employs is the telling of her own history and how it might relate to the current crisis. In the tale she speaks of a young Doctor with whom she falls in love. He is a facsimile of her Uncle James; a relative of Henry’s whom the family often visited in London. He too had started off life as an ordinary G. P. but quickly gained a reputation and the wealth that goes with it, as an imminent children’s doctor. He once saved Henry’s life when he became gravely ill with pneumonia.

This first introduction to the Eliots published in 1940 became one of Elizabeth’s best selling novels and gained notoriety when it was cited by a Judge in a divorce court. He suggested that the couple went away and read it, which they did and then came to the conclusion that they would stay together for the greater good of the family.

But in the first instance the books values would have appealed to a wide range of people. It was published during the war, when all resources including paper were in short supply. But it was chosen above others not only for the quality of its writing and because she was an established author, but because it espoused the core values of hearth and home that the men were fighting for.

It seems strange that Elizabeth should chose a poem by Arthur Symons to begin a story of spiritual growth. He was a dissolute young man, vilified by the press for his bohemian lifestyle. But this shows Elizabeth’s compassion and insight, she despised the sin not the sinner , he is the mirror which she holds up to David. His words are life affirming and yet he struggles to match the high ideals he sets himself, just as David does. All people are flawed and the one of the great gifts of the artist is that they rise above this and show others it is possible to do so.

The symbol of renewal that had stayed with Elizabeth all her life from the Cocky Olly bird of her youth to the black birds in the ilex tree at Harewood house became a symbol of peace and tranquillity for millions of people world wide. “”Who of us goes through life companied only by the flesh and blood people whom we live with day by day?” (Goudge 1957), only children and those like Elizabeth of great imagination.

Elizabeth Goudge 1957 The Eliots of Damerosehay Hodder & Stoughton

 

Elizabeth Goudge 1974 Joy Of The Snow Hodder & Stoughton

Origins of Book of Prayer

I appreciate SO MUCH your putting together the wonderful site about Elizabeth Goudge.

It is tremendous to have such resources available!

Thanks for this month’s article about A Diary of Prayer. Among my favourite materials are the prayers Goudge composed herself, including one For Children which I have prayed nightly since my children were conceived. I have used the collection daily for many, many years, enriching my prayer life.

I love Miss Goudge — As C. S. Lewis mentioned George MacDonald as his mentor and spiritual guide, Goudge is mine.

Mary Burrows

Dear Mary,

Thank you so much for your support of the site and your kind words regarding a Question of Faith.

I have to confess to no knowledge of the prayers that Elizabeth wrote and would be very grateful if you could give me some information on where I could read them.

I agree totally about the prayers enriching our lives, as so much of her work does. She is definitely a mentor of mine too.

Hi Deborah,

It is my own assumption (and a deep feeling I get) that the prayers that are printed without attribution at the bottom or the word “Anonymous” at the bottom are her own prayers. Of course, I may be mistaken.

They seem to me to be very special prayers — there are some in every section (but I do not have the book here where I am typing). One in particular has been very meaningful to me since I pray it every night:

Lord, as once the mothers of Israel brought their children to you that you might bless them, so now we come before you, bringing in our hearts those children most precious to us. Kneeling in the shadow of your love for them, your most glorious and perfect prayer to the father for them, we say their names in your presence___________. You alone know what awaits them in life, and the special needs of each one of them, and we humbly trust them to your never-failing mercy and almighty love. We ask only that throughout their lives they may do and bear what is your will for them as perfectly as they are able, and that you will keep them close to you, now and forever.

There is a beautiful prayer in the July section about forgetting self that is un-attributed — I wish I could quote it here.

Blessings,

Mary

 

Quilted Quotes

Quilted Quotes

Came across the Goudge site while hunting for the exact quote from the “The Rosemary Tree”I’m pretty sure.  I am away from my books, too, or it would be simple to find it.  I think it was “The Old Knight”?  And the lines were about youth and beauty being “flowers, fading seen”  and duty being  “trees, and evergreen”.  If you know another source for the poem than the book or happen to have it memorized (as I thought I had) please contact me.

Dear Sallie,

You were right it’s from the poem by George Peele which sets the scene for The Rosemary Tree,  a trait Elizabeth loved to do.

The Old Knight

His golden locks time to silver turned;
O time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing;
His youth ‘gainst time and age hath ever spurned,
But spurned in vain; youth waneth by increasing;
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love are roots, and ever green.

His helmet now shall make a hive for bees;
And, lovers’ sonnets turned to holy psalms,
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees,
And feed on prayers, which are age’s alms;
But though from court to cottage he depart,
His saint is sure of his unspotted heart.

And when he saddest sits in homely cell,
He’ll teach his swains this carol for a song;
“Blest be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,
Curst be the souls that think her any wrong.”
Goddess, allow this aged man his right,
To be your beadsman now, that was your knight.

I like the line “His helmet now shall make a hive for bees;”

probably because my name Deborah means “busy bee” so I have always enjoyed references to them. It’s also reminiscent of ” beating swords into plough shares” a sentiment I also approve of.

Thank you for visiting the site, hope you return to view other articles.

Dear Deborah

Thank you, thank you, thank you!  I had misremembered the bit about “roots”.  I love the poem.  I’m glad to see there is a Goudge site.  Never thought to look before.  I have about 10 of her books, I guess and have loaned them out to my sisters, who have also appreciated them.  We are of an age, you know.  In fact, My Book of Comfort has been with one sister so long, I think she has forgotten it isn’t hers!

I noticed you said Dean’s Watch was your favourite.  I think that might be mine also.  Also loved A City of Bells.  I haven’t been quite as fond of the historical novels.  Thanks again.  I wanted the lines to stitch on a quilt border for my grandson, and I needed to start right away.

Sallie McCauley

The Rosemary Tree

The Rosemary Tree

The Rosemary Tree is Elizabeth’s contemporary novel set in 1950’s Devon. When the book was published in 1956, motor ways hadn’t opened up the countryside; it was still inaccessible to most people. Railways were the transport of the mass of the population, Beeching not having had the chance to wield his axe, and the wireless was the centre of home entertainment, even though the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II had been watched on Bakelite televisions by 20 million people.
In America Martin Luther King was fighting for Black Rights using passive resistance, and here in Britain, Prime Minister Macmillan was telling us we’d never had it so good. Albert Finney and Richard Briars were promising young students at RADA, Just Walking in the Rain by Johnny Ray was on everyone’s lips and a stage production of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood was headlining The Edinburgh Festival. In the literary world, Dodie Smith’s enduring book 101 Dalmatians was published, Rosemary Sutcliffe was immersed in Roman Britain and children were reading about the Adventures of Biggles and the magical land of Narnia.

We were all still caught up in the undertow of the war, its pale colours leak through into this sad, earnest book. The publishers were unhappy with it, as they thought it was too rigidly Christian to appeal to a mass market. Everyone was tired out, not fully recovered, rationing had only ended two years earlier, and they must have all watched the unfolding of the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian uprising with trepidation. Surely they were not watching the beginnings of yet another conflict?

Elizabeth’s war years had been spent in Devon, first at the Ark and then after it had been built Providence Cottage, and compared to many both she and her mother had an easy war. Their bungalow “Innisfree” had been sold to a family anxious to escape the dangers of London. Devon must have seemed remote enough to be safe. There were no large towns near by to attract the bombers, although two bombs were jettisoned in a neighbouring field, on the way back from a raid on Portsmouth. But the shadow of her fathers death hung over the beginning of this period, he died in 1939, the “threefold chord” was broken. Her beloved Nanny was killed in an air raid on Bristol where she had been living with relations, and the end of the war coincided with her mothers last illness, a sad difficult time. She was nursed by Elizabeth, at home, even though at times she didn’t known who was with her or where she was. Elizabeth must have been grief stricken, worn out and dangerously fragile from living on her nerves, a prisoner to both family and war events.

Superficially the story is about of the Wentworth family and how their lives are transformed by “a wanderer from the outside world “who turns out not to be a stranger at all. (Jacket publicity from the book). John Wentworth is the local vicar and also the titular head of the Wentworth family, who’s Great Aunt still lives in the crumbling family manor house gallantly trying to keep it from being repossessed by selling off other assets and managing on very little, while John and his wife Daphne live in the Vicarage. Daphne is an unhappy woman who feels trapped by her family duties and obligations. Their three daughters attend a pretentious, badly run school where the teachers are battling the warped Headmistress, and the illness of one of only two teachers. John’s old nanny Harriet lives with them, now an invalid, but an indispensable member of the family helping them with love, compassion and her hard won knowledge of life and love.

But, the book is really about prisoners, and the differing forms that imprisonment can take.
Michael, the wanderer from outside the valley, is indeed a recently released prisoner who is running from the shame of his crime and the disgust and pity that he sees in everyone who recognises him. But deeper than this is his desperate need to escape the cowardice he believes he displayed in the war and the fatal consequences it had to his best friend.
Daphne and John are imprisoned in the ruts of a failing marriage, staring at each other from ramparts of their own making, John’s of his sense of worthlessness and failure and Daphne from narrowness and the sterility she feels her life has descended into.
Harriet is imprisoned not only in her bedroom but confined by physical pain, left wondering on her bad days why she has been allowed to live such a dependant, useless life.
Miss Wentworth is imprisoned in the past, reliving her days of youth and splendour, rather than coming to terms with the modern world. Even the house has been allowed to atrophy instead of being given a new lease of life.
Mrs Belling is trapped by her own sloth and greed, having obtained the lifestyle she desired where she did nothing and life came to her, so she is totally unprepared when death does.
Miss Giles by her illness and cruelty to the children and Mary by her temper and slap dash attitude to work. The children trapped by the abominable school that all these bad practises bring about. They are also victims of their parents failing marriage; Winkle’s tantrums, Pat’s bad language, Margery’s timidity being the outward symptoms.
Finally, one could argue that the whole book has been taken prisoner in a bizarre twist, as it is to date the only one of Elizabeth’s works to be fraudulently plagiarised, by an Indian writer, Aikath Indrani who renamed it “Crane’s Morning.”

A famous novelist said at a lecture recently, “writers only make things up as a last resort” which is why good writers resonate with us, we know that they have gone this way before us, a strength that Elizabeth uses well in all her work. Here she gives her father’s physical weaknesses and spiritual strength, plus his love of birds to John who also inherits his large correspondence. “Men and women who had been boys and girls at Belmaray and had left the village would persist in writing to him, men he had known in the war, at sea and in hospital, would persist in doing the same thing. All his old friends of school and college days liked to keep in touch.” (Goudge 1956 p146)

John’s home is an amalgam of all the dark dreary vicarages they had ever lived in.” It was a dreary flagged stoned place where an aroma of mice fought daily with a smell of cabbage and fish. However much Daphne opened the window she could never get rid of the smells, for the damp of the kitchen imprisoned them. “(Goudge 1956 p 18) yet another reference to the general theme of the book

But we receive an insight into Elizabeth herself a few pages on as John battles his fear in the garden. “and fought one of the familiar dreaded battles that came upon him almost daily. The sweat came out on his forehead and his fingers clenched upon the dead bird. He was too ashamed of these paltry battles to speak of them. Since his boyhood he had been plagued by ridiculous obsessions, inhibitions, childish fears and torments of all sorts, but in maturity he had been able to keep them firmly battened down; it was only since the war that they had thrust themselves out again in new forms but with all their old strength.” (Goudge 1956, p 23) I think she is sharing with us how she felt , worn out and dispirited, not wanting to take up living again, not knowing where her life was heading or with whom. It was too taxing to make a fresh start and the old ways didn’t quite fit. She couldn’t slip back into her old pre war routine. Maybe after her parent’s deaths, she too “stared at the ink stains” (Goudge 1959 p 119).

Although she could still paint pictures of the Devon she loved. “was at the highest point of the village, and the orchard sloped steeply above it. Below him the old unpruned  apple trees were still without blossom, but here and there a plum tree or a cherry tree was a froth of white. In the rough grass under the trees were drifts of wild daffodils, and primroses and white violets were growing under the hedge by the gate. Below the orchard were the tall chimneys and tiled roof of the Wheatsheaf, and to the right the village street with its whitewashed cob cottages wound down the hill to the river and the church. All the cottage gardens had their daffodils and early polyanthus and in the water meadows the kingcups were a sheet of gold. The smoke from the cottage chimneys rose gently, wreathed itself into strange shapes and then was lost in the grey of the sky.” (Goudge 1956 p 81) Very reminiscent of the view from The Ark and the vision of Devon she has the first morning she woke there.

Later on in the book she uses an experience of her own life in Devon which was one of her own spiritual highlights, a symbol of great hope and beauty. She had gone out into her garden after a fall of snow and had been marvelling at the purity and silence of it all when she heard ” a solo voice, ringing out joy and praise. One would have said it was a woman’s voice, only could any woman sing like that, with such simplicity and beauty? It lasted for some minutes and then ceased, and the deep silence came back once more.” (Goudge 1974 p 138)
In The Rosemary Tree, John has the experience as a small boy in his garden, although the season has changed the experience is identical. “And then he heard the voice singing. it was like no earthly music he had ever heard, or ever would hear, though the loveliness of earth was in it.” (Goudge 1956 p 154)

She also speaks movingly of the swing into depression and out the other side, something she coped with all her life. Pages 228/229 show how she perceived the lightening of her world of darkness and the symbols that helped her to climb from her own private hell out into the world again. Another insight is also gained into her way of prayer. The total absorption she strived for in communicating with God, the joys and failures that she suffered. “Today, just for once in a way, his prayer would not be quite so desperately unworthy of the God whose wealth of giving seemed washing through him now in wave after wave of warm life. (Goudge 1956 p229) right down to the whole business of intercessory prayer became no more than an arid discipline” (Goudge 1956 p 231) something most people would not own up to experiencing, it doesn’t get more personal and insightful than that.

We also learn about her creative process and her striving to write verse, even down to the possible kernel of a poem she didn’t get round to creating about Pomeroy castle, as Michael one evening in the study of the manor, tries to write about the vision he sees of the generations of men leaving the castle to fight in the world, finishing with the old beadsman at the end. “Patience with the apparent hopelessness of spiritual growth was the man’s task, patience with the breaking chalks and the smudgy drawing of the artist’s.” (Goudge 1956 p 258) Elizabeth admired poets and poetry believing it to be a “high” art. She was friends with and corresponded with many contemporary Poets of her day such as Ruth Pitter.

But for all the characters that she gives the importance of place to, that feeling of not being comfortable else where, is not a trait she shares, managing the many moves to her different homes well. So she must have had a degree of confidence, an inner strength that she didn’t acknowledge and John just doesn’t have. “he had proved himself to be one of those whose physical life decays if uprooted from familiar soil.” (Goudge 1956 p 99)

Elizabeth is often accused of being a “chocolate box writer” whose worlds are just too good and perfect to ring true. But here in this book at least, nothing is truly resolved, just as in life. What will happen when Mary marries Michael? Will Giles be able to cope on her own, or will she revert to feeling lonely and bereft? Will she be physically well enough to cope? What about Mary and Michael’s marriage? Will he be able to restart his career or make a new one? Will Mary be strong enough to deal with the censure and the possible failure of her husband? John and Daphne have for the present made a new beginning to their relationship, but will Daphne remember to laugh? and will John be just able to remember? How will Miss Wentworth, used to the run of a huge estate cope with living in a conventional house in a village? Nothing is brought to a rounded conclusion and we can only hope that lessons for life have been learnt. Elizabeth isn’t an unrealistic writer; she just chose to illuminate the positive swing and did not give glamour to the darkness.

I approached my re-reading of The Rosemary with certain reluctance. It has always been my least liked of Elizabeth’s contemporary novels, I didn’t fully understand why until reading it now in my middle age for the fourth or fifth time. The reason is it holds up a mirror to show us all our petty dissatisfactions with our lives, all the faults and flaws that we have become used to which become all consuming if allowed to dominate us.

Goudge Elizabeth 1956 The Rosemary Tree Hodder & Stoughton
Goudge Elizabeth 1974 The Joy of the Snow  Hodder & Stoughton