Archive for Faith – Page 2

A Good Find

March 5, 2008

I was so happy to discover your website in November of last year (2007).  I had set myself the happy task of rereading all of my Elizabeth Goudge books because I felt my vision of the true Christian spirit was fading, and no one I have ever come across has been able to capture the essence of that spirit like Miss Goudge.  That may have been because her work was an integral part of the shaping of my faith.

I first discovered her when I was in junior high school, about 13 years old, and for one of my elective classes I chose to work in the school library because I loved books.  Part of my job was to tidy and dust the bookshelves, and replace the books to the shelves that had been returned and checked in.  I think The Scent of Water caught my attention as I was placing it on the shelf one day because it was such a lovely title and an intriguing concept…rarely does anyone mention that there is a scent associated with fresh water.  Reading the book I was enchanted with her descriptions of the “little things”; with the three necessary prayers the old cleric gave to Cousin Mary in her young distressed state: “Lord have mercy”; “Thee I adore”; and “Into Thy hands”.  The language had a grace and a music of its own and the spiritual depth was a treasure.  I had to find more from this author…and thus began a lifelong love of her work.

In my years of seeking a life of faith I have been helped as much by her books as by the Sunday school classes and Bible studies and services I have attended.  She has a way of teaching through her characters and her stories that is inspiring without being “preachy”.

So here I am, over in America, at the ripe old age of 56, celebrating 43 years of “fan hood”, and through the internet I discover I am not the only person who still loves her writing.  And I am delighted that you have so much here for me to explore!  Thank you for providing an opportunity for Goudge fans to learn more about her and to share our appreciation for her books with one another.

Sincerely,

Louise Clark Ashburn

Tennessee, USA

Forward Article

 

About a year ago I was sent a copy of a rare piece of Elizabeth’s writing, by an American University Librarian called Anne Salter. As with all deceased writers there is something doubly precious in finding a new piece of unknown writing, the chances to have them “speak” to you being limited. This piece was even more unique as it was about her Father, and had been commissioned for the forward of his book “Glorying In The Cross” an academic work on Christian life and worship. It gives a rare insight into one of Elizabeth’s most important and intensely personal relationships.

The forward is biographical, charting the growth of her father, physically, mentally, and spiritually starting with his early years and the strict home life that he grew up in, I can’t grace the time with the title childhood. It reminds one that the perceived romantic notion of childhood, is a recent, middle-class idyll, and certainly wasn’t the common experience of most people in the past.

He was born into a London family on 21st December, 1866, he was a delicate child, two of his older brothers had died in infancy, and it was several years before a sister was added to the family group. They moved from North London to the healthier surroundings of Blackheath, high above the roar and pollution of fast developing London. His father worked for the Bank of England, and his Mother was an invalid who suffered all her life with asthma. They were deeply, strictly religious Protestant Evangelicals, “every thing that was fun was wrong” (Goudge 1940 p11) yet her father developed a sense of humour, she believes in self-defence. He also managed to cultivate a love of the theatre and cricket, a game he could actually see being played from his window. Although his asthma stopped him from participating in the games he loved, it doesn’t occur to anyone that he had a long arduous trek across the heath each day to school and back, no matter the weather, and endured the usual bullying that all public schools seem to subject their boys to, under the impression that it will, presumably, inure them to life’s hard knocks. Luckily for him it seems he was clever enough to graduate quickly and escape the situation.

His religion was the standard he set himself throughout his life, and he was always open to questions and answers to test his faith, stretching the limits of his knowledge and experience so that he could make up his own mind, come to his own conclusions, measured by the yard stick of the teachings of Christ.  This was very different from the rigid teachings of his up bringing. One story serves to illustrate the frustrations he put his family through on his journey. He saved up his modest pocket money and bought a Catholic missal, so that he could learn how they worshipped the better to understand their point of view. When it was discovered in his bedroom, it caused a family furore and his father was “very seriously displeased.” Even more so as Henry continued to say that he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, wasn’t in the least sorry and had found the missal “interesting.”

His father could feel pride in his clever accomplished son, but there was no true connection between them. Apart from his family, his father’s only interests were banking and gardening and Henry could feel no enthusiasm for either subject.

The other larger shadow that looms over his childhood was the debilitating nature of his Mother’s illness. He was her favoured nurse and companion; a little selfishly it seems to me, as it distressed him to see her suffering. It almost seems that he took on part of the parental role that his father was not able to do. I see shades of Lucilla relationship with James echoed here. His Mother died while he was studying at Oxford. “He often used to say in after years that it was nonsense to speak of youth as the time of happiness. He never knew real happiness until he had left his youth behind him.” (Goudge. 1940 p14.)

“The restrictions of his boyhood and his father’s criticism bred in him shyness and a self-distrust that he never quite lost.” (Goudge 1940 p14} How ripe he must have been then to fall under the spell of Elizabeth’s Mother intelligent, beautiful, a career woman self confident and strong. She loved the out door life and had been allowed an unusual amount of personal freedom by her unconventional Mother. A bitter blow on the surface then when a bicycle accident made an invalid out of her too, although from Elizabeth’s first hand account we know that the marriage was a love affair of great strength and longevity.

The article charts his progress through the church and all the prominent positions he held, with their inherent responsibilities and financial commitments. But the aspect that shines through is the great personal love that he gave to all that the came into contact with. All his former pupils, he taught at many theological colleges, all the sick and lonely parishioners he visited and the great men that he worked for and with all speak of his nature, “to see at a glance the spirit of Christ wherever it was to be found.” (Goudge 1940 p 16) Professor de Burgh said of him; “he was an anima naturaliter Christiana, something that sprang from constant communion with a supernatural spring of joy and hope. and that reflected the light that was its source.”

Such a person must have been demanding as well as wonderful to live with. One of the household servants was once heard to say “It won’t be the Canon’s fault if we aren’t good, I’m sure he tries hard enough to make us what we did ought to be.” (Goudge 1940 p 22) a quote concerning the ritual of daily prayers he led the household in.

But the most exciting comments are the ones which show the likenesses between Elizabeth and her father, he was a role model for her in every sense; she too strived to live the integrated Christian life, but there are other striking parallels throughout ; they both had Mothers who were invalids and dominated their home lives, they were both shy and felt that they lacked the social graces, Elizabeth famously having to come to terms with this aspect when the family lived in Oxford and Mrs Goudge suffered a nervous breakdown, their love of animals, especially dogs, their fondness for country churches and the simple services in them, the theatre, Henry read plays as recreation, and Elizabeth wrote her most famous lead David into the glamour and success of the profession and they both enjoyed correspondence, writing letters to hundreds of people over their lifetimes, neither of them employing a secretary to do so.

There are other deeper similarities too. Henry instilled in Elizabeth the ethic of doing things for the greater good of the family/community and finding a lasting happiness that way. Their views on religion were not narrow and pedantic but sprang from “a deep conviction that Sectarian rigidity and narrowness was contrary to the spirit of Christ’s religion” (Goudge 1940 p 15) He also gave to her, her abiding love of the natural world and the fact that God had put it there for people to enjoy and take spiritual nourishment from. “If you don’t look out of the window at the scenery, it is an insult to God who put it there for your pleasure” (Goudge 1940 p24) he said on one railway journey they took together. He loved birds and would watch eagerly for the first butterflies on the Michaelmas daisies, a trait Elizabeth gave to some of her favourite characters. He enjoyed long country walks and bicycling famously leaving his younger students to breathlessly trail in his wake.

Lastly they both became published authors, although in sheer volume, talent and saleability here Elizabeth eclipsed him. Henry once said that “Difficult writing is good writing” (Goudge 1940 p 27) not something I entirely agree with, as to get a message across, it is necessary to be understood and to carry the reader along with you. But he did also encourage her in her career and give some good advice. “When in later years I became a writer and complained sometimes of the difficulty of making imagination work to order I met with no sympathy. If you can’t work to time and to order you’re no good as a writer” he said. (Goudge 1940 p 27).

In agreeing to write the forward for the Memorial Volume of his book, Elizabeth has unwittingly let us into her life, in a way she does nowhere else but in her auto-biography,  Joy of the Snow, enabling us to garner information about not only her father but about herself.

Deborah Gaudin

Goudge Elizabeth 1940 A Memorial Biography Hodder & Stoughton.

 

Pembrokeshire Pilgrimage

 

A day of high blue skies saw us chasing the perfect chess piece of Roch Castle all through the twisted wooded lanes. In gaps in the hedges we could see pieces of sky which turned into sea with ships on them; rather like Elizabeth describes the frescos in The Herb of Grace.

The castle had hidden from us for days, appearing dark and ominous on the skyline, then disappearing into a dip of the fields and a belt of woodland. In fact it shelters modestly behind the new face of the village of Roch being approached through a small housing estate.

Once reached, one wonders how it could have been missed. It rears up proudly on its base of volcanic rock, surrounded by lawns, trees and shrubs, and a stone boundary wall, built to contain the gardens

I leaned on the gate and gazed up at the home of the tragic Lucy Walters, the most famous member of the family which had inspired Elizabeth to undertake her final and longest novel. The book, (The Child From The Sea) is set in the Civil War, a period of history that Elizabeth was already familiar with. But this time she was to take the Royalist perspective, writing about Charles II, his relationship with Lucy, and their ill fated son the Duke of Monmouth.

It is a miniature castle, boasting a strong corner turret and curtain wall, with high up slits for arrows and windows. My palms felt damp thinking of the young Walters climbing from them down the walls to the woods. There was one larger window which I think must have belonged to her mother’s solar, part of the modernization that poor William spent all his money to build in a vain effort to please his wife.

A legend tells of the castle’s founder, Adam de Rupe, whose fear of a prophecy that he would be killed by a viper’s bite led him to choose this isolated site. Apparently he was unable to avoid his fate, for a viper, concealed in a bundle of firewood, found its way into the castle and fulfilled the prophecy.

The main reason for it being in such good order is that it has been renovated into a high class holiday let, so access wasn’t possible on an ad hoc basis. I opened the gate and walked the first few yards up the drive, but there seemed to be no one about I could ask, so reluctantly I left. I don’t know what I hoped to see that couldn’t be seen on their web site, and it seemed unlikely that any of the family remained.

The castle was greatly neglected after the Civil War, but in 1900 Viscount St. David began extensive restoration, and subsequent owners have continued this. It is therefore considerably altered, but the tower is unmistakable for miles around, and traces of the old earthwork bailey can be seen at the foot of the outcrop.

The church however was open. It was just across the road from the castle and with Manorbier farm make up what is obviously the heart of the old village. Was the farm the one that Williams’s bailiff lived in? It looked old enough and its name implies that it was part of an estate.

The church is dedicated to St Mary, a Norman trait and had been built on a much earlier earthwork. The inside has been recently renovated and is white washed except for the wall separating the body of the church from the choir and alter which has been left as bare stone. The font by the door is old and the Ten Commandments were still painted in black on the alter wall. I remembered how the new paint on the vii commandment had enraged William, who thought the parson had done it on purpose; he left his hat on in protest.

There was no sign that the family had ever worshipped there, no grave, tomb or memorial to the house of Walter. Their entire lineage from Rhys ap Thomas, all the pride and ownership they had taken in their home was brushed away, so much dust in the long years since their tenancy.

Standing under the lynch gate as Lucy and Charles must have done after their marriage had taken place, the view in its autumnal quietness looks much as it would have done then, except that the Union Jack and Welsh flags fly from the keep, its roof now intact, no longer roofed with the glory of storm clouds as Lucy had seen it on first visit back home.

Following in the footsteps, or more accurately the hoof prints of Lucy and Old Parson, we made our way to St David’s, travelling up and down the switch back coastal road, through the pebble barricades of Newgale, where the thunderous surf was being utilized by surfers, canoeists and dogs, passing finally through the narrow streets of the smallest city in Britain.

The cathedral is contained in a bowl of land, called the Valley of the Roses, and unusually is lower than the surrounding city. Most cathedral sites derive some of their sense of separateness from being built on higher ground, here the reverse is true. Sited beside the stream is the Bishop’s palace, which is undergoing renovation. The stone and brick work are varied and beautiful, and have been crumbling since the bishop, as Elizabeth tells us, sold the lead roof to pay for his daughters dowries in the 16th century. One oriole window had had its stone tracery completed and showed the green of trees and clouded blue sky through itself like stained glass.

The stream is one of the site boundaries and is crossed by the span of a stone bridge. I think that for me this was one with the description in Elizabeth’s book, and I could quite easily conjuror up the ghosts of Lucy and Charles meeting there at the beginning of his stay with her. The grounds seemed timeless, set apart from the concourse of people in a way that the buildings couldn’t be.

The cathedral is rock like, grey and a little forbidding at first, even in the bright sunlight. Unsound foundations or an earth tremor have made one end subside a little, so that it really looks from one angle as if its about to spring.

The inside is plain, a cave hewn out of the rock, with the usual tree trunk pillars soaring to the carved and painted ceiling. To the left a Lady Chapel, to the right one dedicated to St Nicholas. The walls are lined with recumbent figures of Bishops, Knights and men of renown. The Lady Chapel had its quota of dragons and a simple, effective sculpture of a slate dove, wings spread ascending, between two upheld hands.

I couldn’t find the pilgrims way that Lucy and Old Parson had walked, but behind the alter is the medieval casket which contains the bones of St David and St Justine. It is a wooden box bound with ornate iron work and sits in a niche, flanked by prayers in English and Welsh. The casket and original shrine were stripped of gold and jewels during the reformation to dissuade people from the cult of idolatry. Even at this time of year the place was crowded, and I got very little impression of the quiet peace that Lucy and Old Parson received. The clergy were moving around in packs avoiding eye contact, seemingly to absorbed in church matters to notice the laity.

It is easier overall to slip back in time in Pembrokeshire than it had been in Hampshire, because so much has been preserved. The country lanes are still the main roads linking small hamlets, villages and towns. The intrusion of the motor car is inevitable, but kept to a minimum. Horses clip clop everywhere, and the fields are smaller with mixed farming as were most places even in my childhood in the fifties.

Yet, the area is not a museum, rural life goes on the same way it always has, even if tractors and other farm machinery make it less back breaking work. The churches ring their Sunday bells, the children pour out of their local schools, the post office and the Bakers still occupy the heart of the community. It would be one of the few places that Elizabeth would be comfortable revisiting. As she so eloquently says:

 

 

 

Here in the country’s heart
Where the grass is green,
Life is the same sweet life
As it e’er hath been.

Trust in a God still lives
And the bell at morn,
Floats with a thought of God
O’er the rising corn.

God comes down in the rain
And the crop grows tall~
This is the country faith,
And the best of all.

Deborah Gaudin

 

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The Middle Window

The Middle Window

Whenever I start to read a Goudge novel, it always sets me off on a journey of discovery, and I rarely end up where I anticipate. The book begins with this quote: ‘To those who cry out against romance I would say—You are romance. You are the lost prince herding obscurely among the swine. The romance of your spirit is the most wonderful of stories.’
A.E. The Candle of Vision.

Who was A.E.? George William Russell was an Irish poet, painter and author, a mystic who contributed to the early 19th century Celtic Renaissance. A.E. was short for Aeon, the pen name he had chosen for himself. He was a friend of Stevens and W.B.Yeats, producing a series of essays on journeys he had undertaken in the ‘inner realms’, a thesis on his perception of spirituality and the way it permeates the physical and mental planes of our lives.

It may seem strange to many of Goudge’s most avid readers that Elizabeth was influenced and inspired by some one who today would be called ‘New Age’, so maybe we need to put the book in context with what was happening in the larger world in 1935. What was the current mind set of the generation?

Elizabeth had grown up in the Edwardian era, a time when scientific thought was taking flight, literally and metaphorically. Every thing had to be compartmentalized and labelled, including God and the after life.
Conan Doyle and the Spiritualist movement were in vogue, with such intellectual advocates as J.B.Priestly, one of his best known works “English Journey” had come out the previous year. A book in which he had set out to define the English and their working landscape at that time perched precariously on the brink of War and foreign revolution.
The first Eco-warrior of the 20th century, a charismatic “Red Indian” called Grey Owl was touring the country to packed audiences in 1935, informing us of his observations on the inter connectedness of all life. He was even invited to Buckingham Palace, received by the King himself.
Dion Fortune published The Winged Bull, a book about obsession. She was a truly remarkable woman, a writer, lecturer, and founding member of the Inner Light.(1)  A new edition of the Works of Mary Webb was brought out by Jonathan Cape and a Surrey housewife and writer called Enid Bagnold stormed the hearts of young horse mad girls everywhere with the tale of National Velvet, all in the same year. Hope was “springing eternal”, and how they needed it.

The First World War had left its sad legacy of depletion, grief and anger behind, but people were by this time well aware that it hadn’t been, “the war to end all wars”, and needed the panacea of “proof” that life itself was not the sum total of their existence.
The old Myths and legends were taken out and dusted down, refurbished to aid a new generation, their worth reaffirmed, the struggle, the fight, was life.

It was against this back ground that Elizabeth wrote and published her novel, “The Middle Window”, one of her most under rated and least valued works.

The book is about a young socialite called Judith Cameron, and her search for meaning and depth to her, so far shallow life.
In the window of a shop, she sees a painting, a triptych of pictures in fact, which show her three differing aspects of life. One is of a glittering ballroom such as she has visited the previous evening, the other a comfortable cottage interior. But it is the Middle picture that draws her, a painting of a Scottish mountain and loch.
”A world of stark and terrible beauty, of sorrow and failure, shorn of wealth and comfort but yet ablaze with joy, the world of the heights of the human spirit. It seemed to Judy that her little shivering self was flitting from side to side, unwilling to chose either of the worlds to left or right, yet cowering back in fear from that terrible middle window. And yet——– she had to chose it” (Goudge 1934 p 19).

Her quest takes her to the Highlands of Scotland and the ancestral home of Ian MacDonald. What follows is more of a home coming than a holiday as places and people she knows she hasn’t met before seem achingly familiar.
”I’m quite sure we’ve come the wrong way “complained poor Lady Cameron, “and James has gone to sleep again and Judy isn’t even looking at that route the R.A.C. gave us. She hasn’t looked at it for hours…….. Judy!” Judy did not answer and Lady Cameron prodded her in the back “Look at the route dear, I’m sure we’re all wrong” Judy stirred and sighed. “No” she said “we shall be there in twenty minutes.” Her voice seemed to come from very far away.” We’re just climbing up Ben Caorach. In ten minutes we shall be at the top. Then we shall drop down into Glen Suilag.”
”Judy exclaimed Charles, “how on earth do you know?” ( Goudge 1934 p 29)

Then when they arrive, the house itself, the people who live in it, the very rooms themselves are known to her.
There always appears in Elizabeth’s books a Goudgian room, one that you know the author is remembering and describing, probably one from her past. We meet them with subtle variations in Gentian Hill, The Rosemary Tree, City of Bells, The Dean’s Watch, The Eliot books, etc, etc. it will contain; spindly legged Sheraton chairs with tapestry covers, wood panelling, miniature paintings, shabby brocade curtains, china on the mantelpiece, and an old bureau or oak chest. There might be an Adams fireplace, or a moulded cornice, or as is the case in The Little White Horse and The Middle Window, a harpsichord. Whose house is she remembering?

As with rooms, so with times of the day and a Goudge book would not be complete without at least one spectacular dawn, a very important part of her day.
”The cold air was like fingers of snow creeping over her body and stinging her awake to vivid consciousness of the loveliness in front of her. The shadow of night still lay over the garden and the larch wood and the loch and the lower slopes of the mountains, but up on the summits day had come. There were no clouds now to hide the top of Judy’s mountain; it was outlines in indigo and violet against a golden sky that melted through apricot and primrose yellow to deep blue over head. Far up the sun’s fingers just touched the bog myrtle and bracken to green flame. “
(Goudge, 1934. pp 69/70)

As always Elizabeth draws on her personal physical response to place. She visited the Highlands and Islands on a walking holiday with a friend, after the success of her first novel and short stories, this passage describing an experience she had while on the Isle of Skye.
”Suddenly she flung up her head, her eyes dilating with terror. There was a curious, crackling, thudding, sound behind her, as though a galloping horseman cracked a whip as he rode at her to drive her away. She jumped to her feet and looked behind her, but there was nothing there, and no sound but the burn. She took to her feet and ran, not stopping until she was down among the crofts again and sitting on a stone by the roadside.” (Goudge 1934 p131).
Both the character and Elizabeth herself put it down to intrusion of place by a stranger, “I tired to be to intimate and It resented it” (Goudge.1934 p 131)
Joy of the Snow deals with the experience on pages 135 to 136.

The story is placed in three parts, The Search, in which Judith arrives at Glen Suilag and meets Ian MacDonald, Union, which takes us back to Jacobean times, and The Finding which brings us back up to the present.

Each part starts with its corresponding quote, The Search we discussed at the begin of the piece, Union starts with a quote by Jami,
All that is not One must ever
Suffer with the wound of Absence,
And whoever in Love’s city
Enters, finds but room for one
And but in Oneness, Union.
Jami was the name of a Sufi poet and philosopher who was born in the village of Jam, Ghor Province, Afghanistan in 1414. He studied Peripateticism,( the teaching method of Aristotle, who, like the troubadours of the Middle Ages walked from place to place to teach) Maths, Arabic literature, Natural Sciences and Islamic Philosophy at Nizamiyyah University. He was one of the last great Sufi poets, and a teacher of renown. He wrote 87 books on Mysticism, Poetry and History, he was on the cutting edge of thought in the 15th century.

So what drew Elizabeth to a writer from such a different background? I think it was that in his view, LOVE was the fundamental stepping stone for starting on the spiritual journey.
”Love is the Lord by whom we escape Death “(Goudge 1960. p.346)
Also the fact that Judith and Ranald’s love is unrequited doesn’t make it a negative event, but a sowing of love that will be reaped in the future. Are we being told that this is how she viewed the lost of her love, her Ely love, only mentioned in passing, and that she to used the experience to enrich her life? Was Ranald the idealist and social reformer modelled on some one she knew?

The Finding, the final part of the story is headed with a quote from Samuel Butler.
”Yet for the great bitterness of this grief,
We three, you and he and I,
May pass into the hearts of like true comrades hereafter,
In whom we may weep anew and yet comfort them,
As they too pass out, out, out into the night.
So guide them and guard them Heaven and fare them well.

He came from a Victorian clerical background like Elizabeth’s father Henry Goudge. He attended Shrewsbury School where his Grandfather, also called Samuel, the former Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry had been the headmaster. Afterwards he went to Cambridge and after graduation lived in a low income parish in London to prepare for his Ordination into the Anglican Church. Here he discovered that Baptism made no apparent difference to the morals or behaviour of his peers which led him to question his faith. His father was so angry with him that it led to him emigrating to New Zealand where he made his fortune Sheep Farming before returning home to pursue his literary career.

Nine years and five books later, is the character of William Ozanne and the country he ended up making his fortune in, in part inspired by the tale of Samuel Butler? It is one of the few books Elizabeth wrote about a country she had never been to.
The quote certainly encapsulates her thoughts on reincarnation and the legacy left behind by people we consider to be our spiritual families. She was always uneasy about the theory, seeing it as a form of possession.

”They don’t “she whispered “the dead are dead.”
Ian was looking at her his eyes burning her, and she turned her head away. She could not meet his eyes.
”They’re not” he said” they are alive. They possess the living”
Possession! That fear that had been lying at the back of her mind, haunting her, through all her time at Glen Suilag, leapt out now and seized her, just as the first flash of lightning shone out over the garden, showing up Ian’s figure black and frightening.”
(Goudge, 1934. p. 155)

Jesus after all had only needed one life, so why should we be any different? Except of cause that we are not fully realized spiritual beings.
She was much happier with the inheritance of ideas and values contained in the Butler quote and used it too good effect in many of her later works.

This is a book about a Spiritual Journey, a dedicating of a life to values inherent in the life of Jesus and the gospels that she read every day. But I believe Elizabeth realised early on in her life that all spiritual striving was valid.
The research she under took into the works of A.E. and Evelyn Underhill, (ii) were the equivalent of Henry reading the Catholic Missal that so distressed his parents. She wanted to know what others thought about the nature of God and the way of spiritual growth, and then make up her own mind.
The principals and disciplines that Judy undertakes in her daily life, were the ones Elizabeth adopted, those of daily learning, contemplation, prayer and Service Work, which are the same whichever doctrine or creed one chooses to follow.

Collect

Almighty God, who enlightened your Church
by the teaching of your servant Evelyn Underhill:
enrich it evermore with your heavenly grace
and raise up faithful witnesses who,
by their life and teaching,
may proclaim the truth of your salvation;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

From Common Worship (Church of England.)

Elizabeth was one of the faithful witnesses who tried to live her life by the principals laid down by in the gospels. She was however, never afraid to enhance her study by thinking outside of the Anglican Church. But like Evelyn Underhill, felt most at home with the religion and creed she had assimilated and grown up with.

Goudge Elizabeth 1934 The Middle Window
Goudge Elizabeth 1960 The Dean’s Watch.

Footnotes

1 An organisation set up to teach and study esoteric subjects, and the New Testament, especially the Gospels and the teacher Jesus. She was even approached by the M.O.D to carry out physic defence of Great Britain during the II World War against the Black Arts employed by the Nazis.

ii Evelyn Underhill was born in 1875, the daughter of a wealthy barrister. She became a committed worshipper in the Church of England in which she was raised, and wrote a number of books on mystics, mysticism as well as reviews, lectures and leading retreats. Her book Worship is still recommended reading in theological colleges. She died on 15th June 1941, and is remembered in the Calendar of the Church in a special collect on that day.

Written by Deborah Gaudin. Summer 2007

 

American Connections

American Connections

Jo Dee from Alabama U.S.A. tells us her story of her correspondence with Elizabeth Goudge, how she found “that” photograph and why Elizabeth has become an important part of her life.

My husband and I met Jessie Munroe in August, 1979.  I may have put this previously on your website last fall.  She was so kind inviting us into the garden.  Miss Goudge was not well.  She offered to give me cuttings from her garden which, of course, I could not take.  We were staying another month in England and, also, Customs would have presented a problem.  I had located Rose Cottage by following clues in her autobiography.  The postmistress told us not many people any longer tried to locate her house.

Of course, we did not knock, but, we did stop a few minutes on the lane and Miss Munroe saw us and came over to talk.  She remembered my letter to Miss Goudge and hers to me a couple of years earlier.

Miss Munroe invited us into her back garden while she returned into the house to continue cooking lunch.  She left the back door open and their little dog stood there barking at us.  The sheep in the neighbouring field moved over to the fence looking over it as we walked about.  Miss Munroe told us that Miss Goudge had seen an apparition walk through that field and fence continuing along the rear of the house and then disappeared.  This gave her the idea for “The White Witch”.  I seem to recall that Miss Goudge mentions the story in her autobiography.

There was an elderly retired gentleman in Shreveport, La. who lived with his wife in a two story very old house.  The entire downstairs was totally filled with tall bookcases filled with books and books sitting all around on the floor.  I used to enjoy visiting with him-we attended the same church-and we would sit visiting amidst all those musty books.  He usually had on one of those tank top under shirts because it was usually very warm in the house.

One day I just happened to ask him that if he ever came across any of E.G.s books would he please call me.  He brightened exclaiming that he had just acquired a number of her books and that they were outside in a metal shed which held his overflow of books.

I told Miss Goudge in my letter how comforting her books were to us the two years before my mother died.  Each weekend we would drive about 250 miles to see my mother and I would read her books aloud on the drive down and on the way back.  I felt that underneath it all Miss Goudge was a Christian mystic and she mentions something about that in her letter to me in regards to Evelyn Underhill.  I had asked if she knew Underhill.

Miss Goudge had become a “touchstone” for me and she remains so.  Her compassion and underlying religious viewpoint shaped my ideas about the Christian life.  I had been brought up in the Methodist Church, but, she had far more influence in how I see God and the way others should be treated by me, as did C.S. Lewis, too.  I was about 32 when my mother died and am now almost 65.

I was an only child.  My father was born in 1883 and my mother in 1903.  Miss Goudge seemed comfortable with her own introversion and love of solitude.  This was one of the factors which validated my own introversion because I could see meaning in it for her through which she was able to create.

Jo Dee Musselman.

Jo Dee has kindly given her permission for the letter to be reproduced on our site.

Gentian Hill

 

Gentian Hill was Elizabeth’s penultimate Devon-shire book, written at the height of her literary power, when she is living in her beloved Devon-shire village, long enough after her Father death to not feel his lost acutely and a decade before the misery and pain of her Mother’s last illness, tinged even Devon with her grief. It was written just after the War and published in 1949.

In it she deals skilfully with the themes of Endurance, Courage and Human love weaving them into the fabric of the legends and landscape of Torbay and the valley of Westerland where she and her characters lived.

She manages to work in oblique references to many of her earlier Devon-shire books, mentioning Berry Pomery Castle, on p 81, her setting for Castle on the Hill, the village of Smokey complete with it’s pub on p 85, and a legend not unlike that of the Moon Princess and her lover, that Granny Brogan tells the enchanted Stella in the fields of Cockington manor on a bright May morning.” She never dies, said Granny, There’s always the young one waiting for her lover, learning patience through the slow days, and he away in the world tasting the bitterness of it, struggling with the wild beasts like David the shepherd boy. That’s as it should be. He must get his sinews strong upon him for his man’s love and labour. And always the Holy hermit prays like Moses upon the hill top or high in the watch tower.” (Goudge 1949 p 331)

The plot is the love story of Stella Sprigg, adopted daughter of the farming family of Spriggs and Midshipman Anthony O’Connell, and takes place during the Napoleonic Wars. The book is written in three parts, The Farm, The Sea and The Chapel, and the action moves from her remote Devon-shire valley, to the murderous seas of war in the Mediterranean, to the prisons and poverty of 18th century London.

The story opens with a lyrical description of Torbay from the different perspectives of the land and sea. She is so detailed in her description of the topography that it is as if we were an ant on a map, seeing each contour of the hills and each scoop of the coast. The historical setting distances the reader from the horrors of World War II and yet the fears, anxiety and pain would have been relevant to those reading it, who had just lived through it.

It could be argued that the story unfolds in the formulaic manner of most of her work. The characters are ones that we have met before. Stella, the Elfin Child, growing and maturing into a talented, beautiful young woman, The Struggling Hero, who must over come his inner demons in order to be successful in his career, The Rugged, solitary Inspirational Teacher/Priest who guides them through their difficulties, and the honest “salt of the earth” servants who assist them. There is a woman who has lost a child and therefore has the gift to be Mother to all, “that aura of almost heavenly motherliness which so often shines about a woman who has borne only one child, and in losing it becomes mother to the world” (Goudge 1949 p 37) Shades of Annie Laurie, Jill, and Margaret, all childless women who had thrust upon them the care and love of children. Finally that most precious of relationships to Elizabeth, that of Grand parents and their Grandchildren, of the mind if not of the body, “I think its a case of recognition, Stella, said the old lady slowly, I think God creates what one might call spiritual families, people who may or may not be physically related to each other, but who will travel together the whole of the way.”(Goudge 1949 p 31)

Yet, Elizabeth manages to lift them from the norm, imbibing them with a strong sense of realism; we want to know how their tale will unfold. The depth of the history of each, the way they will dovetail to the mutual benefit of each other, has a completeness and wholesome honesty that captivates us from the start.
We suffer with Anthony as he hangs in the rigging, and goes through the hell of initiation below decks, Goudge managing to convey at the same time both the beauty of “Ships of the line” and the truly horrendous conditions that the sailors had to live with.
Many women in times of War remain childless, or lose their offspring, and many children lose their parents, to be brought up by the older generation who fought their wars from home.
The life of the Farm is portrayed as unremitting hard work set among great beauty. “To her husband and herself their work upon the farm was not just something they were obliged to do to make a living, it was life itself, a prideful thing in which they gloried, and without realising that they did so they endowed it with an almost religious pageantry and ceremonial.” (Goudge 1949 p 43)
We live with The Abbe through the terrors and tortures of the French Revolution, we do not have to go far in these days of mass media and instant news to witness Man’s inhumanity to Man. “This thing that was happening now had happened so often before and would happen so often again in the history of the world. The evil, like a volcano, broke through the crust of things, and the foul lava flooded the earth, while over the roads of the world the refugees fled from the known to the unknown horror, from darkness into darkness again, with always the unconquerable hope in their souls that in the night ahead there would be some star.” (Goudge 1949 p 261)

She does not shirk the harsh realities of life, and here I believe lies one of her greatest talents. She can take the myths and legends which are relevant to the location of place she is writing about and transform them into symbols and guidelines to help us through the mundane world of work and striving.

I think that she also tells us, veiled as events which happen to her characters, things that she has experienced in her own life and faith. “That too was a part of the music and the light, and all of them together were like a personal presence coming to him, and wrapping itself about him like a cloak, so that for a few moments he ceased to be aware of the shivering of his body and felt a glow all through him, the warmth of a fresh beginning and a new day.” (Goudge 1949 p 20) So vividly does she write about it that it must have been something she experienced herself, on one of her dawn walks with the dogs that she loved to take when younger perhaps.
And again in this “the light was so dazzling that Charles shut his eyes that were weak and aching from sleeplessness. But he felt the warmth on his face and heard through the rustling of the reeds the beating of great wings. ” she goes on to describe the flight of one swan in particular, flying low over the water, her wings gold gilded and seemingly flying straight into the sun. ” It seemed to work some sort of liberation in him. He thought of Therese again, and this time the thought of her, and the thought of God, “eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God” were inseparable in his mind” (Goudge 1949 p 269) Maybe an experience which helped her through the grief of losing her Father?

More prosaically Elizabeth records all those customs and rituals which went to make up a large part of country life and were still in common usage until the end of the 1950’s.
Sol, chanting the corrupted Latin of the Ploughing chant, The Wassailing of the Apple Trees, the magical instrument the Bull Roarer, with its timeless connections. The folk myths of drowned lands complete with chapel bells swung by the tide, corn dollies and harvest homes, bands playing in the Minstrel galleries of churches, and the custom of lighted candles in the cottage windows to celebrate a great victory.

The book really ends for me with the Abbe and Anthony high up above the dust and noise of London in their green nest of a room, discovering that the Abbe is Stella’s father and that the legend of the three of them had been played out in the past and was being re enacted between them, and would probably do so again in the future. I love it that the Hunting Horn above the fire place in the farm house parlour belonged to the first farmer John.

No detail is omitted and the book is rounded out with both Anthony, now a Captain of his own ship and Stella, pregnant with their first child sailing into Torbay to take up their married life at Weekaborough Farm.

“And thinking this there gradually came to him complete and utter comfort in the thought of the oneness of all men with each other and their God. Of all the illusions which torment the minds of men one of the worst is the illusion of separateness.”(Goudge 1949 p.399)

There is always a larger theme entwined with her human stories, and in this work, the words of the hermit are the message I think Elizabeth is trying to put across.

Goudge E. 1949 Gentian Hill Hodder & Stoughton