Archive for Family

A Christmas Message

A Winter View from my window

“For years Christmas Day had been for him a day when one ate too much so as not to disappoint cook, stifled a great many yawns and made a lot of silly jokes to hide an inner sadness that was both a lament for romance and belief that had faded and a vague sense of unsatisfied expectation.”

How wonderfully this describes the majority of peoples festive season. The presence of ennui that the day entails, with no meaning attached to traditions which increasingly seem out dated and pointless. The gifts we exchange costing money we can’t really afford but think the recipient will be the richer for receiving. No fasting observed as in the past during Advent, which cumulated in the glory of the traditional feast

“But today in the company of Henrietta and Hugh Anthony, romance and belief and satisfaction were vicariously his again. He stood in the Cathedral during morning service with the children one on each side of him and sang “Hark the herald angels sing” aware that Henrietta whose eyes were beaming with joy and whose muff was swinging from side to side like a pendulum as her figure swayed in time to the music, was seeing a starlit sky full of wings and a manger with a baby in it and seeing them with her…..

Beyond Henrietta was Grandmother. She was sitting down with her eyes shut because she was tired with the Christmas preparations, but her mind was thankfully fixed upon the fact of God made man. She was too practical, of necessity too concerned with the details of daily living, to be romantic in her religion like Henrietta or quixotic like Grandfather, but her faith was the strength of her strong minded life.”

Here we have in a couple of well-crafted paragraphs Elizabeth’s passion for the Christmas season. The sacred meaning to her of the nadir of the Christian year, the eighty services she attended during her life, the words of joy, hope and redemption she had imbibed. This was the not only the meaning of Christmas, but the very reason it was celebrated, rather than the Winter Solstice that had preceded it.

“The Christmas dinner, too, seemed because of the children to take on a new value. The turkey was a noble bird, brought overnight by Father Christmas in his sledge and the flaming pudding, that they had stirred laboriously in its earlier stages, was alight with the wishes they had wished as the spoon went round,
And then came the ecstasy of present giving, and then a short walk to assist the processes of digestion, and then, at last, it was tea time and they were sitting in the drawing room…”

I can’t help thinking that for Elizabeth the actual meal itself would have been a chore to get through but for the closeness it engendered with her beloved family. In later life she always ate frugally and didn’t seem to enjoy rich or elaborate dishes, preferring a good loaf of bread, a nice piece of cheese, an apple from the garden, to a fine dining experience

But friends and family, especially children, were very important to her and I’m sure that if you had been lucky enough to slip in at her Christmas table she would have welcomed you with an open heart and wished you a very Happy Christmas and all Good Wishes for the coming Year.

A Glimpse through a Rose Cottage window

Goudgian Archetypes

Well she has been and gone, like the Persiad meteors a fleeting splendour. As Elizabeth says ” a shining star in every generation” and for us it is our daughter. The delight of the first visit since lockdown was mutual. Like David, she was returning to her childhood home, and while Riverside is no Damerosehay, it’s roots are even deeper going back to Saxon times and has it has it’s own myths and hosts of people to draw strength and a sense of achievement from.

Elizabeth has given us many archetypes during her writing career; the Matriarch, stern, loving, benign, the under valued hard working aunt, the struggling parish priest, the local workers, domestic, agricultural, the impoverished gentry, the misfits and outsiders, prisoners,  the mentally disturbed.

All of these however hold one trait in common, they grow, evolve, into the best they can be at what they are.

Lucilla learns to be humble and to know her faith, Margaret is lauded by both David and Lucilla for being the under valued but indispensable person she has become, Hilary, blissfully unaware of the depth of his spiritual growth and power, Nadine and George’s acceptance of the wonderful life they have created, Michael’s rehabilitation, Cousin Mary’s grace.

Whenever my daughter is spending time with us I always want to be Lucilla, dispensing words of wisdom and comfort. It’s invariably the other way round, and I find myself being cast into the role of Margaret, being more than capable of looking after creature comforts.

Do you have a Goudge archetype that you relate to and who inspires and impacts on your daily life? I suspect like me it depends a little on the situation you are currently living through.

“All bereavement, whether fate inflicts it on you or whether the relinquishment is your own, changes you” said Lucilla, “Don’t people say that nature abhors a vacuum? Something lost in the present means something new flowing in from the future; often a new or stronger faith. In your loss and gain you are bound to change and look at things a little differently.”

Contemplation

Last of the Summer Sun

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

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

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

The Bird

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

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

Arthur Symons

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

 

 

 

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

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

The Writer Who Inspired J.K.Rowling

The Writer Who Inspired J.K.Rowling
Sylvia Gower

For a book first written in 1946 to remain in print up to the present day, gives a good indication that it must be something special.

“The Little White Horse” written by the late novelist Elizabeth Goudge won the Carnegie Award for its author as the best children’s book of the year. Ever since it has continued to be a favourite with children and continually re-printed. Now it is also available on audio tape, read by Miriam Margoyles in the BBC Cover of the series. It is now in the process of being made into a film.

When she was interviewed on T.V. after the first Harry Potter book had brought her fame, J. K. Rowling mentioned “The Little White Horse”, saying it was her favourite book as a child and had possibly influenced her own writing.

So what does the book offer and what are the magical ingredients that continue to make it so popular?

The setting of the story is a West Country village in the 19th century. At the time she wrote it, Miss Goudge had been living in Devon for several years and had absorbed much of the local folklore about magical and mythical creatures. She seemed to know instinctively what would appeal to children.
The mix of fantasy and reality made both humans and animals stay alive from start to finish and the well planned plot kept readers guessing to the end.

Moonarce Manor Park where the heroine Maria Merryweather comes to live was based on Compton castle very close to where Elizabeth lived. It is possible to visit there today and still see the old well where the moon Princess was said to have hidden her pearls so long ago, at the start of the long standing feud which Maria succeeds in bringing to an end. In the best tradition of children’s books, all ends happily ever after, but not before many scary events have held its young readers enthralled.

The Carnegie Award for “The Little White Horse” had come soon after another success for Miss Goudge. In 1944 she had won an MGM prize in America worth $30.000, (most of it went in taxes) for her novel “Green Dolphin Country” making her a best seller. Until then, although she had been writing since the early 30’s and had gained many appreciative readers she had not been famous.

She already had two books for children published. In 1940, soon after coming to live in Devon, she had written “Smokey House”, using stories she had been told about the local pub in earlier times. Then in 1942, “Henrietta’s House” was published in which she wrote again about the people features in her second novel “City of Bells”, which she had based on her childhood home of Wells. Although “Henrietta’s House” was meant for children, I suspect many of her adult readers also found it enjoyable.

Elizabeth’s love and empathy for children was always apparent in all of her books and it was this and her equally discernible love for animals that drew many readers to her writing. Every book had children and dogs incorporated into the story. The influence of home and family was central to her characters.
She never married, being one of the generations of women who were “surplus” after the slaughter of so many men in the First World War. In her autobiography “Joy of the Snow”, Elizabeth made no secret of the fact that she would love to have been married and had children, though acknowledging this would not have given her the same opportunity for writing.

The next book she wrote for children “Make Believe” was published in 1949. It used stories from her mother’s childhood spent in Guernsey and where Elizabeth herself had spent many happy childhood holidays. Again she used some of the same characters that she had put in her first novel “Island Magic”.
Probably her least known book for children is “Valley of Song” published in 1951. It is set in the village of Buckler’s Hard in Hampshire during the 18th century when it was an important centre for the building of some of the most famous sailing ships of the period. Elizabeth loved Buckler’s Hard which she had known first from her school days. She had already written about it in her Eliot Trilogy novels. She said “The Valley of Song” was one of her own favourite books, but she wrote it during a sad time in her life and maybe this sadness seeped into the book.

In 1964, several years after moving away from Devon, but perhaps still feeling somewhat homesick for it, she wrote “Linnets and Valerians” which appears to use her old village in Devon as a background to the story and uses some of the local lore she remembered hearing. Again it is another great adventure with lots of action and wonderful characters, like Ezra, the one legged gardener who talks to the bees; Lady Alicia with her pet monkey Abendego and the awful Emma Cobley, the local witch.

One of the reasons for the long popularity of the “The Little White Horse” is that the first generation of its readers, remembering their own love of it couldn’t wait to share it with their own children, and perhaps, surprisingly it had worked its magic for them too. One young internet reader reported on Amazon as saying, “I was really sorry when I finished the Harry Potter book, but I think The “Little White Horse” is the best book ever!”

So, possibly the huge success of the Harry Potter books is that JK Rowling has “tuned in” again to the needs of children for stories with magical ingredients as in “The Little White Horse”. The first edition of the book, published by the University of London Press was wonderfully illustrated by an artist called Walter Hodges. Elizabeth was so pleased with the way his illustrations portrayed her characters, that she dedicated the book to him.

As many of her admirers will know, Elizabeth Goudge was a very modest person, and although when she wrote her autobiography in 1974, “The Little White Horse” was in its seventh issue, she made no mention of it.
The book she said she would most like to be remembered for was her novel “The Dean’s Watch” set in her favourite home town of Ely.

I feel however Elizabeth would be pleased to think she has “handed on the torch” for more magical stories in another generation to such an imaginative writer as J.K.Rowling.

 

Make Believe

Make Believe

The first thing that strikes the reader is that this is a collection of short stories, not a continuous narrative. Each chapter is complete in itself, an episode in an idyllic childhood

The book is full of autobiographical references and places. The windmill and the walled farm house were both close to her Grandparents home. Descriptions of the island are faithful to the Guernsey of the Edwardian era, the book set in the Channel island home of the du Frocq family, who live in the farm house of Bon Repos on the island of Guernsey.

The first chapter, Make-believe, shows us the passion that Elizabeth had developed for the theatre, something she was introduced to and shared with her Father. It concerns an actor of obvious worth and talent coming back to his roots, perhaps a prototype of the character David Eliot, whom we would all grow to love in the future.

Chapter Two, St Georges Well, deals with one of the folk tales of the Island that her mother used to tell her. We are also taken a little deeper into the character of Petronelle, whom I think is Elizabeth’s mother. Both of them wanted to be doctors, both were immensely practical, and both were out door tomboys with good looks.

The whole book is littered with fairy tales and folklore, from the St Georges Well and its curative power over children’s illnesses, through the fey water lanes that ran down to the sea, the burning of “varaic”, seaweed, on fires in the poorer homes, where the lace that was still being made by hand, to the Wild Forester’s Ride that took place every November.

Rescue on the Island, is a charming description of St Peter Port, the main town on the island. “The front of his dark little bow windowed bookshop looked out on La Rue Lihou, a narrow cobbled street so steep that climbing it was like climbing the side of a mountain, but the window of his sitting room at the back looked straight onto the harbour.” (Goudge 1949 p 65, 66) The Chemist next door made the famous Verbena scent that she writes about in her biography. “He might have been a fairy man in disguise and perhaps he was. It was he who manufactured the Guernsey verbena scent and it was a magic perfume” (Goudge 1974 p 56) It also deals with a perennial Goudge theme of people being too quick to throw the good of the past out with the bad, out dated things, which progression to often does.

New Moon is my personal favourite and is the best story by far in the book. The children are wonderfully horrid. I can remember the misery of buying new shoes for school myself, and Colette I think is Elizabeth in this tale, and the experience of losing the world of myth and wonder are hers. “Do you believe in Fairies?” Peter Pan asks each maturing child. Some of us still do, even if childhood is rapidly disappearing down the wrong end of a telescope. “Her faith in fairies had been until this moment the foundation stone of her existence.” (Goudge 1949 p 95)
The description of St Pierre by night is magical and would appeal to most children. “The black jumble of roofs and chimneys, falling so steeply down the rocky cliff to the sea, were only visible as queer crazy shapes like witches’ hands reaching up to pluck the stars out of the sky, and below them the narrow twisting streets were deep clefts in the rock where hobgoblins lurked” (Goudge 1949 p 98)
Luckily for Colette and I believe Elizabeth too, an experience occurred that reasserted her belief. How else to explain the otherworldly nature of her children’s books, where fairy tales are rein-acted and dreams come true.

Good Old Albert is a fill in story, a childhood romp taken with a donkey through the summer of a bygone age. But in Doing Good, we are back in the auto-biography of Elizabeth, giving away her toys as a child each year to those less fortunate than herself. Her parents, her father in particular wanted her to see for herself how the working class lived, the poverty and hardship, and how the act of offering was as beneficial for herself as for them.

We can surmise that the stories have been written as a series, as we are reintroduced to the cast in each one, their mannerisms and appearance reiterated. It is the small grit in the shoe of these tales, just taking the edge off their perfection.
The children of the du Frocq family were the brother and sisters of her Mother, their exploits and interest the same. Their home although a modern Victorian Villa, was close the cliffs and had an uninterrupted view of the sea. The farm house of Bon Repos was not far away. For an only child growing up in a world of adults in a small cathedral town, the island must have been a Paradise of freedom and companionship.

Her Mother came from a large family, and Rachael and Andre are pen portraits of her Grand Parents, although she felt that she had failed to capture her Grandfather and hadn’t been able to do justice to the memory of the man. She says about him:”I think of the music of Mozart when I think of my Grandfather. The great composers seem to represent different types of spiritual greatness in men. Mozart has his dancers moving in measure; but the dancers are sometimes ourselves, not always the heavenly spirits. He is so often gay and tender in those first movements of symphonies and concertos, as though delighting in us, and in the second movements, while we rest, he sings to us. It is often of himself he sings, and then delight is only on the surface; below is heartbreaking sadness. But he does not wish to break our hearts and the dancing comes again, but faster, as though urgent to cover up what was not intended should be revealed. I am reminded of my grandfather.” (Goudge 1974. p. 44, 45)

Her Grandmother, like Rachael was a tall, dark, beautiful, woman, whose strong personality dominated the family. Elizabeth felt that he grandmother didn’t altogether approve of this spoilt child, with her distressingly English looks, but she couldn’t help but admire her. She must have seen a lot of her own Mother in Rachael, both were strong women.

The last two stories are based on island traditions that Elizabeth loved. The wild old magic of the Foresters Ride and the story of Midnight in the Stable, which is layered with meaning, from the belief that the animals kneel in homage to the Christ Child, to the story of every day duplicity and sin, being transformed into a holy and reconciling action. It has all the beauty and message of her Christmas works, topped of with an icing of snow. As her visits to the island were in summer, this isn’t something she would have been able to write about first hand, but I imagine her grandfather, a keen Meteorologist, would have told her if this rare phenomenon had occurred. This story alone would make me want to buy the book.

I haven’t been able to find out if the November custom of the Forester’s Ride did or does in fact take place or if Elizabeth made this legend up. Maybe it was given up after the advent of the car on the island? Elizabeth usually adapts rather than creates this sort of detail.

Although its formula and content make this one of the most dated of Elizabeth’s works, I think that it gives important information about her background, enabling those of us who admire her to gain a better understanding of her, and what shaped the woman who wrote such wonderful books. Islands were to be an important symbol to her all her life, and it was imprinted here in the Island Magic of her childhood visits.

Goudge.E. 1949 Make-Believe Duckworths
Goudge E. 1974 Joy of the Snow Hodder & Stoughton ISBN 0 340 185317