Archive for Myths & Legends

Smokey House

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

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

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

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

“The door which shut off the nursery wing from the rest of the house made a very real dividing line between the life of the child and the adult.” (page 22 from the introduction of A Child’s Garden of Verses)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World Shot Through With Magic

L & V Interior

Linnets & Valerians interior of The Manor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Kushner

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The Enchanted Kingdom

Hello Deborah,

I want to thank you for doing this website and having an Elizabeth Goudge Society [how does one join?]. At this time of year, coming up to Christmas, I often re-read either The Herb of Grace or The Dean’s Watch or one of her children’s books for the amazing descriptions of wonderful Christmases in England.

I started reading her books when I was about ten years old, living in New Jersey and getting them from the library and they became the enchanted kingdom I disappeared into when my own life was too difficult [my mother was ill and alcoholic and times could be rough]. I read the adult books because the library didn’t have any of her children’s books.

Many years later, an animal lover and intrepid about wild animals, I took a break from being a research librarian and went to work with seals and sea lions in a free-release setting in Key West Florida. Here I won the trust of an abused sea lion by singing to her because I remembered this being described in The Child From the Sea. And it worked — this 300 pound beast crawled into my lap. The only problem was that every time I stopped singing she growled at me. I must have sung every show tune I knew for hours.

Elizabeth Goudge’s books, along with the Mary Poppins books, Wind in the Willows and everything by Rumer Godden, were all instrumental in my decision to up sticks from the USA and move to England. I lived in Devon for 20 years [1986 to 2006] in a thatched cottage and made a lovely garden. Here too I found ultimately almost all of EG’s books in wonderful second-hand bookshops [mostly in Ashburton] and off Amazon. And I found Providence Cottage in Marldon, still called that, and whoever they were they had corgis, which I think Elizabeth might have enjoyed.

Of course I spent time in the New Forest and Buckler’s Hard and imagined that a small lane south of the Hard going down to the River Beaulieu would lead to the Herb of Grace. [That’s still my favourite book of all.] I also visited Ely [but I think that the cathedral she describes in The Dean’s Watch seems to be the cathedral in Lincoln] and Wells [where I had my first collision with nettles – ouch! — while I was standing on a fallen log to peer over the high stone wall at the back of the choir master’s house, which I thought must be the place were she was born].

And like Elizabeth I started having spiritual and ghostly experiences in England, which had never happened to me in the United States. All positive I’m glad to say, or at least not fearful. I always had an open mind in that regard, and rather hoped such things existed, but never expected to experience them. It is most amazing and lovely and helps me to live more fully and trustingly.

I’m happy to say that I was pretty much born an Anglophile, and living in England suited me entirely, even though for various reasons I retired to France in 2006, where I have again made a garden and continue read Elizabeth Goudge.

Thanks again for the lovely website, I am going to enjoy reading the various postings on Goudge Talk [and you are welcome to post this if you would like to].

Now that I’ve been thinking about it, there are so many areas of my real life that have been influenced by Elizabeth Goudge.  Reading the Scent of Water [and later the Joy of the Snow] I grew to want my own four-poster bed [and found out that she never did have one, but gave it instead to Mary in Scent of Water] and a green carpet with roses and ribbons.  Here’s a picture of my bedroom in my thatched cottage, with four-poster [only a flat-pack pine, but an artist friend painted it for me] and you can see a bit of the carpet too].
Four poster bed
The scene on the end of the bed shows my unicorn [I’ve always had a unicorn] and, in one of those strange things that keep happening to me, it prophesied the area I would later move to in France — not too far from where I live are the wonderful ruins of Crozant Castle built on a rocky promontory where the river curves and it looks very much like the imaginary scene on my bed. I have two prophetic paintings — the other was made for me by a friend in NYC many years ago that was supposed to be of my Manhattan street and the brownstone I lived in, but as he said “the sea and the fields kept bursting in and I couldn’t stop them”  and indeed between the NY brownstones you can see the sea, and pouring out between them is a patchwork of fields.  I should say I had no notion then of ever moving to England, and in fact, didn’t really know Devon existed [I’d read EG’s books set there, but the county didn’t really register in my mind].  But ten years later when I moved to Devon, England, I found exactly those fields, the red earth of that red sandstone area of Devon and the patchwork of  colours of the different crops.
warm regards Nancy Wolff

The White Witch

She awoke to darkness and unfamiliar sounds. It took a few moments to remember that she was not in her bedroom at Providence Cottage, but in her new home tucked into a Chiltern lane. Her roots had been torn out of the red, fertile soil of Devon and roughly transplanted to this chalky, Oxfordshire pasture land. She would never be happy again and as for writing,,,,,,,, that had been left behind in Devon too.

Bedrooms were important to Elizabeth, a place of retreat when the pressures of life made her long for the solitude of a nun’s cell. She could always refresh herself in the shell of her room. It was an intensely personal space where all pretence could be laid aside, a place of prayer and meditation. How long would it take for this slope ceilinged room to become as dear as the one left behind?

All her life Elizabeth had been prone to bouts of depression, and the fatigue bought on by the move and the total rearrangement of her life must have been overwhelming. She was still grieving over her Mother’s death; the loss of her gentle tyranny must have seemed like a hand being taken off the tiller of her life. She had to make her own decisions now and live with the consequences. The first of them had been good, her companion and help mate Jessie had been suggested by her family who had worried about her ability to live alone and cope with the stresses and strains of life. Jessie was the answer to her prayers; she gave her independence and the time to write. The second change, that of leaving Devon had also been her family’s idea, and about this she was much less certain. Elizabeth needed the familiar to feel safe and she was not good at making friends or meeting new people. Society, even the literary one she was forced to occasionally inhabit for the sake of her work was anathema to her.

Rose Cottage from Dog Lane

Devon had been the place where she had found “roots” even though she had been born over the border in Somerset. She loved the places and the people that surrounded her, the small rural community of Marldon that had sheltered her and her Mother for so many years. First in the sad stricken days after her Fathers’ sudden death, then throughout the uncertainty and fear of the war and finally supporting her through her Mothers difficult last illness and demise. She had achieved a measure of success here, her work becoming known worldwide. Green Dolphin Country was made into a film during her Devon years and many of her bestselling novels such as Gentian Hill, Smokey House and of cause the award winning Little White Horse were written here. What would she do, how would she feel in the park like tamed Chilterns so far from the sea?

The darkness outside her window was beginning to lighten and from some tree top a blackbird began to tune up for the dawn chorus. She had always loved the moments of transition, a pause for contemplation and renewal. Getting out of bed she went to the window and drew back the curtains.

She was met by a vision of light. An old apple tree, part of the hedge of trees around her new home was strung with raindrops and the rising sun had set a diamond in the heart of every one of them, the whole tree was cloaked in light. Framed in the branches, resting in the field behind the house was a gaily painted gipsy caravan, an old white horse cropping the turf nearby. Elizabeth was transfixed, here it was happening again, and something she had feared and dreaded had been transformed into something of wonder and joy. Life here was going to be alright. She would get to know and love the countryside and history of this place, just as she had in Devon.

Later on after they had been at Rose Cottage a while and begun to settle into the local community, she had her second vision of Froniga walking through the hedge and up to the well where she sat on the rim with her basket of herbs.

Jessie took her on long countryside drives round the hamlets, villages and towns in their locality. They walked the beech woods, joined the local church which they could walk to across the fields from the cottage and they began to make friends with the other inhabitants of Dog lane.

IMG_7685

She discovered the story of the capture and hanging of the Catholic priest in the market square of Henley, caught and convicted of being a Royalist spy, as Yoben is in the book. King Charles really did spend the night at a local Inn nearby, so that Will and Jenny could go and get Will cured of “The King’s Evil” as scrofula was called. Her own cottage as well as others in the area was built partly from old ships timbers. She vowed that on hot summer days the scent of old spices permeated the house.

Jessie herself was a knowledgeable gardener those love of herbs helped form Froniga’s character. I’d love Elizabeth’s description of Froniga’s garden to be her own, but with two small dogs to accommodate this seems unlikely! The well however is well documented, as we have a picture of Elizabeth sitting on its rim as Froniga had done. The hedges around the cottage contained old roses and the small wild dog rose, and Jessie grew herbs in the garden borders.

All these revelations fed her imagination and formed the bones of her new book The White Witch, published in 1958.

This book is about how civil war rips families apart, opening rifts and fostering miss-understandings that last for generations. But the war was fought on religious grounds not just over earth and dust, but over human minds, hearts and ultimately souls, becoming more bloody and obdurate as a consequence. The belief of divine right invested on both sides, gave an added dimension to the fight.

Set in an Oxfordshire village the story centres on the Haslewood family and those who are connected to it. Robert the local squire lives in his small manor house with his wife Margaret and their twin children Will and Jenny. Their cousin and Robert’s childhood sweetheart Froniga lives just across the common from them and is the white witch of the title. This family and the small community with the local parson, tribe of gipsies, and an itinerant painter are the characters we follow through the years of unrest and upheaval the civil war brings to their lives. To Elizabeth’s characters the spiritual battles are as hard to overcome as the physical and it is not just the politically awakening Robert who undergoes a radical transformation.

It turned out to be a pivotal novel for Elizabeth too, a “coming of age” of sorts, because after she wrote it, she seems to have put away “childish things” The spiritual struggles of the civil war mirrored her own quest for enlightenment and understanding. While never losing her love for the old tales of folklore and legend that had surrounded her from her cradle, from now on her novels take on a maturity and depth of spiritual conviction.

Elizabeth had grown up surrounded by the beauty of the church, its celebrations marking the turn of year. Now she whole heartedly embraced the Anglican faith which satisfied her love of ritual and answered for her the fundamental questions of life and death. She had found purpose and meaning in her life. Her father’s example of charity and good works was perpetuated by the increased income her success as an author gave her.

Her books, never preachy, became manuals on life, holding out the hope of understanding, compassion accompanied by the gift of the storyteller held between their pages. No longer did “a little knowledge go a long way” (Goudge Joy of the Snow)

Her life at Rose Cottage was strictly regulated, with a routine of prayer, work and study. While her health permitted she still walked the countryside with her dogs and played an active part in the church. Later she became reclusive and Jessie guarded her privacy fiercely, enabling her to write six of her best novels during the next fifteen years. Elizabeth also compiled and edited six Poetry anthologies, and wrote a biography of St Francis as well as her auto-biography before she died. But she still found the time to personally attend to a correspondence which grew over the years from family and friends to an ever widening circle of fans, extended family and petitions from all over the world. She maintained the literary contacts with her publishers and wrote promotional pieces for other writers, as well as short stories.

Elizabeth Goudge

The themes of the White Witch let Elizabeth explore the different paths of faith and the way people from different sects love, revere and follow the disciples of God. It solidified her faith while it opened her to a respect for the faith of others. Someone who knew Elizabeth well in her later years once told me, that she was the most tolerate and compassionate person she knew. She felt that the present Middle Eastern conflicts would have saddened her, not with their radical views and intolerance, but because of our own

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The Secret Of Moonacre

 

The long awaited British Premiere of the film based on the Elizabeth Goudge book The Little White Horse.

Taken from The London Film Festival Website

Maria Merryweather (Dakota Blue Richards) has recently been orphaned and, despite great expectations, her sole inheritance is an illustrated book entitled The Secret Chronicles of Moonacre Valley. She is sent to live with her cold, reserved Uncle (Ioan Gruffudd) along with her companion Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson). Maria discovers that the book provides a key to a past world and a secret that must be revealed before the rising of the 5,000th moon, when Moonacre will disappear into the ocean forever. A number of questions must be answered if she is to save them all. What is the curse on Moonacre Manor, her new home, which despite its beautiful exterior is dilapidated and cold, and who are the sinister, dark-clothed men who live in the forest and seem intent on capturing Maria?

Juliet Stevenson as Miss Heliotrope

Our Family Gala this year is directed by Gabor Csupo who last visited the LFF in 2002 with The Wild Thornberry’s Movie and has since gone on to make the hugely successful Bridge to Terabithia. Based on The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, The Secret of Moonacre is a hugely enjoyable family adventure which, despite having a fairytale sensibility where unicorns, black lions and moon princesses play their part, never loses touch with the strong story and performances that ensure its universal appeal.
Justin Johnson

Directed by:Gabor CsupoWritten by:Graham Alborough, Lucy Shuttleworth Cast:Ioan Gruffudd, Dakota Blue Richards, Juliet Stevenson, Tim Curry, Natasha McElhone Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures International UK Country: UK-Hungary Year: 2008 Running time: 103min

Editors Reply

Could someone tell me where the “great expectations” have come from? Mine were certainly gone, my heart sank just reading the film synopsis and plummeted after viewing the trailer.

Maria and Miss Heliotrope are grateful to be taken in and befriended in a hostile world. Maria has no inheritance, and they are over whelmed and pleasantly surprised by the warm, welcoming, sunny, open handed Sir Benjamin, not repelled by some morose Heathcliff imitation who glowers at them. Marmaduke Scarlet has had his dignity and talent stripped from him and been replaced by some “magical” elf. Poor Miss Heliotrope is no longer Maria’s Governess but a “companion”. Why? Surely it is not so anachronistic a concept that today’s audience wouldn’t understand it? On her way to her new home with her companion, Maria’s carriage is attacked by Robin, the Coq De Noir family’s teenage son.

Robin from Secret of Moonarce

Poor Robin transformed into a “hoodie” with the nightmare of Coq du Noir as Father, presumably in an attempt to up date him. Both he and Maria are denied the comfort and security of Loveday as a Mother, she becomes instead a strange priestess like figure, the tragic Moon Princess. Finally Wrolf, the noble Wrolf a symbol of the strength, courage and faithfulness of the best of the Sun Merryweathers morphs into a black panther with a ruff.
The black men do not want to capture Maria until Robin and herself invade their castle and throw down a challenge. Points and plot seem to have been changed for no intrinsic reason except they can be. It neither enhances the tale or moves the plot on quickly over those inconvenient explanations and character analysis that authors will insist in including in their work!

Maria has to unravel the key to the mystery herself, there is no book to help her, she must grow into her inheritance, and why O why does the 5000th moon and the lost Land of Lyonesse make an appearance?
” The brave soul and the pure spirit shall with a merry and a loving heart inherit the kingdom together.” The Lion and the Unicorn of the heraldic device, which represents a fusion of the best of both worlds have tumbled off the mantelpiece. I feel as if a hammer has been taken to one of Elizabeth’s “little things” smashing it into unrecognisable pieces. All the delicacy and depth of the book has been removed.

It seems to me that this type of film sets a dangerous precedent. Elizabeth’s works are full of the kind of magic that surrounds us every day. We don’t have to travel to another realm to encounter it. There are no instant cures for the ills of this earth. In all her work she tries to show us how we can make our time here count by caring for it and for all the people who we come into contact with. We can make our own magic and can see the wonder of the natural world performing little daily miracles all around us.

The Company have taken a wonderful story that blends the Spiritual with the Mundane world seamlessly and turned it into a film of the, forgive me, Harry Potter mode. Elizabeth’s work presumably being thought of as too subtle for a modern audience, who are used to special effects to make points for them. Lets face it, we all knew that the film would not resemble the book that so many of us know and love as our first introduction to Elizabeth Goudge’s work. Perhaps it would be best to see it as The Secret Of Moonacre, and forget that it was ever anything to do with Elizabeth Goudge in the first place. But this then begs the question of what pulls it above other films of its genre. After viewing the trailer I did not feel inclined to make the long and complicated journey to London’s West End to find out.

Deborah Gaudin

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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

Child From The Sea

 

Child From The Sea

 

I find it interesting that all the Celtic fringes acknowledge the likelihood that Lucy Walters and Charles I were married, while the “official” history doesn’t give them any credence what so ever. Who said History is written by the conquerors?

I am certain that it was thoughts such as these that started Elizabeth off on the long, often arduous journey that all authors take when they begin a new work. She wrote some of the book in the beautiful county of Pembrokeshire, in a low, long house over looking the sea at Newport. She found out about the family who had lived in the romantic castle, seen on the skyline of Newgale, by being given a copy of a book by a friend “who was one of the leaders in the fight to defend the beauty of Pembrokeshire from modern development” (Goudge 1970 p259). She insisted that Elizabeth read it and then write a story in keeping with the book, something which Elizabeth was inspired to do after only reading a few chapters.

The story begins at Roche Castle, one of the Pembrokeshire homes of the Walter family. It is the only book that Elizabeth wrote that doesn’t start with a quote or poem to set the scene. It does however describe in vivid detail the setting of Lucy’s childhood, a place that had overwhelmed Elizabeth with its wild beauty. On my visit I saw no sign of the stream running down to the sea, although the old part of the village was still heavily wooded, so I don’t know if a certain liberty has been taken with the site, or whether it has altered greatly in the last 400 years. There is in fact a place called Roch Bridge, which crosses a stream that runs into the bay at Newgale. It is only a few fields away from the castle, and maybe the route that Lucy took to the sea. But the castle, unlike the cover illustration of the book is not on the coast.

The first section entitled The Child, sets out the background that Lucy grew up in and frames the possible meeting places that could have been used the first time that Charles and Lucy met. Most Historians feel it likely that they met at Golden Grove, as Charles I visited the Earl there, and Lucy would have visited often as a near and dear relative.

We live with Lucy in Pembrokeshire, her natural milieu of freedom from convention and the delights of rural life, and share with her the discovery of the Sin Eater and the sadness and mental anguish she shares with Old Parson in his distress. Here she is brought into contact with the precarious state of children born out of wedlock, as her much loved half brother and sister are packed off back to the servant girl’s family on a Welsh hill farm, a lesson which she was to take to heart in later life.” The departure of Dewi and Betsi left a scar on Lucy or some thing more than a scar, for the wound never quite healed. That two good people like her Father and Mother could throw two babies out of their nest as though they were of no more worth than a couple of sparrows shocked her deeply, and frightened her too. For the first time she was aware of sin as something that tangled up all human life, even the life of her father and mother and their children. She was never entirely a child again after Dewi and Betsi went away.” (Goudge 1970 p 113)

But for some reason, Elizabeth decided to make their meeting place in London, possibly because it was an extremely unhappy time for them both; with Lucy’s parents going through an acrimonious divorce and Charles having to witness and be a party to the trials and recriminations that lead up to the Civil War. His Mother, Queen Henrietta Maria had fled to France, close friends and advisors to his family were put on trial, and in some cases executed.
It also enabled Lucy to be acquainted with Old Sage, in one of those synchronicity of plots that Elizabeth so delights in and which occur more frequently in life than we suppose.
So, two lonely frightened children meet who are both finding out that life doesn’t always work out how one would want it to. They share the same group of friends, have similar backgrounds, and both have a charisma and charm that would ignite the other. “Something or someone, some day, would pull her as moon and sun pull the tides and larks and she would go.” (Goudge. 1970 p19)

We must remember that the age of consent for marriage in the 17th century was 14 for boys and 12 for girls. They grew up fast and died young. John Evelyn the diarist calls her “the daughter of some mean creatures”( Lucy Walters, Wife or Mistress 1947 p 27) But Lucy’s father was directly descended from Sir Rhys ap Thomas about whom was said” though never more than a knight, was never less than a prince” in South Wales. He facilitated the march of Henry Tudor to Bosworth Field, and is credited with finding the fallen crown and placing it on the head of Henry Tudor. The three Ravens on his heraldic Arms were held in high esteem and fear in the Tudor court. On her maternal side her mother was related to the Earl of Carberry, the Vaughans of Golden Grove, who owned just about all of Carmarthenshire. The Earl had been the Comptroller of the King’s Household, during Charles I reign, and from her maternal Grandmother Mary Rhys, Lucy was a descendant of Lady Catherine Howard, aunt to both Anne Boleyn and Queen Katherine Howard. So Lucy would have been a good match for any future Monarch. The act of Parliament that forbids Royalty to marry commoners was not past until 1772.

At Golden Grove, she begins to understand the fascination she can have over the opposite sex, as she beguiles the Earl with her good looks and charm. “I think you may have difficulty in the upbringing of that child Elizabeth said Lady Carberry gently. I have seldom seen my husband so infatuated.” (Goudge 1970 p 125).

We follow her on her sad journey to London and to her new home with Mrs Gwinne, her Grandmother, who lives in the “village” of St Giles. Here Lucy is brought onto the stage of National History, meeting people such as the eminent Dr Cosins, Master of Peterhouse and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, Tom Howard, whose brother was the Duke of Suffolk, Algernon and Robert Sidney, friendships deepened by family connections that would eventually lead to her meeting Charles.

In some ways this is my favourite part of the book, Elizabeth is able to communicate the atmosphere of 17th century London so well, that not only do we peer up narrow alleys, saunter down wide fashionable streets, and travel the broad sweep of the Thames, we can smell the stinking kennels and open drains, and rejoice in the peace and perfume of Old Sage’s herb stall. Her description of Covent Garden is typical.

“Lucy and Jacob went warily past the open doors lest a bucket full of slops, flung in the direction of the open kennel, should catch them. When they reached the Garden it was full of activity. The flower girls and fruit and vegetable men were at their stalls, spreading out their wares. Nan’s big red hands moved so quickly in posy-making, bunching the flowers together and twisting long grasses round their stalks, that the posies fell from her fingers to her lap almost as though she were shelling pease, but she allowed a few extra seconds to Lucy’s choosing the flowers with care so that Lucy had a variety of pinks, frilled white ones, white ones stitched with scarlet round the edges, pale pink, a couple of sops-in-wine, and one deep red clove carnation in the centre. Lucy leaned forward and kissed Nan’s rough cheek which smelt of carnations. Nan was steeped in her flowers and smelled of them from head to foot, as did Old Sage of his herbs” (Goudge 1970 p170/171) How different from the brightly coloured but scentless blooms we now purchase, wrapped in cellophane from a supermarket bucket.

Elizabeth likes to root her characters to a place, and Old Sage fits his perfectly. Old Sage had his stall as close as possible to St Paul’s church because he kept his main supply of herbs in the church loft.     There were trees at his end of the Garden and it was sheltered from the sun by a great yew tree which must have been growing here in the days of the monks……Old Sage sold herbs of every sort, bunches and packets of dried herbs, fresh bunches of mint, lavender, rosemary and marjoram, and also cloves and peppercorns and oranges stuck with cloves to keep away infection.         when he moved herb dust sprayed from his person like pepper from a pot.” (Goudge 1970 p 171)

Elizabeth’s father’s side of the family had lived in London, and indeed were part of the French immigration of silk weavers that came over to live in London at the time of the French revolution. They probably planted Mulberry trees in their gardens to facilitate their trade, which would have been old and venerable to young Elizabeth’s eyes, she would have noticed the way that towns and cities have their green and pleasant spots. London although bigger and brasher in Edwardian times, wouldn’t have been that different from the London of 200 years earlier. It’s changed rapidly of cause in the last 50/60 years.

She also manages to bring personal remembrances into the story, memories of her Father’s study for example are used to describe Mr Gwinne’s, Lucy’s Grandfather. “Lucy knocked on the library door and receiving no answer lifted the latch and walked in. Mr Gwinne’s library resembled a clearing in a forest, but the open space was by no means uncluttered, having a minor undergrowth of books piled on the floor, like stumps of felled trees. Around the clearing great bookcases loomed from floor to ceiling, dark but yet alive with a glint of gold or crimson here and there, as though light shone faintly through massed leaves, and ominous with a motionless power.” (Goudge 1970 p 151)

“the narrow doorway of the study and on entering found a wall to the right and on the left the ominous darkness of that invaluable bookcase, Somewhere round on the other side of it was my father at work, but it was very dark between that wall and the bookcase.” (Goudge 1974 p103),being a description of her father’s study at Ely.

The plot flows on, in and out of sadness enriched with flashes of joy, as Lucy and her brothers come to terms with their parents divorce, the deaths of Besti, and her beloved Nan-Nan, the loneliness of William, showing her the separateness of the human condition, and the history of Old Sage, which will prove a vital link in the narrative of the story later on, pulling us right up to the execution of the Earl of Strafford. Lucy sees Charles met the Mayor of London and finds a chance to throw him her present of the dark webbed purse she had made him. It would be the last time they met for years.

The middle section is entitled The Idyll, and as such is the shortest part of the book, as it was the shortest of Lucy’s life. It opens in Devon where Lucy is living with her father’s parents, and Dewi. Roch Castle has been almost destroyed and Algernon Sidney has been badly wounded in the fighting. The Civil War is raging, and she is safe at the moment deep in Royalist held Devon. After a further meeting with the Prince cements her feelings even further than the childish passion she had started with, Lucy travels with her father and Dewi back to Pembrokeshire, to make a home for them in the shadow of their broken castle. It’s as good a place as any to wait out the war.

The meeting and marriage of Charles and Lucy is part of Welsh myth, which is why Elizabeth allows them to meet at the romantic and symbolic place of St David’s cathedral. In reality it is unlikely that he would have had the time or opportunity in the midst of civil war, to go to the west of Wales for four days.
It is a clever devise to have them unwittingly married by a de-frocked or at least un-ordained priest, because of cause; no one has been able to produce a marriage certificate. There were however persistent rumours that they had married before the Prince went to France. Sir Edward Hyde writes in the march of 1646/7 ” I am far from being secure, for many reasons, that the intelligence from London of the Prince’s marriage may not be true; we were apprehensive of it before he went, and spoke freely to him our opinions of the fatal consequences of it.” (Hyde, 1646/7 p 346)

What ever the historical niceties, the second part ends with Charles re-joining the war, and Lucy doomed to wait it out in Pembrokeshire. Elizabeth must have known many young women who sent their men off to war, wondering if they would ever met again, hoping that there would/wouldn’t be a child to comfort them, or concerned with bringing one up alone.

The third and longest part of the story is The Woman, and chronicles Lucy’s travels around Europe and her fight to be accepted as Wife of the Prince and Mother of his child, the future Duke of Monmouth. Part of the problem was that the Royal family had no personal income at all and were reliant on the generosity of other Royals, who after the glamour of the situation had wore off, and Cromwell had won the Civil war with the hearts and minds of the British behind him, found other things they would rather spend their money on. So, the enlarging of the household was most unwelcome. Charles’s mother was extremely angry and begged him not to tell people, as she still hoped for a moneyed match to be made, helping them out of their poverty. I suspect that she hoped Lucy would fall victim to any number of fatal diseases prevalent at that time, thereby freeing Charles from his youthful mistake.
There is evidence to suggest that the Marriage Certificate was stolen from her, during the debacle of her misguided and ultimately self-destructive journey to England with her young son.

This part of the book has been the subject of much conjecture and discussion. Why did Lucy decide to travel to England, taking Jackie with her? She must have realised how dangerous it was and the advantage to the Commonwealth if she was captured. Surely she was frightened about the safety of her son, as a future King of England. The reason given in the book is the bequest left to Lucy by her Mother. “Our Mother left some money for you too. There is still some legal business to be done and it would be a help to Richard and to me if you would come back to England with us and stay for a while. You know what London is like in the spring and summer; a jewel girdled by the little villages among their meadows and flowers. Will you come? You and the children and Anne.”(Goudge 1974 p 663). Justus implores her to return to England with him, and finally she accepts. But I don’t understand why she took the children with her, unless she thought that on her return to the Continent they would have been taken away from her, Charles had tried to kidnap “Jackie” before.

But really I think that Lucy privately gave to much credence to her brother Richards’s position in Cromwell’s staff and Government. She was used to her family being in a position to ensure her safety. She also trusted Tom Howard as an old friend and distant relation, not knowing that he was a double agent, and would be only to happy to hand such a prize over to Cromwell to smooth his own path.

The fact that Cromwell didn’t try and execute them speaks of the sensitive nature of the situation. Killing the Grand father was one thing, but to murder a royal child and his Mother, no such thing had been done since the bad old days of Richard III and the Princes in the Tower.

The relationship between Lucy and her personal maid Anne Hill has caused considerable debate among Goudge readers as it appears to be one of almost Saintly Scapegoat and Judas kiss complexity.

Elizabeth had a deep reverence for the relationship between servant and Master, or as is more politically correct today, Employer and Employee. It was something she had seen and experienced all her life. To our modern comprehension it seems as out dated as clubbing your woman over the head and dragging her cave-wards, but to Elizabeth it was one of equality through the act of service and acceptance. It is the Path for all those of Christian faith to try and live by the example of Christ, and Lucy realised that Anne was truly repentant of her former disloyalty. She would have wanted to believe so, as whom else did she have to turn to at this, the lowest point of her life. Anne had become the stable pivot of her and more importantly of her children in an increasingly chaotic life.   click here for the record of the interrogation of Anne Hill

I find the weakness and politically motivated cruelty and neglect with which Charles treated Lucy, hard to understand. I suppose that the desire to be accepted by his peers, his family and his subjects after decades of war, flight and fight was too beguiling. as well as the old adage about Power and corruption. How convenient poor Lucy died before he became King, thereby side stepping the issue completely.

I will finish the article with a quote from the diary of Samuel Peyps, the famous Restoration Diarist, and two from Historical websites, one chronicling the History of Scotland the other from a west country town.

At that time the restoration of the monarchy looked unlikely, and the Stewarts were not the most eligible of bachelors. Charles’ brother James (later James VII) married a commoner, Anne Hyde and Charles II married Lucy Walter, while Louis XIV of France married Françoise d’Aubign, after the death of his first wife. Charles’ mother, Queen Henrietta Marie, was furious when she heard of the marriage and threatened to have her brother, the King of France, cut off Charles’ pension if he did not repudiate Lucy Walters and her child. Charles accepted and went on to marry the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza in 1662, four years after the death of Lucy Walters. Charles died in 1685 without any acknowledged legitimate children and was succeeded by his brother, James II.

‘What is whispered about is that young Crofts is lawful son of the King, the King being married to his mother. How true it is, God knows.’
Samuel Pepys Diary, October 1662.

Taken from the Scottish Politics web site by Alba Publishing, Scotland.

Monmouth was the illegitimate son of King Charles II, born to Lucy Walters in 1649 during Charles II’s exile at The Hague. Monmouth was much loved and favoured by his father and despite his illegitimate status was given a place of great authority within English society. In 1674 Monmouth was made ‘Commander in Chief’ of the army; gaining great respect as a soldier among the English people.

 

Charles II

Shaftesbury urged King Charles II to recognise his son by the legitimisation of his marriage to Lucy Walters. Charles refused declaring he had only ever been married to the Queen. Monmouth later confessed that his father had told him in private that he would have no legal right to the throne. Rumours abounded about a black box being discovered in which the marriage papers of Charles and Lucy Walters were hidden but these were never produced as evidence.
Deborah Gaudin

Goudge.E. 1970. Child From the Sea Hodder & Stoughton
Scott.G Lord 1947 Lucy Walters: Wife or Mistress. Harrap & Co Ltd
Lamford T. G. 2001 The Defence of Lucy Walter The Better Book Company.
Samuel P 1662 The Dairies of Samuel Pepys
Rev C. P. Brown Minehead On Line
Goudge E. 1974 Joy Of The Snow Hodder & Stoughton

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The Little White Horse.

The Little White Horse.

The Little White Horse, the best loved of all Elizabeth’s children’s books, is the story that pulls the majority of her readers into her own special world, a place that we are often guided to by someone, anxious to share their find. That’s the way of her writing, her readers become passionate and involved the more they discover, and want to share the experience.

The book starts with an example of Elizabeth’s own verse, The Little White Horse, and then crashes straight into the action, the main protagonists swaying along dark misty roads in an uncomfortable, old fashioned carriage, into the heart of the West Country.
It is high Victorian Gothic, with distinct shades of Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen), a writer that Elizabeth had read and admired. Living as she had in Edwardian Somerset, she had always maintained that the West Country had a distinct air of fairy about it.

We are straight into the heart of the moral fibre of the story too, setting up the testing of Maria, with her strength and courage, her forthright manner, making her a most suitable and appealing person.

The story opens with the red haired orphan Maria and her Governess Miss Heliotrope going to live with Maria’s cousin Sir Benjamin Merryweather after the death of her father which had left “so many debts that everything he possessed, including the beautiful London house with the fanlight over the door and the tall windows looking out over the garden of the quiet London Square, where Maria had lived through out the whole of her short life, had had to be sold to pay them.”(Goudge. 1946 p3)
Although this didn’t happen to Elizabeth and her Mother, they had seen it happen to many other clergymen’s families. Often, in the days of pre Social Security, people felt themselves fortunate to find relations willing and able to take them in and help them.

The manor house is in fact a Norman castle, set in a valley, surrounded by green rounded hills, with the village of Silverydew at the foot of the cone of Paradise hill. The house is inhabited by her cousin, his male cook Marmaduke Scarlett and the coachman Digweed. It is the proud boast of them all that “You (Miss Heliotrope) and Maria are the first members of the fair sex to set foot in this house for twenty years.”(Goudge 1946 p26)

But they are made to feel welcome and Maria soon finds that the castle is more like home than anywhere else she has lived. She also starts to discover the history of her family and the curse that it has lived under for centuries. She uncovers the true identity of the dog Wrolf, and the beautiful apparition of the Little White Horse, first seen on her way to the castle.

The Little White Horse

The Little White Horse

In 1946 when the book was written, Elizabeth would have had some formidable rivals in the world of children’s books. Five other children were “Going Off in a Caravan” (Enid Blyton) and the Lone Pine Club (Malcolm Saville) were solving Welsh Border mysteries. But one of the reasons I think that Elizabeth won the Carnegie Medal that year for this book, was her cleverness at making it timeless. By setting the novel in Victorian England, a time she knew well and could emphasis with, it would not become dated. Think how silted some of the Famous Five books can be now.

Another reason is her ability to move the action of a story along in the most lyrical and effortless prose, such as these, taken at random from pages 77/79. “It was lovely in the stable yard, with the white doves just coming out from their cote cooing softly, flying down to the cobbles to strut and flutter their wings in the sweet morning air, and the sky was like a rose over the old stable roofs still glistening with dew” Another lovely dawn and the beginning of an adventure for our heroine. ” And then the little cavalcade, Maria on Periwinkle with Wrolf and Wiggins one on each side of her , trotted gaily out of the stable-yard, through the garden and out through the door under the great archway into the park. Without a moments hesitation she swung east. She must not go to Merryweather Bay, but she would explore the park in that direction.     She might perhaps see the sea in the distance.” East towards the rising sun and towards the alter of the sea, a metaphor that writers have used for the unconscious for generations. Too deep for a children’s book? I don’t think it is. It may have been unintentional on her part, but C.S. Lewis used Christian myths and symbols in his work, and I think Elizabeth does too.

“as she rode they thinned out more and more, the beeches and oak-trees and bushes of golden gorse giving place to solitary groups of wind twisted pines, with here and there boulders of grey rock pushing their way through the tussocks of heather. To the cold fresh tang of the frost there was added now the salt tang of the sea.”
I would love to think that this is a description of a ride that Elizabeth took. We know from Joy of the Snow that she had learnt to ride and certainly did in Ely, perhaps Elizabeth too rode in sight of the sea in her Devonshire days.

One place and experience in the book which is drawn from her life is the bay and cliffs that Maria and Robin find at the end of the pine wood tunnels, it sounds just like the description of the bay in Guernsey that she visited with her Aunts and cousins. She describes the rock climbing capabilities of one Aunt in particular. “I am ashamed now when I think of the furious rages when my aunts interfered with rock climbing. Aunt Emily was easy to shake off for she was no more than a gripper of the ankle. With a quick wrench and a quick scramble upward one could get rid of her. But Aunt Marie, a spare agile person who could climb better than I could, was another matter. If she caught me starting to climb she did not grip my ankle but simply came after me to take care of me. She was the dearest of my aunts but I hated her, and said so, when she shared my rocks.” (Goudge 1974.p 47) It sounds just like Maria fearing the grip of the Black Men’s hands on her ankles in the climb that she and Robin take to elude their pursuers. The caves that she describes and all the colours of the seaweeds and rocks and sand, could be Saints Bay.

But Maria is halted in her joyous ride by “a thin high screaming that came threading through the happy sounds, pushing into her heart like a sharp needle.” She is riding to the rescue of Serena and her first encounter with William Coq du Noir.

In only three pages the action is set up against its contrasting background of beauty and the normality of daily life, we find out more about Maria, her character and previous life, and what she is capable of achieving. She tests her own strengths against the cruelty of life and finds out that with help she can beat them.

Yet Elizabeth maintains and uses many of the other ingredients of the current adventure books of the day. There is the map that Sir Benjamin shows her of the valley of Moonacre, surrounded by its green hills very much as Wells is situated, the tunnels which bore through them, and the passages and caves down from the pine woods to the sea, with the hidden treasure of the Moon Princess along the way, the robbers in the pine wood, sinister shapes in the landscape, all could have come from any children’s adventure book.
So could her preoccupation with food. In all the Famous Five books their picnic’s and slap up meals with lashings of ginger beer are lovingly described.
Elizabeth goes one better by having Marmaduke Scarlett as cook to the Merryweather household. His meals, the surprise party in particular are lavish. I think this epicurean fantasy stems from War time austerity, ration books and a distinct lack of sweets.

The valley is filled with the delightful characters that pepper all of Elizabeth’s works and tells us something about her natural friendliness towards all differing sorts of people. Elizabeth one feels, would never judge a book by its cover; an attribute she gives to Maria, and her devotion and love to the outwardly unappealing Miss Heliotrope. Her “invented” London play mate, Robin who turns out to be the shepherd boy come gardener at the manor, is not an unsuitable suitor, and his Mother, Loveday Minette, is “a dream come true. For when in lonely moments the motherless Maria had imagined for herself the mother she would like to have, that mother had been exactly like Loveday Minette.”(Goudge p. 131)
Her first encounter with her larger than life cousin, a “Sun Merryweather” is memorable. “He was so tall and so broad that seemed to fill the big door way. His face was round and red and clean shaven, and his big hooked nose put Miss Heliotrope’s entirely in the shade. he had three double chins, a large smiling mouth, and twinkling eyes of a warm tawny-brown, almost lost beneath bushy white eyebrows. His clothes, most scrupulously cared for, were very old fashioned and most oddly assorted He had a huge white wig like a cauliflower on his head, and his double chins were propped by a cravat of Honiton lace.” (Goudge 1948 p.17). His kindness. love and warm welcome to the stranger that is his cousin Maria endears her to him instantly, and they continue to become closer and more indispensable to each other as the story progresses.
Digweed the coachman/gardener at the manor is pencilled in the margins of the tale like the illustrations that Edwardian letters often contained. “she watched the gnome-like little man as he scurried to the rusty chain, seized hold of it, lifted both legs off the ground and swung there like a monkey on a stick.”(Goudge 1946 p12)
“Seeing him in daylight without his hat, Maria immediately loved old Digweed. He had wide innocent blue eyes like a baby’s, a high wrinkled forehead and a completely bald head.”(Goudge 1946 p45)
Then, Maraduke Scarlett the cook is introduced as “a little hunched backed dwarf,” with his”!fringe of whisker that encircled his whole face like a ham frill “and his propensity to use long words and lots of them, an artist in the world of Cooking.
Finally, Old Parson, the vicar of Silverydew, a formidable person of great intellectual and spiritual power, the Mentor of the story. Who, never the less is given a very human twist at the end of the tale.
All of these portraits are detailed and drawn with insight, humour and understanding.
Maria as well as Elizabeth was an only child, and so relates well to the grown ups around her, there is very little us and them mentality.

It is the marginalia of her stories which helps to give depth to her writing. Every setting and every person is detailed and important, a way of looking at life that Elizabeth liked in the paintings of the old masters, who never left anyone out, giving importance to the great and the small. Her stories became the tapestries that she tired to make during her Art College course in Reading.

Yet it is the animals that have some of the biggest personalities of the book. Elizabeth’s love of dogs is evident in her lavish descriptions of Wiggins. “But though Wiggins’s moral character left much to be desired, it must not be thought that he was a useless member of society, for a thing of beauty is a joy forever, and Wiggins’s beauty was of that high order that can only be described by that tremendous trumpet sounding word incomparable. His tail was like an ostrich feather. He was proud of it and carried it always like a pennon in the wind. His coat was deep cream in colour and smooth and glossy everywhere upon his body except upon his chest, where it broke into an exquisite cascade of soft curls like a gentleman’s frilled shirt-front” (Goudge 1946 p9). He is self centred and pleasure seeking, yet insists on being near Maria, not because he loves her but because “he thought it good policy,      from Maria there emanated all those things which made his existence pleasant to him.”(Goudge 1946 p 8)

Wrolf is introduced as an animal of mythic proportions, stretching the length of the hearth, has a huge shaggy head and from his first sniff thinks little of the pretentious Wiggins. “Through his cascade, of reddish hair that fell over them (paws) eyes ;like yellow lamps shone disconcertingly upon the assembled company; disconcerting because they were so terribly penetrating. What sort of creature was he, Maria wondered. She supposed he was a dog, and yet, somehow, he wasn’t quite like a dog………”The dog Wrolf,” said Sir Benjamin, answering her unspoken question” (Goudge 1946 p19)

Zachariah the cat who lives in the kitchen with Marmaduke Scarlett is also no ordinary animal. “He was enormous, twice the size of any cat she had seen in London. His black fur was short, but so exquisitely glossy that it gleamed like satin. His tail stretched out along the floor behind him for a good yard and looked like a fat black snake; He had a noble head, with a great domed forehead, and large but beautifully shaped ears. His chest, as was only to be expected when one considered the volume of sound that came out of it looked unusually powerful, and so did his broad shoulders and powerful haunches and strong looking paws. He was altogether a most imposing animal, and when he turned his head and his great emerald green eyes blazed out at her, she was almost as scared as she had been when she was introduced to Wrolf. She just stood where she was a dropped him a curtsey.”(Goudge 1946 p94) He will come to play a big part in her future adventures. His intelligence like the other animals out strips the humans. They are the “spirit guides” in a way that help the children achieve their quest.

Serena the creature Maria rescues from the trap is the archetypal symbol of the Moon and Moon magic. A creature associated with witch craft and the supernatural. “But a hare, now, that is a different thing altogether. A hare is not a pet but a person. Hares are clever and brave and loving, and they have fairy blood in them. It’s a grand thing to have a hare for a friend.” (Goudge 1946 p85).

Even the horses that pull the carriage and of cause Periwinkle, her “Joy of the Ground” have an important places in the story and a part to play in helping the humans to realize their potential.

Dedicating a book to someone is a very personal statement to make, and the book is dedicated to the illustrator and artist Walter Hodges who drew the defining pictures to the story. His line drawings and fine water colours suit the gentle tone and mood of the book. I feel that the movie will have to work hard not to disappoint, with air brushed persons playing her characters. Strong faces are needed like in the film Tess, of Thomas Hardy’s work, and I hope they pay attention to details of appearance, even if the title of the work has to be up dated. The dedication is another example of Elizabeth’s admiration for the artists of this world. This work has lived on, forever fresh and eternal, pleasing generations of young girls, and famously being J.K.Rowling favourite children’s book.

Elizabeth Goudge 1946 The Little White Horse
Elizabeth Goudge 1974 Joy of the Snow.

Deborah Gaudin

 

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Bull Roarer

I found this piece about Bull roarers on the web, and thought that the information would be of interest to others as well.

Museum Number: 506
Artefact Name/Title: Wind/Bull roarers, Two plates approximately 9″ x 2″ pierced at one end. Shallow carving of a spiral design on one and angular design on the other. Used for summoning spirits or raising spirit power.
Brief Artefact Name: Wind Roarers
Museum Classification: Working Tools
Maker/Author: unknown
Information: When a west country witch wishes to draw to her spirit forces when working in the open countryside, she makes use of a wind roarer, being a flat section of shaped hard wood secured to a length of stout pliable string which is then rotated at arm’s length at speed around the head. The sound emitted varies in pitch depending on the blade size and speed of rotation. By this means strange wailing sounds can be created. Little wonder that the spirits come flocking in to see what all the ghastly moaning is about.

With thanks to Hannah Foxe who kindly gave permission for us to use this material from the Folk Museum website.

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