Archive for Prisoners

In Our Time of Trouble

In these days of self-isolation we work to reach out to one another in different ways. Reaching for consolation and advise from Elizabeth is probably one that we have all experienced.

She herself lived through the great flu pandemic of 1918, which killed more people than the horrendous world war they had just gone through, and was a contributing factor to Elizabeth’s spinsterhood.

So what would Elizabeth recommend that I read, I reached out and pulled The Rosemary Tree from the shelf. Not one of my favourite of her books, Daphne annoys me. I went to put it back and then remembered the themes that this work explores; confinement, isolation, imprisonment, illness, and the ultimate journey of death.

Perhaps it has something to say to me after all. Let Elizabeth keep you company and offer consolation for an evening or two, I don’t think the conversation will disappoint.

Happy New Year

Open a book and let Elizabeth speak…..
“During the next twenty minutes he passed through one of the oddest experiences of his life. As he moved up and down before the bars, trying ceaselessly for another sight of that boy, he began to recognise some of the faces that came and went in front of him. One hulking brute of a fellow had the bluest Irish eyes he had ever seen. Another, a boy, with the face of a depraved old man, had a mouth as sensitively cut as Stella’s own. A third, hunchbacked and deformed, had a pock marked face that startled the Abbe by suddenly splitting into a grin. He noticed other eyes, other mouths, other gallant attempts at cheerfulness. Occasionally, when he slipped a coin into a wooden spoon, his eyes would meet the eyes of the poor devil that held it, and he had the sensation that the trivial act was not trivial at all but an actual entering in of himself into the being of the man before him”

(Gentian Hill p 378)

Front cover of 1st Edition Gentian Hill

Like many of us, we were taken out for dinner over the festive break and went to a small market town to enjoy it. The town is a pretty and ancient one, the evening cool enough to be seasonal and the Christmas lights added their glamour to the occasion.

As we walked up the charming narrow street soaking up the atmosphere, we passed in a doorway a hump of sleeping bag and blankets, and a man looked up and gave me a cheerful wave as we passed. Not behind bars, but a prisoner none the less; of circumstances, of fate, from a society that had locked him out. In 2020, I am appalled, ashamed and amazed that this is one of the problems that not only has not been eradicated, but sadly is on the rise.

Elizabeth spoke to me through the medium of the random page of the first of her works I pulled off the shelf. Many of her works contain prisoners, their inner turmoil, their crimes and punishment. Prisoner welfare was a cause close to her heart, one that she carried out quietly, consummately away from the public eye, all her life.

One of her favourite quotes was: – “what the dead had no speech for, when living, they can tell you, being dead: the communication of the dead is tongued with fire..”
(T. S. Eliot Little Gidding). I have no doubt that Elizabeth would have had similar feelings towards the homeless as my own.

She would also have taken away the gifts of his smile, the total lack of judgement he displayed, the fact that in his destitution, he could look up and be happy for us. She would also have enjoyed the other aspects of the evening just as keenly; companionship and the importance of family, the quiet appreciation of the beauty of starlight over old roofs.

Thank you for the companionship of like minds. We wish all of you a safe, peaceful and happy New Year.

Reaching Out

Reaching Out

My chief joy in running the Elizabeth Goudge site is the interesting correspondence that I receive from around the world. Many of those who contact me wrote to Elizabeth, and the letters and the writers feelings on her replies flesh out the knowledge of the woman Elizabeth grew into. They contain a universal message of hope in adversity and love for her fellow man, all say how inspiring she was, and the positive effect she had on their lives. What a wonderful legacy to leave.

But back in March of this year I was contacted by Javier V’zquez from Spain with a short email which touched me deeply.

“My family has letters to my mother, Lucila Alvarez. My mother was the wife of a victimized during the Franco era. If they were of interest, I think that would be fine to send copies of most of these letters.”
Javier Vazquez

It is well documented that Elizabeth felt keenly for those who suffered persecution and imprisonment. I don’t know how she found out about the sad plight of this family from so far away. But their circumstances and tragic story touched her so much that she wrote to them for many years, giving them her support and friendship.

There is a prayer in her Diary of Prayer which is headed “For Prisoners’ Families” and starts,

We pray to you, O Lord, for the broken homes of prisoners, wives left without their husbands and children fatherless, whole families in fear as they face the loneliness and hardship that lie before them. Help us, O Lord, to help them. Show us how to bring to them all the love and aid in our power, in whatever way is possible for us.”
(Diary of Prayer. Goudge 1966)

As the prayer is not attributed to anyone it seems fairly certain that it was one Elizabeth wrote herself as part of her private devotions. It was written not long after she got in touch with the Vazquez family. We can only imagine the lift the gift of friendship would have been, the practicable support offered would have been a life line.

Lucila’s husband Miguel was an artist and an out spoken critic of the Franco regime, and was someone with whom Elizabeth would have found it easy to empathize with. We know from her letters that she considered him an artist of some merit, congratulating him on an exhibition he was staging.
Elizabeth always felt compassion for prisoners, her books are full of them, from Thomas More to Michael in The Rosemary Tree, her concern for their well being shines out. It seems to me more than a coincidence that The Eliot’s matriarch was named Lucilla.

We do not have Lucila and Miguel’s letters to Elizabeth as her correspondence was destroyed after her death, but the letters she wrote to them have been a treasured part of the Vazquez’s life ever since and I feel privileged to be able to share them with you.

Thank you Mrs Vazquez and Javier.

Spanish Letters 1

Spanish Letters page 2Spanish letters 3Spanish letter 4

 

Heart Of The Family

Heart Of The Family

Listen friends.
With drowsy eyes
I have seen
Something I want to tell you.

It is daybreak. Opposite me
a prisoner wakes up.
He raises himself on one elbow.
Takes out a cigarette. Sits up.
His gaze as he smokes
is lost,

and his forehead is untroubled.
(The wind is dreaming
in the window.)
He draws at the cigarette. Bends forward.
Takes a piece of bread,

eats it slowly

and then begins to cry.
(This does not matter perhaps.

I am just telling you.)

As for me, you know that the flagstones

have worn down the core of my heart,
but to see a man crying
is always a terrible thing.

Marcos Ana, written when he was a political prisoner.
Taken from A Diary of Prayer. Elizabeth Goudge.

 

HOF

 

 

Marcos Ana, now 88, was 19 when General Francisco Franco had him thrown in jail in 1939. As a political inmate who had fought against Franco’s victorious troops during the Spanish Civil War, Ana was tortured, shunted from prison to prison and managed to avoid two death sentences before he emerged, bewildered to the point of nausea, a free man in 1961. He was 41 but retained the desires of innocent youth. Marcos Ana is a nom de plume formed by combining his parents’ first names: his real name is Fernando Macarro Castillo.

1953 was the year of The Coronation, when a slim, dark haired young woman was crowned Queen Elizabeth II, the new Elizabethan renaissance, of Art, Science and Technology had begun. Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzig Norgay conqueror Everest, many will follow. While at home the east coast of Britain was devastated by The Great Storm, which caused major sea flooding all down the coast.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton won the Carnegie medal for Children’s literature and Elizabeth Goudge presented the last in The Eliot saga to her readers. She says about the book, “This is a novel for all those who asked me to write a third book about the Eliots”. The first two books of the trilogy stand alone, but with The Heart of the Family we need the history of the two previous to drive us into the finale.

It is the Outsider Sebastian Weber who brings us into the book. We arrive like him a voyeur in the Damerosehay Oak woods watching the approach of the child Meg down the drive. We instantly know who she is and wait with anticipation to go with them into the familiar sanctuary of the house.

This is at times a hard, dark book dealing as it does with Prisoners, the dispossessed, infidelity, illness, racial hatred, war and death. Yet it remains ultimately uplifting, a spiritual tour de force and the ending is triumphant.

I had braced myself to find the family struggling to come to terms with the death of Lucilla, and was pleasantly surprised that she was still alive. Then I began to read Elizabeth’s moving portrayal of old age and the imminence of death. I realized how brave she had been and how following the paths of Lucilla’s thoughts and memories and the way one dove tails into another, gives us a deep insight into the way the elderly think and feel. The dark night of Lucilla’s soul made me afraid and then exultant as I lived each twist and turn of her thoughts and feelings. The wonderful pin prick that Hilary delivers the following morning grounds the whole experience, making it seem believable rather than fantastical.

The rest of the family are still living and growing in the homes we left them in, although Tommy is at Medical School and the twins at Boarding School for most of the year, as Elizabeth was, but we rediscover them and their growth through the eyes of someone fresh, someone who has in a way been sent to shake them out of their complacency

For me the Heart of the book is Chapter IV, as Sally and Sebastian confront each other in the Damerosehay garden. It is full of all the contrasts which are the themes of the book. Sally is very pregnant and tired and the last thing she wanted to come home to from an exhausting journey was a stranger. David, who has hired Sebastian as a secretary, has forgotten to tell anyone else that he has invited him to stay. Sebastian, feeling refreshed already, goes out into the beauty of the early evening garden only to find that this lovely place leads him straight back into the heart of the nightmare he is trying to put behind him.

They meet and while Sally is full of remorse over her seemingly banal remarks on greeting him, they really look at each other, and find there the total opposite of themselves. Sally looks on real suffering such as she has always believed she could alleviate, and he sees a young woman so naive and innocent that he feels fear for her. The Have and Have nots face each other out. Sally possesses all that he has lost, and for the first time he realizes that he might be the more fortunate, as he faced and lived through this misery, but for her it may lie in the future. Like David before him he finds the thought of Sally without her refreshing child-likeness distressing. Their close and loving friendship has taken its first steps.

There is a lot of repetition in this book, character traits and places that are reiterated and revisited again. From George’s simplistic nature and Tommy’s brashness, to the houses, gardens and woods in which the drama takes place. It’s like going back to a favourite holiday venue, we need to see that all is more or less as we left it.

The contrast between Sebastian and Heloise who have both had grim war time experiences is marked. Heloise now the Nanny to David and Sally’s children, has lost both parents, her Father murdered in front of them by the Nazi’s and then her Mother fighting with the resistance in France. She joins the Resistance after her Mother’s death and her life is only obliquely referred to as being unpleasant and at the mercy of men. Nevertheless, she seems to be able to make positive her future, knowing that her integrity is intact. Whereas to Sebastian life was ” a senseless affair….Why did God, if there was a God, demand the continued existence in time and space of such disconnected items as himself? There should be a celestial bonfire once a year to burn up all extraneous humanity.” ( Goudge p19 1953 )

We follow the course of Sebastian’s conversion, his relief in his capacity to still love, while at the same time teaching the family endurance and tenacity, showing them by the light of his experiences how fortunate they are. If he can survive and rise above the evils and misfortunes of his life, then they can muddle through their own short comings and failings. As Sally says “Grandmother is old, and David hasn’t got a happy nature, and I am afraid, and Ben never knows what to do for the best, and I expect all the others think themselves hardly used in one way or the other. But there is not one of us who has been crucified.” (Goudge p 263 1953). Although Sebastian is horrified by her remark, she explains that they all needed to see the high price of love, and through this ultimately be able to love God more fully too. Sebastian is humbled and remembers with shame and confusion his feelings on first arriving at Damerosehay.

Throughout the story, Elizabeth faces uncomfortable issues. People who knew little of her life thought that she was a slightly eccentric spinster, who lived a middle class existence in a comfortable country home, with her servants and dogs. This was the outward exterior that she showed to the world, and I’m sure was also to some extent the image she had of herself. But in reality Elizabeth cared for people, not only those that she came into daily contact with, or were her family, but humanity. She was so intensely private that we will probably never know the extent of her charity, but it didn’t stop there. In her daily life of prayer she prayed for the poor and the homeless. prisoners and refugees, Royalty and Bishops, Saints and sinners. Prayed in the deep, physical giving way that she talks about in the book. Offering up the small stresses and strains of her life as Lucilla and Sally try to do. Not asking of God, but trying to Give to the World.

So the book is not only about infidelity, but marriage, integrity and prevarication, fear and serenity, poverty and affluence. It is about the contrasts between attitudes to life and how one chooses to live it. It is about the perpetrator and the victim, the bombed and the bomber. This is Elizabeth confronting the dark and trying to place it in God’s grand plan. “There is in God some say a deep but dazzling darkness.” (Vaughan 1621/1695)

Elizabeth finds comfort in the past, the reiteration of pleasant occasions and a greater depth of knowledge about the people she has grown to love. The future is one full of anxiety, an unknown country. David on his trip to America was aware of its being in the throes of The Korean War. The country was full of anti-Communist feelings and belligerence. The Western world was enduring the nervousness brought on by the Cold war with “warm war” an ever present danger. How relieved Elizabeth and others must have been when the armistice was signed in 1953.

I wonder too if it was not with a feeling of relief that she wrote the concluding chapter to the book. Against all the odds and in spite of the “crinkled pink petals” strewn in the path of those who would have preferred red, the Family had survived and was moving forward into the next generation.

Goudge Elizabeth 1953 The Heart Of The Family Hodder & Stoughton
Vaughan Henry 1621/1695

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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