Archive for The White Witch

Pen Friends

In my quest for knowledge about the works and life of Elizabeth Goudge, my research has lead me to strange little odds and ends of information, which when put together add a piece to Elizabeth’s tapestry.

One of these was an ebay purchase I made a number of years ago. Another writer I admire is Rosemary Sutcliff and I noticed that a hard backed 1st edition of her Arthurian Trilogy was up for sale. I won the bid and waited for the books. When they came I was pleased to find that their condition was as described. When I opened them they were all three inscribed “Elizabeth with much love Rosemary” and from one of them fell a letter, which had been written by the author.

I have written about this find elsewhere, so lets just say that after a bit of detective work, I found out that Rosemary Sutcliff and Elizabeth had been friends, and both writers belonged to the same literary agent. Elizabeth wrote the forward to one of Rosemary’s over looked works “The Rider of the White Horse.” A quiet, descriptive novel set during England’s civil war.

“There is nothing nicer than being asked to write an introduction to a favourite book. ” Elizabeth writes, “But at the same time it is a difficult task. It is like being asked to describe the charm of a face you love. If you did not love the face so much, and even more the person behind the face, it would be easy.”

This book was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1967, and chronicles the military career of Thomas Fairfax and the fate of his family during the civil war. A theme Elizabeth had already visited in The White Witch.

But a deeper connection to Elizabeth’s work is the significance that the herb of grace, or rue has for the Fairfax family.

Anne Fairfax is waiting to meet her husband on a brief visit from the fighting in a dark, disused chapel. She is anxious, grieving the death of her youngest child  and restless, knowing that her husband has never loved her as she has him. She takes comfort from the ancient preaching cross that is part of the chapel, its rugged strength and symbolism.

“Somebody else, she realised suddenly, had felt the warmth as she felt it. for on the chest of rough black oak that stood against the wall below it, an unknown hand had set a knot of blue flowers in an earthen cup. For Anne they rang a small silver note of memory. but it was a moment before she realised that the flower was rue. The Herb of Grace. The Herb of Grace springing from the ruins among which the wild white unicorn trampled with his proud shining hooves; Herb of Grace set here at the foot of the old preaching cross that was the living heart of the besieged church, as though for a statement of faith.”
(Rider of the White Horse Rosemary Sutcliff)

This book contains many of the themes we have come to recognise in Elizabeth’s books, dealing with unrequited love, faith and family in a way that is familiar to readers of her work.

That they read each others work and seemed to have been inspired and enlightened by them is obvious.  Elizabeth admires Rosemary’s ability to map battle scenes, a prospect she admits to finding difficult. Although she has no trouble in mapping out the intimate worlds her families inhabit. I’m sure Rosemary found the emotional depth Elizabeth gave to her characters something that commanded respect.

It is tempting to think that the symbolism of the blue flowered rue in Elizabeth’s book “The Herb of Grace” slipped into Rosemary’s unconscious to emerge years later as a valuable motif in her civil war novel.

Elizabeth also wrote promotional pieces for Rosemary’s excellent Arthurian epic “Sword at Sunset”, in which she praises Rosemary for so identifying with the characters that “the distant time, so difficult for many of us to realise, glows with present reality.”

At this time of fire light and lengthening evenings, find companionship, open a good book and reacquaint yourself with old friends or make some knew ones by exploring one of Elizabeth’s worlds.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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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Paper Treasure

From: Deborah Gaudin
Category: Category 1
Date: 08 Oct 2006

In the corner of my bedroom stands a bookcase, of three shelves. It is well out of the way of direct sunlight, and directly in my line of vision from the bed. It contains the most precious books in my collection, not always the most expensive, although some of them are, but the ones that sound the deepest resonance with me. Naturally this is where my collection of Elizabeth Goudge books lives,  making up the largest group of books on the shelves. Some that are not by her have a bearing on her life and work.

I was found by Elizabeth Goudge, age nine, at a friends house by accident one wet afternoon, in the form of a tatty paperback called “The Little White Horse”. My friend had been bought it by her elder sister, and didn’t care for it at all. I on the other hand couldn’t put it down. From the moment the carriage lurches, and Miss Heliotrope, Maria Merryweather and Wiggins fall into each others arms, I was enchanted. The spell was only deepened as Digweed swung from the bell rope, and trundled them through the tunnel.

How could any child processed of an imagination not know that an enchanted and other worldly kingdom awaited not only Maria, but anyone courageous enough to accompany her. The Cathedral books and The White Witch followed on over the next few years, until I was eagerly searching for other titles by this remarkable author. She seemed able to bring the world of the spirit into the every day and make of the mundane something fresh and new. I set out to find all of her books, and was lucky enough to do so with the exception of her plays and one early set of stories.

I caught the news of her death in 1984 by accident. I was married by this time with my first child on the way and a new house in a strange town to look after. I felt as though a beloved distant relative had died, and that now, I would never get a chance to tell her how much I admired and loved her. I re read all her work, and started to fill in the gaps that I hadn’t got around to filling. Suddenly every word she had written was doubly precious, as there weren’t going to be any more. I sought out copies of her Omnibus edition of the Eliots of Damerosehay; this had a forward in it that filled in a tiny piece of knowledge. Her auto biography, anthologies and Diary of Prayer, soon followed. I found the guide she had written for the Chapel at Buckler’s Hard, and that she had written the jacket publicity for a number of books such as “Rider on the White Horse”, and “Sword at Sunset”, both written by another favourite author of mine Rosemary Sutcliff.

This is when the wonderful, Goudgian event occurred. My husband mentioned that he had seen the first editions of The Sword and the Circle, The Road to Camlann and The Light Beyond the Forest by Rosemary Sutcliff for sale, and that they were signed by the author. Was I interested? Of cause I was, how could I resist? When the books arrived, they were in perfect condition, obviously never been read, and indeed they were signed by the author, and dedicated to “Elizabeth with love.” One of the books also contained a letter. It said; “Elizabeth, my poor Darling! Jessie told me about your poor pinned leg and I am so sorry! This is really just a Get Well Card, I’ll write properly when you feel more up to letters, and meanwhile I’ll phone Jessie for news. Much love Rosemary” It was dated April 24th. For anyone familiar with Elizabeth’s biography, the connection of the two names Jessie and Elizabeth in the same missive had to be more than coincidence! In the “World of Elizabeth Goudge” Sylvia Gower tells us how in the early spring of 1978, Elizabeth had a fall at home and injured her leg so badly she had to go to hospital. Seven months later she was still in pain enough to mention her pinned leg in correspondence.

Elizabeth told a reporter that Jessie was a great help to her with her files and papers, and indeed was told to burn all superfluous material after her death. I am sure that Elizabeth would have corresponded with a number of contemporary authors, such as Rosemary Sutcliff, especially as they belonged to the same publishing house. If a friend knows another is unwell and wishes to send love and good wishes to them, what could be more natural than sending something “home made” or personal with the wish? For most of us it would be a pot of home made jam, or a bunch of garden flowers. But between authors, first editions of their new book! What an addition to a collection. To be able to think that Elizabeth would at least have had the letter read to her, if not actually held it. The very books themselves must have come from her library. I think that along with Parson Hawthorne (The White Witch) Elizabeth held books to be “the best of the earthly meats”, and how rich a new book could make them both feel. These books have now become a treasured part of my collection, a nugget of gold in a jewelled casket of books.

 

Re: Paper Treasure

From: Jo
Category: Category 1

Comments

I thoroughly appreciated the information contained in this posting. Thank you. My husband and I visited with Jessie Monroe outside of Rose Cottage in August, 1979. She was so gracious to us and invited her into their garden and offered cuttings of plants from the garden. She said Miss Goudge had just returned from a nursing home.