Archive for Book Review – Page 2

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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Towers In The Mist

 

“It is impossible, Elizabeth wrote, to live in an old city and not ask yourself continually, what was it like years ago? What were the men, woman and children like who lived in my home centuries ago, and what were their thoughts and their actions as they lived out their lives day by day in the place where I live mine now?”

Her book Towers In The Mist is the result of all these musings. She had not wanted to leave her beloved Ely and the situation was made almost intolerable by her Mother’s swift decline and long illness. The young, shy Elizabeth was forced to take on the role of hosting the great and the good of Oxford, as part of her Father’s increasingly powerful and intellectual social circle. He had moved to Oxford in order to take up the Regius Professorship of the college, a vocation he thoroughly enjoyed. Elizabeth did not. It seems unfair that her mother who was imminently suitable for the task was not up to performing it. One of the prevalent deciding factors in Henry excepting the post had been the status it would infer on his beautiful, clever wife.

Elizabeth peoples her home with a young vibrant family called Leigh, who are coping without a mother, as she herself does, the matriarch of the household being a bedridden Aunt. Their father is Canon Leigh, a dignitary of the college, much like Henry, and it is tempting to say that Elizabeth brings in the young, vibrant family of the Leigh’s to fill the emptiness of the big old house. Maybe they helped keep the ghosts at bay. It’s a tale as frothy and sparkling as the foam on Raleigh’s beer tankard, tempting to label it a lesser novel. One written to fulfil literary obligations rather than one inspired. It is the novel about which Henry said “You make a little knowledge go such a long way”

Faithful is a poor aspiring scholar who in the company of gypsies has made his way to Oxford where he dreams of becoming a member of that great University. Gypsies seem to have held a fascination for Elizabeth as they play a part in more than one of her novels. During a May Day procession he meets the young Leigh twins who help to make his dream a reality. Joyeuce, the inappropriately named eldest daughter of the Leigh family is struggling to find some time for herself in the busy life of surrogate motherhood that she has been forced to take on. These are the two main characters of the story, through whose eyes Elizabethan Oxford unfolds, with all its riots, dirt, squalor and beauty. In its pages we meet with the good and great of the age, ending with the visit of the fairy queen Elizabeth I. The whole book is a mixture of history lesson and guided tours of the city.

This is a coming of age novel, charting the uncertain waters of love, aspiration and work. But like all teenagers throughout the ages the desire to “kick over the traces” of convention is ever present. As perhaps Elizabeth longed to do but never dared. There are shades here of that mysterious unknown and unsuitable suitor left behind in the Cambridgeshire fens. Which gate did she meet him at I wonder?

Elizabeth I

At the time this was written, Chamberlain was telling the world that it was “peace in our time.” How remote and shining the inviolate isle of Elizabethan Britain must have looked in those troubled times. We had beaten the Spanish Armada; surely we could do so all over again? Like all of Elizabeth’s work it is filled with the quiet optimism that all will be well, and the scent of nostalgia breathes from its pages as potent as violets after rain.

I first read this as a teenager in the omnibus edition of her work Three Cities of Bells, and was impatient with this sandwich filling between two books that I loved. Perhaps she had to write it, to convince both herself and her father that she was taking her writing seriously, viewing it as a contractual obligation of her profession not as a hobby.

Goudge Elizabeth Towers In The Mist 1938 Hodder & Stoughton

 

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I Saw Three Ships

“In the mid winter gloom Christmas comes up over the horizon like a lighted ship homeward bound. The arrival has been prepared for and expected, yet as the archaic shape draws slowly nearer and nearer, the lights of the lanterns reflected in the black water like moons and stars, the sails luminous as huge moth’s wings in the dark, we feel profound relief. The great ship has not been wrecked. We in its absence, have escaped destruction. It is to happen again……..”
( Goudge page 7 1967)

This is one of Elizabeth’s loveliest visions of Christmas, drawing on an ancient Celtic symbol, The Ship. A wonderful, calming picture to hold onto in the chaos of a modern Christmas, with all its expectations and hard work.

I saw Three Ships is a Christmas carol of a tale set in an idealized Napoleonic Torbay, the setting used for her novel Gentian Hill. Indeed some of the characters from this book are reused too, an economy that doesn’t offend. The orphan girl is the most obvious transfer who though young is wiser than the elderly aunts she has been sent to live with. Then there is the French “migrant” fleeing the terror and his own terrible secret short comings, and finally the mysterious beautiful woman, standing serenely in the bow of a ship who features in more than one of Elizabeth’s works.

This is a tale of home coming, not only of a long absent brother, but of those rescued from danger, and the ultimate home coming of death.
“When he put his fingers on the table Balthazar left myrrh” said the Frenchman. His death, you understand, to enrich their life.” (Goudge p 38 1967 )

“And what was in those Ships all three?”

All our hopes, dreams and wishes for the future, bright, untarnished and full of possibilities.

The Ship

Christmas and the New Year was a very special time for Elizabeth and she celebrates it in many of her books. In fact the story of the Three Wise Men is a tale for Epiphany, 6th January, and tells of a revelation that changes the lives of all those in this story, as the end of their journey changed the lives of the Magi forever.

“We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,”
(Journey of the Magi T .S. Eliot.)

This is a small tale like an advent window into her imagination. In it a young girl wants to honour the legend of the three wise men that she had observed with her parents, she wants to leave the front door of their home unlocked on Christmas Eve to let them in. A prospect that the two maiden aunts take great exception to, as it leaves them vulnerable, who know whom or what might get in?

What gets in through the open parlour window with the help of Polly, will change the lives of all who live there.

The book is filled with the simple effective line drawings of Richard Kennedy, an illustrator who started work at the Hogarth Press for the Bloomsbury set, most notably Leonard and Virginia Woolf. They make a strong frame for the simple style the story is told in, giving us glimpses of the action. He also illustrated books for Rosemary Sutcliffe a contemporary and friend of Elizabeth’s, they worked for the same agent and publisher. Rosemary Sutcliffe wrote a poem called The Feast Of Lights which starts like this

This is The Feast Of Lights.
We have put the holly and the ivy up, a sprig or two
Behind each picture, three behind the largest,
As it was in my father’s time, and his father’s before him, world without
end.
The scented candle, gift of a friend far off, is lit before the crib.
Spicy, aromatic, warm and faintly bitter, censing the whole house
As though three kings had just walked through it.

(Rosemary Sutcliffe p 147 1986.)

Maybe the gift was given by her friend Elizabeth, to celebrate the birth of Light.

” And so Christmas is still the Feast of Lights. So many of them. Once it was the Yule-log, the burning brandy of the snap dragon game, and the flames round the Christmas pudding. Then it was the twinkling wax candles on the Christmas tree. Now the candles are mostly electric, and if safer are not so beautiful, and the blazing lights of Regent Street are rather garnish. But it does not matter, for whatever they are they continue to be reflections from the light that at the beginning of all things moved upon the face of the waters. ”     ( Goudge p 8 1967)

For me Elizabeth seems to lean a little closer at this time of year, a pleasant ritual to read one or more of her books, deepening my understanding of her writing, getting to know her a little more, and enhancing my love for the true meaning of the season.

May the New Year be a Peaceful and Prosperous time for you all.

Deborah Gaudin

Elizabeth Goudge 1967 A Christmas Book  Hodder & Stoughton
Elizabeth Goudge 1969 I Saw Three Ships Brockhampton Press
Richard Adams 1986 Occasional Poets An Anthology. Viking

 

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Poetry In The Works Of Elizabeth Goudge

Poetry In The Works Of Elizabeth Goudge~
( A National Poetry Society Centenary Article)

In 2009 the National Poetry Society celebrated its centenary. So it seemed appropriate that the discussion I should lead at the Henley Convention should have been on the subject of the Poetry in Elizabeth’s work and the importance it had in her life. Firstly the importance of the poetry of place that she used, and then the way she used poetry to give depth to her characters. Finally I went on to talk about the anthologies she had compiled, Elizabeth’s own poetry and the poets she had known.

Steps Wells Cathedral

Steps Wells Cathedral

What is meant by the Poetry Of Place? This is an important concept for me as a Poet. In fact I can say that Elizabeth was one of the major influences on my wishing to write descriptive verse. The Poetry in her prose is evident, she is an extremely lyrical writer. Elizabeth herself attributed this to her time at Reading University, which she attended just after the 1st World War, and where she was taught the arts of painting and embroidery among others. In her auto-biography “The Joy Of The Snow” she says,

“I used my handicraft training for such a short while that from the point of view of earning a living it appeared sheer waste. Yet looking back I see what an excellent thing it was for a writer. It taught me to observe things in minute detail; the shape of a petal, the sheen on a bird’s wing. It taught me the balance of pattern. Above all it stimulated imagination. I think now that every writer should have a period of work at an Art School as part of his training.”

But her father Henry, was also responsible for her ability to really look at the world. Elizabeth while writing the forward to Henry’s book “Glorying In The Cross” remembers him becoming exasperated with her on a train journey they were taking, “If you don’t look out of the window at the scenery it is an insult to God who put it there for your pleasure.” he said. He loved birds and the sight of butterflies hovering above flowers, and the combination of the two became a metaphor for wonder and contentment in several of her books.

So to her, her places are more than stage settings, they are inspirational manifestations of God. She is almost Pantheistic in her love for the beauty of the natural world. There are trees, rocks, birds and of cause houses that have distinct personalities of their own. The tree above Weekaborough Farm in Gentian Hill where Zachary has his moment of revelation, rocks, such as where the Abbess and Marianne meet to place their footprints in the same place as the legendary sisters had done hundreds of years before them. Birds are always a symbol of the freedom from the mundane in her work, the spiritual rising of joy, and the Homes that she writes about so compellingly all have strong personalities which are to be trusted, nurtured and protected.

The opening of Elizabeth’s books are like Old Master paintings, a favourite metaphor of Elizabeth’s, filled with hidden messages and symbolism if we care to look. Instantly we are transported to the world the writer is making for us. It is a device which seems to be going out of fashion, as most modern novels want to plunge you straight into the thick of the action. The former seems a more gentle way, a gradual removal from the mundane world. We are lifted up out of ourselves rather than being bewildered as to where we are and what’s happening.

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Elizabeth opens doors for us, doors onto another world, somewhere we would like to be. But unlike other contemporary writers such as C. Day Lewis’s Narnia or Tolkien’s Middle Earth, they exist. We don’t have to slip on a magic ring, or find an enchanted wardrobe, we can go there, today, now, it only takes a shift in our perception to get us there. Our own lives and surroundings are filled with magic and spiritual significance.

Poetry provided backbone for her characters, and here we come to the Eliot family, the most famous of the families that Elizabeth wrote about. She says of them in the introduction to The Eliots of Damerosehay the following:-

” Of my various book people the dearest are the Eliots. I am almost ashamed to confess how devoted I am to them all. The families in the other books I sometimes forget about for weeks together but the Eliots, especially Lucilla and Meg, are always there, and of cause much has happened to them that is not recorded in these pages. One must stop somewhere. Readers are very patient, but one can not expect them to be as deeply attached to one’s book people as one is oneself, and the compass of this book is more than enough about one family. But I may say that all has gone well with the Eliots since the birth of Christiana, and it is only occasionally that I find myself worrying about them. ”

How intriguing! Doesn’t it make you wish there had been a fourth? I’m not fond of other writers writing sequels to an authors work, as in Mrs De Winter/Rebecca’s Tide genre. They can never know what the original author intended and can never stand for me convincingly in their shoes. The Eliots live because Elizabeth gave them life, they were her surrogate family. She never married, had children. This she felt was denied her due to the 1st world war and the dearth of men after the carnage. But I really wonder if she would have married anyway. There was always the example of her heroine Jane Austen before her. She had chosen the single life so that she could devote herself to her writing career, and I think that Elizabeth too shared this slightly selfish writers streak.

But the point of this is that the Eliots were important characters to Elizabeth and she wanted us to know them warts and all. So when she wants to point out a weakness or give her character advise poetry is used to do so. When David struggles to come to terms with the fact that for the greater good of the family he must give up his chance of a relationship with Nadine, he turns to the poets to do so. Alone in his room and desperately trying to deny the truth of his situation he picks up the work of Humbert Wolfe.

Shall I not see that to live is to have relinquished
beauty to the sequestration of the dark,
and yet that the spirit of man, benighted, vanquished,
has folded wings, and shall use them as the lark

into the sun beyond the cold clouds flinging
her desperate hope, not reaching where she has striven
but soaring forever beyond herself, and singing
high above earth as she is low in heaven?

Shall I not confess that mine own evil humour
and not man’s failure forged this black despair,
and, while I wept, high up the golden rumour
of the lark ascending fringed the quiet air?

From the Uncelestial City.

This is powerful stuff. David seeking solace, probably sympathy has come up against abrasive advice. He is a proud man, regarding himself as honourable and upright. Yet he has been spoilt by an indulgent Grandmother, and shielded so far from life’s hard knocks by his good looks and charm. He is a successful actor, used to having his way, and the thought of having to relinquished beauty to the sequestration of the dark ,is unthinkable and frightening. But he comes to realise that throughout life we are continuously relinquishing; our, looks, youth, health, work, children, friends and loved ones. And that if we can see this as relinquishing, a graceful surrender to the inevitable, how much better than seeing it as a tearing away of and continual loss.

Humbert helps him to see that aspiration and the love for life go on, even at a time when we would almost rather they didn’t, so painful is it to think about living without that person. David wants to be part of the tradition of Damerosehay, and like all those members of the spiritual family of the house has to sacrifice something precious for the greater good of the family. In the case of Captain Christopher Martin is it reason itself. Over coming this will he believes be not only right for the Eliot family, but good and right for himself, David. the man.

Although Nadine agrees with David and goes back to George it isn’t really until half way through the next book,” Herb of Grace” that she has her epiphany.

On a night of storm when she can’t sleep, goes to the art studio set up in the house for John Adair the famous artist staying there, and tries to work out why she can’t quite let David go. Although she has returned to George and had twins, the thought that if it doesn’t work out and it all gets unbearable she can always go back to David has been at the back of her mind. She now realizes that this is an impossible situation, and the thought that David might be a reluctant escape route and is unable to move on himself, only out of pity for her, galls and annoys her. She wants to be in charge of the situation and realizes that she is not. She is more reliant on the thought of David than he is on her. She picks a book up off the floor , and sees a jay’s feather marking a page. She reads the lyric.

 

 

Should thy love die;
O bury it not under ice-blue eyes!
And lips that deny,
With a scornful surprise,
The life it once lived in thy breast when it wore no disguise.

Should thy love die;
O bury it where the sweet wild flowers blow!
And breezes go by,
With no whisper of woe;
And strange feet cannot guess of the anguish that slumbers below.

Should thy love die;
O wander once more to the haunt of the bee!
Where the foliaged sky
Is most sacred to see,
And thy being first felt its wild birth like a wind-wakened tree.

Should thy love die,
O dissemble it ! Smile ! let the rose hide the thorn!
While the lark sings on high,
And no thing looks forlorn,
Bury it, bury it, bury it where it was born.

George Meredith

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Again, not the advice she had wished to hear, as it so seldom is. But she comes to realize that David does want to move on, be free to find his wife. She realizes to her shame how selfish she is being, and that love for a middle aged woman is just plain silly out of wedlock. She has only been chasing her lost youth. What she has in children and husband is all she ever wants to have. They in the sum of their parts are worth more than the whole of David to her. But it takes a Poet to show her.

My last example is taken from Scent Of Water. It concerns cousin Mary and her meeting with the queer old man, a Vicar that her mother feels obliged to invite to tea. He is an embarrassment to her Mother and Mary is asked to show him the garden to get him out of the way. During the course of their viewing, Mary ends up pouring her heart out to him, telling him things about her mental illness that she has never revealed to another before. She tells him how afraid she is and wonders why God lets her suffer like this, she has not done anything so very wrong. He asks her why she is afraid of losing her reason if she loses it into the hands of God, and he gives her three short simple lines of Prayer to recite daily.

Lord Have Mercy

Into Thy Hands

I thee Adore.

These lines written by the poet and mystic Thomas Traherne, Elizabeth used as a prayer all her life. They were printed on her memorial card, issued for the service, which was held in the church of All Saints Peppard Common which Elizabeth attended. They became her mantra, the kernel of the belief she lived by all her life. As well as helping Mary, they helped Elizabeth through her dark days too.

Mary is one of my favourite Characters in Elizabeth’s work, her struggle to live a normal and fruitful life in the face of such adversity and disappointment are a source of inspiration to me. Whenever I feel hard done by, or as if I want “my path strewn with red rose petals rather than pink,” I think of cousin Mary and the millions of other people heroically struggling against far greater obstacles than I and I pull myself together.

I could talk about any of the five Anthologies that Elizabeth worked on, my favourite is her Book Of Peace. But today I thought I’d speak about one of my constant companions, a book that I dip into almost daily, Elizabeth Goudge’s Diary of Prayer. Published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1966 it is set out in diary form with a prayer or two for each day of the year. The prayers are taken from different faiths and pertain roughly to the Church’s calendar, although as Christmas is the only static festival of the Christian year they do not always correspond to the relevant date, this does not detract from the anthology in any way.

People sent Elizabeth prayers and poems knowing that they would always delight her. One person, a lady called Adelaide Makower, sent her all the Jewish prayers that she uses and Elizabeth also credits her with sending or finding others for her too. The whole anthology took many years to put together, and there is no doubt that Elizabeth used the prayers on a daily basis herself. They were not collected with the intention of being put together as a book at first, but to help Elizabeth learn to pray in an organised and methodical manner. One of the Jewish prayers that speaks to me in particular is the entry for September 3rd which starts “Though our mouths were full of song as the sea, our tongues of exultation as the fullness of its waves,”

Each “chapter” or month starts with a verse that sets the tone. For example, April’s begins with a poem by the Welsh writer David of Gwylym. In it the poet is describing the dawn chorus in a cwm in Wales and attributing clerical roles for all the birds he can hear. “The Chief Priest was the nightingale: the lark and thrush assisted him: and some small bird (I do not weet his name) acted as Clerk.”  Both Elizabeth and her Father were enthusiastic Ornithologists so the poem appeals directly to her as it is full of detail about birds, their calls and habits.

April is also the month most likely to contain the celebration of Easter, so the poem is echoing the most important Mass of the Christian Year. In fact the year the Diary was put together, Easter fell on April 1st.

The depth of Elizabeth’s reading is obvious throughout the work; she doesn’t use the trite or overworked. David of Gwylym was a 14th century medieval poet little known outside of Wales. Maybe she discovered him through Jessie who had extensive Welsh connections. She transposed this love for obscure writers to Hilary in the Eliots; he you will remember was always being accused of quoting from obscure poets at the slightest provocation.

The quotes she uses add another dimension to her writing. I’m always being sent off on literary adventures, discovering writers and poets that have helped to enrich my life. One of my favourite finds from this book was “The Prayers from the Ark “by Carmen Bernos De Gasztold, a poet and Benedictine nun who lived at the Abbaye Saint Louis de Temple at Limon-par-Igny, France. Most of the prayers/poems had been written during the war when she was forced to do uncongenial work in the laboratory of a silk factory near Paris. This took place under the Nazi occupation, when life was hard, cruel and she was often cold and hungry. She takes the animals and our attitude towards them and turns it around so that we can learn from them the virtues of their strengths of patience, hard work, and the putting to use of talents and abilities to the greater good.

The Bee

Lord,
I am not one to despise your gifts,
May you be blessed
who spread the riches of your sweetness
for my zeal………..
let my small span of ardent life
melt into our great communal task;
to lift up to your glory
this temple of sweetness,
a citadel of incense,
a holy candle myriad-celled,
moulded to your graces
and of the hidden work.

Carmen Bernos De Gasztold

 

 

 

Lastly there is Elizabeth Goudge, poet, a mantle she was always too modest to wear.

Hid deep in the heart of the woods, haunted and old,
The shell of a Castle still stands, a story told,
Built high on a rock in the woods, frozen and cold.

Deep are the night-dark shadows under the wall,
Breathlessly whispering downward the snowflakes fall,
Shrouding the desolate towers in a stainless pall.

Fearful within me my own heart, failing, has died,
I too in the woods am frozen, bereaved, sore tried.
Alone here…….There in the shadows, who was it sighed?

There, in the bastioned walls where the gateway stands,
Are there shadows within its shadows, weaving the strands,
Back through the loom of past sorrow with pain-worn hands?

Shadows weeping a world grown cold and stark with pain,
Mourning once more the lights put out, put out again,
The loveliness broken and lost, the young men slain.

Has sorrow alone lived for a hundred years?
Is only hatred immortal, men’s craven fears?
Only the weeping of women, their useless tears?

Not winter only reigns here in this haunted place,
As the cold clouds part, defeated, the sunbeams lace
The dark tress with their diamond light, touch the worn face

Of the frozen stone with colour, with azure fire
Of spring-times long past, yet alive, the hot desire
Of summers never forgotten, hopes that aspire

For ever, courage unbeaten, valour aflame,
The unshaken victory of the men who name
Holy things to their strength…….Nor fear, nor hate nor shame

Is theirs………I see the flashing of arms on the wall,
Here the deep roar of the conflict, the thrilling call
Of the silver trumpets sounding high on the tall

Towers of God’s immortal fortress, that he made
Against the evil out of the love of men laid
At his feet, their sweat. their blood to the last drop paid.

For this is the rock that for all time man defends,
The rock his soul against which all evil spends
Its fury in vain in the warfare that never ends.

And these the embattled walls that the heroes trod,
Swift-winged with flame, their feet with the gospel shod,
For this is the house of all life, the house of God.

Lift up, lift up your constant heart, the trumpet cries,
Lift them up to the shining walls, the sun-drenched skies,
For beyond the night for ever the sun will rise.

Berry Poneroy Castle

 

 

Its very reminiscent of Walter-de-la-Mare, whose poetry is dominated by abandoned buildings, haunted gardens and “presences”.

She was very ambivalent about her talents as a poet, and it certainly is the case that she was a better prose writer. Although this might only be because of her and mine old fashioned concept of Poetry. In Modern verse there is a school of thought that says it makes no difference if the words are in a block of text or chopped into shorter lines , its still a poem. So a piece of prose such as

“She was in a silver-stemmed beech wood roofed with green and gold. The floor of the wood was tawny with beech-mast beneath the polished darker green of low-growing hollies, the silver, green, and tawny faintly veiled by the gauzy blue air of spring. And the birds sang. That piercing clear deep ringing and ring seemed thrusting through her almost intolerably. She believed she had not heard such birdsong since she was a child; yet every year they had been singing like this in the tall woods of England. ”

If it was set out on the page like this:-

She was in a silver-stemmed
beech wood roofed with green and gold.
The floor of the wood was tawny
with beech-mast

beneath the polished darker
green of low-growing hollies, the silver,
green, and tawny faintly veiled by
gauzy blue air of spring.

And the birds sang.
That piercing clear deep ringing
and ringing  seemed thrusting through her
almost intolerably.

She believed she had not heard
such birdsong since she was a child;
yet every year they had been singing like this
in the tall woods of England.

People would except it as an example of modern free verse.

She did put a small book of her Poetry together called Songs & Verses, a copy of which is on display. Many of her Poems forward her books, as in The Little White Horse and The Castle On The Hill. But if you look closely you will also find some in her Diary Of Prayer, those that go unaccredited are her own.

She was certainly friends with modern poets such as Ruth Pitter who lived fairly close to her, and it was apparent that she enjoyed the stimulus and company of Poets. She greatly admired James Kirkup and Harold Munro, they appear frequently in her Anthologies. She never judged the person, but was capable of discerning the genius behind the personality. Ruth Pitter for instance had a crush on the very happily married C. D. Lewis, not something you would have thought that Elizabeth with her strong views on marriage would have had the patience with. But she never judged her.

James Kirkup came to particular public attention in 1977, when the newspaper “Gay News”published his poem “The Love that Dares to Speak its Name”, which dealt with a Roman centurion’s supposed love for Christ on the Cross, and was prosecuted, with the Editor, for blasphemy by Mary Whitehouse, the then Secretary of the National Viewers and Listeners Association.

It didn’t stop Elizabeth putting his poetry in her Anthology A Book of Faith, only published the previous year. Harold Munro too struggled with his sexuality and alcoholism all his life. Don’t think for one moment that Elizabeth was naive, she would have been aware of all of this. But she would have chosen to look at the work he did promoting Poetry and Poets rather than dwell on his personal short comings.

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From the very first book she wrote, Island Magic to her last The Joy Of The Snow, Elizabeth’s love for poetry shines through. She was a prolific and wide ranging reader. Like Mary In The Scent Of Water, she felt that “The poets did at least put it into words for you and ease the pain of it.”

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Scent Of Water


April 2007 and I’m standing in the lime avenue on the approach road to Turville. The day is grey and overcast and all sound is muffled. The trees soar away towards the clouds and at their feet a few bluebells are beginning to unfurl their crumpled petals. There are no people in sight and only a kite traversing the field beyond the limes shows any sign of life. I have come to Oxfordshire to attend the Blue Plaque ceremony which will take place  tomorrow, today is for exploration and how could I not come to the place where Elizabeth set my favourite of her books?

Avenue of Limes

The Scent Of Water was written in the early sixties, published in 1963, at a time when Elizabeth had just moved to Peppard Common from Devon. and it chronicles the move of the central character Mary from a high powered executive job in London to the rural quiet of Appleshaw. She tells her disbelieving friends that she wishes to experience village life before it disappears for ever. Her reasons however are deeper and more personal than that. She has been bequeathed a house by a cousin whom she met just once as a small girl and thinks at first that she will just put the property on the market and sell it. But as the memories of her visit resurface she changes her mind and moves in.

For me this novel is a distillation of all the books that have gone before as it contains all that is best in Elizabeth’s work. Her ability to layer a book so that the threads and narrative lead one ever deeper into the heart of the story, in this case renewal, is inspirational.

Elizabeth herself was coming to terms with the lose of her mother and the lose of her Devonshire home. She was obeying the dictates of her concerned family and moving closer to the few cousins she had left at their request. At first she was unhappy and missed the countryside of her beloved Westerland valley and the companionship of the village people she had come to know. She was always nervous and shy about meeting new people, and the thought of a whole new community to come to grips with must have been daunting to her, even with the help of Jessie.

The world must have seemed a frightening place in the early sixties with the Cuban missile crisis dominating the news and President Kennedy advising all prudent families to build a nuclear bomb shelter. The Berlin wall was dividing communities and the whole world seemed on the brink of a nervous break down. All the tried and tested theories of the past where being severely tested. What hope for the future was there except to retreat to a safe haven and pray?

At that time Elizabeth and Jessie were both young enough and curious enough to start exploring the neighbourhood and it wasn’t long before the charm of their more manicured surroundings captivated her imagination. It was in fact to become one of her most productive writing periods, producing a book every two years until in her eighties she became to frail to write.

Turville is a charming village a few miles from Elizabeth’s new home, nestling under an arm of down land and surrounded by wooded fields. It has been used as a location for screen and television, the latest productions to use it being The Vicar Of Dibley and Midsomer Murders. So it is hardy surprising that Elizabeth should have been inspired to use it as the template for Appleshaw. The novel she placed there has stood the tests of time dealing with subjects such as; financial fraud, infidelity, teenage crime and the complex relationships within families and the wider community. It could have been written yesterday.

It is a book of discovery, a journey into the heart and mind of mental illness, a subject on which Elizabeth had personal experience and as such is one of the most auto-biographical of her works. She speaks movingly of the isolation that depression brings, as only someone who had experienced it could.

“I thought, I can’t bear it,. I was lying on stones and the walls were moving in. And then, and that was the third time, I said, “yes I will”. But it didn’t help. The walls moved in nearer and as they closed right round me, trapping me, I screamed. I don’t suppose I really screamed. What had happened was that I had fallen asleep at last and drifted into nightmare. I was imprisoned in stone. I knew then what men suffer who are walled up alive.” (Goudge 1963 p 136 )

Elizabeth had always been haunted by the Ely ghost and the horrific tale of entombment, but I have also been told by those who suffer depression that this is a very graphic and honest portrayal of how it feels. So many people see mental illness as an affliction sent by God as some form of punishment and only get as far as questioning why it has happened to them. Elizabeth seems to have got beyond this and in her suffering come a little closer in her understanding of God’s love and compassion.

“They’ve not come yet, I thought. All the prettiness the artists painted isn’t here. No angels, no shepherds, no children with their lambs. Its stripped down to the bare bones of the rock and the child. There’s no one here. And then I thought, I am here, and I asked, who am I Lord? And then I knew that I was everyone.” (Goudge 1963 p 136 )

There is no sense of pride here, Elizabeth had discovered and is trying to share with us her way of Prayer. The offering of her, as she would see it, small pain as recompense for others greater trials. Elizabeth’s compassion for out casts and outsiders is well known, a whole section of her Diary Of Prayer is directed towards prisoners and refugees. I wonder what she would have made of Sangatte just across the channel from us today?

Her empathy with Paul the writer and the processes he uses to manifest his craft make me wonder if Elizabeth wrote at night to minimize distractions. Perhaps she too, liked to map out whole sections of her story in her mind and then write them down in large sections or chapters. I suspect that Jessie didn’t involve herself in proof reading or criticism of Elizabeth’s work. One of the reasons Elizabeth cites for getting along with Jessie so well is that she has never read any of her books which she finds refreshing. But was there someone in the village who did have this enviable role?

There is a sense of renewal throughout this book, from Edith confessing her small sin, to Mr Hepplewaite’s major fraud, from Mary’s conversion to Cousin Mary’s revelation, each of the characters becomes reborn. It is a book full of hope, hope founded on the past and a belief that we can bring what is of value back to bloom in the future. Mary who had moved to Appleshaw to discover the past, ends up with ” the future shining on her face,” (Goudge P 282 )

I didn’t find the Talbots new build hidden behind firs in Turville although the cottages nestled around the old church is pretty much as Elizabeth describes it. The house which could be the model for The Laurels was close by, if not opposite. It had a walled garden with a door in the thickness of its stone, but it was called Orchard Cottage, and I couldn’t see the tunnel of wisteria which led to the front door, just a gate and a gravelled drive. Probably another instance of Elizabeth transposing a childhood memory to some where else.

Appleshaw

The Randall’s row of cottages were undergoing extensive renovations and were partly shrouded in tarpaulin. A windmill is perched on the downs shoulder dominating the skyline and is never mentioned. But the lime avenue is there in all its glory.

Job chapter 14

  1. for there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.
  2. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground;
  3. Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.

This sense of renewal is something Elizabeth experienced again and again through out her life, and it is one of the precious gifts she won, struggling with her own personal demons.

 

The scent of water was in the air that day too, misting through the trees and slicking the horizon with the promise of proper rain. It gave to this pretty little village glamour, a soft beauty the harsher light of summer with its compliment of tourists would have destroyed.

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White Wings

White Wings is a compilation book, combining the selected best of a large out put of short stories that Elizabeth wrote between 1937 and 1966.
White Wings were also a potent symbol for Elizabeth and captured the bliss of freedom; the freedom of the physical being as it sped away under the white sails of a boat, and the Spiritual release of the divine in life. They wove a spell that captured her imagination early on in her life and stayed with her always. So that she only had to see pigeons wheeling round a square, or gulls coursing a field against the sky, to be transported back there.

Inside it’s covers we find recorded a unique record of a writer learning her craft. In her auto-biography,  “Joy Of The Snow” Elizabeth pays tribute to the publishers of short story Magazines, which once had a wide and lucrative market. “The first thing she did for me ( Nancy Pearn) was to get me a commission to write short stories for The Strand and David Higham settled that stone in place with a piece of advice. “Write short stories for a living while you build up a reputation with your books. Don’t, yet, look to books for a living.” That was good advice at that date, when there was a large public for magazines and I followed it. Now, I don’t know what they do in the cradle, apart from journalism. I am afraid they must often go hungry.” ( Goudge 1974).

The book begins with a foreword titled, ” The Entertainment of Story-telling.” Before Elizabeth died, I hadn’t paid much attention to the foreword of any book, considering them an intrusion, an unnecessary preliminary to the excitement of beginning a new experience. But I realized that the anticipation of making new and absorbing fictional friends, and all the wonderful words of this gifted writer had dried up. It was then that I discovered forewords, and was delighted with the insight they provided into the workings and thought processes of the mind that had produced those alternative worlds.

In this piece Elizabeth talks about her job of creative writing, why she does it, what makes it the most satisfying craft to undertake, and its pit falls and short comings. Some people were full of admiration which she felt was unmerited, “As for admiration the story-teller knows he does not deserve it; he knows perhaps that he turned to woo the lady make-believe because he was too unpractical to manage a business, lacked the courage to become a doctor, was too weak of character to impose discipline on classes of unruly children;” ( Goudge 1966 )

Others considered the job to be an easy undemanding way of earning a living, ” He merely sits down, dips his pen in a bottle of ink, and inscribes upon paper the ideas that flow in a never-ceasing flood of brilliance through his fertile brain” Goudge 1966)

She tells us of the good and bad days of being a writer. Days when she feels that she will never write anything worth while again, which are lack lustre, boring and just down right hard graft. It was a lesson she learnt from her father who instilled in her that she couldn’t just be a writer when she felt like it, but had to work through bad patches and treat the process as if it were a job of work, which of cause it was.

Elizabeth rails against the intrusions of the mundane world which drags her back from the world of the imagination where perhaps, David and Nadine are tearing each other apart, or Jenny looks through the hedge at her lover, tricked out in his civil war Royalist finery, drawn back to the dinner and whether the money is there for that pesky bill. She is perceptive enough however to realize that a total withdrawal is neither necessary or desirable. She lets us peek into the ” storehouse of treasures ” that are her memories of the past, the people, places and of cause dogs that have inspired her to write about them. ” for memory has a happy faculty of shedding a clear light over past joys and dimming the outline of pain.” ( Goudge 1966).

She feels that no one is more childish than the story-teller, “sitting by himself in the corner building towns and houses ” (Goudge 1966) but in this she is being disingenuous. What she has is the gift of being child-like in the depth of her emotions, her ability to verbalize them and to show us the wonder and mystery she sees in the world. But with maturity and depth of insight, she can get right to the heart of an issue such as the displacement of Mt Pettigrew and countless others like him. She drags out for debate uncomfortable truths about, greed, hatred, avarice, and pride, and is then capable of the most thrilling intricate uplifting descriptive passages.

In these stories Elizabeth is hammering out her perpetual themes of self sacrifice, love of fellow man, the beauty of the world, the teachings of myth and folklore, and the importance of family, not just blood relations, but a greater spiritual family. She writes about places such as Keyhaven and war torn London that we will visit with her again. She writes about Greece on the eve of the second World War which she visited as part of her “grand tour”, and she takes us to fresh scenes such as the Cotswolds, and the hills of Cumberland. As always coincidence plays a role in her narratives. The Shepherd and Shepherdess that return home, the race horse bearing the same name as the title of the collection, and the books of a second-hand book seller, who end up back with the original owner. The stories range from the historical The King’s Servant to the, for her, contemporary Gap In The Hedge.

In stories such as Sweet Herbs we see the beginnings of her community based “spiritual families” as the famous writer Maurice Wentworth decides the fate of many previously unknown people. “How wondered Maurice, did old Mr Archer mange to live? And surely, he thought, he stood convicted of the most utter callousness in that he had never inquired into Mr Archer’s state? He owed his vine, one of his greatest joys, to Mr Archer, and Mr Archer had lived here before him in this house, had lived and loved and suffered here. Surely he thought, the mutual love of a house should be a bond between two men, and surely the one whose prosperity had ousted the poverty of the other had his obligations?” ( Goudge 1966 )

These themes of thoughtful generosity and subtle charity were to be drawn ever more finely as her power as a writer progressed. Homes were always important entities to her, as they gave her the time, space and atmosphere she required to work in. Those who were lucky enough to have their lives touched by Elizabeth, knew that this was not an abstract that she just wrote about, but was the way she lived her life. She too maintained people who had looked after her when they had retired, and her home became the home of a small extended family, as she had no children of her own. She never turned anyone away although Jessie did protect her privacy and her writing time as best she could.

Writers need to have strength of character and discipline to successfully work, courage to face their publishers and readers with an exposure of their hearts and thoughts, and the practical nature to deal with the world in the form of publicity, writing on commission, and to a dead line. Elizabeth had to and did cultivate all the qualities that she so admired in her friends who had “proper” jobs. She used them to craft stories that have stood the tests of time.

White Wings book cover
Christchurch Edition

Goudge Elizabeth 1966 White Wings Duckworths

Goudge Elizabeth 1974 Joy Of The Snow Hodder & Stoughton

Henrietta’s House

Just holding this book in your hand is guaranteed to bring on feelings of nostalgia. The picture, by R. L. Steel who also provides the illustrations in the book, shows a young girl opening a pair of wrought iron gates onto a smooth green lawn. On top of the brick built gate-posts sit two opposing figures. One is of a typical West Country pixie, the other is a small naked child, covering its eyes with a fore arm. Mature trees obscure your view into a garden. The girl who is the Henrietta of the title is dressed in all her Edwardian Sunday finery. Her pink dress has a full skirt over a petticoat, a ruffled hem and a tight belt with a large bow. The matching bodice has short puffed sleeves and a ruffled collar to match the hemline. On her plaited black hair dressed with pink bows is a large brimmed sun hat, tilted back so that her heart shaped face and smile of welcome are clearly visible.

Underneath the dust jacket the boards are the colour of the Chinese lantern seed heads which currently fill my brass jug, with a small black line drawing of the house seen through the open gates. The pages are printed on a thick, cheap paper, it was printed in 1949 and paper for books was still in short supply. It was probably printed on “re-cycled” paper, without the bleach used to whiten such today. It smells slightly musty and has obviously been a well loved present as a childish hand has written in the front, ” Wishing Jennifer a Happy Birthday, Brenda and Christine.”

Somerset

The dedication reads;- ” For Dorothy Pope. There were once two little girls, one had fair hair and lived in the Cathedral Close of Torminster and the other had dark hair and lived in the blue hills above the city, and they were friends. Now that they are grown up they are still friends, and the one who lived in Torminster dedicates this little book to the one who lived in the blue hills, because it was she who saw the White Fishes in the cave. ” ( Goudge 1942. )

The fair haired child who lived in the city is obviously Elizabeth herself, and her friend Dorothy the template for Henrietta. I find it comforting to think that they remained in contact throughout their lives. It is an indication of Elizabeth’s loyalty and commitment. Elizabeth herself says that she never revisited any of the places she lived in because she wanted to remember them how they had been and not how they had become. So perhaps they corresponded with each other as she did with so many friends and admirers, a habit inherited from her Father.

It is a gentle story, a sequel to Sister of Angels and City of Bells, a tapestry woven with words around the charm of an Edwardian summer, when as Elizabeth says ” this story is set at the beginning of the present century, and in those days the world was often silent and sleepy, and not the bustling, noisy place that it is today.” ( Goudge 1949.). She is of cause referring to the 20th century and not the 21st.

In 1941 as the story was being written, British troops were fighting in the desert against Rommel, the Germans were taking on the might of Russia and The Americans were about to enter the war after the massacre at Pearl Harbour. A gloomy time, with no end of the war in sight and on the home front the introduction of clothes rationing. What better place and time to escape to than the opulence of Wells in a time before either World Wars had blighted her generations life.

The story starts with Henrietta waiting on the platform for Hugh Anthony to return for the holidays from boarding school ending their first separation from each other, and chronicles the delights of a summer in the countryside surrounding the tiny city where Elizabeth lived out the first few years of her life.

It contains many of her childhood memories from the way that hat elastic hurts the chin, to stately picnics in the hills
The story is as pedestrian as the procession of carts that convey the party to the picnic, and therein lies its charm. We are not hurried on to the next piece of drama, but have time to observed that ” The canterbury bells, and sweet williams, the roses and the sweet peas, the delphiniums and the syringa were a blaze of colour and scent in the gardens and all the birds were singing”(Goudge 1942 p 42 ).

Hills for Elizabeth were, as for so many of us, a place of heightened spirituality. They house the gods, myths and legends. They are the place of the solitary, the Hermit, the Wise Man. We ascend above the valleys and plains of every day life and looking back and down are able to see the bigger picture, to view where we have come from and how far we have travelled to get here.” Looking back he could see the great grey rock of the Cathedral and the old twisted roofs of Torminster, dwarfed by distance into a toy town that a child might have played with, and looking ahead, far up against the sky, he could see the blue hills growing in power and might as they drew nearer to them. He felt for a moment gripped between the grey rock of the Cathedral and the grandeur of the hills, two mighty things that time did not touch.” ( Goudge 1942 p 65)

All of the people invited on Hugh Anthony’s birthday picnic end up getting “lost”. None of them with the exception of Grandmother’s party arrive at their preordained destination. But all of them are enriched by their experiences, they all attain something vital to their well being, even if like the Dean they didn’t at first know that this was necessary.

The Dean recaptures his innocence and love of his fellow man, Hugh Anthony loses some of his pride and arrogance. Grandfather rescues another soul in distress, Jocelyn and Felicity lose their car and find fairy land, and Henrietta, well Henrietta finds her hearts desire.

The strange figures sitting on top of the gateposts are explained as they come from the Cathedral at Wells and must have captured the young Elizabeth’s imagination. The explanation of their meaning given in the story by Henrietta’s Grandfather sounds as if it had originally been told to Elizabeth by her father. ” Replicas of those two figures in the chantry in the south choir aisle of which I told you Bates. The cringing human soul and the mockery of Providence.” (Goudge 1942 p 94) Elizabeth herself was to call her future Devonshire home Providence Cottage, so the Symbology obviously stuck with her.

I thought at first that the caves Elizabeth writes about so vividly were the ones at Wookey Hole, especially as the Old Man in the ruined house could have been a metaphor for the Witch of Wookey. with his wax figurines and pins. But there are no recorded sightings of cave fish in Wookey, and the caves themselves weren’t open to the public in the time that Elizabeth lived here.

Cheddar gorge however is close and one of the caves there is actually called the Cathedral cave for its stunning similarity to a cathedral interior. I love the idea of being able to look up inside rabbit burrows and see the rabbits looking back at you in astonishment, a picture an imaginative child would conjure up. Cheddar too has its underground river complete with little rowing boat, its vast system of unseen caves riddling the Mendip hills like a honeycomb.

I have been unable to find the fish, all sources telling me that the lead content in the water, (the hills have been mined for lead since before the Romans arrived,) is too high for fish to survive. So maybe, the fish were flashes of light reflected back by a carried lamp, a code between friends for a shared magical experience. But I like to think the girls saw them on that long ago Edwardian afternoon. ” Look! cried Hugh Anthony excitedly, kneeling beside the still, inky pool, “There are white fishes here. Quite white. Like Ghosts.”
The Dean put his oil lamp on the ground and knelt beside him and together they watched fascinated as the strange white shapes swam round and round in the black water, their ghostly bodies rippling back and forth as though they were weaving some never-ending pattern upon the black loom of the water.” ( Goudge 1942 p 102)

The story was written at a time when the bells of all the churches and cathedrals of England were silenced, only to be rung in a time of national emergency. They were to signal the devastating news that we had been invaded by Germany. How people must have dreaded the thought of hearing them ring. It would have been an especial sadness for Elizabeth, whose life so far had been lived and to a large extent regulated by the bells of the cathedrals her father worked in. No wonder she wanted to transport herself and her readership back to a time of innocence, when the bells would have rung out for worship and celebration as they were intended to be.

LIttle White Fish

 

Sister of Angels

A Christmas Story, for all those who loved Henrietta.

So runs the dedication of this book which was written in 1939 three years before Henrietta’s House, as a short sequel to City Of Bells. It is a charming seasonal tale of Elizabeth’s fairy tale home in Wells Somerset, which draws on her own childhood memories and experiences.

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Although Henrietta sounds like the description Elizabeth gives of her cousin Helen with her dark hair and fragile face, many of the child’s thoughts and emotions were probably Elizabeth’s own. ” She pictured Torminster lying under the moonlight, its steep roofs white and sparkling with frosted snow, its lighted windows patches of orange upon the shadowed walls, the great cathedral cutting patterns out of the sky with its towers and pinnacles and the tall houses throwing blue shadows across the snowy streets. Torminster was making itself very beautiful to greet the rising moon, creating ever shifting patterns of loveliness, quite uncaring that there was no one but the moon to see……..It was creating, and that was enough for Torminster. Ten o’clock struck from the cathedral, ten booming strokes that fell through the night as though ten great stars dropped from the sky” ( Goudge 1939 p81/82). Here Elizabeth is depicting the prospect from her bedroom window through the eyes of her child self of night falling over the tiny city.

Other thoughts and ideas seem oddly mature for so young a girl, such as her musings in the cathedral, ” Everywhere was this sense of space and height and a reaching out to an end that was never found. There was no time here, past and present and future were all one. Here she was a little midge of a thing, alive whether she liked it or not, gripped by life as she was gripped by this great cathedral.” ( Goudge 1939 p 25/26 ) Perhaps physically by the time these thoughts came to her she had moved on to Ely, and what we are hearing are the thoughts inspired in her slightly older self by another beautiful, holy place.

The story is one of outcasts brought home, prisoners paying the full price of their crime and then finding redemption, and an old legend concerning the oldest part of the cathedral, the mysterious crypt. All under pinned by the love and security given to Henrietta by Grandfather, Grandmother and Hugh Anthony.

Henrietta’s father, the by now successful poet Gabriel Ferranti takes an important part in the tale, cutting a wonderfully eccentric figure, as flamboyant and unusual as Poets are meant to be. Elizabeth had a great respect for the poetic Art, and became friends with many eminent Poets.

She gives us lovely insights into the less romantic aspects of Victorian daily life such as washing in cold water, on a freezing morning in an unheated bedroom, ” but on others days they were expected to wash all over, in their rooms, “by bits.” It was a process that called for great skill. The technical problem was how to wash a square foot of back, for instance, without uncovering the rest of yourself to the icy air……” (Goudge 1939 p 10 ) In fact any form of heating in bedroom was considered to be “coddling” (Goudge 1939 p 9)

The heart of the story takes place in the crypt at Wells Cathedral, a place that technically doesn’t exist. There is an Undercroft which is currently undergoing repair and renovation.

The fresco’s that decorate the Undercroft have a ghostly resonance in Elizabeth’s life. In her biography she talks about the “angel” or ghost seen in the “next door house but one” ( Goudge 1974 p 123) Here is what one poor unfortunate guest witnessed when staying in the spare bedroom. ” I cannot stay in the room with that!” cried the terrified guest, and pointed to the beautiful figure who stood in the moonlight against a blank wall.
” Why that’s nothing to be afraid of ” said the old maid soothingly. ” I can see it in my room too and I call it my angel. When the moonlight leaves the wall it will go.”
She fetched her mistress to comfort the girl and when the moon moved on so did the ghost”. (Goudge 1974 p123/124)

When this house was recently undergoing major renovations, the floor was removed for repair, and the workmen discovered a long concealed fresco, of an angel/woman on the wall. So maybe the moonlight picked out the painting behind the loose plaster. Which would explain why it disappeared when the moon moved on.

I have not been able to find out a definitive answer as to why Elizabeth felt such compassion for prisoners. They enter her work in many forms, from the Prisoner of war in The Castle On The Hill, or of Conscience as Parson Hawthorn in the White Witch, but usually just as prisoners who have served their sentences as Michael in The Rosemary Tree, Mr Hepplewhite in Scent Of Water, Annie-Laurie in The Herb of Grace, and of cause Nicholas in Sister Of The Angels.

None of her family were wrongly imprisoned, and I have been unable to find out if the Rev Goudge was a Prison Visitor, he certainly doesn’t seem to have been a Prison Chaplain, so it wasn’t something learnt at home. Perhaps it was because she felt imprisoned by her illness, her acute depression a form of gaol from which she was periodically released. Or perhaps it serves as an illustration of the Christian ethic of redemption, that following the teachings of Christ brings.

There is no doubt about the out come of the tale, it is the expected resolution, a closed circle of a story complete unto itself. Even though we are permitted a glimpse of Henrietta’s artistic future, for us she will always remain the little girl running through the streets and days of her enchanted kingdom of Torminster and its surrounding hills.

Sister of Angels is a Christmas card of a novella, a perfect story for reading aloud round the Christmas tree, a seasonal greeting from the pen of Elizabeth, a gift for us to enjoy.

 

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Three Little Maids From Goudge

 

During the early 1960’s Elizabeth branched out from writing books and worked with the Parnassus Gallery for the Curnew Press who produced greeting cards. She wrote a series of seasonal and general pamphlets which could be bought as gift as well as card, innovative for its time. They were charmingly illustrated by Isobel Morton-Sale whose husband drew the dust jackets for many of Elizabeth’s novels, Gentian Hill and Green Dolphin Country among them. They were targeted towards the younger readers of Elizabeth’s work, and enhanced by the delicate watercolours that accompany the text.

Both Isobel and her husband John were prolific artists and worked out of an art studio in Devon .John contributed work to the Red Cross hospital promoted during the war by the late Queen Mother. They also founded an art dynasty, their Grand son is now a renown Italian sculptor. I find John’s illustrations more edgy, there is a tension in the faces, and many of his figures appear to be in motion or have just come to rest. While Isobel draws more on the nostalgia of her themes, her figures seem posed as if sitting for a portrait.

 

The three pamphlets are; Maria or The Good Little Girl, Arabella or The Bad Little Girl and Serena The Hen. On first appearances they are a throw back to Elizabeth’s childhood and the moral tales about the virtues and innocence of children, the Victorian perspective of a childhood that we now all aspire to give our children. But Elizabeth was made aware from an early age that not all children were as lucky and sheltered as she was. The Ritual of Giving Away The Toys alluded to in City of Bells was a yearly donation to under privileged children that the Reverend Goudge encouraged her to make.

They are simple stories, more like long poems than a tale, and deal in the various dominating themes of early childhood. The rather selfish and self centred nature adopted by Arabella being common to most under fives. She reminds me of Bella in The Dean’s Watch, a perfectly amiable creature as long as her wants are granted. While Maria could be a portrait of Elizabeth herself, being shown a box of shells by a relative in the Channel Isles, the wonder of children being shown the natural world for the first time. Serena the Hen was probable produced for the Easter market. Unusually for Elizabeth it is the only one that doesn’t make sense. Serena The Hen escapes the farmyard so that her eggs will not be eaten and goes to ground in The Wild Wood. She is rescued by the laird’s daughter Flora who wakes up and decides that she will ” take her basket and row across the lake to the Wild Wood and look for edible toadstools” ( Goudge 1960). How has Serena the Hen managed to get an island?

But as in all her work Elizabeth doesn’t patronise her audience. The idea of the eating eggs being like eating embryo chicks is not something most people, let alone children, think about. Does this mean that Elizabeth felt this way? Her prose is beautiful and she uses appropriate words even though they may not be understood by her target audience, ” her air of fastidious delicacy was as aristocratic as Serena’s own” ( Goudge 1960).
” she saw a great illimitable sea, very calm and safe, and upon it a little boat travelling along in absolute security.” ( Goudge 1960) ” Algernon could sing as loudly and with as effective a tremolo as Caruso himself,” (Goudge 1960) They make the right music and allow the adult reader to enjoy the tales as well.

It says in the front piece that more titles are to follow, but I can only find one more title in the series which is enigmatically entitled The Shufflewing, which is the old country name for Dunnocks or Hedge Sparrows depending on where you live. It is used to describe the way they shuffle their wings when flitting through shrubs and hedges. Perhaps this illustrates the beauty in the over looked, the mundane, the shy, as John in The Rosemary Tree extols the beauty of the dead sparrow, as perhaps Elizabeth saw herself. To date I have been unable to find a copy.

Elizabeth also produced an advent calendar with the story of David The Shepherd Boy for the publishers Hamish Hamilton. Christmas was one of the most important events in her year and an event she wrote about extensively. It would have enchanted her with its open lit windows like the festival of lights itself, becoming brighter and brighter as Christmas Day drew ever nearer.

Elizabeth Goudge 1960 Arabella Or The Bad Little Girl Curnew Press
Elizabeth Goudge 1960 Maria Or The Good Little Girl Curnew Press
Elizabeth Goudge 1960 Serena The Hen Curnew Press

 

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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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