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A Christmas Message from Elizabeth

” He slept deeply that night. a thing he had not done for months past, then woke at his usual early hour, dressed and made his meditation.  Then he left the house for the first service of Christmas Day.  As he closed the garden door behind him he stood in amazement, for he had stepped not into the expected darkness but into light.  It was neither of the sun nor the moon but of the snow. The sky was a cold clear green behind the dark mass of the Cathedral, the wind had dropped and the stillness was absolute. The snow was not deep but it covered the garden with light.  He moved forward a few steps and looked about him.  The roof of the Cathedral, every parapet and ledge, the roofs of the houses and the boughs of the trees all bore their glory of snow.  He walked through the garden in awe and joy, thinking of the myriad snowflakes under his feet, each one a cluster of beautiful shapes of stars and flowers and leaves, all too small to be seen by any eye except that of their Creator, yet each giving light.  That was why he always wanted a white Christmas.”
(The Dean’s Watch p321-322)

Light through stained glass

Although these thoughts are attributed to Adam Ayscough, I am sure the experience was one Elizabeth had one Christmas in Ely. She saw that pellucid sky, the quilt of snow, was stunned by light. Her gift is being able to take a deeper meaning from the experience and give it to us, a Christmas gift.

We wish all of you a Joyous Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Last of the Summer Sun

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

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

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

The Bird

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

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

Arthur Symons

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

 

 

 

Being Inspired

One of the many gifts that Elizabeth has bequeathed to us is the desire to make a collection of “little things” such as cousin Mary makes in The Scent of Water.

I have a collection myself, some inherited, some given as gifts, others found by browsing second hand and junk shops. They don’t live together, but have found their own niches in our home.

This little cat came from my husband’s childhood home, and is currently, like most cats , enjoying a patch of sunshine. A bronze boxing hare stands on the frame of an ink drawing of a Hare caught hiding in a Welsh cwm. An owl blinks down from a beam.

After my last post, Jana Jopson got in touch with a selection of photos and stories about her own collection, so that she could share them with other readers and collectors.

The following is taken from her email to the group:

“The collection is a work in progress, some arrive as gifts and some I find.  I imagine it will continue to evolve.  It lives in a glass-fronted bookcase on the shelf with all of my Elizabeth Goudge books and warms my heart whenever I see it.

The top shelf holds small rabbits, the smallest being made of brass and only 3/4 of an inch in length.  I appreciate rabbits of all sorts, in nature, story, and myth.

  • Second shelf includes a handmade clay squirrel (winsome and devious creatures!), a bluebird of happiness, and a sea turtle (another animal that has my admiration).
  • The bottom shelf has a figure of collie dog because I couldn’t find a Shetland Sheepdog (I’ve been companion to three), and a wild duck figure purchased for me by my father at an outdoor fair decades ago
My kindred spirit friend and I once saw a tiny coach-and-six with an elegant woman inside in a display cabinet at an antiques shop.  When we went back the next time, it was gone and we still say one of us should have purchased it.  I have had tiny tea sets but they have gone into shadow box creations rather than my tiny things collection, but I do watch for one made of blue glass.”
I wonder if we will be able to see some of her intriguing “shadow box creations” they sound wonderful.
I know very little about Elizabeth’s collection, beyond knowing that they still exist. Some pieces may have come from Guernsey where her Mother lived, like this exquisite silver writing desk, which currently belongs to the family of the late poet Anne Lewis-Smith who was Elizabeth’s neighbour in Dog Lane.
The value of any collection for me and I suspect for others who collect too, is the connections and tales the objects tell.
If you too collect and would like to share, we would love to know about your favourite “little things.”

 

 

 

 

May Day

At this time of year, my favourite  Elizabeth Goudge book to read is her great novel of self discovery, “The Scent of Water.” Mary is setting off for a new life, leaving the city and “culture” behind her for a life of country seclusion. The sort of pilgrimage that folk have always undertaken in the spring of the year.

I also have copies of anthologies of poetry Elizabeth collated, of which her “Book of Peace” is my most thumbed, used re-read. Many of Elizabeth’s friends were poets. Her next door neighbour in Dog Lane was the poet Anne Lewis-Smith. Reading her chosen verse gives insights into Elizabeth’s personality and thought process. She uses lots of poetry in her novels to illustrate characters mental and spiritual development, under score a view, or impress a point she wishes to make. Elizabeth’s books have become part of my internal dialogue, a personal pilgrimage I can undertake when ever I wish to.

Open one of Elizabeth’s books, you might be surprised where it leads you.

Quality Reprints

Hodder & Stoughton have reprinted the best selling of Elizabeth Goudge’s novels, including the Eliot Triology.

Well worth a look.

 

 

Searching For Henrietta

Dear D. Gaudin,
When I was a child (I’m 67) ‘Henrietta’s House’ was one of my favourite books. I have since read many of Elizabeth Goudge’s books and am presently re-reading ‘City of Bells’

I would love to find a copy of the book I used to get out of our local library, and I wonder if you know of this one.

It was a hardback, with, as far as I can recollect, green boards. There were full-size colour illustrations on shiny paper. One showed Henrietta in a lovely pink dress, and one showed her in a white dress as she welcomes everyone into her house.

I’ve searched Abe books but none of the 13 books there seem to be the one I remember.

Can you help?

In hope, and friendship,

Vivienne Rendall,
Northumberland.

Dear Vivienne,

Thank you for visiting the site, hope you return again.

I have a 1949 re-print of Henrietta’s House published by the same company as produced the original, University of London Press Ltd

The front cover and two of the coloured illustrations inside, on shiny paper show Henrietta wearing a pink dress, and indeed a white one when she welcomes them to the house at the end of the story.

The boards however are orange. Perhaps this is the copy you remember?

Elizabeth’s books are getting harder and harder to source, especially her children’s books, as children tend to not look after them and they disintegrate.

I have a friend who runs a bookshop via the internet and I will ask him the next time I see him if he has a copy.

I hope that this helps

 

Matrilines: Elizabeth Goudge: Glimpsing the Liminal :- Feb 2016

Most readers have favourite writers. But sometimes you find that, over time, these change. A writer who spoke to you directly at one age can fade as your circumstances change, while another writer who was formerly less appealing may reveal new value. Certainly this is true of me. There are writers I read and reread as a teenager, in my twenties, in my thirties, whom I still love, but no longer need to read. But there are a handful who have stayed with me lifelong, in whose books I continue to find new things. One of these is Elizabeth Goudge.

I was five or six when I first encountered her, via her Carnegie Medal–winning children’s book, The Little White Horse. It was one of my favourite books as a child, and it remains a book I consider essential to my personal library. I reread it last week, as I prepared to write this piece, and found it as engaging and magical as I always did. Goudge—like Dodie Smith and Rumer Godden, two more of my lifelong writers—wrote for both adults and children, although I suspect these days it is mainly her children’s books for which she is known. For most of her career, moreover, the idea of genre was minor, and all her books were published as mainstream novels. Some were set against historical backgrounds, including all her children’s books; others have contemporary settings. The central concern in all of them, however, is the life of the spirit, and the blending of the mundane and the transcendent, and all of them are in certain ways profoundly magical.

Goudge was a devout Christian and her faith informs all of her works. I can at this point hear some readers of this turning away. But I ask them to bear with me—and with her—for unlike many of the best known religious writers (including C. S. Lewis) she never preaches, nor lays out moral parameters, and, to paraphrase Louisa Alcott, she does not reward the “good” with gilded treats and the “bad” with dire punishments. Indeed, I’m not sure she deals in good and bad at all: she writes rather about compassion and understanding and resolution through empathy. Her work is not showy and it is not melodramatic. It is, however, often surprising and sometimes startling. And she rarely if ever does what the reader expects.

With the exception of her children’s books, most of her work is not what most people would think of as fantasy. The children’s books are all set in a version of our real world, too, though her towns and landscapes in them are imaginary. Yet in all her work the boundaries between worlds are thin. Folklore and poetry, transcendent experience, and glimpses of the immanent pervade them, and her characters—especially the youngest and the oldest—slip between these worlds easily. Her characters channel folktales and legend through their lives and their connections with others. This is most clear in her children’s books, in particular, her three best known—The Little White Horse, Henrietta’s House, and Linnets and Valerians (recently retitled The Runaways). In The Little  White Horse, which is the most directly fantastical of Goudge’s books, the protagonist Maria must explore the history of her family and their ancestral home via a blend of fact and magic—the injustices done by her forefather Sir Wrolf were real enough, but their context and consequences belong as much to the realm of magic and the liminal as to reality. A white horse and a giant dog come and go throughout the history of her family—and her own experience—guiding, observing, and sometimes leading Maria to the discoveries she needs to make. The dog—another Wrolf—is real enough but seemingly immortal, but the horse is a unicorn and a creature of the sea and not to be grasped or owned. The story sounds soppy, and the recent film (titled The Secret of Moonacre) tried hard to make it soppy by replacing the very real magic of Goudge’s writing with sentiment and gloss, but in the book, it is not. Rather, everything is tied together by extra-mundane bonds, so that Maria’s friend and ally, Robin, is at first a boy in dreams who becomes real, and the white horse brings not only Maria but the book’s main antagonist to a solution to the ancient problem they face that is partly realistic, yes, but rooted in liminal experience.

Henrietta’s House leads a cast of characters through a series of experiences from fairy tales, including “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Giant Who Kept His Heart in a Bag,” all set in a realistic landscape and blended with new legends invented by Goudge herself about saints and bandits and the continuity of myths within certain locations. In Linnets and Valerians there is a witch to defeat, and an old evil that has damaged the present. All three books are populated by a rich cast of characters, of all ages, not all of them human (Goudge wrote animals well and with sympathetic realism), all of them nuanced. Unusually for a writer of her period, she includes characters of colour in positive roles, and people with disabilities who have full and valuable lives (this is also the case in her adult books).

Her children’s books are easy reads and highly entertaining. Her adult ones are more challenging. They can be deeply philosophical—Goudge spends more time on the life of the mind than the “what-happens-next” in many of them. Characters make sacrifices that are not necessarily rewarded or even recognised. But as with the children’s books, the adult novels weave mundanity with the liminal. If she were alive and writing today, she might well be classed as a magic realist writer. Thus A City of Bells is both a bildungsroman for the protagonist Jocelyn and a recreation of the tale of the Pied Piper, and the story of the latter—represented by the figure of the lost, perhaps dead poet Gabriel Ferranti—weaves in and out alongside details of Edwardian omnibuses and the problems of bookselling and raising children in old age in a way that makes each add to the depth of the other. And there are ghosts, benign and painful.

The Rosemary Tree is perhaps the most overtly religious of Goudge’s novels, but this element is present far more through glimpses of Otherness and of human attraction to the transcendent than through any direct reference to Christianity (or any other faith—and Goudge presents the latter as valid and true when she does speak of them). And the spine of the novel is the story of the Ugly Duckling, with the characters each finding ways of dealing with their particular problems and self-defined weaknesses. Goudge does not restrict this access to the liminal to approved characters, either—in The Scent of Water, the walls between past and present break down not only for the main protagonist Mary but for a minor character, a venal businessman, who finds his own comfort through his glimpse of something outside himself.

And in all Goudge’s novels there is a profound sense of the magic, which is contained in the everyday (a skill she shares with Ray Bradbury, who in many ways she resembles as a writer). Thus in Island Magic—a historical novel set on Jersey and deeply imbued with the folklore of that place—Peronelle has a deep experience of otherworldliness while washing the dishes. The most overtly magical of Goudge’s adult books is probably The White Witch, which is set against the early years of the English Civil War. The protagonist Froniga is, as the title suggests, a working witch, the daughter of a settled father and a Romani mother, and she possesses both the power to heal and the power to see the future. Yet while both are important to the plot, the book is not about her powers, but about her selfhood and character and her effect on those around her. A lesser writer would probably have taken this theme in the direction of witch trials and melodrama. Goudge uses it to examine the effects of divided politics on families and communities and the ways in which our beliefs affect others outside ourselves. Her characters do bad things, sometimes, and those have consequences, but she rarely writes bad people—I can think of only one, the greedy and self-obsessed school-owner Mrs. Belling in The Rosemary Tree. Goudge was concerned not with judging others but with understanding them with compassion. In her case, that compassion is linked to her sense of otherness—the most profound experiences of liminality her characters experience are often when they are most concerned with others than themselves.

Like a lot of writers of her generation, she is fading from memory, save as a children’s writer, and awareness of her other work tends to focus on her faith, which some readers find off-putting. That’s a shame: her ability to express the magical, the liminal, the fantastical is peerless, and I recommend her works highly.


Kari Sperring is the pen name of the Anglo-Welsh historian Kari L. Maund. She has published six books and many articles on Welsh, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, and Viking history and has taught the history of these peoples at university level. As Kari Sperring, she is the author of two novels, Living with Ghosts (DAW 2009), which won the 2010 Sydney J. Bounds Award, was shortlisted for the William L. Crawford Award, and made the Tiptree Award Honor List, and The Grass King’s Concubine (DAW 2012).

Elizabeth’s Favourite Story Book

the-cockyolly-bird

 

This was Elizabeth’s favourite book as a small child. I know nothing about the story it contains, except that he has a series of adventures with two friends called Kit and Jum-Jum.

Cocky Olly means yellow cockerel.

Elizabeth’s favourite colour was yellow. The image it gave to her was of a man standing on a mountain with his arms lifted high praising God.

 

 

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Elizabeth Goudge and Her Books

The Guernsey Society was formed in London in 1943 (whilst the Channel Islands were under German Occupation), and a number of high profile Guernsey exiles, as well as prominent UK residents with Guernsey connections, were invited to join in order to lobby the British Government on behalf of the occupied islanders, and evacuees in the UK.

After the war, the Society continued, but as more of an social organisation, connecting Guernsey people who did not live in the island, and those with a special interest in the island, with news from Guernsey. The prime means of doing this was through a magazine, The Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society. It appears from the article, that Elizabeth Goudge joined in 1947 (as it mentions she had recently become a member), and had written this article for publication in The Quarterly Review. (The magazine, The Review, moved to three times a year in 1971, and has continued to be published ever since).

The Guernsey Society still organises meetings, talks and social gatherings in the UK and further afield.

 

 

GREEN DOLPHIN COUNTRY. By Elizabeth Goudge. (Hodder & Stoughton. 12/6 net.)

This novel was first published in September, 1944, and since that date has run through no fewer than five printings. It has been immensely popular on both sides of the Atlantic, no doubt partly due to the publicity given to it when it was awarded the Louis B. Mayer prize of £30,000, for the best novel of the year published in America. The film rights have been acquired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The book has caused much interest in Guernsey.

Below we print Miss Goudge’s own comment on her story, answering a number of critics and questioners, who have sought to “recognise” many of her descriptions of buildings and localities described.

We welcome this distinguished novelist as a recently joined member of the Guernsey Society.

***

I paid my first visit to Guernsey when I was eighteen months old (and that was forty-six years ago!), and my last in 1930.

My grandfather was Adolphus Collenette, famous for his weather lore, and my grandmother was Marie-Louise Ozanne, who was brought up in Hauteville House, now the Victor Hugo Museum. My great-grandfather sold the house to Victor Hugo. He came to see it before buying it, and my grandmother took him over it on her eighteenth birthday. So that on one side I am proud to call myself a Guernseywoman.

I spent many glorious holidays in Guernsey in my childhood, and I loved it so intensely that my memories of the Guernsey of those days are all extraordinarily radiant, and the most vivid that I have. Guernsey must cast a very strong spell over her children and her half-children that the very thought of her in after years can bring such happiness.

My first bit of writing to meet with any success was a novel about Guernsey called Island Magic, that I wrote after my last visit there, when I stayed with Miss Cownellan in her cabin at Le Gouffre. I had had no success with my writing until I began to write about Guernsey.

In their childhood my mother and her brother and sisters lived in a house then called Le Hêchet, that is now the Alexandra Nursing Home, and my mother’s stories of the Le Hêchet of those days were always to me more exciting than any fairy tales. Miss Cownellan, when I stayed with her, told me more Guernsey stories, and adding to them my own childhood’s memories wrote Island Magic.

The family of children in this book I called du Frocq, after a Guernsey ancestress, and I loved them so much that I wrote short stories about them for years. Those stories came out in English and American magazines, and I was always getting letters from readers asking for “more about the du Frocqs”. But though I have enjoyed writing about Guernsey more than any other place I have liked writing about my own homes too.

I was born in Wells in Somerset, where my father was principal of the Theological College, and later we lived at Ely in Cambridgeshire, and those two lovely cathedral cities together made the Townminster of my book The City of Bells. In 1923 my father became Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford where we lived in an old home in Tom Quad, Christ Church, and I wrote about Oxford in Towers in the Mist. When my father died just before the war, my mother and I came to live in Devon, not far from the sea, where we have the seagulls always with us, and where the narrow lanes and the fuchsias and the escallonia bushes remind us both of Guernsey. I describe this bit of country where we live in The Castle on the Hill. Then I found myself longing to write about Guernsey again, and in odd times all through the war I wrote Green Dolphin Country, and once again Guernsey brought me luck.

As all that I wrote about Guernsey has been written away from it, I have never made any attempt to be topographically correct. My Island is inspired by Guernsey but in neither of my books have I actually called it Guernsey, it has been just “the Island”. Several readers have written to ask where exactly is the convent on the cliff that I describe in Green Dolphin Country, and I have had to reply with shame that I’m afraid it isn’t anywhere except in my imagination! I have always felt that I owed the island an apology for treating it in this imaginative way, and I hope Guernsey people will forgive me.

 

ELIZABETH GOUDGE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: ‘Elizabeth Goudge and Her Books’, Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society, Spring 1947, volume III no 1, pp. 11-12.