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The Spirituality of Elizabeth Goudge

The Spirituality of Elizabeth Goudge
By Elspeth Parris, who wrote it as part of a ‘certificate in theology’ course at St Michael’s College, Cardiff. She says of the piece; “my last module was on spirituality. We were asked to write about someone who had inspired our own spirituality – the assumption was that we would choose one of the spiritual ‘greats’ such as Augustine, St John of the Cross or St Julian of Norwich. I chose to write about Elizabeth Goudge because she has been such a strong influence in my own life.    Summer2012

The principal of embedding spiritual guidance within fiction is a very old one: the books of Job and Ruth for instance appear not to be recounting facts but telling stories which suggest to us how we should be relating to God. We tend however to look for our spiritual guidance to the great writers of the church, and they tend to embed their spirituality into their theology or into accounts of their lives which were usually monastic. The spirituality of Augustine, St John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich or Brother Lawrence can all be hard to read to many people today, with language which is archaic, embedded within lifestyles far from our own or utilising theological concepts which many don’t understand.

We have modern examples of authors who express their Christian understanding in fiction: recently, the Shack expressed a particular understanding of the Trinity and the Atonement and, being fiction, was able to reach an enormous audience which a theological tome would have missed; C.S. Lewis wrote many books of Christian apologetics but he also wrote the Narnia stories which are still popular with children today, and in those stories he embeds concepts of Christianity which, written as a textbook, would be rejected by many of the same children. One of the great authors who expressed her spirituality in fiction was Elizabeth Goudge and her writing was one of the factors which led me, eventually, to become Christian, and still has an influence on the style of my Christianity today.

Elizabeth Goudge was born in 1900 in Wells, Somerset. Her father was an Anglican priest and principal of the Theological College and they lived in the “liberty” of the Cathedral. In 1911, Elizabeth’s family moved to Ely where her father became principal of the Theological college there and a canon of the Cathedral. When she was 23, they moved again, to Oxford where her father became Regius Professor of Divinity and they were provided with a house in the University. Because her mother found Oxford too busy and noisy they found a bungalow at Barton in Hampshire where her mother could live for most of the year. She had an education suited to the life of a gentlewoman but the world was changing and she was going to need to earn her living.

When Elizabeth finished school it was unclear what she was going to do, there was a deficit of young men after the war and marriage was only an option for those who were outstandingly attractive, which Elizabeth wasn’t, either in looks or social graces. She would have liked to be an actress but she had a stammer and was shy and nervous, since she wasn’t sufficiently educated to become a teacher that left only nursing and for that her health was too poor. It was decided that she should go to art college to study crafts and could then find a post teaching disabled children. She seems to have enjoyed the crafts and did set up a studio in the house in Ely where she had a few students but no employment resulted and even the home teaching failed when the family moved to Oxford where the house was too dark for the work and students were sadly lacking.

It was after her mother had gone to live for most of the year in Barton that Elizabeth, on her visits there, started to write. Her first book was published in 1934 and she eventually became a success when, in 1947, Green Dolphin Country was accepted by a film company. By that time her father had died and she was effectively the sole supporter of herself and her mother until her mother’s death. She and her mother had settled in Devon but after her mother’s death she moved to rural Oxfordshire, where she lived with a close companion until her death in 1984.

Elizabeth never kept her faith separate from her writing. Her characters faith (or sometimes lack of it) was always an important part of the workings of the plot. More than that, her own deep spirituality shows through in the many lyrical passages describing the places and people among whom her plot operates. Her characters work their way through often difficult circumstances, always in the end to be redeemed by love, and often by faith. This matches with the faith she describes in her autobiography, where she describes hell as being an experience we have here on earth and redemption as an experience we can know in our daily lives.

The biggest influence on Elizabeth’s spiritual development was clearly her father; luckily he published books so knowledge of the nature of that influence is not limited to her own description. He had rebelled against his own Anglican Evangelical upbringing and appears to have developed a tendency toward the Oxford Movement.

The best picture of her father’s attitudes is given from Elizabeth’s autobiography where she quotes a friend’s description of her father “He was a fast, light walker but he had slowed his steps to match those of the old tramp walking beside him. They were deep in conversation and my father was carrying the tramp’s bundle. They were on their way to our house so that my father might get the old man a meal.” In a domestic setting, her parents had always brought her up to be aware of the needs of the poor, taking toys to poor children when she was young and joining her father on parish visiting during the war when the theological college was closed and he was taking on the work of the various priests who had gone to be army chaplains.

There was a period when Elizabeth’s faith failed her, her mother’s constant ill health had shaken it, when she became ill herself she simply could not believe that a loving God would permit such suffering. As a result, she concluded that God could not really be Almighty; she could “love a God who was weak” and who wanted to prevent suffering but was unable to do so. This led her to the realisation of a God who suffered with us through the life and death of Jesus.

Among authors she mentions who have contributed to her spiritual journey are C.S. Lewis, who was contemporaneous and who she clearly looked up to, Teillard Chardin and Tomas Traherne. There is also evidence from her fiction that she had read Brother Lawrence, St John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich.

Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) was very aware humanity was being split in two by the need to turn to God and move forward with the world. There was at the time (and still is in some circles) a perceived conflict between science and religion, since science underpins the technology, that even more since his time, we rely on in our everyday lives, this apparent conflict presents our faith with a real dilemma. Do we, in general, believe every word of the Bible to be true, even when it contradicts science? Do we, in particular, believe the Creation story in Genesis, or the evolutionary story from modern Biology? Teillard de Chardin looked for a resolution of the problem producing a theology which enabled religion and science to be reconciled in Christ. For him, “the cross is no longer a sign simply of expiation, but the symbol of growth and progress accomplished in pain and through suffering.” We are to follow Christ, in the World. This seems to fit quite naturally with Brother Lawrence’s depiction of living all our daily activities from within our loving relationship with God.

De Chardin’s influence is very clear in Goudge’s work, her work is very much of the world, her characters are ordinary people, not monks or nuns and their concerns are the ordinary daily concerns that any of us might have, their work, their family, their marriage, their house. She is following Christ in the world by imagining how each of these people can change under the influence of a love which lives in Christ.

Tomas (or Thomas) Traherne (1637 – 1674) was an Anglican priest whose work seems not to have received much attention until 1908 when his Centuries of Meditation was discovered and published. Many of his works were then re-published in the 1960s and it is these that Goudge is likely to have read. Although the Anglican Church was much influenced by Calvinism in his own time he himself is deeply optimistic of man’s redemption. He sees mankind as being in need of restoration to spiritual wholeness. He is clearly influenced by Augustine who perceived sinful humanity as suffering from a “spiritual sickness” which needed to be healed. Goudge’s books all show her characters as suffering from a spiritual sickness which results in disruption to their ability to relate to God and man, the redemption they receive is a healing of that sickness.

What Elizabeth Goudge has in common with C.S. Lewis is her capacity for observation of the quirks and oddities of humanity, an observation seen through a love of man which is inspired by her love of God. C.S.Lewis once observed that next to the Eucharist our neighbour was the most holy thing we should ever encounter. That is precisely how she treats the characters in her books, they are examples of all the ordinary people she has met, all the ordinary people her reader has met  and she loves them all, with all their faults and weaknesses. The difference between these two authors is that, while Lewis’ characters are often redeemed at their death, Goudge’s characters are always redeemed in their lives. Individuals are healed, marriages are renewed, conflicts are resolved, communities are healed and all by a love which is deeply rooted in faith. Such sweetness might seem unlikely, books which always have a happy ending can be facile, and might be expected to be cheap romances, but these happy endings can be bitter. Joy can be found in watching the renewal of a marriage which permanently denies the love of the central heroine of the book, or the re-instatement within the community of a family where the husband will spend years in prison for a fraud just discovered, or a young man wander off into a series of dead-end jobs with no future and no home. And yet the circumstances of each of these people has been so filled with love that their lives are changed. They have found the ability to forgive themselves and others, they have made a new beginning to the relationships which are most important to them and which were, previously damaged. Where Lewis warns us, in Screwtape, of the small evils to which we can so easily fall prey in our ordinary, daily lives; Goudge shows us how to create goodness and fill the lives around us with love.

 

“..her endearing capacity to [empathise] with others and to find the comic in the darkest of situations helped her through. “This is the wonderful light she shed in her books, her characters finding salvation and redemption through living for the greater good, of friends and family, rather than selfishly for themselves.

Themes in her work

Overall, her theme is Redemption, how it can actually work in our lives, change us, heal us. There are a number of themes relating to how people act in her books, not in order to receive redemption since that is in the hands of God, but to align themselves with God so that they can be redeemed by him.

Adherence

In her biography Goudge talks about adherence as a vital Christian quality:

“To love God subtly alters a human being. If the simile is not too homely the lover of God has glue in his veins and tends to be more adherent than other men, The more he loves God the more, for God’s sake, he sticks to his woman, his job or his faith.”

This is a quality she often demonstrates in her books. In Green Dolphin Country a man, long exiled from his home country, writes home to ask if the woman he had loved ten years before would join him in his exile. To his delight she agrees, but when she arrives, he has given the name of the wrong sister. The situation echoes the story of Jacob but there is no option to wait to have the right sister as well. He has to choose, there and then as he meets her from the boat. Overwhelmed by pity, he feels that he can’t send her home shamed and unwanted after her long journey. The marriage which results comes to be filled with hatred: his for her; her for his friends and his lifestyle. She loves him, as she understands love, but her understanding of love is faulty: she thinks that in loving him she is to be ambitious for him, to make him change to become an aristocrat of the new country. He, however, is happy with his life as a working man, he has built a nice cottage with a garden and has a sufficient income to keep himself, his wife and any children there might be. His mistake in asking in marriage the wrong sister is his only regret. He has only a vague belief in God but respect for the parson and it is the parson who convinces him to live his life in the memory of that moment when he met his wife from the boat. He gets his drinking under control by himself, and learns the humility of allowing his wife to think it is her scolding which has achieved it although it is her scolding which makes him want to drink. He lives his life as an act of obedience to his own choice and thus he is able to adhere to his marriage and while love for some time is only a pretence in time, it becomes real. In the end, it is his love for her which rescues her when her false belief structure, based on pride and self-importance collapses around her. Again, love redeems.

Obedience, humility and trust in God.

In her biography, Goudge reveals her nervousness, her lack of social graces, her fear of new people. These qualities she built into the character of Jean Anderson in The Scent of Water. Here she demonstrates how, by giving up her troubles in obedience to, and trust in God she is able to overcome her fear:

 

“She had stopped struggling, her hands sticky with fear and anxiety, and taking her shoes right off had turned back with blind trust to the beginning again, to the beginning of the action of obedience that always had a wholesome sweetness in it, though it was hard, a foretaste of the end with its humble thankfulness. After that the knots had come out of the laces quite easily, she had put on her hat and gone. The fear had gone with her of course, but it had become bearable. And now look how easy it had all been and how he had helped her.”

(my emphasis, it is clear in the context that it is God she means by “he”)

God as seen in nature

This is a very basic element of Goudge’s spirituality, not just every book, but probably every chapter, possibly every page of every book gives examples of the way she sees God in the natural world around her:

“It was in a world of sunshine and birdsong that I had my first conviction of sin. ..It overwhelmed me. I know the exact spot on a field path where I first knew the vileness of sin in myself; and can recapture the misery I felt because it has been repeated so many times since. .A little later I was alone in the garden, at a spot where hyacinths and deep red wallflowers were in bloom against a grey stone wall, and God revealed himself in a shining world.”

When, in Green Dolphin Country, Marguerite’s whole personality seems to be disintegrating in response to the distresses and traumas of her life, she loses everything of herself that matters to her, that provides her sense of identity:

Except one thing. It had only been at the blackest hour of that dark night that she had ceased to believe that God is. When he had given back to her night and morning, birdsong and the scent of the earth, she had believed in Him again; with no joy, no adoration, just a blind reliance upon the fact of Him, that same blind reliance that was hers when she got out of bed in the morning and knew that some solid surface would support her feet. That was all. For the rest, her own life and the universe seemed just a tumbling chaos.”

God as seen in “the other”.

This is discussed in comparison with C.S. Lewis above as is her tendency to see Redemption as an event which can occur during our lives rather than something to await after death.

A presentation for the Mother’s Union in Merthyr Tydfil on the  Spiritual Aspects of the writings of Elizabeth Goudge.

Preparing this presentation, I wanted to demonstrate that this is “easy reading”. Elizabeth Goudge presents her spirituality in a format which does not require the ability to read heavy tomes of theological musings in archaic language. As a result, it is more

accessible to people who think of themselves as being “not academic, or intellectual”.

What the reader is reading about is the story of a man, woman or child as they encounter whatever set of circumstances makes up the plot of the book. The spirituality of Goudge’s Christian faith is absorbed along the way as easily as the vitamin C included in a glass of fruit juice it’s simply an integral part of some very fine fiction writing.

There is a problem with availability of the books themselves, although some of them are in print, they are not usually stocked in bookshops; there may be many of them in the library, but they’re not kept on the shelves. I have suggested to our Rector that we could provide a “parish library” by each of us putting some books out that members of the congregation could borrow. If we do that, then I am happy to put my own books there and could include all my Elizabeth Goudge books at the time of this talk.

A further option is that the local library may be willing to co-operate by getting all their Goudge books out of storage and making a display of them timed with my talk. The library is next door to the church so this could work well. Advertising the talk in the library could draw in people who don’t normally come to the church. Having recently been to a diocesan training session on “parishes and the media”, I realise that such a cooperative event could also make a good newspaper article, which could again draw in people who wouldn’t normally come to church. Offering such a talk in a way which operates as mission as well as an opportunity to enable people to deepen their spirituality appeals to me.

I wanted to give a general “feel” of what her books are like. Why I consider them to be both a “good read” and spiritually uplifting. I notice that this descriptive paragraph which I wrote as part of the presentation is written in a style reminiscent of Goudge herself:

 

There is a sort of “light” in all of Elizabeth Goudge’s books, it’s like the light of a sunny day just before the sun has properly risen. A light that catches on dew drops on the roses or icicles hanging from the gutters; a light that shines into people’s lives, a light that can shine into the dark places of the reader’s life.

I picked out one book in particular to give a flavour of what the writing is like and used “The Scent of Water” for this purpose. I gave a brief summary of the plot, illustrated by some quoted passages demonstrating how her characters come to be redeemed from hatred, fear, and pain by love, faith and obedience to God.

A love which holds the whole community together to rest safe in God’s hands. Along the way, and through Cousin Mary’s diary, Jean’s fear, the humility of the elderly couple, the striving of the blind author, the despair of a young man “up to no good” and the disaster of the squire’s business enterprises the reader is carried within the safety which is achieved by obedience to, and trust in, God to a glory of redemption achieved in their ordinary lives rather than in some hard to imagine heaven.

It was while preparing the presentation that I realised the usefulness of a comparison with C.S.Lewis. They had in many ways a similar attitude which makes the comparison of their differences easy to understand illuminating both authors. An additional advantage is that while modern readers may not have heard of Elizabeth Goudge, most people have heard of C.S.Lewis, even if only as the author of the Narnia stories which are still very popular.

This comparison really helped me to bring out the compassionate interest Goudge has in the little problems of people’s lives. Most of us are unlikely to have to face major ethical issues more than once or twice in our lives, but little ethical problems face us every day. For both authors, how we react to those problems is the stuff of which Christian living is made, but they treat the issue very differently in their books.

The difference between them is that Goudge looks upon those small evils with eyes that know redemption, not just as being saved after our death but as a great power that changes our lives for the better; knew it, because had changed her own life over and over again in her times of despair and her experience of depression.

I considered including prayers which reflect Goudge’s spirituality but decided that if I want this to appeal to members of the general public, not just members of the Church then I might be better to limit this to the prayer from Tomos Traherne with which she finished her autobiography. I am aware that many people are attracted to spirituality without being comfortable with Christian prayer. Goudge’s books include many references to Christianity but, held within the context of the story, and recognising that she emphasis the importance of the love and compassion felt by those characters who are not Christian I feel that her books would be attractive, and have something to offer even to non-Christians. I consider that satisfying the longing among non-Christians for spirituality is an important part of mission so I don’t want to put such people off with a lot of Christian prayer.

I am aware that many people can’t cope with listening to someone talk for 20 minutes which is the length of time this presentation would take. I need to break it up somehow. Our parish has applied for funding for a projector to operate from a lap-top. That would enable me to add some relevant images and music to give breaks in the talking. Appropriate images would be of scenes from nature, scenes of country life and scenes of people in very ordinary situations. If we have obtained the projector by the time the presentation is to be given then that would be very helpful. It would make the presentation longer, but easier for people to remain attentive.

Theological Reflection on Quotes from Goudge

From her autobiography  The Joy of the Snow:

If our own small intuition, upheld by the experience of the saints and the mystics of all religions through all the centuries, persists in murmuring that God exists then there is nothing left for us except the humble acceptance of paradox and mystery. If it is true that God is Almighty, it is also true that he needs us, since he chose that his son should be true man as well as true God, by this choice making Christ and man inseparable. Apart from Christ we have no life; we are merely a dead leaf fallen from the tree. Apart from us he has no body in the world, no hands and no feet and heart and voice to bring God’s mercy to a suffering world.

God and the suffering caused by sin are inseparably united, and will be so until sin ends. The mind boggles but there is enormous comfort here. For one thing it is hard to doubt the love of a God who is ready to suffer and die for us. For another thing, when we suffer we must be as close to God as we are to the pain.” (p 202)

And so having let go of the horror of eternal punishment what do I think about hell now? I believe that in the old sense of the word there is no hell, but that we can use the word in a new way. We can say that all that is contrary to the will of God is dreadful enough to be called hell, in the sense in which most people still use the word. Those who know what it is like to be in such darkness of mind that they feel God has forsaken them think they know what hell is. Those who have been in concentration camps, and have had the whole power of evil concentrated upon them, and those who have endured pain so bad that it is practically beyond human endurance say “it was hell”. And they are right, since these things are contrary to the will of God and their origin is not in his creative love. In Christ though, God allowed himself to experience the hell we live in and thus can redeem us. (P. 264/5)

In the early twentieth century Christian thinking was reacting rather than striking out in new directions. The Enlightenment of the 18th century was still very much an issue, putting God at a distance as if he had done his work and gone. This had arisen from the new scientific way of thinking and the issues of science, as if in conflict with religion was still very much alive too. And then two major wars, and the horrors of the trenches and the concentration camps had a theological effect. How, people were asking, could a loving God allow these horrors to happen? Writers even began to question if God was still alive. At the same time, the divergence between the Evangelicals and the Oxford Movement within Anglicanism was producing big questions about the Atonement, and the nature of hell. Does the penal substitution theory favoured by the Evangelicals deny God’s love for all mankind that the Oxford Movement priests were enthusiastically preaching to the people of the slums? The quotes I have chosen from Goudge’s biography show where she stands on these issues.

Goudge had come to the point of deciding that hell, as she had previously understood it, did not exist after pondering the possibility that if God existed at all, then he could not be Almighty. While her father quashed that idea she was in fact toying with ideas which many had considered. She resolved that by concluding, as others had before her, that the problem of suffering is resolved by free will, permitting him only to persuade us rather than over-ride our will as suggested by Whitehead. The issue of God’s attitude to our suffering becomes vastly importance when considering the concept of hell. There are still arguments against the penal substitution theory because it implies a willingness of God to permit, indeed, engineer, human suffering. Although these are modern arguments, the concept develops naturally for someone who has almost discarded God himself in her unwillingness to accept his apparent tolerance of our pain. And so, rather than discarding God, or the concept of his power, she came to the conclusion of a God who suffers with us, and in particular, who suffers with us through the life and death of Jesus. Here she seems to be following Barth:

 

For Barth, the notion of the omnipotence of God must always be understood in the light of Gods self-revelation in Christ. [which leads to a] belief in the triumph of Gods grace over unbelief, evil and suffering.

 

So, having discarded Hell, she began to think about what “hell” might be. Again, she seems to have come to the same conclusion as Barth in this, and may indeed have been reading his work. His concept of “nothingness” refers to anything which God did not will in creation, anything which goes against God.

Why Elizabeth Goudge is important to my own spirituality.

I started reading Elizabeth Goudge long before I became a Christian. I read the books simply as stories and although I would have been extremely irritated by anyone preaching at me I didn’t have a problem with the constant reference to God in her books, it was simply the faith of the character concerned, that was OK, no-one was expecting me to agree with that faith, just to understand the character and how they were shaped by their faith. It somehow seemed that I came across one of her books by chance at times when I was in great distress or had a major ethical decision to make. Each time I was able to somehow find relief and clarity in the clear light that she generates in her books. I might find a new determination to stand by what I perceived as right, or comfort for my pain. Whatever I found, it felt good and right.

Having been a Christian for some years now it has been interesting to re-read her books, not in any particular situation requiring her clarity, simply to discover them from a new point of view and to look for the influence they have had upon me.

Thinking about this the last few days a phrase kept coming to mind and I’ve finally identified it, apparently from Macbeth: “But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.” This is something I definitely got from Elizabeth Goudge. In all the years when I was struggling with the memories of pain and trauma of my early life there was a quality she was telling me about nowadays we’d simply say “hang in there” but it doesn’t have quite the same impact. It’s a quality she calls in her biography, “stickability” or adherence, the willingness to hold on to what we have committed ourselves to. In all my troubles, it was a quality I was quite incapable of but her requirement of it was embedded in the wonderful sense of light that fills her books. The more I tried and failed to support my commitment, even my commitment to simply being me, the more I felt the need of that light.

I think the next point I saw, was that my commitment to being me could only be supported by obedience to God. I had a vague sense of God at the time, none of Christ. But I desperately needed there to exist something greater than me to which I could be obedient so that I could rest. It seemed that I always had to be in control or my entire world would collapse around me. By giving my obedience to God I could let go, allow him to be in charge. I didn’t understand the concepts I was dealing with, but somehow, Elizabeth Goudge led me to be able to do it, at least some of the time.

And then slowly, the concept of hope began to get through to me. In a time of despair I found one of her books in a charity shop. I don’t remember which one. I can see how the pattern of thinking which allows that people can be redeemed by the healing of their relatedness to the world around them began to become real to me.

This is love expressed in little things, acting to heal relationships. It is this living out of the command to “love one another” which is real to me about Elizabeth Goudge. To me, a “command” to love is a contradiction in terms. Love by definition can only be given freely. God has given us free will and we assume that he does so precisely because, although being Almighty he has the power to command us, if he did then our love would be worthless. In a recent incident in my community, I had to deal with a problem of a girl who was telling others (incorrectly) that I had a dangerous dog. If I had been commanded to love her, I would have felt rebellious and annoyed, arguing that I was in the right and she in the wrong. Instead, being steeped at present in reading for this essay it seemed natural to take an interest in the girl, to care about her fear, to join myself to groups of friends around her if I had previously chatted with at least one of them. My normal fear of being unwelcome among groups of people who don’t know me seemed to have disappeared, I was there for a reason even though I didn’t yet know it. In Green Dolphin Country one of the characters advises, “act as if you love her, even though you hate her”. Once the recipient of that advice tries to live by it, he finds himself having to find qualities in his wife to love and from then on, although their relationship is never easy it does at least function, resulting in a child who he finds easy to love. I found myself acting as if I loved this girl, and as a result I am in fact growing fond of her, she seems a bit bewildered by it why should I, to whom she has addressed some quite unpleasant comments, take an interest in her? If Elizabeth Goudge was writing this story then some angle of the plot would turn upon my refusal to return anger for anger. In the meantime, somewhat to my surprise since it was none of it planned, I am learning how it feels like to live Jesus’ request that we love one another and it feels rather good!

While writing the section (above) on Goudge’s theology, I found the closeness of her thinking to Barth in her consideration of the nature of hell. I also found, in my own college notes on Barth an aside from myself describing my own understanding of hell, simply an absence of God’s presence which I noticed was very close to his thoughts on it. It seems likely that in my pre-Christian reading of Goudge I was working through my own difficulty with accepting the apparent conflict of a loving God who sends people to eternal torment. I certainly wouldn’t have read Barth, but reading Goudge’s novels I seem to have picked up the idea which she only expresses formally in her biography. This is the nature of her influence upon me, an influence which only leaves me saying I love her novels, and they help me when I am distressed or confused,  but which has in fact imparted to me a depth of understanding of some difficult theological points expressed within a spirituality which shows how we can live our lives within God’s love. And so I have learnt to do.

 Bibliography

Elizabeth Goudge – Many of her books are in book club editions which don’t show publication details properly. I rely on the Elizabeth Goudge Society for dates of publication.

The Joy of the Snow (autobiography) Hodder & Stoughton 1974

The Scent of Water

Green Dolphin Country

 

Goudge Series

Hi.

I discovered the Elizabeth Goudge society today, much to my delight.  I read my first of her wonderful novels about 17 years ago, and every time I enter a used book store, I head immediately to the G section to see if I can find new books I have not read.

I saw the chronological list of books written by Miss Goudge on the website, but was wondering if you have a listing that puts together the books in a series.  Some of the titles I have come upon on the internet today do not indicate whether they are part of a series, and I am left to my own imagination.

Thanks for your kind care of Miss Goudge’s legacy.

Kathy
Hello Kathy,

Glad you enjoyed the site, it’s been up and running for nearly two years now.

The series of books that E.G. wrote are in correct order,

The Bird In The Tree
The Herb of Grace (Pilgrim’s Inn)
The Heart of the Family
which are her Eliot novels, you can get them in one volume called The Eliots of Damerosehay

and then,

City of Bells
Henrietta’s House
Sister of Angels

all about Wells in Somerset and the same family.

Her children’s book “Make Believe” sort of follows on from her first novel “Island Magic”, at least its about the same family, based on her Mother’s, but they can be read alone, hope this answers your query, thanks for getting in touch

Deborah

Visit to Ely

Date: 12 Nov 20th 2006

Ely Cathedral was nothing like I remembered. All I could feel last time we came, was a dark brooding presence, who was not at all welcoming. But this time, no threat, no looming gloom, just light, that’s what I remember first, light. From the car park The Cathedral looked so insubstantial as if about to take flight. Inside the highly painted ceiling demanded attention, followed by awe as one’s eye took off up and up into that wonderful lantern, high above the aisle and alter. The first tier had flowers and leaves climbing up towards Royalty, then the saints in their beatitude, then angels, then Christ in glory right in the middle at the apex, one of the great lights of the Western World.

Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

Something I hadn’t known about Ely, and Elizabeth doesn’t mention either, was that it was founded in the 5th century by a woman St Ethelred. She established a nunnery and monastery combined which lasted until the 10th century. The city’s history begins in “The Dean’s Watch” with Duke Rollo and his castle, which must have ousted poor St Ethelred and her nuns. I lit a candle and said a quiet prayer at her shrine. A statute had been erected at the spot where Her shrine used to be. In her autobiography “Joy of the Snow” however she does tell us about her favourite saint’s day at Ely, which is the Feast of St Ethelred. Elizabeth writes that the city gave thanks that day, to” not only St Ethelred, herself, queen, Abbess, and Patron Saint, but for all benefactors of the Cathedral. Every one stripped their gardens of their loveliest blooms, and then decorated the Cathedral with, armfuls of Michaelmas daisies, dahlias, Japanese anemones, and the first chrysanthemums, and the treasures of the last roses” After all the tombs, chantrys and aisles had been decorated with flowers, there was a festival service and the choir then proceeded around the Cathedral singing “For All The Saints”. Afterwards in splendid Edwardian fashion, they all trooped off to High tea at The Deanery.

I can only think that Elizabeth must have taken part in these parties with reluctance. Not only was she shy in company, but her figure was always so slender! Elizabeth grew up in this sheltered city in the Fens. She and her family spent twelve very happy years here. Even being send away to school was muted by the glory of the homecoming. Her father was a canon at the cathedral and a principle of the theosophical college here, and for her mother it was a light airy place, with sea like views over the Fens. Here, in the hard heart of the fens her creative mind expanded and took flight. The austerity of the sweeping winds, the vast expanses of sky and cloud, the small, secure social rounds that build up a community were all vastly appealing to Elizabeth.

I went and sat outside Bishop West’s Chantry Chapel. Inside I could hear the hum of women talking and holding a prayer meeting. Eventually, two ladies came out. One, who was quite elderly but very smartly dressed, helped the other even older woman into a wheelchair. They both set off down the aisle twittering softly to each other like small brown birds! Very Goudgian! When the rest of the ladies had left, all of whom smiled or greeted me in passing, I went inside. The stone had been carved and fretted until it resembled a giant wedding cake, a wedding of the Soul and mind. From the windows obscure saints stared down at me. The dominant colour was dark blue, very striking. All the hassocks have been embroidered with a Tudor Rose. The ceiling has ornate angels, blowing trumpets, praying, all in a very elaborate Italianate manner. The sun came and went on the page and I felt an affinity with Elizabeth Goudge I had not looked for last time I came.

Author Bathed in Light Ely

Psalm 84:10 arrested my attention as I was leaving the chapel. “I would rather be a Doorkeeper in the house of My God, than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Although the tents of wickedness sound quite fun, the sentiment is one I concur with.

Our last port of call was The Lady Chapel. Again the first impression was one of light. It had been the brunt of Parliamentarian anger, as it was dedicated to Mary, an idol, as they saw it. All the statues and frescos portraying the life of Jesus and Mary had had all their heads smashed off. No carving was left intact. The windows were smashed, which lost all the medieval glass, but did let the light in. A new statue of the Virgin Mary has been commissioned for the millennium. She is large, very blue, and has Her arms held aloft and empty. Her son has already been taken from Her. But She still has more left to give. Although She looked a little Disneyeque, She was very striking. The whole place appeared to be scoured out. It reminded me of a woman after her menopause, not ready for death, with life still in her, children of her body gone, ready for children of the mind to take their place. Again, I don’t know why, Elizabeth seems to miss out all mention of the Lady Chapel. I know that she wasn’t anti catholic, and indeed writes movingly about their faith. Like all truly spiritual people, she does not differentiate between faiths. It is the love of God and the striving for right motive which she depicts. Work men were renovating the Processional Way to the chapel and had already completed the chapel ceiling. With the aid of a wonderful mirror on wheels, we were able to see all the bosses. There were two dragons curled up asleep, like cats. The Way had been repaired using lovely wood and gold headed angels, putti, as in Henrietta’s bedroom in Wells.

 

Re: Visit to Ely

From: Paul Gray
Category: Category 1
Date: 12 Nov 2006
Time: 11:53:30 -0000
Remote Name: 62.252.64.33

Comments

Thank you for the lovely description of Ely. Have visited several times. Did you see the simple statue of Jesus meeting Mary in the garden at His resurrection? So touching and so simplistic. I would think that Elizabeth Goudge would have loved it.

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The Art of Coincidence

First, I would like to compliment you on the lovely web-site in honour of Ms. Goudge, who has become a dear “companion” of mine in recent years. Thanks to the info you posted, I just purchased her “Joy Of The Snow” & am enjoying it immensely.

I would like to relate the following account of my experience with Ms. Goudge & her work.

In 1974, I was living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, near the Mexican border. I purchased a book one day by Ms. Goudge that was in a used book store in McAllen, TX.

In the book, was a name label & a birthday card to a friend & it was signed, “Jessie.” The name label indicated that the former owner of the book & the recipient of the book was a Mrs. F. E. Rogers, Culver House, Middlewich, Eng. I have been unable to find Mrs. Rogers’ given name but I believe she died in Crewe, about 20 years ago.

I wondered, at the time of my purchase, how in the world the little book, “The Scent of Water”, had made the journey from Chestershire, UK to So Texas, but I never made an attempt to trace its journey. It is a tourist area but that is certainly a long distance to go for a holiday.

In 2000, I was researching our family genealogy & was trying to find information on my grandmother’s cousin’s husband. I had some wonderful old photos of him & wanted to share it with any descendants of his that might still be living. A gentleman from England answered my inquiry & said that he had a relative by that name, that had lived in Texas at that same time & we thought for a while that our relatives were the same person.  As it turned out, we were mistaken, but this gent’s address was just across the lane from the address in my little Goudge book, purchased 26 years earlier.

We have marvelled at this coincidence many times. Recently I happened upon your web-site & noticed that Ms. Goudge’s companion was also named Jessie.  Now I am wondering

If my little (undated) card, that had been tucked away inside my book, could possibly have been from Jessie Monroe/Munroe.

Could you please tell me if Jessie is still living? Would you happen to recognize her hand-writing or have any info that might help me to determine if our ladies are the same? This signature appears to have been spelled “Jessi” but I’m not certain of that. I can scan & send a copy of the card if it would be helpful.

Diane

Dear Diane
Thank you so much for sharing your Goudge story with me. It is just the sort of wonderful coincidence that Elizabeth loved to weave into her stories.

Elizabeth’s companion spelt her name Jessie with an “e” and as far as I know had no links with Middlewich. The only Mrs Rogers I know of in connection with Elizabeth is her char woman from Oxford who lived “just off St Aldgates with her sister and fifteen cats! ” I don’t think the dates would match up and Elizabeth was quite young when she lived with her parents in Oxford and lived there long before she knew Jessie.

Jessie came from a wealthy Scottish family and after Elizabeth died moved back to Pembrokeshire Wales where she had family. Sadly she died about 8/9 years ago in a nursing home.

However if you could send me a scan of her card, I do know someone who would know if it’s her writing or not. So maybe we could find out a little more for you about your interesting find.
Thank you for visiting the web site

Thank you for your answer to my email & I will send a scan of the little birthday card to Mrs. Rogers today. My list of “coincidences” with regard to Ms.Goudge just seems to continue to grow to the point where it’s beginning to feel more like she’s perched on my shoulder. In your web-site information, you mention a “Harwood” family & that is the name that I was researching, in Texas, when I found (or he found me) the gentleman who lives across the street from Mrs. Rogers’ former home in Middlewich.

Also, I recently decided to collect all of the Goudge books & was surprised to see that she wrote a tribute to St. Francis. I have the good saint’s image, in one form or another, all over my home & garden & couldn’t be without him. Needless to say, I have now ordered & received, “My God and My All” from Amazon. I wasn’t aware that there was a book on him by Elizabeth Goudge. When I received the book from a seller in Pennsylvania, there was a signature of the former owner on the fly page.   That lady was very well-known & years ago, she was the founder & director of a large Children’s hospital. Whether or not our Jessies are the same lady, I have consistently been amazed at the number of surprises that keep springing from this little book of mine

Dear Diane,

Here is another coincidence for you. Harwood was the name of the house where Elizabeth spent time convalescing in Hampshire after her nervous breakdown and the death of her father. It was by the sea marshes and faced out to the estuary of the River Beaulieu She re named the house Dameroshay.

Having seen the scan, it just might be Jessie; Elizabeth’s writing was loopy and extremely untidy, as you can see if you click on letters she wrote which are posted on the site.

Dear Deborah

I have had another coincidence “from Elizabeth” since we last corresponded. The book that I purchased in 1974 was from the Salvation Army in McAllen, TX. That book is the one with the name label & card from Jessi to the lady in Middlewich. Recently, I purchased on Amazon, the book “Green Dolphin Street” The previous owner of that one was a Rosemary Cutshaw from Indianapolis, Indiana. She was a member of the Salvation Army there, per info that I found on the internet. These coincidences just keep coming & I find myself looking forward to the next one which seems to happen every time I order another book!

Friends & Neighbours

Interview with Nicki Lewis-Smith

Nicki Lewis-Smith was waiting in the garden for me to arrive. Nicki is the daughter of the poet Anne Lewis-Smith who had been Elizabeth’s neighbour in Dog Lane for a decade or more. I had been urged to contact Nicki by her Mother, Anne, with whom I had corresponded both before the site was set up and afterwards. It had taken me a couple of years to work out that she was one and the same as the published poet that I had read.

I was taken inside her old cottage, which had obviously been here long before the estate which had grown up on three sides of it. This was now completely hidden by trees, shrubs and fencing, so that the cottage could still have been in the countryside on the outskirts of Ludlow.

Nicki made us tea and offered biscuits and over these we began to talk. She started by telling me that it wasn’t until after Elizabeth had died that she had really appreciated what a prolific and successful writer she had been. Until then she had just been an elderly lady who was friends with Mum and lived in the cottage down the lane. They then lived in Primrose Cottage which is the cottage a little nearer to The Dog pub. She knew she was a writer because so was Mum, and their talk had been peppered with literature and poetry.

The Poet's Desk

Nicki went upstairs and came back down carrying three boxes, two considerably smaller than the other. Sitting down opposite me at the table by the window so that what light there was fell on the surface, she opened the first box to reveal a small, intricately carved silver writing desk. This she told me was called “the Poet’s Desk” and it had come from the Channel Isles. Originally it had belonged to Elizabeth’s mother Ida Collette, and had then been handed down to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was poetic to her core; it was the ultimate expression possible in the written word to her and she venerated the poet’s craft. She was friends with Ruther Pitter who lived in the Cotswolds and Anne Lewis-Smith a poet living next door must have been a great boon to her intellectual life. A little like Cousin Mary in Scent of Water, Elizabeth must have been pleasantly surprised to find someone she could discuss Literature with in a small rural village in 1960’s Oxfordshire. This wasn’t the only time I was to be reminded of the similarities between Cousin Mary and Elizabeth that afternoon.

It was exquisite, obviously a family heirloom, and a great bequest to have been given from a neighbour. Elizabeth had no children of her own, and perhaps she felt that as a poet, Anne would be the most fitting person to bequeath it to, someone who would value the symbolic nature of the gift as well as its beauty and value.

The other box was much smaller and was obviously going to contain jewellery of some sort. But the pendant it revealed took my breath away. It was a small amethyst carved with a writers quill and the word “Truth” in its faceted surface. It was a beautiful and most appropriate piece of jewellery for a writer to wear. Nicki told me that Elizabeth had worn it every day, but was unable to tell me where she had obtained it. My impression of Elizabeth is of someone austere; who like Sebastian in Heart of the Family, or Cousin Mary (again!) would rather that any money surplus to her meagre living standards she earned was better spent on the wider community rather than on an expensive trinket for herself.

Perhaps Jessie gave it to her as a gift on one of her birthdays, or indeed another family member, maybe she did buy it with some of her hard won earnings. However Elizabeth had come by it the intimate nature of holding something she had worn was powerful, a talisman from her life.

The third was a box containing letters and cards written to Nicki’s family from Elizabeth spanning many years, even after they had left Peppard Common behind for the wilds of Wales. I could have spent all afternoon handling and reading these treasures, but I felt a little like I was snooping into something really private. They were all fragile, some almost falling apart and I couldn’t help thinking how rare anything in the way of personal writing from Elizabeth was, in light of Jessie’s destruction. They were mainly chatty little notes and cards, both Christmas and birthday, with some slightly longer letters among them. What insights they might give into her character or thoughts there wasn’t the time then to find out.

I had got the impression from Sylvia Gower that Elizabeth had tolerated her less famous neighbour in a spirit of Christian charity. But I cannot retain this image after talking to Nicki. She remembered one incident vividly from that time, when she had been a young teenager and “a bit of a hippie, into my long cloaks and skirts,” Elizabeth had watched her riding past Rose Cottage and around the field at the back of her garden. The young girl with her flowing clothes and long hair on her horse must have seemed to have ridden from the pages of one of her stories. Or perhaps she was remembering the rides she took as a young woman through the fens near Ely.

It was obvious that they had been very close. Why else would one gift such family treasures to neighbours who had moved away? Elizabeth had a wide circle of admirers and many friends in her church and community. But she was a private person who valued the quiet pace of the devotional life she had chosen. Jessie protected her privacy fiercely giving her the time and space she needed to be creative. But the Lewis-Smith family seem to have been one of the exceptions to this, with Elizabeth letting them into her life and affections.

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Conversation Piece

Excerpts from an email conversation about Elizabeth Goudge
Between Carol McDonough and Lorender Freeman, Australia
LF             Climb the stairs to the upper floor of the Bendigo library [regional Victoria, Australia] and there is The Stack. These are the books no longer in demand, but which the library, fortunately, considers too good to be discarded. They may be borrowed and include many fine novels published in the 1940s, 50s and 60s and now largely forgotten. They have a generous collection of Elizabeth Goudge.

I first encountered Elizabeth Goudge (1900-1984), when my father read The Little White Horse to my brothers and me. When I left home I became the guardian of our family’s copy of this book and read this ever-delightful story to my own children, but it was only about fifteen years ago that I began to read her many adult novels, realizing that these apparently genteel stories were passionate and revelatory.

CMcD       Ah! The Stack! That is where I first read The Valley of Song, one of her children’s books which profoundly speak to adults. An inspirational book, written during WW2 in a chaotic, despairing time for Elizabeth, it is not one of her favourites. For me it speaks to “See how they love one another” as foundational for a town or a Christian community to live in poured-out resourceful harmony close to the inter-penetrating “king/queendom” of heaven. A long meditation created as delightful evocative story, I always think the pre-text for that book is “unless you become as a little child you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Tonight I found myself saying to a friend that Elizabeth Goudge is as deep, broad and wide as her contemporary Evelyn Underhill, as theologian and spiritual guide in the English spiritual tradition. Her over half century opus of children and adult novels, stories, poems, prayers, and collections, concluding with her autobiography, was published from 1919-1974. Who is Elizabeth for you?

LF       If I look into a novel I consider among her best, The Herb of Grace,  I’m reminded that yes, Elizabeth Goudge is a spiritual guide, and in the English tradition, or rather, my view of the English spiritual tradition, deeply coloured by the Arthur Mee Children’s Encyclopedias and English poetry. Beneath the patterns of admirable and satisfying romance, and the deep sense of place, lie simple structures of necessary goodness. Goudge needs the pleasure of the stories as much as this reader and she needs to instruct. How much do you think this goes back to her childhood, part of it lived in the shadow of Ely Cathedral?

CMcD   Her childhood was spent first in the Cathedral Close of Wells Cathedral in Somerset, then the family moved to the great fens where her family lived in the Cathedral Close of Ely. Her father, Henry, whose silk weaver family back ground was Evangelical, and who in his teen years immersed himself in the Catholic tradition of the Church of England, was priest, theologian and author. In his Theological College Principal positions, he took the family to Wells, Ely and subsequently to Oxford where he was Regis Professor of Divinity. By virtue of her being, her father’s scholarship and devotion profoundly formed the young Elizabeth. As did her mother, Ida Colette, daughter of St Peter’s Port, Guernsey, whose weaving of myth and legend into vibrant story was a passionate gift to Elizabeth. She says in her last book, an autobiography, The Joy of the Snow:  I began to write…as a child at Wells and have hardly left off since…  First published when still living at home, she speaks of her father and her sitting on the floor wrapping copies of that first novel, “They are our children”, he said.”  And of Ely:

How can one describe the place? Wells was fairyland, in my memory a diaphanous Cathedral and a city so hidden from the world that is seemed to have dropped out of the world, but Ely had the hard strength of reality. The cathedral leaped on you like a lion, taking you captive beyond hope of escape, but the lion was Aslan the divine lion. Once the bondage had been accepted, the pursuer became protector…  Without it one might have felt lost and desolate in the vast flatness that lay helplessly beneath the huge dome of the sky, but with it, one was safe, tied to it by an invisible cord.

Cords are a recurring thread in her novels. Good heavens! I just picked out the award winning, and filmed, Green Dolphin Country. I had forgotten that her beginning quote A threefold cord shall not be broken is by Evelyn Underhill! It is oft quoted in the text and is the theme of that longest novel where she, not claiming mysticism as her home, personifies the qualities Elizabeth describes in the “cord” between her three primary characters, Margeurite, Marianne and William.

Three deep cravings of the self…which only mystic truth can satisfy. The first is the craving, the longing to go out from the normal world, which makes him a pilgrim and a wanderer…The next is the craving of heart for heart, the soul for its perfect mate which makes him a lover. The third is the craving for inward purity and perfection which makes him an ascetic, and in the last resort a saint.

In her epic storytelling, Goudge gently, explicitly, unfolds the growing of these from one “natural” element in each as a child towards the wholeness of the three elements expressed in them all in stimulating old age; a life journey to which she inspires each of us, without preaching.

As her thought and expression unfold through, as you say, the “goodness” of her works, in the mystic and other elements of the English spiritual tradition, “shot through with brightness” of her life experience, do you find these or other qualities maturing to wholeness as she journeys into God?

LF  A big question. The Herb of Grace is about movement toward wholeness. Each character must pass through the flame which burns away self-delusion and ignorance. They work at their own fates, but their fates are dependent on each other and on God, and the story provides all manner of revelation, sometimes confronting, sometimes beautiful, sometimes deliciously outrageous as Goudge imposes her necessary order. (Not to mention her inevitable loving portrayals of houses and dogs. Being a cat person I find the dogs wearying, but the detailed evocations of houses, and their importance to the story, is deep and satisfying).

If I look into The Herb of Grace as a child might, I’m almost immediately confronted by piercing dilemmas of love and self-knowledge, as disturbingly relevant as the other times I’ve read this book. How does she know all this stuff?! In The Joy of the Snow she lets little slip about these aspects of her own life. Or am I obtuse?

CMcD      How does the entering into intimate piercing dialogue with her world enable us to penetrate ours in the increasingly different (or is it?) twenty-first century?

I wonder…..What words most encapsulate her opus for you? At present, the words, which seem similar to yours, are “yearning towards wholeness”. That, in all or most of her works, as she traces the relationships with place, time, animals and people, she is unfolding that desire in the human spirit for integration, for dynamic harmony within and with all…..for peace. Consciously or unconsciously or both, might she be charting her own journey? The long slow times; the sudden leaps forward in understanding and knowledge which, when reflected on and lived into, might lead towards wisdom. While delighting in the healing balm and inspiration of beauty in all its forms, in the natural world and in relationship, she endured the transformation which comes, when given to God, of the suffering of her dark times, both inner,  from which she certainly suffered and gained great insight- and outer, on the stage of world history as she experienced it. She lived consciously, sensitively, painfully and reflectively in the domestic, local community and church spheres through two world wars, impacting in her immediate present, and beyond.  Might she “know all this disturbing stuff” because she took time to observe and reflect; she took time to be still; she took time for exploring and growing into a deep and deepening relationship with her God. Though life circumstances moved her around southern England, she took time in each place to put down roots and source stability. She reveled in beloved poetry. All these were, for her, sources for the “dearest freshness deep down things”, as George Herbert tells it.

LF To enter into dialogue with her world… unavoidable in the reading of her, I don’t  think that it makes any difference, 20th century or 21st, the problems of living honourably are the same,  to fully stand in the realities of her world is to acknowledge our responsibilities to creation. Which is wonderful , as in exciting and pleasurable  and wonderfully demanding, for in that heady atmosphere float the implicit questions,

“Can you change? can you be fully human? can you act from your higher self?”

In wondering about her knowledge of love and its follies, I’m also being curious, looking between the lines for gossip. I remember my surprised delight when the estranged husband in The Scent of Water goes into the bedroom and tells his wife to shove over, yet my low curiosity about Elizabeth Goudge’s experience of fleshly delights soon fizzles out in the face of her greater preoccupations.

A story. The last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot, and went to look for Goudge’s in Book Heaven, finding two “juveniles” – Linnets and Valerians and, never sighted before, Smoky-House – which I immediately read from beginning to end. The last chapter is titled Happy Ever After, and me being mildly sick, I no doubt read it as a child, wholly entranced and bemused. And was drawn back into childhood…

In the 50s my parents would often push their boys into the car on a Saturday morning and drive to the old lending library in La Trobe Street, Melbourne, then part of the grand State Library, Museum, and NGV building. We’d borrow a pile of books and park in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton, Mum and Dad disappearing into Jimmy Watson’s wine shop (in its original humble shop front) while we settled to our fate of being stuck in the car with naught but brothers and books for an hour or two.

Around this time I read a book which bowled me over with its rich sense of possibility, I’d never read anything like it before, where the events in the book were so obviously right and wonderful and magically fateful. Sometime after the book was returned I wanted to read it again, and began a long and hopeless search. I never found it, I didn’t remember the title or author, it seemed that I’d had a glimpse into another world and would never again enter that portal. As time passed my memory of the book diminished to a vague memory of a ship, a cove, possibly pirates. I’ve thought about it over the years, and come to the conclusion that even if I came across the book now I wouldn’t, couldn’t, know whether it was the one.

Deep into Smoky-House, in the chapter The Ship in the Cove, I come to a striking illustration by C.Walter Hodges of a boy gazing upon a sailing ship that seemed made out of night and sunshine… This may be the lost book, well, I think it is. But can never be certain.

CMcD Children! I watch my growing exploring granddaughters with delight. Reading with the eyes of a child…fractalled through the eyes of the adult…  I have just reread her trilogy of Henrietta, growing through nine to eleven,  A City of BellsThe Sister of the Angels: A Christmas Story, and Henrietta’s House, which maybe, even more than The Scent of Water, tells us of her journey. Henrietta is modelled on her “child”, in her formative life in Wells, celebrated in A City of Bells. For purposes of this novel, Wells is renamed Torminster, bringing together Wells and mystical Glastonbury Tor, Avalon. The dedication of Henrietta’s House, time slipping, moving between what might be fantasy and reality, as does Avalon, commences

There were once two little girls, and one had fair hair and lived in the Cathedral Close of Torminster and the other had dark hair and lived up in the Blue Hills above the city, and they were friends….

At the end of this tale she excessively concludes

So this is the end of the story of Henrietta’s house, and even though it is not strictly speaking a fairy tale –  because except for the possible exception of the disappearance of the motor car nothing out of the ordinary happened on Hugh Anthony’s birthday, it can be turned into one by saying that everybody lived happily ever after.

Outrageous! The disappearance of the car is the easiest thing to justify a simple theft! The rest of that afternoon birthday party, nothing out of the ordinary? Well! Through entrancing story we do learn of the power of prayer and the triumph of good over human inadequacy and intentional evil.

I wonder…. in many of her books, both so called “children” and so called “adult”, which all ages can read for delight and personal profit, she intimates the interpenetration of the world of the senses and the worlds of “intuition”, “spirit”, “faery”, “the kingdom of God”, all “working together for good for those who love…”

As in Herb of Grace (and the whole Damerosehay trilogy), in the outworking of Lucilla’s family over three generations, here she is searching piercing dilemmas of love and self knowledge, through the heart-wrenching inspiring stories of Henrietta, a supposed orphan, becoming reconciled and accommodating to her painter father’s odd lifestyle, whilst living with Hugh Anthony, his grandparents [a priest, canon and his wife] and their surrounding adults.

When one’s child’s heart becomes Love-pierced by Mystery through life’s hard knocks and redemptions, what might there be of possibilities in the child soul for movement towards wholeness for the adult person one is becoming? Elizabeth Goudge asks and explores this mystery, for her, “shot through” with the English “Anglican mind”, culture and tradition.

“To fully stand in the realities of her world is to acknowledge our responsibilities to creation,” you say. I broke into sparkling-eyed smiles. That’s IT! She was immersed in the natural world and the place of human beings within, not over, as ways of the unremarkable responsible relationship with all creation we humans used more to live. We don’t see the more recent kinds of self-critical, self-obsessed or its opposite, denial, about Earth, scourging us who have reaped the benefits, and the escalating bane of earth’s resources exploitation to the cost of future generations and even our own.

[DELETE IN BRACKETS MAYBE coz too many allusions to the Anglican style genre? Here are excerpts of her prayers from A Diary of Prayer, rhythmically swinging through the Anglican liturgical year. It took me forever to realize the unacknowledged ones in her prayer diary are her own….

A prayer before starting any work.

Lord in union with the Love which made Thee deign to occupy Thyself in work,     I Elizabeth Goudge Thee to unite my work with Thy most perfect acts and make it perfect;         as a drop of water, poured into a great river, does all that river does.

What intrigues me here, for her prayer for union within and with the work of Christ is similar to many of the greats, in century order among them Benedict, Teresa, Ignatius, Wesley, Charles de Foucauld – is her phrase “does all that river does” not the river; implicit is “River”. She communicates the sense, not only are we one with the great River of Life of the visions of Ezekiel and John the Divine, in time before and after Christ and fulfilled Christ Consciousness,  but also that River is entity-in-itself, with life, honored place, essential purpose in creation. ]

LF   11th February, 2009, windy, cool, sunny, far from tragedy but not far.

Nearby donkeys call into the bright and wild air. Last night, visiting Samantha and Sid, reading a poem Sam had just written about the last week , the heat, Eli’s first days at school, the fallout from the fires,  I felt the poem was about our collective immaturity, the fires (like global warming) a manifestation of our over-abundant emotional outpourings and needs, untempered by reflection and empathy. Yes, we can be sentimental and expressive, but how we deny the laments of nature, the demands on sanity and clarity, how easily feeling becomes violence.

Yesterday morning, Father Ken led a little requiem mass for the 173 bushfire dead on Black Saturday 2009. It was moving and deeply shared I think by those present. One of the readings was from Job, as used by Elizabeth Goudge to introduce and title The Scent of Water. A few weeks ago I re-read this book, the story of a late middle-aged woman’s, impulsive but conscious journey into her past, the wonders attending her decision to experience the real England before it vanished. It’s an odd, messy book, too many people, too many ship shapely resolutions, but beautiful in its discoveries and range, thrilling in its vitality. And again, the question of Home, such a big thing in Elizabeth Goudge’s writing, and of course her life, as in the way Mary, in The Scent of Water, approaches the cottage that has been left to her; indeed the whole book is, on one level, a very slow journey through that cottage, like something out of Tarkovsky, just as The Herb of Grace is most wonderfully about the bit by bit revelation of a house (and Home), and the depth of hospitality that a building can hold. I’ve always been perplexed by these things, I grew up with notions of the English village and cottage as ideal, but my first visit there, at 32, found me overwhelmed by the sense of past lives, the feeling of history palpably underfoot, almost claustrophobic. Yet reading The Little White Horse to my children provoked an epic sense of enfranchisement, the coming to Moonacre Manor and all that that involves.

CMcD 16th May 2010

Elizabeth Goudge’s opus fills nearly two bookshelf meters. Nearly all out of print, from op shops and second hand bookshops, it has taken decades to collect all but the first rare two. My joy, when I found her hardbound Damerosehay Trilogy in Castlemaine itself, for the vast sum of $6!  Over the last few years Elizabeth Goudge has been “found”. Partly because of internet bookselling? Partly because of the website www.elizabethgoudge.org Or, truly, as I would believe, because her time has come?  As I wrote those words, I had a small flash to our twentieth century re-finding of twelfth century “my friend, Julian of Norwich”, also much beloved by Elizabeth Goudge. Might it be, in such a short time from mid-twentieth to twenty-first century, as we contemplate the vast problems of our time, too big for mind to compass, she is a necessary antidote: a teller of how life in its mutual loving and mutual service in right relationship in community and all creation ought be, held in Trinity, in the resurrected life of Christ. Her descriptions of the people who pray in her novels teach us greatly about the life of prayer faithfully lived day in, night out. Others of her novels teaching about the ways of prayer and of growing in love and forgiveness include The Rosemary Tree, The Dean’s Watch, Gentian Hill. [To be continued in our conversation?] A visionary, a prophet, a storyteller of goodness and wholesome community and family relationships, through the medium of story she gives us invitation, pathways and wells of quiet. Very often I turn to the works of my “friend and companion” Elizabeth Goudge in the night hours and am comforted, inspired and given depth to live the next turning of life’s wheel. Thank you, Elizabeth.

 

Where is Giovanni?

A question about the whereabouts of some of Elizabeth’s short stories from Margo Simple

Dear Deborah,

I am writing to ask for your help in finding a book by Elizabeth Goudge which I read several times around 1980-1982. It was a collection of short stories, maybe an anthology? I so much want to find the title so that I can purchase copies for friends for Christmas…

One story I remember tells of a orphan boy-Giovanni, I think- who lived in the shepherd huts in the hill country around Assisi and how he became a friend of Francis and ended up lifting Francis’s spirits when Francis was weighed down by the troubles of dealing w/ Friars who wanted an easier life “and it was Whitsunday!”

Another story in this book tells the wonder of how love/life began in a cave (the “stable” of Bethlehem) and was made new from out of a cave (the tomb from which Jesus rose again).

I have tried to find table of contents for Elizabeth’s books to narrow down which book these stories come from–no success so far. I would so much appreciate your help.

Sincerely Margo

Dear Margo,
Thank you for contacting me, your question really set me thinking………

The only story (except the biography Elizabeth wrote) about St Francis I remember is the Canticle of the Sun but that is a Christmas story, not Whitsunday.

The love/life began in a cave etc sounds like the experience Cousin Mary from A Scent of Water undergoes in church one Christmas when she is having one of her  bad times and a series of visions pertaining to Christ’s birth and death uphold and inspire her, bringing her comfort and healing.

The Reward of Faith contains the Canticle of the Sun and other faith based stories and would be my choice of Christmas Books to give and receive.

I will however continue to investigate as the name Giovanni as it does ring bells. Maybe someone out there has the answer?

A Discerning Band

A Discerning Band
Randolph Blakeman

I just discovered your website, and wish I had done so earlier. The Scent of Water is also my favourite of Ms. Goudge’s books, though I also love the Eliot trilogy, The Dean’s Watch, and Child from the Sea. I had always wondered what village might have been the inspiration for Appleshaw, so it was good to hear about Turville I plan to visit your site more often, so keep up the good work.

Many thanks. [Am I the only man to love her books?]
Randolph Blakeman

Dear Randolph,
No, not the only man but one of a select and discerning band! When we held the Goudge Convention day at Henley it was pretty evenly matched, although admittedly, some were attending with their partners.

Glad you found something of interest in the web site

Catching Up

Dear All,

It seemed such a long time since we last spoke, that I thought I’d bring everyone up to date with what’s been happening.

Despite not publishing a new site since Christmas, I have continued to receive lots of lovely emails from people all over the world who have discovered the site. Thank you all for your kind thoughts and appreciation, you really do make it worthwhile. I am constantly pleasantly surprised by how much Elizabeth’s writing continues to contribute positively to peoples’ lives. It’s the best and only legacy a writer could hope to achieve.

So let me give a special thank you to;

Bernard from America, who is currently beavering away photocopying dust jackets for the site,
Liz whose moving account of rediscovering Scent Of Water, (my favourite Goudge book) I really emphasised with, Tanya in France who is enjoying the articles available on site,
and Yiana wherever you are for your enthusiasm!

Finally, especially to Carol from Australia, who has sent me a wonderful transcript which I intend to use as part of the Christmas postings!

My article this month is about a novel I read as a teenager, which nearly put me off reading any more of Elizabeth’s work. Luckily the next one I read was The White Witch and I was instantly back under her spell. It wasn’t until I read her auto-biography many years later that I realized how unhappy Elizabeth had been at Oxford when she wrote this, it obviously coloured her work.

Lanier Books blog site we have featured in the past, has a good piece on “The Dean’s Watch”; a book which her reading group read a while back. Link details are available from the Goudge Links on the front page.

I wrote the poem Visitation a few years back after visiting Eryls Onions in Pembrokeshire, the granddaughter of Jessie who so kindly invited me into her home for the morning. It was a very special day and one that gave me insights into the way Elizabeth lived and worked.

Last year I met Karen Lewis-Smith the daughter of the poet Anne Lewis-Smith who was Elizabeth’s neighbour in Dog Lane. Over tea in her cottage, she showed me letters and cards written to her and her mother by Elizabeth, and the wonderful gifts bestowed on them before Elizabeth died. More on this in the Christmas issue!

All that’s left for me to is to say enjoy the rest of our great British summer, and I look forward to catching up with you all again towards the end of year.

Deborah

Witchcraft And Magic

Witchcraft And Magic
A critique of the portrayal of Loveday Minette in the recently released film of The Little White Horse by Nancy Bray

Delighted to say that after seeing a poster for Moonacre Magic, I steered clear. To be fair, it would take a very gifted team to produce a film that anywhere near approaches the magic of the book.

When I try to explain E Goudge’s strength, I like to take the example of Wrolf. Wrolf, throughout my childhood, was both a lion and a dog. I never had to select between the two options. That is perhaps a good definition of magic, in which contradictory elements co-exist. It would take a very clever film maker to recreate this effect, when the visual is so impactful.

Reading reviews of the film on your site, I felt smug at my decision. However, one aspect of an article on your webpage jarred. Doreen Brown takes issue with the representation of Loveday Minette: “In the story it is her quiet motherly qualities which are essential, so why turn her into a new-age witch?” While I am sure that the representation of Loveday is probably deplorable, I think giving her slightly witchy qualities is not unfathomable in terms of the book, and of Elizabeth Goudge’s wider work. Loveday is a fairy creature. She is a moon princess, not a sunny character like her partner Uncle Benjamin. She grew up a deeply unhappy young woman and her pride is a serious flaw that she is unable to overcome by herself. Riding in the park with Maria, she draws herself up and flashes sparks just because she learns that Maria does not like pink. Not just a “quiet motherly” figure, she shows herself capable of alienating Maria, as she did Uncle Benjamin before her, and repeating the mistakes of her moon princess ancestor, whose inability to take a broad view helped establish a family tragedy over many years.

Magic can be both divine and dangerous. Loveday lives closely with the parson, who is of course a hugely important influence for her, but it is not until the end of the book, when her life is imbued with forgiveness, that it is fully confirmed that she will grow old in grace and warmth, instead of ageing into a lonely, bitter (witchy) old woman.

Nancy Bray