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.”

 

 

 

 

Charms for lost Serenity

“Never have we longed for peace as we do now, when war has become an obscene horror worse than any imaginable storm, and noise and confusion so invade cities and homes that we are in danger of having our very minds and souls battered to a uniform pulp.”
( Book of Peace 1968)

So wrote Elizabeth Goudge in the preface to her collection of poetry “A Book of Peace.” published in 1968. They apply to the world we inhabit today. I had turned to my collection of Elizabeth’s anthologies, because of an email I had received about them.

There are books in any personal collection which speak to the owner and this is one of my great books. It is a 1st edition American copy, published by Coward McCann and signed by the author. The dedication is to Mary McMaster of the Community of St Luke dated February 1975. The cover is beautifully unstated, a blue background with a sunflower.

Inside was this slip offering a protection for the book on its journey from America to my bookshelf in England. It also contains a letter written to me by Sylvia Gower, the author of “The World of Elizabeth Goudge” and a photograph of Elizabeth sitting on Froinga’s well in her garden at Rose Cottage. It has thick creamy pages which appear to have been hand cut. All perfectly valid reasons for it being an important book to me. But the real and most compelling reasons are the poems it contains, the writers and poets she introduces me to and the voice of Elizabeth, gentle, lucid, speaking to me through her choices.

 

 

 

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.

Castle on the Hill

My copy is a 1st edition printed in 1942, by Duckworth during the second world war, a time when paper like everything else was in short supply. Although a hard back, it has not stood the tests of time well, warping and stained along its outer leaves. The cover is slightly torn and missing a piece from the back, a “bombed” book reflecting the subject matter.

As a tale it is stark, verging in places in outright propaganda, one of the reasons it was probably published at all, as the paper shortage caused by the war was by this time acute. The metaphor is obvious, England, besieged, frightened, as embattled as the castle.

The themes of the story are huge; those of grief, loss, anger, pride, patriotism, courage. But under pinning them all is the perpetual theme of all of Elizabeth’s books, her central core, that good homes, secure homes, house families.

Elizabeth had thought and prayed a great deal about the war. She was dedicated in her research and depth of reading. She understood the political and economic situations better than most people, certainly most people in her strata of society. She empathised with the plight of refugees, the disposed, a personification of which are found in the characters of Miss Brown and Mr Isaacson.

You can still visit the castle, Berry Pomeroy in Devon, high on its crag in the woods. It is reputedly one of the most haunted places in England. Elizabeth loved it so much she moved to write one of her rare poems about the place after visiting it often.

The Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Goudge

 

 

Quality Reprints

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

Well worth a look.

 

 

Smokey House

If this had been the book that I first picked up and read by Elizabeth Goudge, I doubt I would have looked for another. Which would have been a pity, as it would have deprived me of a lifelong friend and the pleasure of all the other books she wrote.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pleasant enough read. It has plenty of vivid descriptions of the west country she so loved, evocative in the way that only Elizabeth manages to accomplish.

“A network of lovely lanes wound about the village and in and out of the round green hills. They were very beautiful. Their steep banks were cool with shining ferns and bright and fragrant with flowers; primroses and white violets, periwinkles and pink campion, foxgloves, roses and honeysuckle, with in autumn the scarlet berries of parson-in-the-pulpit and the silver froth of traveller’s joy. Nut trees arched overhead, giving grateful shade in summer weather and down the side of each lane ran a twinkling silver stream…” (Smokey House p 15)

It is a book dedicated to “Nannie” that stalwart of the Edwardian era.

“The door which shut off the nursery wing from the rest of the house made a very real dividing line between the life of the child and the adult.” (page 22 from the introduction of A Child’s Garden of Verses)

However, if you part the fronds of her words you will find hidden as the flowers in the hedgerows, glimpses of her thoughts and life.
“Because music never forgets anything. It is the voice of eternity speaking in time and it gathers the past and the present and the future all together, making past happiness eternal and pulling future happiness into the here and now.” (Smokey House p 231)

Music played an important part in Elizabeth’s life, from concerts she attended with her father to church services and carols. I would have loved to have known her Desert Island Discs.

The book is full of songs and verses, written by Elizabeth, though she never considered herself a poet, but did publish a slim volume of Songs and Verses, some of which appear in this book.

But the biggest revelation for me comes when Spot the dog goes underground to escape from the red coats.

Don’t know if Elizabeth read the Apocrypha, with her love of myth and legend, I would be surprised if she hadn’t, but

“Gentlemen, said the Squire, “The Unknown!”

if she had she would have remembered that dogs are our guardians and guides on our journey to heaven. Not scratting outside the door of paradise like the loyal little dog of Sir Murgatroyd in City of Bells, but as a helpmate, and protector.

Spots journey, (p 255 – 256) gives Elizabeth the chance to explain to us how she interpreted the worlds. It is a rare insight into the fundamentals of her belief, the creed she lived her life by. Perhaps she felt safer exposing these to non-judgemental children, more comfortable with their questions than the scepticism of her contemporaries.

It lifts a pleasant, often predictable children’s story into the realms of the esoteric, effortlessly.

A Fresh Perspective on Green Dolphin Street

This is a great article, accessible from the link below by Stephen Foote, which he wrote for the Guernsey Literary Festival to celebrate the fact that Sebastian Faulks is the headline guest in May.

It traces the connection between his novel “On Green Dolphin Street” back to Guernsey via Elizabeth Goudge’s novel.