Compassion; A Prayer for Our Times

“This thing that was happening now had happened so often before and would happen so often again in the history of the world. The evil, like a volcano, broke through the crust of things, and the foul lava flooded the earth, while over the roads of the world the refugees fled from the known to the unknown horror, from darkness into darkness again, with always the unconquerable hope in their souls that in the night ahead there would be some star.”
(Gentian Hill published 1949)

These words taken from Elizabeth’s novel Gentian Hill, have been resonating through my head for the last couple of weeks. Written about the French revolution for people who had just gone through the second world war, they now sound a trumpet call for our times. Elizabeth’s compassion for the dispossessed haunted her all her life. With her strong attachment to home and community, the trauma of losing both seemed to her one of the greatest tragedies of life, and many of her works deal with this theme.

Elizabeth never shirked the harsh realities, and here I believe lies one of her greatest talents. She can take myths and legends which are relevant to the location of place she is writing about and transform them into symbols and guidelines to help us through the mundane world of work and striving.

At present our sympathies are with the people of the Ukraine. But there are many others in their terrible position, from Syria to Palestine, from India to Africa. Whomever is fleeing from war and persecution, all are refugees of our modern world and need our compassion and to be welcomed to a new life without fear or favour.

Stained Glass in Elizabeth’s church Peppard Common

Easter’s Gift

Spring Daffodils

Throughout Elizabeth’s long writing career, Easter is the time of year that receives the least attention. The minor Saints days with their muted chords and colours and the bells and joy of Christmas appear frequently. But the central tenant of the Christian faith she lived her life by, appears only twice.

Right at the beginning of her career, she wrote a short story entitled The Easter Bunny, in which one of her major themes appeared , that of the redemption and joy of the world that children can bring to the jaded lives of the adults around them. This was a subject she returned to again and again.

Later, towards the end of her life she wrote a poem Easter in the Ward. It concerned a dark time of pain and fear for her, as she had been hospitalised for an operation on her leg.

One of my most treasured possessions is a letter written by the author, Rosemary Sutcliffe to Elizabeth commiserating with her on her illness and wishing her a speedy recovery.

But none of her adult novels takes on Easter. In City of Bells, we learn of Felicity’s aunts dress code and how she takes on differing colours for the church festivals, but very little else.

In her Diary of Prayer, the Easter section starts with a poem by the 13th century Welsh poet and mystic, David ap Gwilym and celebrates a mass conducted by all the birds in a remote Welsh valley, not people in a church.
“My spirit was lapped in ecstasy: each word,
Word after word, thrilled through me like a deep
Rich music of a dream: not wholly asleep
Nor all awake was I, but, as it were
Tranced somewhere between one state and another,
All heavy thoughts that through the long day smother
Man’s heart and soul with weariness and care
Were gone, and in their place reigned pure delight”

It seems to me that the central core of her faith was too vast and mysteriously precious to Elizabeth to include in her works of fiction. A mystery that each must come to on their own terms, in their own way.

All of her works are about the redemption of her characters, they are all reborn in differing ways. But the tenant of Easter was never something she could trivialise, a part of her faith that was deeply personal. I think she saw life as a pilgrimage, a journey of the soul reaching for the love and understanding of God. The gift of Easter for her was the sacrifice made for the world’s redemption on the cross.

Wishing all of you the Peace and Joy of Easter.

Triptych from Tewkesbury Abbey

Goudgian Archetypes

Well she has been and gone, like the Persiad meteors a fleeting splendour. As Elizabeth says ” a shining star in every generation” and for us it is our daughter. The delight of the first visit since lockdown was mutual. Like David, she was returning to her childhood home, and while Riverside is no Damerosehay, it’s roots are even deeper going back to Saxon times and has it has it’s own myths and hosts of people to draw strength and a sense of achievement from.

Elizabeth has given us many archetypes during her writing career; the Matriarch, stern, loving, benign, the under valued hard working aunt, the struggling parish priest, the local workers, domestic, agricultural, the impoverished gentry, the misfits and outsiders, prisoners,  the mentally disturbed.

All of these however hold one trait in common, they grow, evolve, into the best they can be at what they are.

Lucilla learns to be humble and to know her faith, Margaret is lauded by both David and Lucilla for being the under valued but indispensable person she has become, Hilary, blissfully unaware of the depth of his spiritual growth and power, Nadine and George’s acceptance of the wonderful life they have created, Michael’s rehabilitation, Cousin Mary’s grace.

Whenever my daughter is spending time with us I always want to be Lucilla, dispensing words of wisdom and comfort. It’s invariably the other way round, and I find myself being cast into the role of Margaret, being more than capable of looking after creature comforts.

Do you have a Goudge archetype that you relate to and who inspires and impacts on your daily life? I suspect like me it depends a little on the situation you are currently living through.

“All bereavement, whether fate inflicts it on you or whether the relinquishment is your own, changes you” said Lucilla, “Don’t people say that nature abhors a vacuum? Something lost in the present means something new flowing in from the future; often a new or stronger faith. In your loss and gain you are bound to change and look at things a little differently.”


In Our Time of Trouble

In these days of self-isolation we work to reach out to one another in different ways. Reaching for consolation and advise from Elizabeth is probably one that we have all experienced.

She herself lived through the great flu pandemic of 1918, which killed more people than the horrendous world war they had just gone through, and was a contributing factor to Elizabeth’s spinsterhood.

So what would Elizabeth recommend that I read, I reached out and pulled The Rosemary Tree from the shelf. Not one of my favourite of her books, Daphne annoys me. I went to put it back and then remembered the themes that this work explores; confinement, isolation, imprisonment, illness, and the ultimate journey of death.

Perhaps it has something to say to me after all. Let Elizabeth keep you company and offer consolation for an evening or two, I don’t think the conversation will disappoint.

Pink Rose Petals Not Red

Taken during the Blue Plaque Ceremony

It has been over a year since I posted anything on the website. The reasons for this, apart from the obvious lack of will, have ranged from the death of my mother, to moving from the home we had occupied for over thirty years and finding somewhere else to live, to the surge in interest that the Elizabeth Goudge Facebook group has generated, which has led me to wonder if the web site was an outmoded way of sharing our love and appreciation of Elizabeth Goudge’s work.

I still receive the occasional comment to respond to, but they are getting fewer. Perhaps a blog would be a better format? It has been 15 years since I first started the web site at the prompting of Sylvia Gower, who had worked tirelessly to get the Blue Plaque erected on Rose Cottage and then felt that she wanted to pass the baton of web sites and the future of keeping the flame of Elizabeth’s genius alive into younger hands.

Yesterday a friend came to visit, her first since we moved, and she, like me, loves books and the stories they tell. Not only those between the pages, in the typeset, but the tale of the book itself. She picked out from my shelves a couple of Elizabeth’s books, and a package containing three pamphlets she had written as greeting cards to peruse. A letter fell out. It was from the poet Anne Lewis-Smith who had for a while been a neighbour of Elizabeth’s on Dog Lane. Elizabeth venerated poets, not realising that her own work was highly poetic in nature. Anne Lewis-Smith left “Primrose Cottage” in 1980, moving to Pembrokeshire. She was kind enough to send me a letter that Elizabeth had sent her as it contained some of her thoughts on poetry. Anne Lewis Smith was just one of the poets Elizabeth knew, Ruth Pitter being another. Here is a extract from one of Anne’s poems, The Window.

There she sat
Alone in a room,
By the window,
Looking out at a tree,
Alone with her sadness,
With her despair,
She watched the birds
All together in their nest

(Extract from The Window by Anne Lewis-Smith)

This could have been written about Elizabeth Goudge and her constant struggle with depression and lack of self-worth. Harriet at the window in The Rosemary Tree.

I think I should stop doubting myself and just continue to share my thoughts, stories and admiration for Elizabeth Goudge, her life and work. I hope some of you chose to accompany me.

A Christmas Message

A Winter View from my window

“For years Christmas Day had been for him a day when one ate too much so as not to disappoint cook, stifled a great many yawns and made a lot of silly jokes to hide an inner sadness that was both a lament for romance and belief that had faded and a vague sense of unsatisfied expectation.”

How wonderfully this describes the majority of peoples festive season. The presence of ennui that the day entails, with no meaning attached to traditions which increasingly seem out dated and pointless. The gifts we exchange costing money we can’t really afford but think the recipient will be the richer for receiving. No fasting observed as in the past during Advent, which cumulated in the glory of the traditional feast

“But today in the company of Henrietta and Hugh Anthony, romance and belief and satisfaction were vicariously his again. He stood in the Cathedral during morning service with the children one on each side of him and sang “Hark the herald angels sing” aware that Henrietta whose eyes were beaming with joy and whose muff was swinging from side to side like a pendulum as her figure swayed in time to the music, was seeing a starlit sky full of wings and a manger with a baby in it and seeing them with her…..

Beyond Henrietta was Grandmother. She was sitting down with her eyes shut because she was tired with the Christmas preparations, but her mind was thankfully fixed upon the fact of God made man. She was too practical, of necessity too concerned with the details of daily living, to be romantic in her religion like Henrietta or quixotic like Grandfather, but her faith was the strength of her strong minded life.”

Here we have in a couple of well-crafted paragraphs Elizabeth’s passion for the Christmas season. The sacred meaning to her of the nadir of the Christian year, the eighty services she attended during her life, the words of joy, hope and redemption she had imbibed. This was the not only the meaning of Christmas, but the very reason it was celebrated, rather than the Winter Solstice that had preceded it.

“The Christmas dinner, too, seemed because of the children to take on a new value. The turkey was a noble bird, brought overnight by Father Christmas in his sledge and the flaming pudding, that they had stirred laboriously in its earlier stages, was alight with the wishes they had wished as the spoon went round,
And then came the ecstasy of present giving, and then a short walk to assist the processes of digestion, and then, at last, it was tea time and they were sitting in the drawing room…”

I can’t help thinking that for Elizabeth the actual meal itself would have been a chore to get through but for the closeness it engendered with her beloved family. In later life she always ate frugally and didn’t seem to enjoy rich or elaborate dishes, preferring a good loaf of bread, a nice piece of cheese, an apple from the garden, to a fine dining experience

But friends and family, especially children, were very important to her and I’m sure that if you had been lucky enough to slip in at her Christmas table she would have welcomed you with an open heart and wished you a very Happy Christmas and all Good Wishes for the coming Year.

A Glimpse through a Rose Cottage window

Lighten Despair

There is a book of Elizabeth’s for every situation in life. I have never felt turned away or unanswered when I go to her work. It doesn’t matter what mood I’m in, what my situation is, she gives me an answer. She is there to empathises and put out a hand in comfort.

Today I am sitting with Miss Brown on a seat outside the Free Library, with the roar of London traffic at my back. Although in truth my body is cradled in the deep quiet of a countryside afternoon in autumn.

But like Miss Brown, I have been “ in the grip of fear; not just apprehension or anxiety, but real fear, naked and horrible”

And yet as she says I am “ not worse off than many other people” Miss Brown loses her home and her livelihood during a world war, and that is not the case with me. We just have to sell the home we have lived in for over thirty years and earnt our living from and move away. We too do not  know where we will end up or how we will get there.

But then I think about all the refugees that are currently displaced in the world today, and try to imagine their trauma and pain, fleeing from war or famine. The loss of one’s home, the identity we have made over generations must be immense. Isaac the refugee from Germany speaks for them all. “God how he hated the loneliness of perpetual wandering! No satisfactory companionship was possible if you could not strike down roots”
(Castle On The Hill p36 of the 1949 edition) He feels as if he was superfluous to life, that his existence has no meaning or relevance to anyone. Something which is realizes as the book progresses is far from the truth.

Elizabeth peppers her books with wonderful quotes from other writers to enhance her themes or underline a point she is making and I love the one she uses here
“We are the Pilgrims, Master; we shall go
Always a little further:”
Flecker’s verse is out of vouge and difficult in it’s subject matter, but seems very appropriate for our situation and times, when the world is undergoing the mass exodus of people from intolerable situations, desperate to find sanctuary.

So, I will read of the courage and strength endured in The Castle On The Hill during the Second World War and find the tranquillity of  the autumn countryside mirrored back at me. As Dame Juliana of Norwich says and is quoted  famously by T. S. Eliot, “ And all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Thank you Elizabeth for bringing perspective and good sense into my life.

In response to Easter’s Gifts

Thank you everyone for your thoughts and comments. As always insightful and valid I had in fact meant Elizabeth’s works of fiction, which wouldn’t include “God so Loved The World” or “The Two Caves”. Although The Two Caves does contain one of my favourite quotes by St Augustine ” God looked at us through the lattice of our flesh and spake us fair”. So easy to do when we love another, so hard when they are a perceived stranger.

Hopefully problems solved

There have been major problems with the site, and you will not have received notifications of the last few posts

After much work the wonderful admin have sorted this out Please enjoy and apologies for the breakdown in communication

Happy New Year

Open a book and let Elizabeth speak…..
“During the next twenty minutes he passed through one of the oddest experiences of his life. As he moved up and down before the bars, trying ceaselessly for another sight of that boy, he began to recognise some of the faces that came and went in front of him. One hulking brute of a fellow had the bluest Irish eyes he had ever seen. Another, a boy, with the face of a depraved old man, had a mouth as sensitively cut as Stella’s own. A third, hunchbacked and deformed, had a pock marked face that startled the Abbe by suddenly splitting into a grin. He noticed other eyes, other mouths, other gallant attempts at cheerfulness. Occasionally, when he slipped a coin into a wooden spoon, his eyes would meet the eyes of the poor devil that held it, and he had the sensation that the trivial act was not trivial at all but an actual entering in of himself into the being of the man before him”

(Gentian Hill p 378)

Front cover of 1st Edition Gentian Hill

Like many of us, we were taken out for dinner over the festive break and went to a small market town to enjoy it. The town is a pretty and ancient one, the evening cool enough to be seasonal and the Christmas lights added their glamour to the occasion.

As we walked up the charming narrow street soaking up the atmosphere, we passed in a doorway a hump of sleeping bag and blankets, and a man looked up and gave me a cheerful wave as we passed. Not behind bars, but a prisoner none the less; of circumstances, of fate, from a society that had locked him out. In 2020, I am appalled, ashamed and amazed that this is one of the problems that not only has not been eradicated, but sadly is on the rise.

Elizabeth spoke to me through the medium of the random page of the first of her works I pulled off the shelf. Many of her works contain prisoners, their inner turmoil, their crimes and punishment. Prisoner welfare was a cause close to her heart, one that she carried out quietly, consummately away from the public eye, all her life.

One of her favourite quotes was: – “what the dead had no speech for, when living, they can tell you, being dead: the communication of the dead is tongued with fire..”
(T. S. Eliot Little Gidding). I have no doubt that Elizabeth would have had similar feelings towards the homeless as my own.

She would also have taken away the gifts of his smile, the total lack of judgement he displayed, the fact that in his destitution, he could look up and be happy for us. She would also have enjoyed the other aspects of the evening just as keenly; companionship and the importance of family, the quiet appreciation of the beauty of starlight over old roofs.

Thank you for the companionship of like minds. We wish all of you a safe, peaceful and happy New Year.