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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Towers In The Mist

 

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth I

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

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

Goudge Elizabeth Towers In The Mist 1938 Hodder & Stoughton

 

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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

Visitation

Visitation

A poem by Deborah Gaudin
Chasing the ghost of Elizabeth Goudge
Pembrokeshire Autumn 2007

I thought I’d lost sight of you in the wet
empty town,
but your hair was white mist,
the scribbling waves echoed your pen
in their perfect, quiet constancy.

Extending a hand as your relict stepped
from within
the grey chambered spiral of her home,
stepping over the carpet to take your place
in the window overlooking the bay.

Sheltering in doorways I heard your gentle
themes in
the busker’s flute, the click of dogs claws
on the wet shiny pavements steep street,
accompanying the harp of rain.

I found your prose leaning against poets
at the back
of the small stone book shop, a shy guest
rubbing spines with their dusty eloquence,
a clean taste in the mouth.

The hidden hills were full of others work,
no words of yours.
But your bones were as strong and homely
as the ancient village which overlooked
the distant grey slab of sea.

I Saw Three Ships

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

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

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

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

“And what was in those Ships all three?”

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

The Ship

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Rosemary Sutcliffe p 147 1986.)

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

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

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

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

Deborah Gaudin

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

 

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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