Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: Island Magic (Guest post)

Readers of Charlotte’s Library know that Charlotte usually (but not exclusively) focuses on middle-grade speculative fiction, with a handy weekly round-up of blog posts in that genre, as well as thorough and thoughtful reviews. Here she takes us in a slightly different direction, with a journey from her childhood reading into her adult experience of Goudge’s very first published novel, Island Magic.

Around the time I was seven or so, my older sister was given a copy of Linnets and Valerians, by Elizabeth Goudge. Soon after, she was given The Little White Horse. I loved them both, and happily I found The Valley of Song in the library (possibly an adult helped me with this; I mostly lacked initiative in regard to finding more books by beloved authors). For the next five years, I thought these were the only Elizabeth Goudge books in the world, and I read them over and over again, full of love for the beautiful pictures they made in my mind, and loving, as well, Goudge’s ability to make child characters that thought and felt like I might have (had I been in similar circumstances, which I wasn’t).

Then when I was 12, my mother blew my mind.  She took me upstairs to the grown up book section of the library, and there were TWO WHOLE SHELVES of Goudge books. I remember it vividly; I felt dizzy and overwhelmed and kind of cross she hadn’t shown me sooner. And I remember not knowing which to pick up first….

I went home with Island Magic, thinking, based on the title, that it might have fantasy elements; it also offered characters who were children. I was kind of disappointed with it though, because it really wasn’t a children’s book, and I was very much still a child. I only re-read it two or three more times in the next few years, and until this week I hadn’t read it in several decades.  So I decided to revisit it, to see if now that I really am grown-up it would read differently…

Island Magic is the story of a family who live in a beautiful old farmhouse on one of the more French of the Channel Islands in the 19th century. There are four girls and one boy, a mother who is beautiful and who lives more beautifully than me despite her hard labor, and a father better suited to writing than farming. When a strange man is shipwrecked on the island, the family take him in — and he both saves the family from financial ruin and threatens all they have (in part because he and the mother have a passionate spark thing going on).

My child self was put off by this bit of adult content, even though the one open acknowledgement of illicit passion passes quickly. This book was also, as far as can remember, my first introduction to a fictional prostitute, even though I bet I didn’t pick up on it back then. I think what really bothered me was that I wanted Goudge books to be about children, not about adults having difficulties.

The beautiful island of Guernsey

On the plus side, Island Magic has many of the Goudgian elements I love — the vivid descriptions of beautiful things, the striving after beauty and goodness, both of which are to be found in creativity and self-knowledge as well as in nature and old buildings, and the recognition that there are many paths to living a good, true, beautiful life. Beauty is worth a lot to Goudge and her characters, and even though I can’t get my house up to Goudgian levels of interior decorating beauty. There’s also a very Goudgian appreciation for the introspective mind engaged in thought about things more interesting than household tasks, and I found, and still find, this reassuring.

But on the downside, this is early Goudge, and there was just too much Beauty — the descriptions were too much, too long, and too frequent — and every main character was just too special. This put me off as an adult.

That being said, many aspects of Island Magic did end up sticking with me in a positive, encouraging way (it was my first introduction to Keats, for instance), and as an adult I did enjoy the re-reading of it lots, but it’s not one I’d recommend to the new reader of Goudge. I think the next one I read from the grown-up shelves was A City of Bells, which I loved to pieces….the adult romance there was not troubling!

Thank you, Charlotte, for concluding our week by telling us about your individual reading journey. The way our reading experiences change over time is always fascinating to me.

I’ll be doing a wrap-up post tomorrow, so please do link up your own posts and reviews (or include them in a comment or email). And don’t forget to enter the giveaway, which will remain open until midnight EDT tomorrow.

I’m so grateful to all who have participated in this week, and hope that it has been as magical for you has it has for me.

Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: An EG Quiz

I know there are some readers with an encyclopedic knowledge of Elizabeth Goudge out there, while others may have read only one or two books. Wherever you fall on the continuum, here are some questions that may intrigue and amuse you. Thanks so much to the highly knowledgable Jean of Howling Frog Books for helping me to put them together. And remember — this is just for fun!

Lana Turner starred in a Goudge-inspired film. Can you name it?

1. What distinctively-colored flowers play a major role in the plot of The Little White Horse?

2. Which three cities (sometimes lightly disguised) are the setting for Goudge’s “Three Cities of Bells”: A City of Bells, Towers in the Mist, and The Dean’s Watch?

3. Which book was made into an Academy-Award-winning movie, with a title song that became a jazz standard recorded by the likes of Tony Bennett and John Coltrane?

4. What Scottish folk hero’s name is borne by the pony in Linnets and Valerians?

5. What plagiarized Goudge novel was acclaimed as “at once achingly familiar and breathtakingly new” in the Washington Post, when slightly revised and published under the title of Crane’s Morning by Indian author Indrani Aikath-Gyaltsen?

6. What is the “island” of Island Magic?

7. Each book in the Eliot Family trilogy (The Bird in the Tree, The Herb of Grace/Pilgrim’s Inn, and The Heart of the Family) has a central theme or idea. Name all three, and their symbols.

8. In I Saw Three Ships, what is Polly Flowerdew’s extra, unexpected present in her stocking?

9. In The Scent of Water, Mary and Edith have the same two favorite “little things.” What are they?

10. Goudge did NOT set one (or more) of her novels during which of the following wars? The Wars of the Roses, the English Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Second World War.

11. What favorite dog breed did Goudge nickname “the Hobbits,” because like Tolkien’s characters they have large furry feet and are masters of “the art of disappearing swiftly and silently”?

12. What poet is the author of Goudge’s most beloved prayer (which was incorporated in her fiction as well as read at her memorial service): “Lord have mercy. Thee I adore. Into thy hands.”?

ANSWERS (Highlight with cursor to view):
1. Salmon-pink geraniums 2. Wells, Oxford, and Ely 3. Green Dolphin Street (original UK title: Green Dolphin Country) 4. Rob-Roy 5. The Rosemary Tree 6. Guernsey 7. 8. Bird: renewal, bluebird; Herb: astringency, wild rue; Heart: freshness, an underground fountain 8. A netted purse with sixpence inside 9. An ivory carving of Queen Mab in a carriage, and a blue glass tea set 10. The Wars of the Roses 11. Dandie Dinmonts 12. Thomas Traherne
So, how did you do? If you need help, some clues can be found in other EGRW posts.

Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: The Middle Window (Guest post)

Today, I’m happy to welcome Jenny from Shelf Love, who has been reading Elizabeth Goudge with appreciation for many years. Her thoughtful commentary is always a joy to read.

I have been a lover of Elizabeth Goudge’s novels since I encountered them in England at about the age of twelve. I have written reviews of eleven of her novels on my blog, most of them works I’ve read again and again: Linnets and Valerians, the Damerosehay trilogy, Green Dolphin Street, The White Witch, and more. She is one of my most beloved authors, someone I turn to when I want comfort, or inspiration, or refreshment; someone I turn to when I’m tired, or sick, or happy. I’ve given her books to more friends than I can count, and defended her against accusations of writing purple prose or against writing unearned happy endings.

I value so many things about Goudge’s writing. She is a lover of nature, both domestic (her gardens are some of the loveliest things about her books) and wild (oceans, mountains, and fens are some of the untamed things you’ll find when you read.) Her descriptions are fresh and real. Indoors, she’s also a lover of families. She knows how families really work — the way you can love someone deeply and also not be able to stand them another minute — and she is one of the best authors I know about for including every generation, the very old as well as the very young, as real living participants in her stories. She doesn’t leave out the beloved animals of families, either: dogs (usually dogs) and cats and donkeys and birds all have parts to play. This is, of course, really the way it is in our lives, but tell me the last book you read that was like it.

Goudge is a Christian, which comes out in most of her stories, but there are strong pagan overtones in many of her books — The White Witch, for instance — and she has an appreciation for other religions. Some of her best characters are atheists. Her books have a freshness to them, because they are serious and yet loving: yes, the world can wear you down, but there are springs of joy to refresh you even in deep pain. She writes about such themes as discipline, healing, and growth through suffering. But don’t let me make them sound like downers! She is often, also, quietly amusing, quick-witted, and very knowing about the way real people operate. Her novels interweave legend and myth and reflect her spirituality and her deep love of family and England.

To participate in this week’s post, I read a novel that is new to me, The Middle Window. It was the second novel she wrote, published in 1934. It’s the story of a young socialite, Judy Cameron, who has an emotional epiphany when she sees a painting of a Scottish glen: that is her place, and she must find it. Improbably, she does find it, and drags her unwilling parents and fiance with her to spend the summer there. The rest is a high-drama story involving, of all things, hints of reincarnation and a handsome laird who is spending his life trying to help the impoverished Highlanders.

This, unfortunately, is the first book by Elizabeth Goudge I have ever wished I hadn’t read. I disliked Judy Cameron heartily. What did she think she was doing, forcing her poor long-suffering parents and perfectly-nice fiance to go through her nervous breakdown with her, in an unheated Scottish house with no plumbing? What on earth does she mean by sobbing around the house and playing melancholy tunes like the wailing of the whaups? If you’re going to drag everyone to a glen in the back of beyond, at least cheer up and play bridge with them, girl! I liked the Scottish butler Angus (of course it was Angus) because he said what he thought, but of course he was a dreadful caricature. And the descriptions of nature — Skye in particular — were wonderful, but why bring in reincarnation? Ugh.

My very strong advice is to read Elizabeth Goudge for what she is: a mid-century author with a tremendous amount to offer. I think she’s marvelous. But don’t start with The Middle Window. Try The Bird in the Tree, or The Scent of Water, or one of her children’s books, and see what you’ve been missing.

Thank you, Jenny! It’s good to know that even with a most beloved author we sometimes encounter a book that is less than stellar, and this experience can help us to define what is most praiseworthy in his or her work.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the whole range of Elizabeth Goudge’s writing from a different perspective — a quiz!


Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: The Curse of the Terrible Cover Art

As with most popular and prolific authors, Elizabeth Goudge’s books have suffered from their share of terrible covers over the years. What were the publishers thinking? Here are some of my guesses…

Okay, how are we going to sell this new Goudge novel? Cathedral? Clergymen? Forget them.
Let’s focus on that scrumptious actress! I see her as a sort of late Victorian Marilyn type.



Oh, and remember that scene where she really lets her hair down and seduces businessmen in the woods?



Now, we need to punch up the color scheme a bit.
I think that orange and green are really attractive together, don’t you?



That’ll pull them in! And how about adding bright blue and putting in some volcanoes?
There are volcanoes in New Zealand, right?



That dress is to die for. Let’s come up with some more really great outfits.
I think raingear is always so stylish.



Or how about the gamine look?



Excellent colors on that one too, I love mustard yellow and royal blue.
And how about naked? Naked is good, especially if the book is about Puritans.



Now, we’re a bit lacking in the masculine department. Let’s put in some men, but make sure they have grim, forbidding expressions.
Why? Because men are SERIOUS.



And let’s finish off with a spooky sort of paranormal vibe.
We don’t want those kids to be able to sleep at night, do we?



 I do hope you’re not put off reading these books by the covers, because really they have very little to do with the contents! Fortunately, there are also some truly lovely covers to take away the bad taste of the ones above. Here are some of my favorites.


Do you have any covers you love to hate? Or that deserve our admiration? Please share them with us, and don’t forget to link up your own EGRW posts on the Intro page.

Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: A Visit to Torminster (with Giveaway!)

One of my favorite fictional places to visit is Torminster, Elizabeth Goudge’s version of her birthplace, Wells in Somerset. It’s like Barchester without the cynicism, or Cranford with a poetic and mystical touch. Centered around the Close that surrounds its beautiful cathedral, populated by an enchanting set of characters young and old, saintly and not-so, and most importantly possessing a really good bookshop, it’s a place I’m almost afraid to visit in real life lest it lose some of its charm.

Though she wrote them just before and during the Second World War, Goudge set these books in the early years of the twentieth century, the time of her own childhood. It was a placid, sleepy town at the time, removed from the worst ravages of industrialization. As such it offered her contemporary readers a welcome respite from the devastation of war, and for us provides a nostalgic trip back into a vanished world.

That’s not to say that there is no struggle or conflict to be found in Torminster, only that it’s more of an inner rather than an outer nature. In the first book, A City of Bells, young Henrietta has been taken in by Canon Fordyce and his wife as a companion to their irrepressible grandson Hugh Anthony. She loves her new home, but she is haunted by the memory of a mysterious poet who briefly lived nearby. As she and her adopted family search for answers to his disappearance and possible death, their lives are transformed in unexpected ways.

Seemingly responding to requests for more about Henrietta, Goudge wrote two more lovely books about Torminster for a younger audience: Henrietta’s House and Sister of the Angels. Both have been out of print and hard to find for years, but now the wonderful folks at Girls Gone By have reprinted them for us to enjoy. And I’m delighted to announce that they are offering a giveaway for EGRW readers: a copy of each book will go to one lucky winner. Please be sure to enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

In Henrietta’s House, our Torminster friends set out on a picnic in honor of Hugh Anthony’s birthday, and each finds an adventure suitable to his or her nature. (Diana Wynne Jones fans may recall that this is one of the books Polly read and loved in Fire and Hemlock, which alone should recommend it to you.) It’s a charming modern-day fairy tale with something for everyone: humor, beauty, romance, danger, and even the appearance (and disappearance) of an early motor car.

Sister of the Angels, written first but concerning a slightly older Henrietta, is a shorter tale in which we get to spend more time in the Cathedral and its environs. Subtitled “A Christmas Story,” it gives us a glimpse into Henrietta’s future as an artist, and explores again the intersection of art, faith, and love that is so characteristic of Goudge’s writing.

The paperbacks from Girls Gone By are a quality production, printed in the UK and incorporating the original illustrations. Each book includes a different introduction by publisher Clarissa Cridland, which provide photos of some of the relevant sites in Wells, along with an excellent bibliography, a biography of Elizabeth Goudge, and (in Henrietta’s House) a synopsis of A City of Bells. All these extras make them even more tempting, and the care that has gone into their production speaks of how cherished they are by Goudge fans.

I’m so glad that the way to Torminster is open once more, and hope that you will want to make a journey there soon.

Congratulations to the winner, Cleo of Classical Carousel!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review and giveaway copy source: Personal collection (A City of Bells); Paperbacks from publisher (Henrietta’s House and Sister of the Angels). No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: The Scent of Water (Guest post)

Our first guest blogger for Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week is Jane-alias-Fleur from the marvelous blog Fleur in Her World, which was one of my inspirations to do this week. Her story of how she started reading Elizabeth Goudge is the perfect way to start us off.

I remember my mother guiding me when I made the transition from junior to senior member of the library. I remember four authors she steered me towards: Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Goudge.

The first two I read then, loved then and still love now. The third I didn’t read until more recently, when her books were reissued, and I found that I loved her too.

That just left Elizabeth Goudge. She didn’t appeal to me at all back in the day, and I must confess that when she fell out of fashion and her books disappeared from the shelves I forgot all about her. I can’t remember where I found her again, but I’m sure it’s either a book blogger or a LibraryThing member I should be thanking.

The library offered a range of titles – not on the shelves but tucked away in the fiction reserve – and The Scent of Water caught my eye.

It tells the story of Mary Lambert, a middle-aged teacher, who quite unexpectedly inherited a country house from a distant cousin.

Though the two had shared a name they met only once. Mary’s father took her on a visit when she was still very young.

“An ivory coach, you see, Mary,” whispered her cousin. “It’s no bigger than a hazelnut but it’s all there, the horses and the coachmen and Queen Mab herself inside. Do you see her inside?”

Mary nodded speechlessly. She could see the fairy figure with the star in her hair, and the tiny delicate features of the child-like face. It did not occur to her that human hands could possibly have made the queen and her coach for she seemed as timeless as Cousin Mary herself. They had always lived her in this world inside the picture and they always would.”

Mary saw her inheritance as a sign that she should change her life. She moved to the country, and her cousin’s home became hers. She found a new way of life, a new place in the world, and she found time to think. That allowed her to come to terms with memories of her wartime romance with a naval officer who had been killed just days before they would have been married.

Her story opens out to catch the stories of her new neighbours. A contented elderly couple whose peace was disturbed by their son. An author who was coping with the loss of his sight rather better than his wife. A couple whose way of life was threatened. Children who were accustomed to having possession of the old woman’s garden and were wary of the new arrival ….

Current US edition, Hendrickson

Mary found her cousin’s diaries and she learned her story too. Why she had chosen to live alone, why she had become distant from her family and the people around her, what she had coped with, and how she had coped.

This is a quiet story and it is quite beautifully written.  Everything is so well drawn, the people, the places, the situations, everything is utterly real.  And it is a story enriched by lovely descriptions, and by the deepest emotional and spiritual understanding. I’d recommend slow reading, so that you can appreciate the wisdom that this book holds.

I understand now why my mother loves Elizabeth Goudge, and why she guided me to her books. She studied English at university and she appreciated fine writing; she’s ‘a people person’ and she’s always interested in meeting people, in getting to know them, in hearing their news; she shares her faith, and her values.

My mother is physically and mentally frail now, and she lacks the concentration and the short term memory that we need to read and enjoy novels. But she likes to hear about the books I’m reading, she remembers books that she particularly liked, and she was delighted to hear that I had started to read Elizabeth Goudge’s books.

Thank you so much, Jane, for this lovely story! Readers, do you have a memory of your first book by Elizabeth Goudge, or any other favorite author? Please let us know in the comments. You can also link up your own posts here.

Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: Introduction

Welcome to Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week! Whether you are a longtime fan or a new reader of Elizabeth Goudge, I hope you will join us in exploring the many treasures to be found in this beloved author’s books. Sometimes dismissed as sentimental romances or mere “comfort reading,” I believe them at their best to be much more. During this week we’ll have the chance to appreciate them from many points of view and have some fun as well.

Here are my current plans for the week (subject to change):

Friday, April 24: Introduction post
Saturday, April 25: Guest post from Fleur in Her World: The Scent of Water
Sunday, April 26: A Visit to Torminster, with giveaway of Henrietta’s House and Sister of the Angels, thanks to Girls Gone By
Monday, April 27: The curse of the terrible cover art
Tuesday, April 28: Guest post from Shelf Love: The Middle Window
Wednesday, April 29: An Elizabeth Goudge quiz (created with help from Howling Frog Books)
Thursday, April 30: Guest post from Charlotte’s Library: Island Magic
Friday, May 1: Review and post round-up; giveaway ends

As well as enjoying all of these contributions, and taking part in the discussion if you wish through the comments, I invite you to link your own posts (or Goodreads reviews, or what have you). You may use the link-up below, or just include your URL in a comment or in an email to lory [at] emeraldcitybookreview [dot] com. However you submit them, I’ll include them in the round-up at the week’s end.

What are you most interested in reading this week? I’m looking at The Scent of Water, The Valley of Song, and/or Island Magic. (If you’ve just joined us and would like to see a list of Elizabeth Goudge’s books, you can find one here.) And now, let’s get reading!

Top Ten Tuesday: All-time Favorite Authors

I couldn’t resist joining in with this week’s TTT after seeing some others’ lists. To help narrow mine down, I limited myself to authors who have written a fair number of books that I have read multiple times over many years and know that I will return to again. This eliminated some childhood favorites and some recent discoveries, as well as certain authors who have written just a few books that I really love — maybe a good subject for another list!

So here are ten of my all-time favorites, in approximate order of my discovering their books:

from The House of Arden by E. Nesbit

E. Nesbit
The magic of Nesbit never grows old.

Elizabeth Goudge
Obviously, since I’m about to devote a whole week to her work, I’m a fan!

Diana Wynne Jones
I also took a week to celebrate this dazzlingly imaginative fantasy author.

P.G. Wodehouse
For a reliable dose of laughter, I turn to Wodehouse.

Robertson Davies
Davies opened worlds to me through his rich imagination and encyclopedic knowledge.

Elizabeth Gaskell
Gaskell was unaccountably left out of my college English courses, but I’m making up for that now.

Jane Gardam
A contemporary author that I think will stand the test of time.

Willa Cather
Simply beautiful writing that doesn’t feel forced or contrived.

Terry Pratchett
It took me too long to discover this seriously funny writer.

Georgette Heyer
Impeccably constructed entertainments, far above the romantic fluff of her imitators.

Words and Pictures: Sister of the Angels

Goudge quote Sister of the Angels“Henrietta suddenly caught her breath. Always it seemed to her quite incredible that men could have made this place; people like herself and Hugh Anthony only bigger; how could they have done it? She looked about her. The massive pillars of the nave were so tall that they seemed to be lifting up the soaring arches they carried far out of sight, while below them the aisles stretched away unendingly into shadowed space. The sunshine came through the stained glass windows curiously charged, split up into reds and blues and greens robbed of its brightness and subdued to the colors of mystery. Everywhere was this sense of space and height and a reaching out to an end that was never found. There was no time here. Past and present and future were all one.”

Elizabeth Goudge, Sister of the Angels (1939)
Image: William Turner, Interior of Salisbury Cathedral, found here.

For Love and Money: Doctor Thorne

Anthony Trollope, Doctor Thorne (1858)

Illustration by Millais, found here.

In the third of his Barsetshire Chronicles, Trollope departs from the clerical characters and themes that occupied him in the first two volumes, and takes a look at another segment of Barset society. The novel introduces us to a once-wealthy squire who is down on his luck, the worthy doctor who is his friend, and the county families who form their network of relationships. The main plot has to do with the squire’s son and the doctor’s illegitimate niece, whose love for each other causes outrage and distress to their relatives, and not a little anguish to themselves. Meanwhile, the doctor has to keep a painful secret regarding an inheritance that might — or might not — change everything.

Questions of rank, birth and “blood” are explored through ironic contrasts. There are characters of ignoble birth but the highest moral purity, blue-blooded aristocrats with not a speck of human consideration, and every variation in between. Money, sadly, can erase faults on either end of the spectrum in the eyes of most members of this society, a fact that Trollope is not shy to point out.

There never was a fox yet without a tail who would not  be delighted to find himself suddenly possessed of that appendage. Never; let the untailed fox have been ever so sincere in his advice to his friends! We are all of us, the good and the bad, looking for tails — for one tail, or for more than one; we do so too often by ways that are mean enough: but perhaps there is no tail-seeker more sneakingly mean than he who looks out to adorn his bare back by a tail by marriage.

My very favorite character was Miss Dunstable, the no-longer-young heiress of a commercial fortune, who keeps a humorous yet unjaded attitude as she deftly eludes the suitors who throw themselves at her. It’s refreshing that her healthy bank balance doesn’t cause her to lose sight of the true worth of a human being. Along with a few other characters, she reminds us that it is possible not to be a “tail-seeker.”

Overall, I found the satire in Doctor Thorne to be gentler than in Barchester Towers, and the characters more congenial. This was both positive and negative; though it made Greshamsbury a more pleasant place to be than Barchester, it was at times somewhat dull, lacking the exuberant awfulness of a Mr. Slope or a Signora Neroni. There were also times when I felt Trollope was going over the same ground repeatedly, and wished he would just move on to the crisis and happy resolution that I knew would be coming eventually. Was he trying to fill pages in a serial publication? The novel’s construction could have used some tightening up, but despite this I still read with interest and amusement throughout its 500+ pages.

I enjoyed my latest sojourn in Barsetshire very much, and can’t wait to read Framley Parsonage, in which I understand Miss Dunstable makes a welcome reappearance. Thank you to Karen of Books and Chocolate for the incentive to read this in April for her Trollope Bicentennial Celebration! Be sure to check out this event if you’re interested in the author and his works. Books as Food is also doing a #6barsets readalong, one book every two months; I’m a bit ahead of schedule with this one but I look forward to the discussion next month.

Back to the Classics challenge: Classic with a Name in the Title