Houses of Healing: The Eliot Family Trilogy

In just two weeks, I’ll be hosting Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week, a chance to celebrate one of my favorite authors. I hope you’ll join us by picking up one of her beautiful and magical stories, or just stopping by to read others’ thoughts. Please have a look at the main event page for more information, a bibliography, and a chance to leave a comment letting us know your plans and ideas. And please check out my giveaway of The Dean’s Watch as part of the Literary Blog Hop — participants will earn an extra entry!


In anticipation of the week I recently re-read the trio of books concerning the Eliot family: The Bird in the Tree (1940), Pilgrim’s Inn (original title The Herb of Grace, 1948), and The Heart of the Family (1953). In these books, as so often with Goudge’s works, the setting takes on an major role, and the family home of Damerosehay, as well as the nearby “pilgrim’s inn” named The Herb of Grace, nearly become characters in their own right. If you’ve ever longed to live in this kind of house, which has sheltered and nourished so many people over the years that it develops its own personality, you’ll definitely want to visit Damerosehay.

It was Lucilla, matriarch of the Eliot family, who found the dilapidated eighteenth century house (against the outcry of her more practical children) and claimed it as a home in which to raise her recently orphaned grandson, David. As the story begins, David, now grown, is about to make a momentous marital choice, which goes against everything that Lucilla has worked and planned for all these years. How he reconsiders this choice, under the influence of Damerosehay and its past and present inhabitants, leads to an exploration of what it means to be an individual within a community, and what gives purpose to our lives on earth.

The successive volumes continue to wrestle with these questions — marriage is definitely not a “happily ever after” situation here — in a rich and nuanced way, through characters who quickly work their way into our hearts. Their love of their family, of their homes, and of the surrounding land becomes ours, too. Goudge is particularly good at writing children and old people, and there are wonderful examples of both here, who give rise to many delightful and humorous and poignant moments. Another thing that I think she excels at is making us understand and empathize with characters we may not necessarily like very much, or at all — such as the domineering Lucilla, or her impervious young grandson Tommy. Though we may not always agree with them, they all become very real to us, enriching our experience of the human heart and spirit.

Original Coward-McCann edition

Of the three, my favorite is the middle volume, called The Herb of Grace in the UK and Pilgrim’s Inn in the US. The first and third books are more one-sidedly weighted, toward melodrama on the one hand, and philosophical ramblings on the other. In the middle of her trilogy, though, Goudge struck the right balance between incident, description, and character development. In this well-crafted tale, one branch of the Eliot family gets to move into and renovate an ancient inn, creating a haven for themselves and others, and making an exciting discovery. I know I’ll return to it again and again for a dose of comfort and enchantment.

The three books are set more or less concurrently with their year of publication — just before the second world war, just after, and a few years later — and though the war years are not directly presented, their influence is very much felt. The first book is full of the dread of war, the second and third of how its horrors still persist into peacetime. Yet against these disturbances stand the houses and the families that inhabit them, making a bright space within a dark world, looking toward that other world where war will be no more.

I’m so glad that Hendrickson Publishers have brought these lovely books back into print, keeping the magic of Damerosehay alive for today’s readers.


9 thoughts on “Houses of Healing: The Eliot Family Trilogy

  1. I agree that Pilgrim's Inn is the best of the three, but I love them all. It's such an unusual kind of epic family dynasty/romance trilogy. I've never met anyone else who writes like Goudge. And yeah, she gets you to love these really infuriating people 🙂


  2. Sad to say, I've never read Goudge. I wonder if my library has any of her books. Which one would you recommend … or which is your favorite?


    1. Some are rather dim in my memory, but I just re-read and loved A City of Bells and The Dean's Watch. (Enter my giveaway and you might win a copy of the latter!) I think that either is a good place to start, in addition to the Eliot family books.


  3. Many of the elements that you speak of for the Eliot Family Trilogy are also present in The Scent of Water. Like you, I particularly like her characters of children and older people. Her writing is quite magical, and I look forward to reading more of her books.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s