Dearest blog reading friends, as I’ve indicated in a few recent posts life is a bit much for me at the moment. I’m finding it takes way too much energy to even think about writing reviews or other posts, and so I need to take a break until I get my blogging impulse back. I’m not going to make any predictions about how long this will take, but at least a few weeks if not more.
I am all right, but a ton of unfinished emotional business is crashing in and I have to sort it out. I will get it sorted, I’m sure, and will hopefully be back to this beloved hobby at some point, not to mention some semblance of normal life. In the meantime it makes a difference to me to know that you are out there, living your own most valuable lives, and holding in common our love of the word.
Also in the meantime, I’m pleased to say that Elizabeth Goudge Day will be happening again this year on April 24, hosted by Howling Frog Books and Jorie Loves a Story! I think going to pick up Gentian Hill, which has been on my TBR shelf for a while — it sounds like a lovely historical romance, just what I need at the moment. Do check out Jean and Jorie’s blogs for more info.
Thank you, everyone, for another fantastic Elizabeth Goudge Day! Here is what I have gathered from those who participated — please let me know if I missed your post. And congratulations to Jorie of Jorie Loves a Story, who won the giveaway of Towers in the Mist!
Helena Rae, who is not currently blogging, commented about The Dean’s Watch:
“The Dean’s Watch is a gentle and inspiring story of finding one’s joy through the transforming power of sacrifice and courage. It is a beautiful, spiritual story that expounds the idea that “if you turn for your joy to the intractable and explosive stuff of human nature it’s in for a penny, in for a pound.” How often we let our own insecurities hold us back from helping or showing a real interest in others. The characters in this story teach us that when we do so, unexpected and remarkable things beyond our imaginings can happen. I didn’t find a weak element to Goudge’s writing. Her strongest was the sense of place. She managed to evoke an enchanting town with a fairytale quality, imbued with a sense of history and thoughtful detail. This book has secured a place in my top ten and in my heart.”
“I loved getting to know Faithful and the Leighs (and Nicolas, who ended up being one of my favourite characters after undergoing a bit of a transformation which I hadn’t expected at the beginning) but there are also several real historical figures from the Elizabethan age who play a part in the story… Goudge admits in her note at the beginning that not everything in the book will be entirely accurate historically, but I think she is very successful at capturing the overall feel of the Elizabethan period even if it may not be correct in every detail.”
“Goudge herself makes no claim to have achieved historical accuracy, only to having made an attempt at reconstruction that no doubt fails in many points. Yet she does somehow manage to convey the lively, vivacious spirit of the early Elizabethan period, of a people who have endured much trouble and suffering without losing their zest for life. It makes sense that this period produced a great flowering of English poetry, examples of which are given at the beginning of each chapter. Love of learning, of words and of the Word, are in abundant evidence in Goudge’s Oxford, and in that she seems to have gotten to the heart of things.”
I was delighted that Jean of Howling Frog Books managed to track down a copy of the hard-to-find children’s book The Valley of Song:
“It’s an unusual story, that’s for sure, combining a fantasy tour of all creation, a love of one particular English village, and a deep belief in the possibility of redemption for everyone, no matter how lost they feel.”
Ruthiella of Booked for Life found universal relevance in her first Goudge, The Rosemary Tree:
“What I think I liked most about it was that it showed how our actions can positively touch others and just how interconnected we are despite our best efforts to think we can live in isolation. And while the book does have clear religious overtones, I think I can be read by anyone. Its message of connection and forgiveness can be appreciated by a reader of any creed or belief system.”
“Elizabeth tells her story beautifully; she really was a mistress of the art of story-telling. Every sentence is beautifully wrought; every character is clearly and distinctively drawn; every place, every meal, every setting is perfectly explained; and there is a wealth of lovely detail. I think that this is a book that would work best read in childhood – and I do wish I had discovered it as a child – but it still has a great deal to offer to the grown-up reader who is still in touch with her inner child who loved books.”
“I read The Little White Horse when my mind was all abuzz with concerns of practical adult life. Although I found it difficult at times to focus, this lovely little tale kept me grounded by being just what I needed to put my head in the clouds.”
A couple of readers were still in the midst of their books, but I hope you are enjoying them and that you’ll still share your responses with us when you have a chance.
As I mentioned on Monday, I’m planning to take a break from this event next year in order to focus on other things…but if someone else should take it up, I would be an enthusiastic supporter. It’s been a joy to share our appreciation of this author and her wonderful books for the past three years, and I wish you all happy reading.
The day is here! Have you been reading something by Elizabeth Goudge in honor of her birthday? Please let me know in the comments, and I’ll include your post in a wrap-up on Friday.
I posted my review of Towers in the Mist yesterday, an evocative exploration of Elizabethan Oxford; click the link for my thoughts. I also read Smoky House, a delightful early children’s book set in Elizabeth’s beloved West Country. It was marvelous to be transported to these two magical places.
Along with sharing your reviews, or visiting others’ posts, please don’t neglect to enter the giveaway sponsored by Hendrickson Publishers, which will be open through April 26. You can enter to win a new paperback edition of Towers in the Mist — international entries are welcome.
After three years I am planning to take a break from this particular event, but it’s been wonderful to connect with more Goudge fans and to perhaps encourage some readers to take up her books for the first time. Thanks to all who have participated — I hope you have enjoyed this event as much as I have!
This book is offered in a giveaway open through April 26. Click the link to enter!
Oxford has changed much in the eighty years since Elizabeth Goudge lived there, and even more since the sixteenth century. Yet it still bears within it the weight of its long history, and it is fascinating to imagine all the people and events that have passed through its walls and buildings and churches and quadrangles. That is the task Goudge has set for herself with Towers in the Mist: to imagine a well-known place of the present as it might have been in the past. For anyone who loves the university or even just the idea of it, it’s a wonderful if somewhat unwieldy hodgepodge of a book, an imaginative journey that touches us with the author’s own affection and enthusiasm.
Her Elizabethan tale introduces us to several well-known personages of the time (such as Thomas Bodley, the Earl of Leicester, and the young Walter Raleigh and Philip Sidney), but is mainly centered around the fictional Canon Leigh of Christ Church, whose motherless brood is growing up in a time when children were expected to become adults very early. As the older children are occupied with finding their place in the world, with balancing love and duty, the younger ones experience the universal joys and sorrows of childhood that Goudge always portrays so delightfully. Around them swirls the pageantry of city and university in glorious confusion, with bursts of rowdiness as well as moments of transcendent beauty.
I found it particularly interesting to see how Goudge deals with religion here; she’s writing about a time in which doubt was nearly non-existent, almost everyone lived and breathed within the embrace of the church, and the wars between Catholics and Protestants meant that many died for their beliefs. It is extremely difficult for people of our materialistic age to imagine the mindset of such an era, and Goudge doesn’t try to enter into it very deeply. Rather, she lightly suggests that even in a time when religion ruled daily life there could be many different modes of experience and ways of encountering God. Her Elizabethans express a wide variety of approaches to faith, from simple, heartfelt devotion to worldly-wise practicality, and all seem convincingly possible.
In the latter category, I love the story of how the Christ Church undergraduates appointed just one of each of their groups to listen to the Sunday sermon on which they would later be tested; the others were then free to “think great thoughts” during the hour-long discourse. Meanwhile, their teachers marveled at the burst of earnest conversation taking place later that day among the scholars (during which they filled each other in on the sermon’s contents). It’s just one example of how Goudge pokes fun at a revered institution, while fully appreciating its gifts to our culture.
Nor is faith depicted as a fixed, immutable quality, but as something that can move and grow and change, depending on how each character meets and takes up the challenges of life. For example, we see young Nicolas, initially one of the most flippant and worldly of the scholars, becoming more serious and courageous under the influence of love. Meanwhile, upright Canon Leigh, when approached by Nicolas for the hand of his beloved daughter in marriage, must reconfigure his expectations and admit that the young man he would previously have dismissed as an indifferent scholar may actually perceive something in his child that he does not, and which is necessary to her happiness. Both must adjust their view of the world, must humble themselves in some ways and strengthen themselves in others, in order to move forward into the future.
Such characters and relationships are the most interesting thing to me about Goudge’s work in general; they show her willingness to embrace all kinds of human thoughts and experiences with compassion rather than with a critical, judgmental eye. This helps me in turn to look at my own life with the possibility that if there is a divine world, it may regard me in the same way, holding my foibles and errors within a greater perspective of love — and it also inspires me to try to look at other people in the same spirit. To me this is the most important function of all fiction, whether it be overtly “religious” or not.
This is not to say that Towers in the Mist might not have benefited from some judicious pruning. In her wish to create as comprehensive a view as possible, Goudge has wedged in a number of awkward side stories and historical characters, while the overall plot is rambling and often improbable, and certain “patriotic” passages are marred by an excess of sentimentality. The descriptions are elaborate, the pace leisurely, the digressions many. But for those who are willing to take a roundabout journey, there is still much pleasure to be found on the way.
Goudge herself makes no claim to have achieved historical accuracy, only to having made an attempt at reconstruction that no doubt fails in many points. Yet she does somehow manage to convey the lively, vivacious spirit of the early Elizabethan period, of a people who have endured much trouble and suffering without losing their zest for life. It makes sense that this period produced a great flowering of English poetry, examples of which are given at the beginning of each chapter. Love of learning, of words and of the Word, are in abundant evidence in Goudge’s Oxford, and in that she seems to have gotten to the heart of things.
This post was written to celebrate Elizabeth Goudge’s birthday, tomorrow, April 24. I’ll be checking in then to see who else has written posts in honor of this beloved author, and sharing them with you. Please join us!
Thank you to all who joined me in celebrating Elizabeth Goudge’s birthday last Sunday, April 24. Whether you read a book in her honor, posted your own review, or just enjoyed the contributions of others, I’m so glad we got to take this day to celebrate an author who has fallen out of fashion, but still has much to offer. On that topic, I’d like to point you toward an excellent article, Elizabeth Goudge: Glimpsing the Liminal by Kari Sperring, which appeared in Strange Horizons back in February. It does a fine job of describing what makes Goudge’s novels so special for many of us. (Thank you to Terri Windling for pointing me to it — and to Helen and Lark for pointing me to Terri’s blog post about Elizabeth Goudge, which was another lovely discovery this week.)
Here are the links I’ve gathered; if I’m missing anything, please let me know. And mark your calendars for next year!
Old wrongs are brought to light and their pain dispelled, relationships are created and strengthened, and new resolutions for reconciliation and healing are made. Some might find such a tale lacking in bite and conflict, and the solutions Goudge offers too simplistic — but they have hidden depths.
‘The Rosemary Tree’ is a quiet, slow book, but it speaks profoundly. The spirituality threaded through it may feel old-fashioned or odd to some, but I think that Elizabeth Goudge is simply addressing the same concerns that might today be addressed in the language of psychology or social concern in a very different language.
Most books are add-ons to life: you read them and they capture your surface attention, but you’re always conscious of your real life. Green Dolphin Street: not so for me. It became a part of my life while I was reading it, and now that I’m finished, I miss it. I feel like I do when I return home from a great trip.
What I loved most about this book were the details of daily village life in the seventeenth century, the beautiful descriptions of the English countryside, and the undercurrents of magic, mystery and mythology which run throughout the story.
Lark of The Bookwyrm’s Hoard loved revisiting The Blue Hills (aka Henrietta’s House), and is still working on her review. I’ll link it here when it’s finished!
The Valley of Song is just so wonderfully beautiful and so perfectly described, with a sensitivity to inner as well as outer beauty. I would like to quote chunks of it at you all day.
And thanks to a comment from Helen I learned that Terri Windling had written about Elizabeth Goudge: A Sense of Otherness a few days earlier from her Dartmoor studio. She includes beautiful pictures of the area along with quotes from Goudge’s autobiography, The Joy of the Snow, and from Sperring’s essay. I hope you’ll stop by her lovely blog.
Finally, congratulations to the winner of the giveaway, Valentine! She chose to receive Green Dolphin Street from Hendrickson Books, our generous sponsor. They’ve just added Island Magic to their list of Goudge reprints, bringing the total to ten. Whether you take advantage of these, or find them and more at the public library, or hunt down copies in used bookstores or online, I hope you will read something by Elizabeth Goudge over the coming year and join us again on April 24, 2017.