Late for Pentecost, but not quite too late
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52 Authors: Week 21 - Elizabeth Goudge

Since no one else has submitted anything for this week, I'm assembling this from several blog posts on Elizabeth Goudge that I did over a period of a couple of years beginning in 2009, when Janet Cupo introduced me to her, for which I am very grateful. 

Elizabeth Goudge (1900-1984) should have been an Inkling. At least from the literary point of view she fits perfectly with those gentlemen who gathered in Oxford at the Eagle and Child, and I’d like to think they would have enjoyed her company, and she theirs. But in any case her work is like theirs on a very deep level, though very different from them all on the surface. As the works of Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams, all vastly different from each other, are connected at the deepest level, so Goudge’s work resembles none of theirs, but shares with theirs a 20th century English Christian sensibility which is, to my mind, one of the great flowerings of Christian culture, and to me personally the most attractive of all....

...Goudge is what seems to me a very rare religious bird: an Anglo-Catholic who is genuinely Catholic. Perhaps real Anglo-Catholics are, or at least were, not so rare in England as they seem to be here; in this country Anglicanism seems mostly divided between those who lean toward the combination of doctrinal skepticism and social activism characteristic of liberal Protestantism generally, and evangelicals, who are more orthodox in fundamental doctrine but very definitely Protestant. Had she been an Inkling, Goudge would be known as the most Catholic of the group, notwithstanding Tolkien’s position as the only Roman Catholic. The Catholic spirit of his work lies so deep that it escapes the notice of those who don’t know the faith, but not so with Goudge: she deals with it explicitly, and with an obvious deep and real understanding, an understanding which I think would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve without the actual practice of it.

...one of the most admirable characters in [Pilgrim's Inn] is a clergyman, affiliation unstated but presumably Church of England. It is the sort of Anglicanism that could hold C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, despite their Catholic leanings, and which I suppose is now approaching extinction....

On Pilgrim's Inn

Superficially this novel seems a domestic drama of the sort that I would not ordinarily find very interesting. To summarize the bare facts of the narrative would make it sound as if nothing much happens: a family buys a house, and various troubled relationships in and around the family and its new home arrive at some degree of resolution. Normally that sort of novel is not my cup of tea—not at all. But a narrative summary does not begin to do justice to the richness of the novel’s vision.

I could begin to describe the difference between this and the typical naturalistic novel of manners by saying that this is a thoroughly Christian work, but even that does not do it justice. In fact such a description is an injustice, because it suggests that “Christianity” is present in the novel in the form of an idea, as a more or less abstract answer to various moral and philosophical questions posed by the narrative.

It would be better to say that everything in it is suffused with and transfigured by the presence of God, and that the plot is a working-out of God’s providence. Not all the characters are conscious of this, but all are caught up in it.

Two comparisons occur to me, and both seem superficially unlikely, but both illuminate the way Pilgrim’s Inn transcends the limits of what appears at first to be its genre. First, some of the films of Ingmar Bergman: Wild Strawberries, for instance, or Autumn Sonata. The work of the atheist Bergman may seem an odd comparison to that of the Christian Goudge, but it presents itself to me because I’ve often thought that by my usual tastes I shouldn’t like certain of Bergman’s films, because they are exactly the sort of nothing-much-happens study of family relationships that usually makes me impatient, and maybe downright uncomfortable. But the work of both Bergman and Goudge is distinguished from these, and made fascinating, by the way they reach down into the depths. The human relationships are not only that; they have powerful spiritual and philosophical implications. A story like Wild Strawberries, for instance, deals not only with the problem of an old man’s relationships with his son, his daughter-in-law, and his dead wife, but with the question Is there mercy?

The other comparison is to Charles Williams. At first glance the two, Goudge and Williams, could hardly seem more different. Williams is often dark in both the literal and symbolic senses in a way that Goudge is not, and he is often obscure in every sense, while Goudge is lucid. It is, for instance, not always easy, and sometimes not even possible, to see what Williams is describing—I mean at the fundamental level of forming a mental picture of a scene or an action. Goudge, in contrast, presents a skillful and detailed visual rendering of everything....

The similarity to Williams lies on a deeper level. Principally it’s the sense, first, that the natural and the supernatural are not really separated from each other and are in constant interaction. And second, that the universe, in both its physical and material aspects, is what Christian thought conceives it to be. This is another way of approaching what I said earlier about the presence of God in the work. The operations of the individual soul and of the world and of God’s providence are represented as Christian in as natural a way as physical events are Newtonian in any novel; in both cases laws, spiritual in the one case and physical in the other, govern implicitly, and need not be much remarked upon. It is hard to see how anyone could enjoy this book without at least grasping the idea of the Christian God. (I am sure it is possible, and is in fact done, just as people frequently miss the essence of Flannery O’Connor’s work; I just can’t quite understand how.)

...in both authors, love is a real thing, a sort of force or substance comparable to a physical force or substance. It is not an emotion—it produces emotion, but is not identical with it. It is the essential element of the world of the spirit and has its own laws of action and reaction just as the physical world does. A love which is not returned is not, as we might think of it, a useless fit of passion something like what happens when one stubs a toe on a rock and breaks out in useless curses. When someone loves, something has happened, an event, which, like a rock thrown into a pool, will have an effect. And this is true no matter how the love is received, or even if it is kept completely secret and leads to no external action. Love is God’s word, and it does not return to him in vain.

Some would say that Pilgrim’s Inn is sentimental, that all the difficulties work out too neatly. And on the naturalistic level there is some justification for that complaint. But it misses the essence, which is the promise that this is, in the end, how the world works. Just as the strands of troubled lives are gathered together for the good, though temporarily and incompletely, in the novel, so they will be gathered for the good permanently and completely in God’s reality—will be, and are being.

...Pilgrim’s Inn may indeed be the novel of manners it first appears to be, but it is not a realistic or naturalistic one. It might be called a novel of supernatural manners.

On Gentian Hill

One way of looking at this book is to say that Goudge does here for the historical romance novel something akin to what Lewis did for science fiction. “Romance” can be applied in two senses: conventionally, to denote a love story, or in the older sense, referring to a long story of marvel and dangers, generally with a reasonably happy ending. I can imagine someone considering Gentian Hill to be romantic in a bad sense, sentimental and unreal. But that would be a great misjudgment. It is not naturalistic, but it is spiritually realistic.

Anyone who has read science fiction has come across the idea of parallel realities or alternative histories which resemble our own in many ways but in which some major event—World War II, for instance—turned out differently and brought us to a present very different from the one we know. (Presumably ours is the only one there is in fact, although some scientists maintain that the alternates really exist, thus explaining why ours is so well suited to producing and maintaining life.) I have sometimes entertained a similar idea, but with the separation existing on the vertical and spiritual axis rather than the horizontal and temporal one: I’ve toyed with the idea that the world we know also exists at spiritual levels above ours. (It seems almost universally impossible to speak of spiritual things without using words like “above,” “below,” “higher,” and “lower.”) At these higher levels—I’ve preferred not to dwell on the lower possibilities—the earth and the life and history we know are recognizable, but cleaner and clearer. They are not devoid of evil, but good and evil are more plainly recognizable, and good is stronger and more pure, less thoroughly tainted with the petty moral and physical squalor that seems to define so much of everyday life. The earth itself has a freshness less touched by decay, and a more direct correlation with the spiritual. In short, these worlds are fallen, but not as far fallen, as ours. I imagine these levels ascending, each one more pure and beautiful than the one below, and having less of evil in it. This progress breaks down at some point; it cannot be thought of as having at its summit an unfallen world, because an unfallen world could not resemble ours in its history, because the Fall is our history.

I don’t take this idea seriously as fact. It’s really only a way of thinking about the Fall, and of what might have been lost, as we don’t really have the means of imagining an entirely unfallen world.

It seems to me that Elizabeth Goudge does something like this in her novels. This book appears at first glance to be intended as a normal naturalistic modern novel, and one who expects it to be such might dismiss it as sentimental. The world of the book is better than ours, and most of the people are better than we are. But this better is achieved not so much by eliminating evil and pain as by drawing out truth and goodness, showing us what the real relationship between good and evil is—that is, that goodness is overflowing richness and joy, while evil is paltry, empty, and dull. And as for pain: there is much pain inflicted by evil in the story, but there is just as much caused by good—I don’t mean pain inflicted by a misunderstanding or misdirection of good, but pain as the direct and necessary action of good, the natural effect of the perfect on the imperfect.

I don’t actually want to say very much about the specifics of the story, because I assume the book will be new to most people who read this, and I think it’s better to come to it fresh. But, to sketch out the basic situation: Goudge tells us in a brief preface that it is “a retelling of the legend of St. Michael’s chapel at Torquay[, b]uilt in the thirteenth century....” The legend begins with a sailor rescued by monks from a shipwreck, who, with their help, builds the chapel and lives out the rest of his life as a hermit there. He has a particular concern for young lovers separated by wars and oceans, a concern that continues beyond his physical death. Goudge’s story is set in the early 19th century, during the Napoleonic Wars. One of the principals is a teenaged midshipman in the English Navy. He is one half of the couple who make the word “romance” in the conventional sense applicable to the book. The other is a ten-year-old girl. It may be hard to imagine, in our debased cultural atmosphere, that such a situation could be portrayed as sexual but not as perverse. I assure you that it is not only not perverse, but holy and beautiful. It is not carnal, there is no question of physical sexual contact, and yet it is an extraordinarily rich depiction of the masculine-feminine duality at the heart of things.

The girl, Stella, is the adopted daughter of a farming couple, Father and Mother Sprigg. Among the pleasures of the book is the portrayal of their life, which forces one to consider how necessary a part of a healthy culture is life on a well-run farm. How Stella came to Weakaborough Farm, the mystery of her parentage, and especially the love between her and the boy Zachary, are the principal strands of the narrative. It ranges back and forth in time, encompassing another pair of lovers and another hermit, not long after Henry VIII made the monastery and the chapel desolate, and a French couple who had escaped the Revolution’s terror ten years earlier.

If the ways in which these strands are woven together sometimes seems a little too dependent on coincidence, remember what I said about naturalism above, and remember, too, that it is generally not possible to distinguish with certainty coincidence from providence.

...I’ll close with a passage that can serve as a brief exemplar of the novel’s theological and aesthetic sensibility:

At that moment he believed it was worth it. This moment of supreme beauty was worth all the wretchedness of the journey. It was always worth it. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” It was the central truth of existence, and all men knew it, though they might not know that they knew it. Each man followed his own star through so much pain because he knew it, and at journey’s end all the innumerable lights would glow into one.

Elizabeth_Goudge_c1975

Comments

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"but shares with theirs a 20th century English Christian sensibility which is, to my mind, one of the great flowerings of Christian culture, and to me personally the most attractive of all...."

Lovely.

From the above insightful essay: “The world of the book is better than ours, and most of the people are better than we are. But this better is achieved not so much by eliminating evil and pain as by drawing out truth and goodness, showing us what the real relationship between good and evil is—that is, that goodness is overflowing richness and joy, while evil is paltry, empty, and dull.”

I found a reference to this creation of fictional worlds in Elizabeth Goudge’s autobiography, The Joy of the Snow: "In our hearts every one of us would like to create a new world, less terrible than this one, a world where there is at least a possibility that things may work out right. The greatest writers are able to do this. In The Lord of the Rings Professor Tolkien has created a world that is entirely new and if the book ends in haunting sadness Frodo and Sam do at least throw the ring in the fire; if it had been in this world that they embarked on their terrible journey they would have died half-way up the mountain. And so, even with lesser writers, a story is a groping attempt to make a new world, even if the attempt ends in nothing better than the rearrangement of the furniture."

Again, from the above essay: “...in both authors, love is a real thing, a sort of force or substance comparable to a physical force or substance. It is not an emotion—it produces emotion, but is not identical with it. It is the essential element of the world of the spirit and has its own laws of action and reaction just as the physical world does. A love which is not returned is not, as we might think of it, a useless fit of passion something like what happens when one stubs a toe on a rock and breaks out in useless curses. When someone loves, something has happened, an event, which, like a rock thrown into a pool, will have an effect. And this is true no matter how the love is received, or even if it is kept completely secret and leads to no external action. Love is God’s word, and it does not return to him in vain.”

I appreciate very deeply these insights, regardless of Goudge's writing. An incident in Goudge's novel Green Dolphin Street seems to bear out this truth. Two sisters are in love with the same man. Years later, from New Zealand, the young man (a sailor)writes the parents for permission to marry one of the sisters -- he gets the name wrong, and the sister he does not wish to marry makes the long journey to be his bride. Rather than competition, the novel lifts up the mutual supportiveness of the three characters: "A threefold cord shall not be broken." Many of Goudge's novels illustrate this interconnectedness. The Child from the Sea states that ". . . down below the surface where the tap roots are, humanity is of one stuff of love and sorrow."

Elizabeth Goudge ends her autobiography with a prayer by Thomas Traherne: "O God, who by love alone art great and glorious, that art present and livest with us by love alone: Grant us likewise by love to attain another self, by love to live in others, and by love to come to our glory, to see and accompany Thy love throughout all eternity."

...as readers can see, I obviously did not conclude the italicization tag after Joy of the Snow! Ah well!

Well, we can see whose friend Mary is.

AMDG

:-)

A mutual affection for Goudge, and a mutual inability to use HTML correctly.

AMDG

Thank you, Mary, for the compliment, and for the info about EG. Now I want to read that autobiography.

Italics fixed, too.

"...love is a real thing, a sort of force or substance comparable to a physical force or substance. It is not an emotion—it produces emotion, but is not identical with it."

This is wonderful. The whole passage is wonderful.

And Maclin, yours is really great, too. I'm enjoying re-reading all this.

AMDG

I read several books by Elizabeth Goudge when I was at school but I never seem to have read the same ones that you write about. I just read the ones which were in the school library

I've read The Dean's Watch and *I think* A City of Bells. I read them at school. I think there were more but those are the titles I remember

I'm a little confused by your comment, Janet. The "love is a real thing" bit is me, but then you say to me "yours is really great, too"...? But however you slice it, it's a compliment, so thank you.

I've read only two other books by Goudge, The Heart of the Family and The Scent of Water. Looks like I never did a blog post about the latter, even though it might be my favorite. But I did a brief one about the former. It doesn't really say anything that the longer pieces didn't.

Oh, I was getting that out of Mary's comment and it was late and I was confused. Well, it is completely wonderful.

Scent of Water is definitely my favorite.

AMDG

My favorite is The Dean's Watch.

It's funny. I kind of forget that whole series.

AMDG

The City of Bells (set in Ely), Towers in the Mist (set in Elizabethan Oxford), and The Dean's Watch (Ely)are bound together in a Coronet edition, 1986, as The Cathedral Trilogy.

Towers in The Mist I have read and enjoyed it a lot

I always conflate City of Bells and The Dean's Watch, and I can't remember Towers in the Mist at all, although I know I must have read it.

AMDG

I need to read some of these others. And by the way does anyone know how to pronounce "Damerosehay"?

The $64K Question. I can't even figure out a way to pronounce it in my head that makes me be able to read a sentence with the word in it without coming to a pause. I never get used to it. It's an awkward word. I think I listened to one of the books on tape once and they pronounced it like pronouncing those 3 words, but I don't remember for sure.

AMDG

Several people are asking this question on the web. They all come back to this site. http://www.elizabethgoudge.org/Postings/Percieived%20Pronunciation.htm

AMDG

Dumrosé?

Sounds good to me. "dame rose hay" doesn't exactly flow, and it seems likely that its edges would have been worn away considerably.

Oh, I had missed Janet's link--I didn't realize it was completely fictitious. I figured it was one of those English names that have been around for centuries.

That was just my attempt to represent what I took Janet's link to be saying, without resorting to phonetic symbols. It drops the h of hay, but I can't find a natural way of enunciating that without putting the stress on the final syllable.

"rosé" helps a lot--a smooth two-syllable word, rather than two. Do you mean you put the stress on the "é" -- "dumrosAY"? (sorry, I don't know phonetic symbols). I find that "DUMrosay"seems equally natural, maybe more so. Or "DAMrosay". "DAYMrosay" doesn't go so well.

I did not remember the title 'Towers in the Mist' but I remembered that I had read another one by Elizabeth Goudge which is set in Elizabethan times, so I checked and it is that one. These books stay in one's memory for ever.

I like Paul's suggestion. If I ever read it, that's how I'll pronounce it.

From The Joy of the Snow, page 180: "One such place [in some ways magical] was Lymington, a favourite place for a school outing. It was a little port always humming with activity about the harbour, but the streets of old houses that climbed above the harbour were, as I remember them, quiet streets. There was little life in them but it did not seem to have changed much since the days when aristocratic refugees from the French Revolution made their home there . . . Damerosehay. That was the name I gave to the house where the Eliots lived in the three novels I wrote about them; but in reality it was the name of a field near the saltmarshes that separate Lymington from Keyhaven. It is only my fancy that it was named after some lovely French lady who wore powdered hair in the evening and patches on her face. Madame . . . ? What French name could have sounded to English ears like Rosehay?"

I need to correct an earlier posting I made: I said, "The City of Bells (set in Ely), Towers in the Mist (set in Elizabethan Oxford), and The Dean's Watch (Ely)are bound together in a Coronet edition, 1986, as The Cathedral Trilogy." WRONG. The City of Bells in set in Wells.

The French connection lends support to "rosé". Why did she never pronounce it to any of her friends?!?

"patches on her face"? I wonder what fashion that refers to.

I'm going to order Joy of the Snow shortly. I see there are a number of inexpensive secondhand copies available.

I'm sure you must have seen movies about 18th century France where all the rich people wear white face powder and little patches like fake moles on their faces. Didn't you watch John Adams?


AMDG

Like this.

https://janeaustensworld.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/portrait_of_a_lady_in_blue-thomas-gainsborough-patches2.jpg

AMDG

Maybe for flow it could be pronounced Dam-er-ose-hay, with four syllables. That would remove the abrupt break between "dame" and "rose". Sort of like some New Englanders do with "idea-r".

I think it's the "h" immediately after the "s" that bothers me. Dam-er-ose-ay would be ok (not that I get to decide...well, actually, I guess I do, as far as my own reading is concerned).

Those patches look like somebody took a marker to the portrait. But yeah, now that you mention it I have seen them.

Footnote 1 on page 300 of Old times re-visited in the borough and parish of Lymington (published 1900) gives an etymology, at least, but not much of a clue as to how locals might pronounce it:

"The termination hay means meadow. The former part of the word no doubt refers to some distinct flower growing there, just as we might now say Cowslip Mead &c. The Dame-rose I take to be the Primrose, ... or Our Lady's Rose, in contrast to the real rose ..."

The association with Our Lady makes the name much richer.

I had been toying with ignoring the second "e" and saying "Dam-ro-shay" but I guess that doesn't work, since the word "hay" is involved.

Evidently, yes, it WAS only Goudge's "fancy" that the field was named after a French refugee. Fantastic research!

Below is a final reference to Damerosehay from Joy of the Snow. I am perhaps typing out too much text -- if so, I am trusting that our blog host will delete the excess (pages 284-286):
I went to Damerosehay. It was a lovely summer and the old house and the garden, the sea and the marshes were shining in the sun and there was healing in the air of the place. One day, I remember, I was sitting under one of the trees in the garden and the wind from the sea was blowing through the leaves. A moment of joy seized me, so sudden and so startling that I could hardly believe it. Yet it was true. Into the middle of my wretchedness at this time dropped this sudden joy. . . . [joy] lies, somehow, at the root of every pain.
There was a shadow of sadness over Damerosehay and I was aware of it. The house had, I think, been used for refugees during the war but Mrs Adams had brought it back to its former use as a quiet hotel for her friends and their friends . . . The house was shabby and the garden overgrown. It made no difference to the peace of the place but there was sadness now as well as peace . . . We who were staying there had no idea at all that in a few years time Damerosehay would have vanished as though it had never been.. . . For whatever reason, the shell of Damerosehay failed to attract holiday-makers and the hotel failed. . . [B]ungaloes and caravans began to eat their way over the beauty of the marshes and it was decided that the old house must go. . . . The house was so filled with old wood that the destroyers thought that burning would get rid of it more quickly than any other method. But even though its spirit had departed, the body of the house still had a will to live. The wooden bones would not ignite and the flames could not take hold. The destroyers gave up in despair and fetched the bulldozers. The house and garden of Damerosehay could not stand up against those and now I believe (I will never go to see) that no one can find the place where they once had their life. Well, they had it, and one of the things in my working life about which I am most thankful is that someone or something prompted me to write three books about an imaginary family living at Damerosehay, and that those three seem to be my readers' favourites. As long as the three books are read Damerosehay has not quite vanished from the world and I have not lived in vain.

"too much text"?!? Hardly! That's beautiful and a bit tear-jerking. Thank you for going to all that trouble.

Thank you for the blog.

You're welcome.

I was planning on rereading Green Dolphin Country before travelling to New Zealand this summer. The rate things are going I'll have to read it there.

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