December 16, 2017

Lest We Forget

Too many good books go out of print, and too many good writers are forgotten.  From time to time we here at InternetMonk need to remember these lost treasures and pass them on to the next generations.  With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to one of my favorite writers.

I see a lot of triumphalist writing these days – all about Strenuous Christianity, Seizing the Land, Name It and Claim It, Praying It Through (whatever that means).  I suppose triumphalism appeals to those who have energy and self-confidence  – they’d say faith, and perhaps they’re right.  But what about the wounded people, the weak in faith, the mentally ill, depressed, lost, and battered – in other words, most of us at least some of the time.  Who writes for us?

Elizabeth Goudge.  She was a British novelist who lived from 1900 to 1984.  She wrote many books for both adults and children.  Some of her best-loved adult titles are The Scent of Water, Pilgrim Inn, The Castle on the Hill, The White Witch, The Dean’s Watch, and The Rosemary Tree.  The first three I think are her best.  Her children’s book Linnets and Valerians has been one of my favorite books for over 40 years.  The Little White Horse is also deservedly popular.  Many of her books have been out of print, but it seems that they’ve been making a come-back in the last few years.

There isn’t a lot of action in these stories, at least not physical action.  The movement takes place within the characters and is psychological and spiritual.  Her people are frightened, broken by war and mismatched relationships, betrayed by themselves and their own weaknesses.  Miss Goudge herself experienced bouts of depression and lived through the horrors of both World Wars.  Nonetheless, the stories are uplifting, the characters have a believable edge, and humor and delight abound.  Her prose is skillful enough to be largely unnoticeable, leaving her free to convey profound truths unself-consciously.

Perhaps the two greatest things that she achieved are a wide charity and the portrayal of the immanence of God in nature.

Her charity embraces all her characters, although some of them you know perfectly well are horrible people, very realistically portrayed.  But she does what I can’t do, which is see into them, understand them, and love them.  Because she can do that for her worst characters, I find it easier to believe that God can do that for me.

The nature of the English countryside is as much a character in her stories as the people are and like them reveals the beauty of God.  Those of you who have read Surprised by Joy, by her contemporary C.S. Lewis, will remember what he talks about as “Joy” – the piercing longing for beauty, or perhaps only the memory of the longing, because the vision of beauty itself is so fleeting.  Lewis writes brilliantly about Joy and what it means, but Elizabeth Goudge gives us the experience of Joy.  We don’t just know about it, we live it, though only briefly, through her descriptions of the beauty around her.

Readers who object to “magic” and miracles, outrageous coincidences and character change, who are uncomfortable with ineffable holiness and prefer things to be cut and dried – won’t like these books.  Some people accuse them of being sentimental or even preachy.  Some critics go so far as to call them “feminine” – and of course that’s the worst condemnation they can come up with.  But to me her books have always been a light in the darkness, leading me back when I’ve strayed.  No other writings, except the book of Isaiah, convey to me as much hope and confidence of redemption as her books do.

The title of her novel The Scent of Water comes from a verse in Job, which she prints on the opening page.  I think it’s a perfect introduction to all her works.

“For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.  Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.”

 

 

Comments

  1. I never heard of Elizabeth Goudge, Damaris. I would like to read some of her books. Thanks for telling us about her.

  2. I am monstrously slothful when it comes to reading fiction: your descriptions have me intrigued. Any of her works on Kindle ?? I don’t need a lot of “action” in my reading. Always liked Ken Kesey for what he had clanging around in his characters heads. Thanks, again, Damaris. Now…..back to my baloney sandwich… 🙂

  3. AVAILABLE – ADULT NON-FICTION SHELVES – 808.88 GOU
    A book of peace. Goudge, Elizabeth, 1900-, comp.
    Lost angel / Elizabeth Goudge
    The little white horse / by Elizabeth Goudge
    A book of faith / Elizabeth Goudge
    The dean’s watch

    On my way to the public library to check out the five available books first thing in the morning. I hope I have found the correct author being you didn’t mention all of these. So, I’m with Joanie on the thanks Damaris, going to the lake for three weeks and I needed a few good reads! Would love to find The Scent of Water.

    • Adrienne says:

      Just put “The Scent of Water” on hold at the library. Thanks for the recommendation. I was hoping to find and new and interesting “storytelling” author.

  4. Don’t do this to me, Damaris — my “To Read” list is already into triple digits! 😀

  5. You mentioned the book of Isaiah, Damaris. I’ve always been encouraged by 42:3: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (NIV)

  6. Adrienne says:

    Damaris ~ thanks for the recommendation. I would just like to address your question “who writes for the wounded, the broken” etc

    I would recommend Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen, Charles Spurgeon, Margaret Clarkson, Lisa Copen, Joni Eareckson Tada, Philip Yancey and I am sure there are others. I agree with your excellent description of the triumphalist writing.

    Also, thankfully, most of the Scripture is for the wounded and broken. We just need to interpret it correctly!!!

    Thanks for this post.

    Adrienne

  7. I just re-read the Dean’s Watch and the White Witch and enjoyed them immensely (again). I think I’ll request Pilgrim’s Inn from the library again. Just love her writing. There’s so much mercy and grace in her books.

  8. black cat says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll check my library and used book sites as well. 🙂

  9. JoanieD says:

    I requested The Scent of Water through my library after having read the first few pages at Amazon. I am glad to see that some of her books have been reprinted. I am reading a VERY serious book at the moment so I will be glad to have something a bit lighter when I finish. I printed out a list of all her books from a wikipedia article. (Let’s hope this comment goes through. I wrote one earlier and then I got a page that it failed and my comment was gone. I will copy this before submitting it this time!)

  10. Inga Johnson says:

    At last! Someone else recognizes the genius in Elizabeth Goudge! I read my first book written by her when I was 28. It was as if I had found the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. In subsequent years I have purchased all of her books, and even repurchased those that were not returned after they were loaned out. She is incomparable for all the reasons you so ably give and your description of her writing is so “right”. Having lost my mother young and having no adult relatives to help me through my twenties and beyond, she became for me my mentor. I longed to be shaped into the kind of person that had the character she so gently but clearly held up as honorable, full of integrity but kind, gentle and humble. Words fail me!
    Thank you for reintroducing her. I love her as if I had known her and she were a very dear grandmother! Strange, but true!
    The only book I lack and really cannot afford now is “The Valley of Song”. I had it, loaned it out years ago and it is gone!

    • Damaris says:

      I haven’t read “The Valley of Song,” Inga. I haven’t even seen it. I’ll have to see if I can find it. And I like your use of the word “integrity.” I think that may sum up what all her characters are struggling for, even the weak, failed ones.

  11. I read a short biography about her online yesterday. She suffered from depression and had some nervous breakdowns. In spite of all that, she was able to write all these wonderful books. I am eager for the first book that I requested to arrive at the library!

  12. “I see a lot of triumphalist writing these days – all about Strenuous Christianity, Seizing the Land, Name It and Claim It, Praying It Through…”

    (or any Christian(TM) book with the word “Power” in the title. Boycott! Boycott!)

    Speaking of British female novelists, and “movement [that] takes place within the characters and is psychological and spiritual”, have you read anything by Susan Howatch? The faith journeys that she describes aren’t always triumphalist either, in fact can be downright gloomy. Her Starbridge (or “Anglican”) series of six novels reads a bit like Upstairs, Downstairs and follows three Anglican clergy families from the 1930s to the 1960s. I’m going to have to read one of Elizabeth Goudge’s novels to compare.

    • I’ve heard of her but haven’t read her, Ted. I’ll have to give her a try.

      • I have to add, though, that Goudge is anything but gloomy.

        • Definitely not gloomy! That is what is so encouraging about her writing. She can paint those profoundly sad or seemingly hopeless and endless scenarios but slowly weave into them the shafts of sunlight breaking though the smothering clouds of circumstance and in the end, bring out the wonder of healing,not only of the situation but the mind and heart within her characters.
          Yesterday I found a website that was very enjoyable. The Elizabeth Goudge Society, along with may other interesting info and pictures, prints a bibliography of her works along with some selected and very insightful and informational reviews of her books. Enjoy!