Elizabeth Goudge is a British writer who published 16 novels in from 1936 to 1970. She also wrote short stories, children’s books, and books about Christianity. I was lucky to find her during a period of severe depression, and lucky that the Franconia Library has a complete collection of her novels. I’ve gradually acquired most of them, and I read them over and over again. I find them very comforting.
Three things that mean a lot to me: she writes about the realm of Spirit interacting with us in our daily life. She is clearly a Christian, but not a narrow minded one. There’s room in her world view for fairies and other nature spirits. In her novel about the English Civil War between Royalists (many of whom were Catholics) and Puritans who were Protestants, she writes compassionately about people on both sides.
Secondly, she introduces a character in such a way that I have a complete picture of them and no difficulty telling them apart. (I’ve read a lot of books in which this is not true.) Sometimes she introduces people in a scene that quickly reveals some important characteristic, sometimes she tells a life story in a few paragraphs.
Thirdly, her descriptions of nature are detailed, evocative, and beautiful. I don’t know any other writer who can describe the English countryside so movingly.
On the jacket of Pilgrim’s Inn, the second in the trilogy of the Eliot family, she says of her own writing: “It has a happy ending, for I love these people too much to let them be unhappy for long. I know that happy endings are sometimes inartistic, and certainly not always true to life, but I can’t write any other kind. I am not a serious chronicler of the very terrible contemporary scene, but just a story-teller, and there is so much tragedy about us everywhere today that we surely don’t want it in story books to which we turn when we are ill or unhappy, or can’t go to sleep at night. We must escape somewhere. I had some happy hours of escape when I was writing this book, and I hope very much that perhaps a few readers my have them when they read it.”
Elizabeth herself suffered from arthritis and depression, and she had considerable experience of mental illness, her own and others. She has created some wonderful characters who struggle with depression and mental illness, and reveals them from the inside. One of my favorites is Cousin Mary, who appears only in her Diary in The Scent of Water.
I find Goudge very comforting because she doesn’t deny the painful side of life but she encloses it in a story that essentially shows how “all things work together for good.” Although she writes about some difficult people, there’s only one person I can remember who is really “evil” and that’s Mrs. Belling in The Rosemary Tree. There are a number of characters who are unattractive at first but are later redeemed. The scenes of redemption are always moving, and when I read them something inside me relaxes and says “Yes” with relief.
For more information about Elizabeth Goudge