Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Joy of Story: Elizabeth Goudge

     (This is part of a work-in-progress.  Over the last few years, I have spent a considerable amount of time in Elizabeth's company, and I have learned a lot from her both as a writer and as a seeker of truth in all things spiritual.)

       Elizabeth deBeauchamp Goudge (1900 – 1984) has been called “the greatest ‘unknown’ writer of the 20th century” ( She was a bestselling author in England and America for four decades; her book Green Dolphin Country (published in this country as Green Dolphin Street) became the basis for a movie starring Donna Reed and Lana Turner. Goudge came back into the public eye in 1993, when Indrani Aikath-Gyaltsen plagiarized her novel The Rosemary Tree (1956).  Paul Kafka, who had initially given Aikath-Gyaltsen’s Crane’s Morning a positive review, conceded his mistake, saying, “If something comes from exotic parts, it’s read very differently than if it’s domestically grown….Maybe Elizabeth Goudge is a writer who hasn’t gotten her due.”
          Goudge’s readers have always been a loyal crew.  (It was through an Ontario reader that the plagiarism was discovered.)  Many of us met her for the first time in The Little White Horse (winner of the 1946 Carnegie Medal) and Linnets and Valerians when we were little:  we lost ourselves in the magic of the stories she wove and were totally at home with her because she could see things through a child’s eyes, something that she never lost the gift of.  And we found her again as adults in novels that were brimming over with magic of another kind – that of forgiveness and God’s grace.

          Elizabeth is a spiritual writer first and foremost:  she does not preach, just kindly and quietly follows her characters on their quests for truth and redemption, and that is where the power in her novels lie.  The soul mattered immensely to her – not just because she was a clergyman’s daughter but because she, a well-read free-thinking woman (one of her novels, The Middle Window, deals with reincarnation), was on a similar pilgrimage.  Her novels reflect that.  Her characters suffer, lose heart, lose their way, and sometimes even die.  What matters is that they find their soul-truth; ultimately, it is their spiritual triumph that matters.
          Elizabeth, who was so very open when it came to matters of the soul, was very reserved about her heart.   There is a brief reference in her memoir The Joy of Snow to a love affair when she was a young woman…glimmers of it in her novels…and a strong sense that this is a writer who knows all the shapes that love can take and who empathizes with her characters accordingly.  But that is all. So, for the purpose of this novel, I have put forward a theory of my own, one that I believe is in keeping with both the woman and the writer.  I think that Elizabeth would have understood.


Gwynn Rogers said...

I am not familiar with Elizabeth Goudge's books, but I love the person and her mindset that you present. I believe she would be deeply touched by your words. You present such delightful women of character here. Thank you.

T. J. Banks said...

Thank you, Gwynn. Goudge is a multi-faceted writer -- both spiritual and grounded -- and I find myself returning to her whenever I'm feeling a little lost or at loose ends. I may post a little of that work-in-progress here later on.

Samantha Mozart said...

How did I miss this post? Only by reading your newly posted "The Joy of Story: Elizabeth Goudge, Part II," have I come upon it, T.J. I must read Elizabeth Goudge now. I recall your recommending her to be earlier. And, her stories seem like the type I loved reading as a child (or now as an adult). And, ditto what Gwynn says above. What a compelling introduction to the story that follows. Please keep at it, see it through. I cannot wait to read the rest.

T. J. Banks said...

Thanks, Samantha. Goudge is one of my go-to writers whenever things seem a little bit off: somehow she always puts my world back in balance. She had/has that gift. You would love her work.