Elizabeth Goudge’s children’s novels have many admirers, but our reading group found her adult novels pretty heavy-going.
Jane wrote of The White Witch: ‘Oh dear! I was ploughing through it but it’s like trying to swim in treacle. Heady with simile, smeared with cloying descriptions, dobbed all over with an overdose of adjectives and adverbs – it;s a read too far for me, I’m afraid.’
Oh dear indeed. As we compared our novels we found a clear pattern. The story begins with an unhappy, fractured or disfunctional family. Through the course of the novel, often through a series of unlikely coincidences, this family will be healed. As Margaret comments below, there is a strong Christian sense that everyone can be redeemed – and overlaying this story there will be the beauty of the natural landscape, and above all, flowers.
Review by Margaret B:
The arrival of a stranger in a small village is the catalyst for an unhappy family – a vicar, his wife, their three small children and an aged great aunt, to face up to their problems and do something about them. At the same time the girls’ very bad private day school tries to improve too. It emerges that the stranger is not that strange to one of the characters and some painful memories emerge.
For a modern reader this book may be too sentimental, too moral, too twee with everything working out for almost everyone in just six weeks!
An example of the twee-ness is one of the men, remembering how he could hide in a foxglove flower when he had needed to feel safe as a child. There is a bit too much coincidence going on when it emerges that the stranger is the ex-lover that abandoned the Vicar’s wife before she married the vicar on the rebound.
Yet I found it had a real gentle charm, a magical quality framed by the spring flowers, bird song and the almost all pervasive smell of violets that pervade it. There was an overwhelming and no doubt very Christian sense that no sins are too awful, everyone can be redeemed and there is always hope. It bordered on the preachy and sanctimonious but for me its quaint rural Englishness, its flawed but basically good eccentric characters, its lively descriptions of the characters inner lives worked – I think!
Anyway, I could not put it down even though others may well find it all too much.