Elizabeth Goudge

April 2, 2012

If your house were on fire, what books in your house would you rush to save? After I grabbed an armload of baby pictures, the next thing on my list would be the books of a dead British author named Elizabeth Goudge. 

Many years ago I was invited to speak at a small Anglican church on "How to Make Children Love Books." After I spoke the pastor and his wife came up and asked me why I didn't mention Elizabeth Goudge.

I said "Who is Elizabeth Goudge?"

They could not believe I did not know who she was! The whole group gathered around me sharing titles of their favorites of hers. Soon after that I went to the library and began my search. The first book I read was The Heart of the Family. I was hooked! Goudge combined deep spiritual truth with gifted storytelling and exceptional character development. She knew how to create characters that the reader would genuinely care about.  

Because nearly all of her books are out of print, I haunted libraries and used bookstores for her titles. Friends and family know what I want for Christmas, and have to be willing to pay the big bucks for some of her out of print titles. I keep them together in their sacred little bookshelf and I do not loan them to anyone, ever. I have begun building a collection for JJ's precious wife and she seems to be enjoying them as well.

So who is this woman with the cult following? She was born in Somerset, England on April 24, 1900. Her father was a theologian in the Church of England who eventually taught at Oxford University. Because of his profession she was raised in various cathedral cities in England. Her mother came from a prominent French family from the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Elizabeth was educated at home (can you tell?) and grew up with a beautiful combination of her mother's gifted storytelling and her father's deep spirituality. 

Although she never married, Goudge had a very rich and fulfilled life. She began by teaching art and design from her home and published her first novel at the age of 34. She continued to be a very prolific author until she died on April 1, 1984 at the age of 83. In her obituary the London Times actually compared her to Jane Austen! Her innocence and honesty offered an edifying alternative to society in the despairing years surrounding World War II. 

Although I have enjoyed nearly all of her books, my personal favorites are her children's books. Among them A City of Bells, The Blue Hills, and her masterpiece The Little White Horse which earned the 1947 Carnegie Medal for outstanding children's fiction in the U.K.

When it comes to her adult literature some of her don't-miss books would be The Rosemary Tree, The Scent of Water, and The Castle on the Hill. However, my favorite of her many adult books would be The Heart of the Family trilogy. The trilogy is comprised of three books starting with The Bird in the Tree (1940), Pilgrim's Inn (1948), and The Heart of the Family (1953). These books trace the life of Lucilla Elliot and her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. The stories are woven around the history of their family home, Damerosehay. This seaside home was a symbol of all that WWII was fought for: stability, safety, continuity, and integrity. Lucilla is a prayer warrior and the heartbeat of the family. In collusion with God, she gently pulls the strings of her family's lives, guiding them in the paths of righteousness. 

The mark of a book being worth reading is whether you would want to read it more than once. I can honestly say that I have read all of these books multiple times and never tire of the depths of their riches. These are books to hoard for your grandchildren, in anticipation of the day they are old enough to share them with you. 
 

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