The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge.
Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge.
The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge.
I read these three related novels in the wrong order. I read Pilgrim’s Inn and reviewed it before I read The Bird in the Tree, the book that begins the saga of the Eliot family and their association with the house, Damerosehay. Then I found a mass market paperback copy of The Heart of the Family at a thrift store for 50 cents, and I brought it home and read it. Each of the three books in the ongoing story was a delight, a joy, and a wonder. I now want to re-read them all in the correct order, just to see what I missed the first time through. But I think I’ll wait a year or so, maybe read them in the winter rather than in the summer, just to see if that changes my appreciation of these novels or my thoughts and feelings about them.
The Bird in the Tree is the story of a man, David Eliot, who has fallen in love with his uncle’s young wife. The wife, Nadine, also loves David Eliot passionately and her own husband, George Eliot, not at all. Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, there are children: sensitive Ben, rambunctious Tommy, and shy diminutive four year old Caroline. And also there is Lucilla Eliot, matriarch of the family, to consider. Lucilla has made the country home, Damrosehay, a sanctuary and a place of community for the Eliots and those who love them. Lucilla, with the help of her spinster daughter Margaret, raised David after the death of his parents during The Great War. And Lucilla will not be pleased with the idea that David and Nadine plan to disregard family ties, tradition, morality, and the children, to follow their own hearts in consummating this love of a lifetime.
Elizabeth Goudge shows how this new “freedom to be true to one’s own heart” is not so new, after all. We hope to call the old adultery and sexual immorality by new names such as “truth” and “beauty” and free love and thereby make them palatable and without negative consequences for family unity and especially for the children. One of the reasons I love this trilogy is that each book, in its own narrative way, shows the falsity of that lie. Sin, whether we call it sin or whether we call it freedom and truth, has its consequences, and the only way to live through the consequences is to accept the suffering and offer it up to God as prayer and sacrifice.
I wrote about Pilgrim’s Inn here. Such a wonderful and romantic story, in the best sense of the latter word. Goudge does not gloss over the difficulties, treacheries, and tragedies inherent in the best of families and the best of marriages. In fact The Heart of the Family makes those deep sorrows vividly clear, and I was reminded that there are many hurts and betrayals that are never completely healed this side of heaven. We fail one another abominably. But one can, with God’s grace and assistance, create a sort of a respite or a haven of home and family to help encourage the weak, cast down the proud, and heal the broken-hearted. I am always interested in the idea (and the ideal) of family and community and how to make those healing connections happen in our very imperfect and broken lives.
I do think the first two books of the trilogy are the best, with the third book trying to say too much with too little story. None of these books is filled with action: people go for walks and drives, have lovely philosophical and theological conversations, make decisions in the middle of the night, and visit each other in the day. They drink a lot of tea, of course, since this is set in merrie old England. Yet some how all the descriptive passages and the long conversational interludes work for the most part. However, I would warn readers that in the third book, The Heart of the Family, Ms. Goudge becomes a little too philosophical/mystical/esoteric for even my tastes. And I like all those things. Nevertheless, if I just kept reading, the story came back and the characters said and did interesting and thought-provoking things, and my own interest in the the novel was renewed.
I highly recommend this series of novels, as well as The Dean’s Watch, The Rosemary Tree, Green Dolphin Street, and Gentian Hill, all novels that I have read and enjoyed by this author. I do believe that this is my Year of Elizabeth Goudge, and I plan to read her children’s book, The Little White Horse, next. Elizabeth Goudge’s writing reminds me a little bit of Madeleine L’Engle’s adult novels, which is high praise for me since Ms. L’Engle is one of my favorites.
In case any of the rest of you want to go on a Goudge binge:
Another review of the trilogy at ShelfLove.
Review of Island Magic by Goudge at Worthwhile Books.
Review of I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth GOudge (a Christmas story) at Worthwhile Books.
The Valley of Song, recommended at Charlotte’s Library.
Little White Horse, recommended by Amy at Hope Is the Word.
Janet at Across the Page on The Little White Horse.
The Scent of Water, reviewed by Janet at Across the Page.
The Dean’s Watch, also at Across the Page.