Saturday 26 November 2022

Elizabeth Goudge - by Sue Purkiss and (mostly) Carol Lefevre

 A few weeks ago, I was in Wells, my nearest (very small) city, when, walking past this beautiful house, I noticed a blue plaque on the wall outside it. As you see, Elizabeth Goudge once lived here. 

People don't talk about Elizabeth Goudge much these days. But I remember reading some of her books years ago and thoroughly enjoying them: Green Dolphin Country was one, and The Dean's Watch was another. I'd always imagined the setting of the latter to be Wells, but I didn't realise that it actually was.

I decided I should find out more about her, realising that I knew practically nothing. Then a few days later, imagine my surprise when an email dropped into my inbox about a new book, a sequel to another of Goudge's books - one I remember my daughter loved listening to: The Little White Horse. Would I be interested in hosting a blog post by the author of the book? Yes, I most certainly would.

Here it is - and it's fascinating. Many thanks to Carol, and to Emily Beater for arranging.


When The Last Page of a Cherished Book is Not The End

Carol Lefevre

By writing a sequel to a famous, prize-winning, classic children’s book, I may appear to have come to children’s literature via a sneaky back door, but I can promise, hand on heart, that from start to finish The Silver Moth was a labour of love. When I began writing it, I was so carried away with my plan that I hadn’t even realised I would need permission. However, I quickly learned that I couldn’t just return to Moonacre many years after the original book was set (by which time Maria Merryweather had grown up and become a sprightly, still-elegant grandmother) to begin my own telling of what took place there during the First World War.

With this realisation began the process of approaching the Trustees of Elizabeth Goudge’s Estate for their blessing, which in time I received. And it was a great thrill to be given this chance, because as a child The Little White Horse had been more to me than a book: it was a private world I partly lived in.

I think what affected me most as a child reader was the romance of the room that belonged to the orphaned Maria MerryweatherI don’t know how many times I read the chapter in which she is introduced to her tower bedroom with its child-sized door, its vaulted ceiling that culminates in a sickle moon and stars, but it worked its magic on me then, and it still has power over me now.

In those days my family lived in remote parts of Australia. Photographs from that time show that the houses we occupied were plain, and there were few luxuries. Playmates, too, were scarce, so books became my friends. As a solitary child, pets were also valued companions, and I was quick to bond with Elizabeth Goudge’s enchanted animal characters.

The Little White Horse and I became inseparable, for with Elizabeth Goudge’s love of beautiful places and her genius for detail, she had conjured another world for me, one in which houses and food and clothing were never utilitarian but were transformed by her pen into a kind of poetry. When you love a book, and inhabit it thoroughly, it becomes part of you, and the last page is never really the end.


Born in England in 1900 in the cathedral city of Wells, Elizabeth Goudge was twelve years younger than Virginia Woolf, though from her writing she might have been a good deal older. Her father was a theologian and her mother a native of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, and the combination of this with being an only child seems to have instilled in the young Elizabeth the Edwardian sensibility she would retain for the rest of her life.

A theologian’s genteel daughter she may have been, but it is inconceivable that, as a female novelist writing in the early 20th century, Elizabeth Goudge did not read Virginia Woolf. In 1928 She may even have attended Woolf’s Cambridge lectures at Newnham and Girton Colleges that would be published the following year as A Room of One’s Own.  What convinces me of this is that in her own quiet way Elizabeth Goudge made such rooms a real possibility for both her female heroines and her readers.

Not only did Maria Merryweather take ownership of the room with the sickle moon and stars, but in Linnets and Valerians, written twenty years after The Little White Horse, Nan Linnet, a classic Goudge heroine – brave, sweet-natured, adventurous and yet reflective – becomes the recipient of a perfect little parlour. And it was through such gifts that readers like me (still too young to have heard of Virginia Woolf) began to dream of something for ourselves that, until then, would have seemed an impossible extravagance.

Elizabeth Goudge wrote The Little White Horse through the dark days of the Second World War. It was said to be her own favourite of her books, and perhaps this was because of the escape that writing it must have provided her from the awfulness of daily life at that time. As it turns out, daily life in our own time is no less alarming, and we could all still do with a good dash of magic.

What better place to adjourn to then than a valley where a unicorn still lingers? Throw in a gathering of gypsies, a little aeroplane hidden in a farmer’s field, and a forbidding castle that a young heroine must brave alone for the noblest of reasons. Although The Silver Moth is set during the First World War and does not ignore its immense darkness, there is still plenty of loveliness at Moonacre. I hope it will bring new readers to The Little White Horse, and that in time it will become well-loved for its own magic.


The Silver Moth, a sequel to The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge, was published by SPCK on the 23rd September 2022, and is available to purchase here 

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

If you haven't read City of Bells yet, do! It is set in Wells.