Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Smoky-House by Elizabeth Goudge

This is the first Elizabeth Goudge book I've read. I'd been told to read a book of hers, without passing “Go” or collecting $200, and by good hap I had picked this one up a few months ago.
Smoky-House was written for children, so I don't know how well it represents the body of Goudge's work. Personally, I found it adorable and so did my little sister.
The little West Country village of Faraway is a happy place where nobody is ever truly angry or wicked. At Smoky-House, the village inn, lives John Treguddick and his five children: Jessamine, who keeps house for them all; Genefer, who is shy and plain; Tristram and Michael, who long to see the Good People; and little Jane, who is dreadfully naughty. They are ably cared for by their sagacious dogs Spot and Sausage and Jane's bad-tempered donkey Mathilda.
All the children are dreadfully afraid of The-Man-With-The-Red-Handkerchief, the most notorious highway-robber and smuggler in that part of the world. But even he may not be as bad as the stranger who comes to stay at Smoky-House Inn at the beginning of this story: a Fiddler who plays the most beautiful music the people of Faraway have ever heard, but who smells of cruelty and unhappiness. When the Fiddler's schemes threaten the happiness of Faraway, it's up to the children, the dogs, and the Good People to save the day.
I thought Smoky-House was an unusual book. It is set in the milieu of red-coats, French brandy and lace, young love, and danger so familiar and beloved to all those of us who enjoy a good West-Country smuggling yarn. The Highwayman, Jamaica Inn, and even a dash of Treasure Island or Puck of Pook's Hill is recognisable here. What makes Smoky-House different is a streak of fancifulness: all the characters are 100% lovable, and angels, mer-people, talking animals, and fairies intervene to make sure nothing bad happens.
I might find this objectionable. After all, even with Divine Providence caring for us (and one of the clearest themes of this book is that God cares for and helps all His creatures) life will not always be as happy and idyllic as life in Faraway. “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.” Romans 5:3-4.
Now I said I might find this objectionable...but I don't. It's just something to be aware of and I believe that the very strong fancifulness in the rest of the book (the mer-people, the sentient animals that save the day, &c) is strong enough to make it apparent that this is a fantasy world unlike the real world where things do go wrong regularly.
As for the world of Smoky-House, it is a sweet confection of a story which would be almost unbearable if it wasn't for the writer's gentle wit, and the inclusion of some hilarious characters, especially the naughty Jane:
Jessamine,” said Tristram, “may I pray to God for a white mouse?”
Jessamine hesitated. “I don't really like mice about the house,” she said.
But I'd keep it in control,” said Tristram. “I'd keep it in my pocket always. It wouldn't get about the house.”
Very well,” said Jessamine.
Dear God,” prayed Tristram, “please may I have a white mouse. Amen.”
I would like a doll from France,” said Jane, and without waiting for permission from Jessamine she prayed, “God, I'll have a doll from France,” and gave Michael another kick.
While little girls might get the most fun out of this delightful story, I loved it too, and I'll definitely be looking for more Goudge books—in the libraries and op shops of Melbourne, since they are still within copyright.

Elizabeth Goudge on Wikipedia
The Elizabeth Goudge Society


marmie said...

I'm so glad you liked it! Thanks for the review... The only one I have out of storage is Rosemary Tree - I'll send it to you but (unless I find another copy in the meantime) I may want it back someday... ;D

Suzannah said...

Oh, don't worry about that!!! I am a member of FIVE different libraries, so if I can't find it in one of those something is terribly wrong.

In fact I think for my next Goudge I shall borrow "The Dean's Watch" and the two other books in that series from Deakin Library and let you know what I think...


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