I began my journey with Elizabeth Goudge by reading A City of Bells. The story is set in a cathedral town, the fictional Torminster (though it is assumed that Goudge's own cathedral home town of Wells is the inspiration). The protagonist, Jocelyn Irvin, has been injured in war and he comes to live with his grandfather, who is a canon at the cathedral. Though elderly, Jocelyn's grandparents have taken in two young children. One is their grandchild, Hugh Anthony, and the other is a delightful orphan named Henrietta. These people and others in the town help Jocelyn to heal from his war wounds and grow as a person. He soon becomes the town bookseller.
When reading A City of Bells, I couldn't help but drawing comparisons to Gene Stratton Porter's Keeper of the Bees. In both books a man is recovering from both the mental and physical wounds of war and a young girl plays an important role in helping him see life around him. As a reader, both books allowed me to see the beauty of life all around us and the kindness that we are capable of showing one another.
A City of Bells is the first book in the Torminster Saga, but it is also considered the first book in Goudge's Cathedral Trilogy. Because I very much enjoyed the peaceful setting of a Goudge's cathedral town, I chose to read the books in the Cathedral Trilogy. As you can see from the picture above, I chose beautifully packaged editions of the Cathedral Trilogy from Hodder & Stroughton.
The second book in the Cathedral Trilogy is Towers in the Mist, which takes place in Oxford in the late sixteenth-century. Once again, the family of a canon is at the center of the story. The story also includes wonderful historical figures. I was so pleased when the poor character Faithful and the children of the canon's family accidentally wander into Edmund Campion's Catholic chapel. Other historical figures include Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester), Walter Raleigh, Philip Sidney and even Queen Elizabeth I herself. But perhaps more charming than the presence of historical figures is Goudge's use of the time periods own myths to enrich the story. Towers in the Mist even has its own changeling.
The final book in the Cathedral Trilogy is The Dean's Watch. This final book would be on my list of all-time favorite reads and I would especially recommend it for anyone who serves in ministry. The book follows the dean of the cathedral, who is a good man, but has a dignified distance from the people he is supposed to serve and is typically feared by those people. We see his journey to becoming a better servant of God. Part of his journey is his friendship with a clockmaker, whose father was very much a fire and brimstone minister and made the clockmaker fear anything to do with God or the church.
In The Dean's Watch, Goudge provides wonderful contrasts in characters that allow us to see that joy often does not come from what we might expect. The clockmaker's sister, Emma, is perhaps the most joyless character in the book and is depressed by things such as having a small house and being "weighed down by the perennial sorrow of having no dining room." The orphan girl Emma has acquired as a servant is described as the "possibly the happiest person in the city," who finds herself feeling sorry for the gentry due to all their worries.
Perhaps the most amazing character in the book is Miss Montague. As a child, Miss Montague's brother broke her leg by pushing her down stairs and it left her essentially crippled. Initially, Miss Montague expects to marry and live a life similar to that of her siblings, but she soon realizes that her family believes she could never be married off. She felt (and probably was) quite unloved by her family. But rather than succumbing to pity for herself, Miss Montague came to believe "that she, unloved, should love." She loved her siblings and their children better than anyone else could love them. She loved everyone in town by listening to them as no one else would and they all sought her out. It is said of Miss Montague, "Those upon whom her eyes rested immediately thought the world of themselves, for it was obvious that she saw with one glance all the good in them to which their own families seemed so strangely blind." It is Miss Montague who instigates the friendship between the dean and the watchmaker that would so change both of their lives.
These books by Elizabeth Goudge make me strive to be a better person. I strongly recommend all three books.