Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: The Middle Window

goudgeI have been a lover of Elizabeth Goudge’s novels since I encountered them in England at about the age of twelve. I have written reviews of eleven of her novels on my blog, most of them works I’ve read again and again: Linnets and Valerians, the Damerosehay trilogy, Green Dolphin Street, The White Witch, and more. She is one of my most beloved authors, someone I turn to when I want comfort, or inspiration, or refreshment; someone I turn to when I’m tired, or sick, or happy. I’ve given her books to more friends than I can count, and defended her against accusations of writing purple prose or against writing unearned happy endings.

I value so many things about Goudge’s writing. She is a lover of nature, both domestic (her gardens are some of the loveliest things about her books) and wild (oceans, mountains, and fens are some of the untamed things you’ll find when you read.) Her descriptions are fresh and real. Indoors, she’s also a lover of families. She knows how families really work — the way you can love someone deeply and also not be able to stand them another minute — and she is one of the best authors I know about for including every generation, the very old as well as the very young, as real living participants in her stories. She doesn’t leave out the beloved animals of families, either: dogs (usually dogs) and cats and donkeys and birds all have parts to play. This is, of course, really the way it is in our lives, but tell me the last book you read that was like it.

Goudge is a Christian, which comes out in most of her stories, but there are strong pagan overtones in many of her books — The White Witch, for instance — and she has an appreciation for other religions. Her books have a freshness to them, because they are serious and yet loving: yes, the world can wear you down, but there are springs of joy to refresh you even in deep pain. She writes about such themes as discipline, healing, and growth through suffering. But don’t let me make them sound like downers! She is often, also, quietly amusing, quick-witted, and very knowing about the way real people operate. Her novels interweave legend and myth and reflect her spirituality and her deep love of family and England.

middle windowTo participate in this week’s post, I read a novel that is new to me, The Middle Window. It was the second novel she wrote, published in 1934. It’s the story of a young socialite, Judy Cameron, who has an emotional epiphany when she sees a painting of a Scottish glen: that is her place, and she must find it. Improbably, she does find it, and drags her unwilling parents and fiance with her to spend the summer there. The rest is a high-drama story involving, of all things, hints of reincarnation, and Judy’s growing relationship with a handsome laird who is spending his life trying to help the impoverished Highlanders.

This, unfortunately, is the first book by Elizabeth Goudge I have ever wished I hadn’t read. I disliked Judy Cameron heartily. What does she think she is doing, forcing her poor long-suffering parents and perfectly-nice fiance to go through her nervous breakdown with her, in an unheated Scottish house with no plumbing? What on earth does she mean by sobbing around the house and playing melancholy tunes like the wailing of the whaups? If you’re going to drag everyone to a glen in the back of beyond, at least cheer up and play bridge with them, girl! I liked the Scottish butler Angus (of course it had to be Angus) because he said what he thought, but he was a dreadful caricature. And the descriptions of nature — Skye in particular — were wonderful, but why bring in reincarnation? Ugh.

My very strong advice is to read Elizabeth Goudge for what she is: a mid-century author with a tremendous amount to offer: people so real that sometimes you’ll love them and sometimes you’ll want to shake them. I think she’s marvelous. But don’t start with The Middle Window. Try some of my favorites: The Bird in the Tree, or The Scent of Water, or Linnets and Valerians, and see what you’ve been missing.

This post was written so I could participate in Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week over at Emerald City Books! Do go over there and read some of the other posts!

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12 Responses to Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: The Middle Window

  1. Lisa says:

    I am realizing how many books of hers I have never even heard of! This one is *not* going on my reading list. Your review made me laugh, but it sounds like the book would have the exact opposite effect!

    • Jenny says:

      Well, there are things to laugh at in the book, but it’s mostly just over-the-top melodrama. That’s okay. There are dramatic moments in a lot of her books, it’s just usually much better supported than this. And I’m not opposed to drama (says the Lymond fan)!

  2. Harriet welch says:

    It’s great to find a community of Elizabeth Goudge fans. Thank you so much for bringing her books to the forefront. I too have not read this one, and will move on to others. So good to find a book-sister!

    • Jenny says:

      I agree! That’s one wonderful thing about the Internet — someone has ALWAYS read what you have read, no matter what.

  3. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review says:

    Thanks for alerting us to one book we can cross off our to-read list! : ) Seriously, this was a great appreciation of Goudge’s work as well as a hilarious description of one of her few misfires. Thank you for being a part of Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week.

  4. I read and commented on this post over on Lory’s blog, but I’m here to check out your other EG reviews. She is one of my all-time favorite authors, for all the reasons you give in the first three paragraphs. :-)

    • Jenny says:

      Thank you for stopping by! I appreciate your comments — it’s so lovely to think I’ve still got quite a few of her books left to read!

  5. Eva says:

    I’m so glad you wrote about this, because I read it as my first Goudge and felt distinctly ‘meh.’ Good to know I should try her again!

    • Jenny says:

      I’m pretty sure you’d like her very much, Eva, if you tried the right one. Women take pretty traditional roles in her stories as home-makers, for the most part, so I hope that wouldn’t bother you (it doesn’t bother me.) They are also mostly much the strongest characters!

  6. Sylvia Nair says:

    Thank you for the review! I have read The Scent of Water, The White Witch and Pilgrim’s Inn. And loved all of them- delving into her books is like sitting under the shade of a tree, in a beautiful garden, on a hot summer day. Calming, refreshing, renewing….

    (I knew her birthday was on the 24th of April, but was not aware of the Reading Week).

  7. Theresa says:

    I totally agree with this review, and found this novel to be such a disappointment after enjoying so many of her other ones… but wonder if she had not yet found her ‘voice’ or confidence in writing. In her autobiography (“Joy of the Snow”), Goudge writes about her father handing back her first attempt at a novel with the comment ‘you can make such a little knowledge go such a long way’… it is obvious that she loved her father deeply but I do wonder if his superior intellect inhibited her writing at first? just a thought… regardless, I love her other books and turn to them often, as they are ‘comfort reads’ for me!

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