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"The White Witch" by Elizabeth Goudge

annis
Bibliomaniac

"The White Witch" by Elizabeth Goudge

Postby annis » Wed December 30th, 2009, 11:34 pm

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After her mother’s long illness and death, Elizabeth Goudge moved with a companion to a seventeenth-century cottage in the English Chilterns, Here she found peace and balm for her spirit. Goudge was a manic-depressive personality. Several times during her life she went through major episodes of dark depression, and experienced at other times great exultation. As she was by upbringing a High Church Anglican, she naturally saw her experiences in terms of Christian mysticism; the powers of dark and light, good and evil, her moments of ecstacy as manifestations of God's grace. Her struggle to comprehend God’s will, though alien to many today, would have been instantly recognizable to those living in seventeenth-century England. The agonising questions of conscience, faith, and whether kingship was divinely ordained lay at the heart of the conflict that would tear England apart.

In her autobiography “Joy of the Snow” Goudge writes of Rose Cottage and its ghost, the inspiration for “White Witch”, which is set in England during the early years of the Civil War period, and concludes after the restoration of Charles II to the English throne. Once, when speaking to a visitor to the cottage, she turned and pointed down Dog Lane to a hedgerow that divided it from a meadow, and said, "When I first moved here in the 1950's, I saw Froniga step through that hedge. Then she disappeared before my eyes. I never saw her again."

Froniga Haslewood is the white witch of the title, a wise-woman of two worlds, skilled in herb-craft and healing and gifted with unusual powers. She is not necessarily the main protagonist of the story, but she is its central point, the person who links all the other characters, both Puritan and Royalist. Froniga is the result of an impetuous, loving marriage between the son of a local squire and a Romanichal woman, a gypsy of the Heron clan. Froniga is a strong, independent woman of striking beauty, protected, as are her gypsy relatives, by the current squire, her cousin Robert. A place of safety is rare for the gypsy tribe, whose nomadic life is dogged by suspicion, persecution and violence.

Robert has recently espoused the Puritan cause, under the auspices of his patron, Lord Hampden, but unknown to him two Royalist spies are at work in his demesne; Froniga’s love, Yoben, a mysterious, tormented man adopted by the gypsies, and Francis, Lord Leyland, a Catholic nobleman posing as a journeyman portrait painter. The fates of both spies become inextricably entwined with each other's, and with the lives of the Haslewood family.

Despite being set during a time of war, “White Witch” is a novel about spiritual conflict and redemption rather than military action, though we do see battle several times from both Parliamentarian and Royalist points of view, through the eyes of Robert Haslewood and Francis, Lord Leyland - most notably, the first major battle of the Civil War at Edgehill. We also see many of the leading figures of the day; King Charles and Queen Henrietta Maria, the dashing, ruthless Prince Rupert, driven to frustration by the King’s cautious advisors, and the Parliamentarians, Lord Hampden and his cousin Oliver Cromwell amongst them.

Most of the story takes place around a small English village in rural Oxfordshire, one like many others, with its church and squire’s manor house. As the tide of war ebbs and flows, its inhabitants must deal with the changes it brings and look within themselves for strength and courage.

Goudge writes of this small world in vivid, luminous prose. Her descriptions of the natural world are redolent with divine mystery which at times verges on the pagan- the hand of the Goddess can be seen in the woodland spring which brings comfort and never runs dry, the unicorn which appears as a premonition of death in the Haslewood family and in the beneficent moonlight which blesses Froniga and her gypsy aunt, Madona. For the most part though, this is very much a Christian story about sacrifice of self for the good of the soul; the difficult but necessary business of offering up both joy and despair to God, subsuming all to His will and mercy and setting free the shining spirit which remains when all else is stripped away. Some may find the religious sentiment behind “White Witch” cloying, and its pace slow, but it is nonetheless a magically evocative tale, full of warmth and humanity and written with great charm.

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A photo of Elizabeth Goudge sitting on the rim of Froniga's Well in her garden at Rose Cottage, in Peppard Common.

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Rose Cottage when EG moved there in the early 1950s. Although after Goudge's death the cottage was damaged by fire and then modernised, it still exists as it was in the descriptions of Froniga's house in "White Witch"
Last edited by annis on Thu July 22nd, 2010, 8:27 pm, edited 25 times in total.

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Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Thu December 31st, 2009, 12:07 am

Thanks Annis, I have this one sitting on the table waiting for me. Tell me, is Heron that common of a name that here is one more author using the family name writing about that period? Annette Motley, Pamela Belle and now Goudge.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Thu December 31st, 2009, 1:12 am

I'm not sure about Motley's and Belle's derivations, Misfit, but Heron was a common gypsy surname:

"Gypsy names include many non-gypsy surnames but these are common - Boswell, Buckland, Faa or Faw, Hearne or Heron, Lee, Lovell, Smith, Wood and Young"

The Heron name is an aristocratic one dating from the Norman Conquest. The Heron family were granted lands in Northumberland iby William the Conqueror in reward for assistance at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and certainly there were Royalist members of the Heron family involved in the Civil Wars, see below:

The Baronetcy of Heron of Chipchase was created on 20 November 1662 in the Baronetage of England by Charles II for Cuthbert Heron of Chipchase Castle, Northumberland.

Heron of Chipchase, Chipchase Castle
The Heron family acquired the Manor of Chipchase by the marriage of Walter Heron to the Chipchase heiress. He built a massive four storey battlemented tower house on the site of an earlier house in the mid 1300s. A survey in 1541 described a 'fare tower' with a 'manor of stone joined thereto' owned by John Heron.

In 1621 Cuthbert Heron (High Sheriff of Northumberland in 1625) demolished the house and built a fine Jacobean mansion, leaving the tower standing and attached to the new house. His first son George was killed at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644 in the service of Charles I. His second son Cuthbert was created a Baronet by Charles II, but he experienced financial problems which eventually led to the sale of the estate by the Herons early in the 18th century.

There is a theory that some groups of gypsies adopted the surnames of powerful families who gave them protection, and that the Heron clan was one of these.

"Some Gypsy tribes took on English surnames, and for the most part of a highly aristocratic character, and it seems at first surprising that people so poor and despised as Gypsies should be found bearing names so time-honoured and imposing. There is, however, a tolerable explanation of the matter in the supposition that on their first arrival in England the different tribes sought the protection of certain grand powerful families, and were permitted by them to locate themselves on their heaths and amid their woodlands, and that they eventually adopted the names of their patrons"
(Source: "Romano Lavo-Lil Word-book of the Romany" by George Borrow, 1905)


We mentioned this book on another thread and that inspired me to give "White Witch' a re-read after many years. As it was first published in 1958 it does have a slightly old-fashioned air about it, but the fact that it was reprinted in 2005 speaks for its ongoing appeal.
Last edited by annis on Thu December 31st, 2009, 8:33 pm, edited 12 times in total.

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Fri October 1st, 2010, 5:20 am

I've been wanting to try something by Elizabeth Goudge for a while; just today I picked up The White Witch from the library. I'm looking forward to it (although I was a little surprised at how thick it is)! Thanks for the tidbits about Goudge, also. She sounds like an interesting person. She never married or had children?

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Mello
Reader
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Postby Mello » Fri October 1st, 2010, 7:51 am

Very nice review, Annis.

I still have my copy of Green Dolphin Country that was presented to me in 1971 for 1st prize in Mathematics! Can’t get rid of it, because it has my name emblazoned inside the cover. The story did make an impresson, but for the life of me, can’t remember whether I liked the book or not. I do remember though that she was fond of making profound statements about the human spirit so perhaps it went over my teenage head.

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Fri October 1st, 2010, 7:53 am

Posted by Michy
She sounds like an interesting person. She never married or had children?


If you do find you enjoy her work, it's well worth tracking down her delightful autobiography, Joy of the Snow. She hints at a love affair which didn't work out, and which may have contributed to one of her periods of depression, but she ended up taking the role of nurse and companion to her ailing mother for many years, which didn't leave her many opportunities for relationships. Despite the warmth expressed in her stories she also seemed to be a very private person who felt rather shy and uncomfortable in social situations.
Last edited by annis on Fri October 1st, 2010, 9:32 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Sun October 17th, 2010, 8:16 pm

I started The White Witch -- just read a few pages and could tell that it's not for me right now. I think I may try Green Dolphin Country- it sounds like that is generally her most popular work. If I like that, then I may try The White Witch again at a later time.

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Mon October 18th, 2010, 7:23 am

I wonder if you might find Child from the Sea more to your taste- the story of Lucy Walters, mother of Charles II"s illegitimate son, James, Duke of Monmouth.

Misfit did a review somewhere - here it is
http://www.historicalfictiononline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2596&highlight=child+goudge

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Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Wed October 27th, 2010, 3:20 pm

I've just started The Scent of Water -- I read some of the reviews on Amazon and it sounded like something I would like. I'll let you know......

chuck
Bibliophile
Location: Ciinaminson NJ

Postby chuck » Wed October 27th, 2010, 3:37 pm

annis....as always your reviews are terrific....I found out about Ms.Goudge after watching the film GDS which is based on her book.....Amazing amount of novels written by her....I really appreciate authors who have a gentile manner writing style....Yes; slow and plodding at times....but so charmingly interesting and full of precious historic nuances....Thanks


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