Time has a way of eroding the sharp edges of a story. Details become foggy and the setting becomes indistinct. Fully alive, three-dimensional characters may lose their identity in stereotype, becoming mere placeholders in their own story.
This was the case for Lucy Walter, the heroine in Elizabeth Goudge’s Child from the Sea. Born in 17th century Wales, Lucy met the young prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and young love blossomed. History has cast Lucy in the role of Charles II’s mistress, but Goudge dove into the historical record and reached a different conclusion:
What if the lore that Lucy and Charles had been secretly married is true?
In a context in which the dalliances of royalty were accepted as a matter of course and the marriage of a royal to a commoner was so unthinkable that Lucy would have been without recourse if the young king had been advised to renounce the connection.
Read New Books. Read Old Books.
Published in 1970, The Child from the Sea is part of my 2018 intention to read more fiction and to make time for older books alongside the new. C.S. Lewis offered this advice to readers: “I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old.” Clayton Kraby of the Reasonable Theology blog has applied that advice to his own personal formula: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”
Without sounding like “an old book” author, Elizabeth Goudge has anchored Lucy’s story in a Christian world view against continually shifting geography and through the introduction of well-developed, often deeply flawed, but heart-warming characters. Vivid description and dialogue, and the use of charming Welch terms transport the reader to the banks of “Brandy Cwm” as characters breakfast on “a bit of bara ceich and a drink of buttermilk.” Superstition and the darkness of theological error plagued clergy and laity alike in this era when religious loyalties shifted according to who was on the throne, and citizens did time in The Tower for landing on the wrong side of the high church/low church see-saw.
Every Life is Shrouded in Mystery
Blogger Jody Lee Collins has written a biographical post on Elizabeth Goudge and shared what I also noticed — that “sacrifice, kindness, faithfulness and selflessness are just a few of the many biblical themes woven through the characters and story in Goudge’s work.” And while exploring the thought-provoking and inspiring elements of story-telling, Elizabeth also included intriguing descriptions that set the story firmly in time and place. For instance, did you know that the winding staircases in castles at that time were built with a “trip step,” a step that was “shallower than the rest so that a man running up the stairs with evil intent would stumble at it and give warning of his approach.” Goudge won the Carnegie Award in 1947 for The Little White Horse, J.K. Rowling’s favorite children’s book, so even though I am arriving late to the party, clearly others have been enjoying Elizabeth Goudge’s considerable writing talent for a long time.
With careful research and considerable grace, Child from the Sea is a masterful tale woven around a life that was shrouded in mystery. The words of Proverbs 14:10 are undoubtedly true: “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.” And yet, through skillfully written stories, we are able to inhabit the heartaches and the joy of an other person to a small degree, and perhaps, through this, we are better equipped to face our own real-life sorrows with greater grace and to celebrate the joys that come with greater gratitude.
Many thanks to Hendrickson Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
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Thank you, as always, for reading and for your continual encouragement,
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