Whom Should You Read after Dodie Smith? I Say Elizabeth Goudge

An illustration from the Folio Society edition of I Capture the Castle

Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and The New Moon with the Old are incomparably charming.  I often reread favorite scenes:  the scene in I Capture the Castle where Rose and Cassandra are mistaken for bears because they are wearing their late aunt’s unfashionable antique fur coats; and the scene in The New Moon with the Old where Clare  jokes that the only job she is qualified for is “king’s mistress,” because she has read so many Dumas novels.

But whom do you read after Dodie Smith?

I have turned to Elizabeth Goudge, another witty, spellbinding storyteller of the 20th century.  You don’t see her books anymore, but our public library still has her enchanting children’s novel, The Little White Horse, which won the Carnegie Medal for British Children’s Books in 1946.  The first Goudge I read was her adult novel, Green Dolphin Street, which is a bit like Gone with the Wind set in New Zealand; it won the Literary Guild Award in 1944 and was adapted as a film.  (I’d love to see the film.)

I recently reread A City of Bells, set in Torminster, a Cathedral town based on Wells in the UK.  I thoroughly enjoyed this well-written novel, with its sharp dialogue and lyrical descriptions of the city.  One of the main characters, Jocelyn Irvin,  has been physically and psychologically damaged in the Boer War.  He has no vocation, so he goes to Torminster to stay with his grandfather, a canon of the cathedral. And while there he falls in love with Felicity, a gorgeous, charming actress who is visiting her aunt.  Due to the influence of Felicity and Grandfather, he opens a bookshop.  And there he finishes the manuscript of a poem by the former tenant;  he and Felicity produce it as a play in London.  When Jocelyn goes to London for rehearsals,  Grandfather runs the bookshop.

I know this quote will make you laugh.

…Joceylyn was obliged to leave the shop to the care of Grandfather, the children, and Miss Lavendar on at least three days a week … Grandmother was outraged … That she should live to see her own husband on the wrong side of a counter was really the last straw in a married life strewn with straws.  “A Canon of the Cathedral serving in a shop,” she said indignantly to Jocelyn.  “I never heard of such a thing in my whole life.  What the Dean thinks I don’t know and don’t want to know.  And what your poor Grandfather, who has never, let me tell you, been able to subtract a penny from three-halfpence since the day he was born, gives in the way of change I’m sure I don’t know.”

I am surprised at how well Goudge’s books have stood up. Some passages are Dickensian, some are graceful, others sentimental.  My favorite Goudge is The Scent of Water, a  novel about a professional woman in London who inherits a house in the country from a relative she saw only once as a child. When she decides to move there, friends tell her it’s a bad decision, but she comes to terms with herself as a person rather than as a financially successful woman without a personal life

What is your favorite comfort book?  And whom do you read after Dodie Smith?

12 thoughts on “Whom Should You Read after Dodie Smith? I Say Elizabeth Goudge

  1. My favourite comfort book is 84 Charing Cross Road. When I’m having a bad day I like to be in the company of someone who has the same priorities in life as I do. I’ve read Goudge’s work for children, but not her adult fiction. I doubt if our library system will have any. I shall have to search elsewhere.

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  2. I usually read more Dodie Smith! But I might well turn to Goudge – my favourite is The Rosemary Tree – or if I want something short and genuinely sweet, perhaps L.M. Boston’s Green Knowe books, or her 2 volumes of autobiography. Mary Wesley can be a good choice too. I also have two more recent comfort read authors: Joyce Windsor, who wrote a quartet of books set around the time of WW2 (they start with A Mislaid Magic) and Victoria Clayton who, writes about the late 60s/early 70s but loved a world that was disappearing, and wrote witty charming novels which often have country house settings. She’s got me through some bleak times!

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    • Dodie Smith is the most charming writer ever! You mention some books I don’t know, which I am eagerly copying in my Planner. (Do I think if I write the titles in my Planner I’ll be able to find them all???) I adore Mary Wesley, didn’t know L. M. Boston had an autobiography, and have never heard of Joyce Windsor or Victoria Clayton, They sound like my cup of tea. Thank you!

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  3. i am toying with the idea of reading Goudge’s Green Dolphin Street for Simon’s Stuck in a Book 1944 club coming in October. However it is in competition with a reread of Walker’s Winter Wheat (read a long time ago) and a first time read of Cluny Brown (Sharp). I dont have the Sharp, so may just read the ones i have! 1944 was a surprisingly rich year for novels, what with the War still going on and no end in sight, creating may have been a resistance! I nagged my parents mercilessly for Goudge’s Child from the Water as a Christmas present and recall it distantly as quite good although that was when I was in my historical novel period, wonder how it would stand up today (it was about Lucy Walter, possible first wife and certainly “girl friend” of young Charles Stuart before the Restoration).

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  4. Gina, I have never gone back to Goudge’s Child from the Water but I did enjoy it so much. A friend and I pooled our allowances so we could buy it! I’d better add that Green Dolphin Country, the British edition, was published in 1944 but our American edition, Green Dolphin Street, may have been published a bit later. But anyway 1944 is the real date. P.S. I have read some Mildred Walker but not Winter Wheat! Oh, and I would send you my Cluny Brown, but you’d have to be forewarned that it’s a bit dingy, one of the old hardbacks I picked up at a sale!

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  5. Elizabeth Goudge was one of my mother’s favorite writers. I never thought they were intellectual or exciting enough for me. But I’m finding myself drawn to mid-20th century novels like hers. I read The Dean’s Watch a few years ago and liked it. I’ve just put a slew of Goudge’s books in my ‘cart’ at the library.

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    • She does have a distinctive style, and I do like her books, but you’re right: she is not intellectual! Capuchin Classics reissued a copy of Green Dolphin Street, and because they were a respected small press I decided it was all right to read her again!

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