Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Air Conditioning and Elizabeth Goudge

Air conditioners rattle all over the neighborhood. THR-R-R-UMMMP! Temperature: 81. Humidity: 55%.

Midwesterners panic as soon as it gets hot. Eighty-one might so easily turn into 82. Some never turn the air conditioner off. Others rush to bookstores and the library to log time in AC.

The drone of AC makes me nostalgic for the energy-wasting days of my childhood. I did not own an air conditioner for many years as an adult, because I preferred "natural" weather (pre-global warming). But I grew up with AC, as did most middle-class families in the humid midwest. I’d sit in front of the AC after a game of softball in the vacant lot, feeling the sweat dry under my ponytail, drinking Kool-Aid, and reading Elizabeth Goudge.

Reading was the main activity when it got hot. I could lie on the couch for days in front of the air conditioner reading my favorite authors - a motley lot: Elizabeth Goudge, Angela Carter, Charlotte Bronte, and Mary Stewart - getting up only to go to the library and check out more books - or to rush out to Sidewalk Sales and buy shorts with defective zippers and t-shirts with threads hanging from them. My friends and I met at the library to talk about the latest books, and most of us went home with a huge pile that included an Elizabeth Goudge. An old-fashioned sentimental novelist, Goudge wrote some charming historical and contemporary fiction and owed much of her technique to the 19th century giants. Her characters are Dickensian and there’s more than a touch of fantasy and romance in most of the books. R. K. Rowling says her favorite book is Goudge’s A Little White Horse, a children’s fantasy that won the Carnegie Award. Linnets and Valerians was checked out so much I might as well have owned it. My grandmother had a copy of Green Dolphin Street (which I reread last winter). I eventually found paperback copies of The Dean’s Watch and Scent of Water. Goudge's novels may be overwritten and sentimental, but the plots are fascinating and her distinctive style evokes a certain time and values I still have today. (I don't overestimate the importance of learning good values through literature.)

My favorite was The White Witch. I'm so excited - I discovered while sorting things for a sale that I own a copy! It has been so many, many years since I read this that I can't remember much about it. It takes place during the English civil war in the 1600s - Catholics vs. Protestants - and centers on Froniga, a beautiful, gypsy-witch who uses her herbal medicines as a healer. Loved by everyone, Froniga is nevertheless exhausted by the attentions of men. At random I picked out this passage:

“A sense of weariness came to Froniga. Here was another man. Would she never reach an age that would be a safe harbor from men? She had sailed into forty with high hopes but it had made no difference."

This is the kind of woman I thought I'd be when I grew up!

Looking this over, I feel it might be difficult for me to get past the style. Some of her books hold up better than others: I can vouch for Green Dolphin Street (Green Dolphin Country in the UK). But I have always loved novels about witches. Perhaps I'll try it with the air conditioner on. (It is warm.)

There are some enthusiasts online who have read this recently and written some beautiful articles about The White Witch. Try

Elizabeth Goudge Society

What's Wrong with the World?

Manon's Garden


Ellen said...

To be honest, it does not seem as if Gouge is my cup of tea, but I am with you on listening to air conditioning. Not that I am living without it. Today in DC we were 95 degrees with a high humidity and tonight in my study I also have two fans going.

I enjoy reading your blog for your tone and stance _vis-a-vis_ the books in general.

Ellen (now reading Mantel's memoir and Oliphant's Phoebe Junior)

Mad Housewife said...

Reading Elizabeth Goudge is nostalgia on my part. I loved her so much. Not sure I'll really be able to read The White Witch.

95 degrees is not fun. No, this AC goes on immediately if it gets too hot (mid to high eighties). It's so humid in Alexandria that I'd probably melt.

I enjoy Oliphant. I read The Carlingford Chronicles but honestly don't remember much about Phoebe Junior. Perhaps it's one of the better ones? I did enjoy it.

Monica said...

honestly, I thought I was the only one. I played on the dry hills of Riverside California looking for Marmaduke's well.

Mad Housewife said...

Marmaduke was such a great cat!

Anonymous said...

I love Elizabeth Goudge!! The White Witch and The Rosemary Tree are my favorites! I read whatever I can get my hands on that she has written. An author to be read and reread and savored. Hard to find another with such insight into human character.

Mad Housewife said...

Yes, I really came to love and respect her after I finished The White Witch. She's an author worth rediscovering.