By Maggie Swofford, Marketing & Editorial Assistant
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned to appreciate more from reading Elizabeth Goudge’s books, it is the incontestable linking of sorrow and joy as well as the beautiful experiences that are birthed as a result of the mixing of the pair. Life offers all of us myriad experiences that produce thousands of unique emotions and reactions; however, it seems that joy and sorrow are two feelings that mark a person’s interpretation of the world in a profound way. In a cyclical formation, joy and sorrow both carve one another out and fill in the gaps of the other, similar to the philosophy behind the yin and yang symbol.
Joyeuce, one of the main characters in Towers in the Mist, tells her friend Nicolas the following after a tragedy occurs:
“It’s not as bad as you think, Nicolas,” she whispered. “The deeper you go into pain the more certain are you that all that happens to you has an explanation and a purpose. You don’t know what they are but you know they are there. You don’t suffer any the less because of the certainty but you would rather suffer and have it than just enjoy yourself and not have it.” Her voice trailed away and she looked out sadly over the landscape of sunlit fields and trees and water. What pitiful creatures were human beings, able to speak only so falteringly of what they know, separated even from those they loved best by ignorances and insincerities and reserves so innumerable that there seemed no sweeping them away. Only the earth, with its winds and waters and its field sown with a thousand flowers, could tell aright of the mystery of which it was the garment….But our ears are too dull to hear.
In a reflection on this principle, and as a celebration of Elizabeth Goudge’s life, we are honored to share with you this excerpt from her beloved novel Towers in the Mist. As a bit of background, this story follows Joyeuce Leigh, Nicolas de Worde, the Leigh family, and a few Oxford scholars through several life-changing years in Elizabethan Oxford. We journey with Faithful and Joyeuce as they both discover love in unanticipated places, and watch as the young Leigh children find truth, joy, and the realities of life in the city of towers. The story is distinctly marked by moments of light and moments of darkness, through which Goudge delicately weaves in her beautiful observations about spirituality and humanity. As appears in many of her novels, she has a knack for thoughtfully pointing out the elusive and observing even the most tiny, lovely details.
As we celebrate Goudge’s birth 117 years ago and reflect upon the fact that she has long passed on, let’s savor the bitter and sweet tones that are highlighted in her life as well as our own through the following excerpt. I encourage you to read with mindfulness, and I hope you are inspired to live your life proclaiming the joyful moments and humbly letting sorrows make their mark, as Goudge mirrors and reflects upon in her writing.
We step into the scene where, after a long, hot, quiet summer in Oxford, the scholars have boisterously returned to begin school in August. The city stumbles happily into motion as the residents readjust to the returning students.
With her children once more stowed safely within her walls, Philip Sidney writing poetry at Broadgates Hall, Nicolas playing the viol in his room by the Fair Gate and Walter Raleigh flashing like a meteor in and out of the gates of Oriel, the city put on a fresh beauty. She had become a little tired and dusty, drained of her strength and color by the hot weeks of harvest time, but now, swept of her dust by the life-giving gales and washed clean by the showers of silver rain that went by on the wind, beauty bloomed again. There were new flowers in the gardens, crimson dahlias and the white starry daisies of Saint Michael, and the lawns put on a fresh bright green that was like an echo of the vanished spring. Every gray wall wore a cloak of scarlet creeper and the elm trees in the Christ Church Meadows stood like tall knights arrayed from head to foot in golden armor. Sandwiched between days of rain there were sunshiny days of loveliness when the silence was so deep that wanderers in fields and gardens were almost startled to hear the tiny tap of a falling leaf or the twitter of a robin in the bushes….On these days one felt drenched in a melancholy quietude that was almost as enjoyable as happiness.
Even Joyeuce, when on fine mornings she drew back the curtains on a world whose fragile beauty made her think of a rainbow or a soap bubble, felt a rare tranquility. Fine autumn days bred philosophy in one, she thought, for the earth itself in autumn was so philosophic; faced with the storms of winter, that would root up its trees and stamp its flowers into the ground, it seemed to turn itself backward to remember past glories with such a passion of delight that on day after day it was almost young again, so young that on some mornings you would have said that memory had merged into hope and next spring was here already.
That was what she would do, thought Joyeuce….Remember….Behind her were the happy days of childhood when her mother had been with her and living had been like wings that carried one from one joy to another, not a pack upon the back that made the shoulders ache; she would remember those days and grow the stronger for reliving their joy and freedom. And she must remember that evening of ecstasy when she had thought that Nicolas loved her and had felt herself to be born again; till her dying day she must remember that because surely never again would she reach such a peak of joy. She realized that one could not live always on such a peak; if one did nerves and body would break under the strain; but from every experience of bliss as it passed away one could keep back a modicum to add to interior treasure. Surely these moments were foretastes of something to come, some freedom of spirit so heavenly that it would be cheaply purchased by all the garnered wealth of a lifetime…
Did this snippet whet your appetite for more? If so, feel free to click on the below cover images or peruse our website for more about Elizabeth Goudge and her novels.
Maggie Swofford is a marketing and editorial assistant at Hendrickson Publishers. She graduated summa cum laude with honors from Gordon College with a BA in English Language & Literature. She can often be seen ogling Impressionist and Renaissance art and scribbling bits and pieces of poetry and memoir in her writer’s notebook.