Thursday, April 30, 2015

Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge

The Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week is hosted by Lory @ The Emerald City Book Review.

I have been in Devon this month so the book I chose to read by Elizabeth Goudge was Gentian Hill because it is also set in that county.

Mid 19th century Torquay

" There was no sound anywhere. Voices were stilled upon sea and shore and the white gulls with their gold-tipped wings floated silently. The half-moons of golden water, swung and withdrawn so rhythmically by the ebbing tide, creamed soundlessly upon the golden sand, and the tiny sound of the ripples lapping against the jetties and the hulls of the fishing boats was lost in the great silence.
Into this vast peace, this clear light, sailed the great ships...."

1803, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Royal Navy ships find a welcome respite in the sheltered waters of Torbay. On one such frigate a young midshipman is reaching the end of his endurance. Anthony Louis Mary O'Connell is 15 yrs old, an intelligent, sensitive boy raised by his grandmother until her death when he was taken on as a midshipman on a distant relative's ship. A harsh and brutal life and two months later the lure of the land is too much for Anthony and he deserts the Navy.
Assuming the name of Zachary he wanders the countryside in search of work becoming increasingly ragged, footsore and hungry.

Weekaborough Farm is the home of Mary, an orphan saved from a shipwreck and adopted by farmer Sprigg and his wife.
At the age of 10 she is 'an elfin child with the graceful movements a wild woodland creature, a fawn or a gazelle.'
Mary loves the animals and frequently raids the larder at night to secretly feed the cats kept outside. It is while she is in the barn one night that Zachary appears and the two young people instinctively recognise a kindred soul in each other.

Events see Zachary return to the Navy and Mary must wait patiently for his return. 

St Michael's Chapel
The story is a retelling of an old legend of a shipwrecked mariner who became a hermit and built the chapel high up the steep side of a hill. A place to pray for those who face the perils of the sea.

Elizabeth Goudge's deep love for the Devon countryside is obvious with her beautiful, often mystical descriptions of Nature which she balances with the down to earth telling of daily routine on a farm. The ancient customs and rituals - wassailing, harvesting and corn dollies, the ploughing chant and the bull roarer- fascinating stuff to learn about.

An enchanting blend of fact and fiction, of Pagan otherworldliness and Christian faith. It's so long since I read any of Elizabeth Goudge's books ( one exception) that I'd forgotten what a unique voice she has , and one that is hard to describe, except to say I loved it. I think Love is the theme in Gentian Hill  - the following quote is written on a scrap of paper and moves from character to character throughout the story.
"Love is the divinity who creates peace among men and calm upon the sea, the windless silence of storms, repose and sleep in sadness. Love sings to all things who live and are, soothing the troubled minds of gods and men."

Related post - Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge 


  1. This is one I have yet to read, but I'm very interested in how it incorporates the old customs and traditions of the region. Sounds fascinating. Thanks for participating in Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week!

    1. I'm very pleased I made the time to reacquaint mysel with EG's writing - a lovely refreshing change.

  2. Ah, this sounds wonderful and your lovely pictures make it even moreso. I think this is one Goudge that I own, so perhaps I should make it my next.

    1. Reading EG is like taking time out from the modern world - I don't think this one would be considered one of her best but I liked it.