The Rosemary Tree

“Mary O’Hara woke up on Monday morning in a shocking temper.  Before she got her eyes open she knew she was in it.  She also knew she had a slight headache and that ominous tickle at the  back of the throat that presages the beginning of a cold in the head.  Then came the realization that it was raining, that it was  Monday morning, that her hot water bottle had leaked in the night and that she hated everybody.”

Oh my.  What will Mary O’Hara (one of my favorite characters in Goudge’s novels), do?

“The Rosemary Tree” is a delight to read.  Elizabeth Goudge weaves her story in and out of her characters’ lives in a small quiet English town, and in just one novel I have discovered three characters who are now all-time favorites of mine.

There is Harriet, the aging spinster who is dealing with being bedridden.  Harriet is learning patience in her suffering, and learning to adjust to a life of feeling of no use or help to anyone any more (she who her whole life long had lived to serve others).

 “Until a couple of years ago, when the arthritis had to a certain extent crippled her hands, she had done all the vicarage sewing.  Four years ago she had been able to stand long enough to do the washing and ironing as well.  Seven years ago she had done nearly all the work of the house, and been able to hide the difficulty with which she did it with complete success….

…She had been sixty-five then and had felt fifty.   Now she was seventy-five and felt ninety.”

Harriet’s nephew, John.  John is the a-typical English vicar who, though chock-full of personal failure, within his clumsiness still somehow manages to comfort the sick and bring practical aid to the hopelessly desperate …. and then finally, the above-mentioned Mary, who is courageous, pretty, and kind to the children she teaches.

What happens when this little country town is invaded by a former prisoner and war veteran who is dealing with the shattered wreckage of his past?  will the village reject and spurn him? will Michael Stone ever stop feeling ashamed of his past, and what will it take for him to move on?

“It was then that he had lost his nerve. He had gone straight to the station, without even going back to his flat, and caught the west-country express. He could not take up work again in London and meet the contempt of men and women he had known. A brave man would have faced it. He couldn’t; at least not yet. So he’d run away.”

What part will John (the vicar) himself play, and how is John’s wife, the proud and ambitious Daphne, going to complicate the plot?

John has three creative, clever and energetic little girls and an unhappy wife, that he lives for.  How will they be affected by this turn of events? And what is going on at the school John’s little daughters attend?

“John stood waving to the children until he could no longer see them….he hated to see them going off to that apparently most desirable school where he had a feeling that Pat and Margary were not happy, though they had not told him so, and Winkle perhaps would not be when she was older.  It was a small and most select school, for young children only, and rather celebrated in the neighborhood because it had been run by the same charming old lady for many years, but he was not at all sure it was a good school.  Daphne said it was and with no evidence to the contrary it was only his instinct that contradicted her.  The children would have been happy at the village school taught by good old Miss Baker, or at the Silverbridge convent school that was equally disliked by Daphne because such a mixture of children went there….

He’d only been to the place two or three times.  Daphne, who went every day, said it was all right.  She should know.  Obviously, mothers were more knowledgeable about little girls than fathers could hope to be.”

“The Rosemary Tree” is a novel I have returned to over the years and every time, is a fresh read for me, with new insights as to character and human motivation.  And how creatively the author shows the reader how various individuals will deal with human failings, and how they will work out seemingly insurmountable dilemmas and problems within marriages, families and working relationships.

Elizabeth Goudge is not afraid to challenge the reader’s presuppositions of motive or character.

“John had a moment’s astonishment at Daphne’s lack of knowledge of her own children.  Did she not know Pat had a sense of honor? Probably not.  She knew little about herself and consequently little about others.  All that she had told him these last few days ad made him love her more than ever but had given him a new light on her character.  He had thought of her poise as being that of a woman of experience, and been a little afraid of it, he saw it now as the self-confidence of a girl whose adolescent pride had never been shattered.  And now it had been….”

Then, there is the *other* aging spinster, who is in direct contrast to the lovable and self-sacrificing Harriet (and how clever of E. Goudge to contrast the two!) The unhappy and unattractive Miss Giles, whom everyone loves to hate, because she is so miserable, and because she hates everyone.  Miss Giles who was passed over for higher education in order to give her brothers the chance to make a living, who is extremely gifted but also extremely impatient with it,  and whom no one wants to be kind to:

“… Mary put the tray down again, poured out a cup of tea, took two aspirins from the bottle beside the bed and helped Miss Giles to hold the cup while she drank and swallowed them.  Even with the cosy the tea was by this time lukewarm and Miss Giles had a moment of panic lest she be sick.  ‘Don’t let me be sick,’ she prayed.  She had not prayed for years and to whom was she praying now? She had lost her faith long ago.  And what a ridiculous prayer.  She shut her eyes, fighting down the nausea.”

Elizabeth Goudge is simply a master at portraying real-life situations and how we handle our emotions and thoughts in challenging situations.  No pretensions here! Goudge is a no-holds-barred author.  What you see is what you get, and even her characters who profess to be model Christians often fail:

“Was it possible that only yesterday she had been simmering with Christian charity like a kettle on the boil?  One of the children giggled and she shot a look of hatred at her.  Was it possible that only yesterday she had thought she loved children? She could have murdered the lot of the odious little beasts.”

Although Goudge’s novels are sometimes hard to track down, some of them being out of print, this one is well worth the read.  Find it, read it, and enjoy it!

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About Theresa

I live in an old farmhouse in upstate New York (no, *not* the big city!) in the country with my family, two dogs, two calves, and two horses. I love to cross stitch, quilt, read, and look at needlework blogs :) and I love coffee *and* tea!
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4 Responses to The Rosemary Tree

  1. hopeinbrazil says:

    This is one Goudge title I haven’t read yet. Sounds terrific.

  2. I cannot believe this… I am half way through this book, thus I have not fully read your post. I found you at goodreads when looking for other Goudge titles I may like. I think Scent of Water and her autobiography will be good titles. None of my friends have read this jewel yet, and I am working hard convincing them.
    I will keep reading other of your reviews, and adding your blog to my reading list.

  3. I remember my mother loving Elizabeth Goudge when I was a child, and I’ve recently discovered what a wonderful writer she is. I’ll be adding this one to my ‘look out for’ list.

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