It’s Christmas time and I needed a Christmas read. With recent family events and illnesses that bordered on serious, I was looking for something I could pick up when I needed a distraction and a relaxation.
Well, I chose “The Scent of Water”. Again.
“I am sitting in front of the parlor fire after tea and the curtains are drawn. There is the smell of burning wood and the scent of the chrysanthemums Ambrose brought me for Christmas. They are gold and cream and deep crimson, and he must have despoiled the greenhouse and infuriated the gardener.”
I have read this book so many times, and it never disappoints me! I am so happy to see a resurgence of interest in Elizabeth Goudge’s writing and her books being re-published. Not all of them have the quality of writing that this one, and others of hers, have. A few, (very few) of them border on sentimental fare (and, unfortunately, that is probably why she is labelled a sentimental writer and dismissed as such). But as I have said before, her books like “The White Witch”, “The Rosemary Tree”, and this one, are a treat to read and I am never bored re-reading them!
I chose it actually because I remembered the way the author had written about snow and country Christmases of long ago.
“Next day the snow began to fall, large slow flakes drifting on a light wind. The sky was leaden and the earth crouched beneath it drained of beauty. All the light and glimmer of the flakes large as wild white roses, in the tide of whiteness flowing slowly over the dark earth, like moonlight or the surf of a soundless sea.
Mary moved through her day entranced, for this was not only her first snow at Appleshaw but her first country snow. After she had rescued her six snowdrops from the garden she stayed indoors and gazed out of first one window and then another, watching how the whiteness outlined the church windows and the ledges of the tower, how it lay on the shoulders of her cupid in the garden and crept along the branches of the apple tree outside the parlor window…
When Mary at last reluctantly drew the curtains she shut herself in with a silence so living that she moved about the house or sat by the fire as attentive to it as though she were listening… there was expectancy in her listening but no impatience.”
Even though familiar with the story, I found a freshness in Goudge’s characters and some insights that add to their motivations and personalities that somehow, in all of my previous readings, I had missed before. “The Scent of Water” once again amused, comforted, and entertained, while giving food for thought.
Mary Lindsay’s elderly and ill cousin has passed on and left her home to Mary. Coming as a huge surprise (Mary had only met her cousin, also named Mary, once during her childhood), she found herself deciding to actually leave London, retire, and go live in the village of Appleshaw. She finds a diary that her cousin had left and begins to understand not only who her cousin was, but her struggles, the past, and how to cope with her own life.
And here is where Goudge once again excels. She illustrates life in a small country village through its characters and their own personal triumphs and sorrows. Edith, the young adopted child who resents Mary’s coming because it means that she can no longer play in solitude in Mary’s garden. Mr. Hepplewhite, who seeks financial success and isn’t afraid to use questionable means to get it, and his poor wife Dolly who has changed her name to Hermione merely to add to her husband’s status (after all, “Dolly” is too plain a name for a successful businessman!) And, the tormented and unhappily married Valerie and her husband, left blind from a plane crash during the war.
“Valerie had been an enchanting and pretty girl. He was perfectly well aware of the change in her. Whenever he tried to visualize her the thin hard face slipped like a mask over the face that he remembered, and wanted to remember, and repulsed him as she herself repulsed him whenever he tried to restore again some measure of the love that had once been between them. Yet he believed it was still only a mask, not the reality as yet. If he could only get through he would find his girl still alive behind it. Would it have been all right if he had not been blinded, or if he had done what she had wanted and let himself be trained in one of the skills that blind men could practice so lucratively?”
And there is also Colonel and Mrs. Adams, a sweet and contentedly humble elderly couple who have lost two conscientious and esteemed sons, also war casualties, and are now left solely with one son; a ‘rotten’ son whom they have somehow failed to raise with a sense of responsibility.
Each has their own personal dragons to slay. The author turns these characters inside out, showing the reader how they make choices, why they do what they do, and weaves their story into Mary’s life to bring resolution, hope, or failure. Even Mary herself is shocked to find herself, at age fifty, susceptible to having her heart carried away.
There are several references to Christmas and the ending of the story is also set during this lovely holiday.
“It was carol singers not far from my window. There was the bass rumble of a few men’s voices and the piping of small boys. It was the choir. They were singing one of the oldest of the carols, “The Holly and the Ivy,” the old folk tune that has been part of the English Christmas for so many centuries. I listened to it and I was at peace, and knew I would soon be well again.”