'The Rosemary Tree' - Elizabeth Goudge

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'The Rosemary Tree' - Elizabeth Goudge

Post by Pam Pointer on Tue Aug 11, 2015 2:18 pm


by Elizabeth Goudge

"They all said they could not do without her." Harriet, now seventy-five and feeling ninety, is confined to her room with crippling arthritis, but is the lynchpin and shrewd observer of the family and local community with whom she's lived for decades.

The story is set in Devon after the end of World War 2. Harriet had been nanny to John Wentworth when he was a child; he is now a vicar and married to Daphne. Harriet worked as their housekeeper in the Devon vicarage and John's devotion to her means she continues to live with them, despite Daphne's intolerance. John feels he is a failure - as a husband and as a priest, and Daphne is sharp-tongued and frustrated with life. "Her point of view was a straight line and his was a corkscrew," sums up their incompatibility. They have three young daughters, who attend a small school where life is miserable.

But don't think this book is a morose tale!

Enter Michael. He has just been released from prison and enters the lives of the Wentworth family. His presence disturbs and changes the family as they each take a fresh look at themselves.

The author explores, with pathos and humour, the complexities of the human mind and how behaviour reflects the way people think of themselves and of other people. Interwoven with the human elements of the story are beautiful descriptions of nature - the gardens, trees and countryside of Devon. The chill of Winter and promising warmth and sun of Spring mirror the relationships of the people in the story. As Michael muses at the end of the story, "Did rhythmic times of fresh growth come in the lives of men and women, as in the world of nature?"

Chilly relationships become warmer, lack of confidence and self-loathing turn to self-respect and self-acceptance, world-weariness is gradually brushed away by hope, and the loneliness of individualism progresses towards a feeling of togetherness. It wasn't just Miss Giles, the unpopular  and bullying teacher who was, "becoming unfrozen."

Harriet's faith in God and her prayerful awareness - unseen in the confines of her room - influences this dysfunctional family and brings gradual change. Nobody is naive enough to think that this will be an end to their problems but it is enough that there is progress. The day Michael arrived on the scene had been a grey day and Harriet had been praying for prisoners. At the end of the story she tells him, "I'd been thinking that not only colours are imprisoned on grey days but the sun too. For when there's a grey wall between one and the other who's to say which is prisoner and which is free?" The characters in the story find freedom to move on from their various imprisoned states.

Elizabeth Goudge, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, lived from 1900 - 1984. Though the book was written in 1956, human nature doesn't change and her characters are empathetic. A good read.


Pam Pointer
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Re: 'The Rosemary Tree' - Elizabeth Goudge

Post by Aslan_HQ on Tue Aug 11, 2015 3:05 pm

Thank you for the great review, Pam.
We're looking forward to seeing it featured in our new magazine next month!

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