Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Literary house for June - or dwelling place, anyway!

Here’s another book I read again and again as a child, and the images are vivid in my mind.

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge was published in 1946 but is set fifty years before that at least. Maria, an independently-minded (and occasionally almost stroppy) Victorian child, has been brought to live with a distant relative in a hidden valley, where she finds she has a great deal in common with others who lived there long ago. Loveday is a mysterious lady but quite enchanting, and it was a revelation to Maria to be shown her house.

“… Maria too walked round the rock, and there behind it, almost hidden by a rowan-tree that drooped over it from the hillside above, was a door in the hill. Loveday stood just inside it, holding it hospitably open and smiling as though this were a perfectly ordinary door to a perfectly ordinary house. ‘Come in,’ she said. ‘This is the back door. I’m afraid it’s a bit dark in the passage. Give me your hand and I’ll shut the door.’

When the door was shut it was pitch dark, but with her hand held firmly in Loveday’s warm strong clasp Maria felt no fear. They walked together down a narrow tunnel, and then Loveday lifted a latch and opened a door, and a lovely green light, the sort of light that Maria imagined lit the world beneath the sea, flowed over them.

‘This is my living room,’ said Loveday.

It was a large cave, but it had windows just like an ordinary room. There were two in the east wall and one in the west wall, diamond-paned windows set deeply in the rock. Outside, they were shrouded by green curtains of ferns and creepers, so that Maria guessed no passer-by could ever have known that the windows were there. The door by which they had entered was in the north wall, and beside it a stone staircase, so steep and narrow that it was more like a ladder than a staircase, was built against the wall and led to an upper room. In the south wall there was another door, with a bell hanging beside it. Hanging on a peg beside the bell was a long black hooded cloak, and upon the other side of the door was a fireplace with a log fire burning merrily upon the hearth, with a white kitten asleep before it. The room was furnished with a settle and table and chairs, made of oak; but in addition there was a dresser against the south wall with gay flowered china upon it and bright copper pots and pans. Pale-pink chintz patterned with roses of a deeper pink hung in the windows, and there were gay rag rugs on the stone floor. There were pots of salmon-pink geraniums on the window-sills and on the table, and bunches of herbs hung from the roof. In its simplicity and fresh cleanliness the room was so like Old Parson’s, though it was three times the size of his, that Maria guessed Loveday had arranged them both. She admired Loveday’s taste in arrangement, but not her passion for pink. There was too much pink in this room, she considered.”

Elizabeth Goudge wrote some fine adult books as well - The Dean's Watch is one of my favourites - but I’m afraid I can trace my love of geraniums, salmon, pink, red or white, to The Little White Horse!

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