The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge – #1940Club

This week Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon of Stuck in a Book are hosting another of their very popular clubs in which we all read and write about books published in the same year. It’s 1940 Club this time and I’ve decided to start with a book by an author I already know and love – Elizabeth Goudge. The Bird in the Tree is the first in her trilogy of books about the Eliot family who live at Damerosehay, a house on the south coast of England.

It was the widowed Lucilla Eliot who had first chosen to make her home here, in this little shipbuilding village in Hampshire, but Damerosehay has now become a sanctuary for the whole family. As the novel opens, in the autumn of 1938, Lucilla’s son George has separated from his wife and their three young children have been sent to stay with their grandmother. Lucilla’s maid and beloved companion Ellen, her middle-aged daughter Margaret, and two very different dogs – Pooh-Bah and the Bastard – complete the household, while nearby lives Lucilla’s son, Hilary, the village parson.

At the beginning of the novel, the family are awaiting the arrival of another of Lucilla’s grandsons, twenty-five-year-old David. David’s father, Lucilla’s favourite son, died at the end of the Great War and he and his grandmother have always been very close. George’s children love David too and are excited about their cousin coming home to Damerosehay. However, David’s visit is destined to be an unhappy one this time. He has fallen in love with George’s ex-wife, Nadine – his aunt by marriage – and plans to marry her. David is dreading breaking the news to Lucilla, let alone his three little cousins, and knows he will be forced to choose between his feelings for Nadine and his love for his home and family.

Although this is a book for adults, Goudge writes about children with a lot of depth and understanding. In this book, we have nine-year-old Ben, gentle, sensitive, with a vivid imagination; his younger brother, the robust and mischievous Tommy, his complete opposite in every way; and five-year-old Caroline, a quiet, withdrawn child who sucks her thumb and wants only to feel loved by her mother. The adult characters are equally well drawn. I particularly liked Lucilla’s two unmarried children, Margaret and Hilary, dismissed by their mother for being a ‘dowdy frump’ and ‘stout and bald’, respectively, but who have both decided that even though their lives haven’t gone quite the way they had hoped, they’re going to make the best of things and find happiness wherever they can. Nadine is another character who interested me; she is also disapproved of by Lucilla for being too independent and worldly, but the two begin to find some common ground by the end of the book.

Goudge’s descriptive writing is always beautiful and in this novel she brings the fictional Hampshire village of Fairhaven to life with details of local customs, history and legends, basing it on the real village of Buckler’s Hard on the banks of the Beaulieu River. She makes the setting feel almost dreamlike, especially as there are a few elements of the story that are nearly, but not quite, supernatural. Several of the family members, including Lucilla, David, Ben and Caroline, have such a close affinity with Damerosehay and Fairhaven that they begin to experience visions and ghostly encounters, but these appear to be within their imaginations rather than real. There’s also a recurring motif of birds, particularly blue birds, which explains the novel’s title.

This novel, like Goudge’s others, feels very sentimental and quite dated, especially in its views on subjects like divorce and marriage, but I enjoyed it anyway. Towers in the Mist is still my favourite of her books – I loved the beautiful depiction of Elizabethan Oxford – but I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in this trilogy, The Herb of Grace and The Heart of the Family.

28 thoughts on “The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge – #1940Club

  1. Lory says:

    Glad you picked this one for the club. It is dated but has some lovely features, I also especially enjoyed the children in this whole trilogy. The Herb of Grace (aka Pilgrim’s Inn) is my favorite of the three and one of my very favorite EG books, so I’ll hope you’ll get to that.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, Goudge always writes about child characters so convincingly. I will definitely be reading the second book, so I’m pleased to hear you like it so much!

  2. Janette says:

    I love this trilogy and had copies of it in the top of wardrobe until a recent cull of my old books. I think that The Herb of Grace is my favourite of the three but they are all good.

  3. Jane says:

    Why am I reading The Power and the Glory for the 1940 Club when there are all these beautiful books?! I hadn’t heard of this trilogy but they sound excellent; I did read The Greengage Summer which I really loved and had children that were equally well drawn!

    • Helen says:

      I had considered reading The Power and the Glory, but decided on some lighter books instead! I haven’t read The Greengage Summer but will have to look out for it as you loved it so much.

  4. Calmgrove says:

    I will pick up a Goudge at some stage but it’ll have to be a standalone, I find it hard to commit to trilogies and series until I have one standalone under my belt as it were!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, that’s a good idea. I had read three or four of Goudge’s standalones before starting this one, so I knew I already liked her work before committing to this trilogy.

  5. MarinaSofia says:

    The Herb of Grace is also my favourite – so that’s the third one now, but I think the whole trilogy is good, even if somewhat dated (for English standards, because I think some of the ‘sacrifice yourself for the sake of the family’ is very much the case in other cultures).

    • Helen says:

      Yes, that’s a good point – the sacrifice aspect that felt so dated to me probably wouldn’t to other people. I’ll look forward to The Herb of Grace, as it’s everyone’s favourite!

  6. mallikabooks15 says:

    This sounds well worth a read even if it is dated. I haven’t read much Gouge apart from The Little White Horse which I loved, and am looking forward to exploring her many other titles

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read any of Goudge’s children’s books yet, but I know The Little White Horse is considered a classic and I do want to read it. I think you would like her adult books – this would probably be a good one to start with, but I love her historical novels too.

  7. journey & destinationCarol says:

    I’ve read the trilogy and taken together I thought it was quite good but I like some of her others more: The White Witch, The Dean’s Watch & Towers in the Mist are probably my favourites. Lucilla didn’t appeal to me in Bird in the Tree. She seemed very controlling but I appreciated her more as the books progressed.
    I’ve been slowly (!!) ploughing through The Child of the Sea – 600 pages is a wee bit too long with Goudge’s philosophical ramblings, but the historical setting is very interesting.

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t like Lucilla much in this book either, so I’m pleased to hear you appreciated her more in the later books – I hope I have the same experience. Towers in the Mist and The White Witch are probably my favourite Goudge books so far (I haven’t read The Dean’s Watch yet) and I also loved The Child from the Sea, but I agree that it’s a slow read!

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