The Scent of Water

One of the more common patterns in British children’s literature places a group of kids into a wild garden where they meet a mysterious old lady who guides them in an adventure.  (I wrote a brief post a while ago about some of them.)  I’ve just now read a novel by Elizabeth Goudge that tells the story from the perspective of the old lady.  Is that not interesting?  Of course there’s no magic — there wouldn’t be for the old lady, only for the kids.  And she’s much younger than she appears in the other novels — 50 — but that, too, is right, since she would only seem ancient to the children.

I’m not exactly recommending The Scent of Water. Goudge has other better novels, both for children and grown ups.  This one is shot through with inordinate levels of Christian piety, and so sentimental that at one point Goudge comes close to apologizing for it.  (“And if that was a sentimental idea, I didn’t care.  Being ill makes you feel what people call sentimental, but what you feel is nonetheless genuine whatever they call it.”)  But so odd and engaging to have the kids there, in the garden, performing the tasks they need to perform in order to do whatever growing up they are to do, while we watch them and occasionally guide them from a distance.


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