I just finished reading the most wonderful book: The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge. My mom and I are on an EG kick, and we’re getting the same titles from the library to read together. Apparently The Scent of Water is one of EG’s best known works. Delving into it, I see why. It’s simply wonderful.
On the surface, it’s about a woman who inherits an old little cottage in a village in rural England, and goes to live there. Her coming sends ripples through the whole community and everyones’ lives wind up enriched.
But it’s about more than that. It’s about the Scent of Water, which comes from a passage in Job:
For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.
And that alone tells you more of what the book is about than I could.
I wanted to post some of the lovely passages that stuck with me after I finished.
I had not known before that love is obedience. You want to love, and you can’t, and you hate yourself because you can’t, and all the time love is not some marvelous thing that you feel but some hard thing that you do. And this in a way is easier because with God’s help you can command your will when you can’t command your feelings. With us, feelings seem to be important, but He doesn’t appear to agree with us.
And a character sketch:
Mr. Hepplewhite was an astonishment. The back view she had seen getting out of the car had predisposed her to expect the round red face and hearty manner of a conventional self-made man, genial and self-satisfied in what he had achieved. But Mr. Hepplewhite’s front view was not at all like that. His fleshy face was smooth and olive-skinned, he had firm beautifully molded lips and a profile like a Roman emperor on a coin. His gray hair was thick and wavy, his plump hands white and well kept, one of them adorned with a sardonyx signet ring. He had fine dark eyes which looked straight into Mary’s as he talked to her, giving an appearance of great candor, and his voice was clear and well produced and at the same time caressingly gentle. There was no sense of strain about him, for he was entirely relaxed on his part.
There was little to suggest it was only a part; only his back view and the fact that his signet ring was just a little too large. He was an enthusiastic host and talked with knowledge and intelligence upon every subject that came up; although, as Paul had said, he did not listen well. He never looked at his wife but now and again her eyes turned to him, nervously and with a naked adoration that made Mary want to weep.
She realized that Mr. Hepplewhite was an extremely clever man. She did not know if she liked or disliked him, for he did not allow her to find out. His presentation was too dazzling for her to be aware, as with Mrs. Hepplewhite, of the person behind the personage. Perhaps there wasn’t one. Perhaps Mr. Hepplewhite was dead. It was a startling thought. But he had a different back view and she found the remembrance of it oddly reassuring.
I’ve thumbed back and forth through the book, and there’s so much more. I’ll have to read the whole book over again, just to savor her writing. It’s so slow, but so deep, too. Her childrens’ books, The Little White Horse and Linnets and Valerians, are just as wonderful. I’d consider them magical realism, if I had to pick a genre.
There’s so much we can learn about writing by reading old books. There’s something to be said for a slower-paced book with a deeper, thoughtful narrative. Maybe if more of us read old books, new books wouldn’t be as fluffy and trashy as they are now.