“To show you Roch would be such happiness,” she said. “I would show you the bay where the seals come, and perhaps they would sing to you, and the Valley of Roses at St Davids, where the stream is so cool. We would stand on the cliffs when the wind was blowing and hear the gulls screaming and the waves roaring all along the coast.”
“You love the sea?”
“I belong to it.”
Elizabeth Goudge is an author I would probably never have thought about trying if it hadn’t been for Lory of The Emerald City Book Review who is hosting a reading week devoted to Goudge’s work this week. Not knowing much about Elizabeth Goudge’s novels, I read the descriptions of some of them and The Child from the Sea sounded the most appealing to me. Although it seems to be out of print at the moment, I was able to borrow a copy from Open Library.
Goudge wrote a mixture of contemporary novels, short stories, children’s books and historical fiction; The Child from the Sea, published in 1970, is one of her historical fiction novels. It tells the story of Lucy Walter, a mistress – and possibly secret wife – of King Charles II and mother of his eldest son, the Duke of Monmouth.
The novel begins in Wales and introduces us to a young Lucy who is growing up at Roch Castle, the home of the Walter family near the Pembrokeshire coast. The story gets off to a slow start, with lots of descriptions of the scenery and countryside, Welsh customs and traditions, and some of the old myths and legends Lucy learns as a child. We also meet some of the people who live in and around Roch Castle: Lucy’s brothers, the handsome, aloof Richard and the loyal, warm-hearted Justus; her beloved nurse Nan-Nan; and Old Parson and his friend, the mysterious Sin Eater.
This first section of the book could probably have been cut a lot shorter without losing anything important, but it does all add to our understanding of who Lucy is and what a 17th century Welsh childhood may have been like. The story really picks up, though, when the action switches to London on the eve of Civil War and Lucy has her first encounter with the young Charles. Fate brings Lucy and Charles together again several years later and they fall in love, marrying secretly, but it’s not long before they are separated once more by the war raging around them.
The rest of the novel is set during Charles’s period of exile in The Hague following the Parliamentarian victory and the execution of his father, Charles I. We follow Lucy as she travels around Europe awaiting the restoration of the monarchy and hoping that one day she will be acknowledged as Charles’s wife.
Lucy Walter is a woman who really existed and really was one of Charles II’s mistresses, but very little is known about her and there doesn’t appear to be any evidence to prove whether or not she and Charles were legally married. Doing some quick research after finishing this book, it seems that the real Lucy is generally considered by historians to be a very different type of character to the gentle, loving woman portrayed in the novel. But even if this is a romanticised version of her life and her relationship with Charles, and even if it isn’t accurate in every detail, I still found it a very moving, emotional story.
Not knowing anything about Lucy before I read this book meant that I was kept in suspense wondering how the story would play out and what her eventual fate would be. I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be a book with a happy ending, and I was right. There were some heartbreaking moments in the final chapters of Lucy’s story and I had tears in my eyes at the end of the book.
I’m pleased that I gave myself plenty of time to finish this book in time for the reading week! The writing is lovely but the pace of the story is very slow and this is not a book you can rush through in a few days. You need to take your time to be able to appreciate the beauty of the writing and the insights the author is giving us into history and life in general. For this reason, and because it is quite a romantic, sentimental story, The Child from the Sea probably isn’t a book I would recommend to everyone. There’s also a spiritual aspect to the book that grows stronger as the story progresses and may not be to every reader’s taste.
I loved The Child from the Sea, though, and am pleased I chose this one as my first Elizabeth Goudge book. I will definitely be reading more!