The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge

The Child from the Sea “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!

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24 thoughts on “The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge”

  1. I loved Elizabeth Goudge’s books when I was growing up, particularly ‘The Little White Horse’, ‘Towers in the Mist’ and ‘The White Witch’, but I’m not sure I could take them now – as you say in your review, too slow, too sentimental and romantic for many modern tastes, plus there’s usually a strongly religious element in her books which may not appeal to a lot of people (myself included). But I enjoyed your review, thanks!

    1. I wasn’t very keen on the religious element myself, though it didn’t stop me from enjoying the book overall. I do want to read more of her books and Towers in the Mist and The White Witch are at the top of my list!

  2. I’m so glad you loved your first Goudge. This is one I have not yet read, but I have it out from the library and I will try to get to it soon.

  3. Great review! E. Goudge writes about Lucy Walter I believe, in her autobiography, “The Joy of the Snow”, and how she read a book that gave a vastly different picture of Lucy than history does…hence this became the catalyst to her writing “The Child from the Sea”. I can try to find the quote for you about that if you like…in the meantime, I have enjoyed Goudge over the years and she is a ‘comfort read’ for me. Some of her novels are a bit sentimental but her writing is just so good I can overlook that (and the shelflove blog has a couple good reviews on her Eliot trilogy.) happy reading (really enjoyed this review! Esp. since this is prob. my least favorite book of hers : )

    1. Thanks! I suppose we’ll never know what the real Lucy Walter was like, but it’s always interesting to read portrayals of historical characters that challenge the conventional view. If you do come across that quote I’d love to see it.

      If this is your least favourite Elizabeth Goudge book I’m looking forward to reading her others!

      1. “Further along the coast is St. David’s Cathedral, one of the great shrines of the world, and further along still is Roch castle, where Lucy Walter, the secret wife of Charles II, was probably born and where she spent her early childhood. It was on my first visit to Pembrokeshire that I read a book about her written by one of her descendants. It is a rare book, now out of print, and giving a very different account of her from those given by the history books. It was lent to me by a friend who is one of the leaders in the fight to defend the beauty of Pembrokeshire from “modern development’. She insisted that I must read it, and wanted me to write a novel about Lucy in keeping with this book. I had not got far with my reading before I was longing to write about this new Lucy, the girl of whom I was so conscious when I stood in the little church at Roch, beside the old font where she was perhaps baptized. And I wanted, too, to express the pent-up joy of the birds and the sea and the holiness of the Cathedral. That book, ‘The Child from the Sea’, like ‘Green Dolphin Street’, took years to write, and was beset by so many total interruptions that it too became too long. I doubt if it is a good book, nevertheless I love it because its theme is forgiveness, the grace that seems to me divine about all others, and the most desperate need of all us tormented and tormenting human beings, and also because I seemed to give to it all I have to give; very little, heaven knows. And so I know I can never write another novel, for I do not think there is anything else to say.” E. Goudge from “The Joy of the Snow”

  4. I discovered Elizabeth Goudge some years ago, the first book I read was The Dean’s Watch, and i think it has remained my favourite. This is one I haven’t read though, so must look out for it. I always had a soft spot for Lucy Walter (and always came down on the side of them having married secretly, but maybe that was just my teenage desire for love to be true!

    1. This is not a time period I’ve read much about, so I knew almost nothing about Lucy Walter before beginning this book. For Lucy’s sake, I would love to think that she and Charles really were married!

  5. My mother gave me The Little White Horse and Linnets and Valerians when she thought I was reading too many disturbing YA books involving sex and suicide. Although I would add that there’s nothing inherently wrong with disturbing books of any kind involving sex and suicide, those Goudge novels were just wonderful. Yes, they’re slow, yes they’re sentimental, and yes there is some questionable religious subtext, but they’re a great example of “safe books”–things that won’t give you nightmares, the literary equivalent of a long, warm bath. I hadn’t really registered that she wrote for adults until quite recently, but this and The Dean’s Watch both look really appealing.

    1. The Dean’s Watch does sound good – I’m definitely interested in trying that one. I wish I’d discovered Elizabeth Goudge when I was younger as I’m sure I would have loved her children’s books. I’m hoping I’ll still be able to enjoy them as an adult!

  6. This reading event appears to have helped you uncover a hidden/forgotten gem. I had heard of Charles II’s mistress Lucy from Peter Ackroyd’s last history which mentioned the relationship because many people were hoping they’d married as an excuse to crown the Duke of Monmouth instead of James II, which I think sounds like it could make a very interesting scheme to read about. I hope you are able to read more of her work 🙂

    1. I remember Lucy being briefly mentioned in the Peter Ackroyd book. It was good to have an opportunity to learn more about her early life in this novel – even though I’m not sure how much of it is historically accurate.

      I love taking part in reading weeks as it encourages me to pick up books I might never have tried otherwise!

  7. I have loved going back in time and reacquainting myself with EG. The Child from the Sea was one of the first of hers I read many years ago – like you I preferred the historical stories first.

    1. I’m almost always drawn to historical novels over contemporary ones and this turned out to be the perfect book for me to start with. 🙂

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