A City of Bells


A City of Bells was one of the four Elizabeth Goudge novels I pounced on in a second hand bookshop with a cry of delight a few weeks ago -- all Coronet editions from the 1970s, all with terrible covers. You would think from this image that it's a time travel story, as the woman is all decked out in Edwardian gear but the man is pure 1970s Mills & Boon. Presumably they are supposed to be Felicity and Jocelyn, though neither of them appear as described in the book: Felicity is supposed to have short golden hair, for one thing (admittedly quite unusual in Edwardian England, but whatever...)

 As I began re-reading A City of Bells, it seemed more and more familiar. I think this was a novel that I read many times in high school, and it was comfort reading even then. The scenes in peaceful Torminster, Jocelyn's bookshop, and the characters of the children, were especially vivid -- the parts in London and the theatre, and the transformation of Ferranti's poem into a play, all seem a bit contrived to me now. Goudge is pretty hopeless at romantic/sexual love, and she can be sentimental. But City of Bells is an early work, so I'm prepared to forgive its flaws! And I love pale, sensitive Henrietta, and her adopted brother, the boisterous Hugh Anthony, and the saintly figure of Grandfather, the Canon. (One day I must sit down and work out all the gradations of the Anglican offices, because it's all very confusing.)

A lovely, nostalgic trip down a very English memory lane.


  1. I read this as a child but have not gone back to it as an adult. I went off Goudge from my late teens onwards. But we did have a family holiday in Wells when I was maybe eight or nine, and I was very excited to recognise 'Torminster', with the streams running down the side of the streets, and the cathedral, of course. I don't remember much of the plot as far as the adult characters are concerned, but I do remember a lovely scene in the sweetshop where the (wise) Hugh Anthony stocks up on as much as he can get away with while Henrietta (a bit of a goody-goody?) only asks for 100s and 1000s.

  2. Ha ha, yes, Hugh Anthony is all id and Henrietta is all superego! I've never been to Wells, but I would love to. Goudge definitely has her twee and priggish moments, but I found them incredibly comforting in lockdown, and I'm amassing a collection in case of future catastrophe :)

  3. I haven't read this one, Kate. Like you, I am collecting in case of emergency. I found "Green Dolphin Country' in the Op Shop a few weeks ago, but I am saving it for said emergency!

  4. Green Dolphin Country is centred on perhaps the weirdest plot twist, though it's apparently based on a true story! Goudge is wonderful on unrequited love, less good on mutual passion. Green Dolphin Country is long enough for two emergencies, I reckon :)