The White Witch


I have no conscious memory of reading Elizabeth Goudge's The White Witch before, but I think I must have read it in high school, because in retrospect I'm sure I was influenced by certain elements of this novel. There is the English Civil War setting -- I went on to study the Civil War at university. There is Froniga's expertise in herbal cures, and especially her reading of the tarot cards, both subjects which sparked my imagination.

But I couldn't remember much of the actual plot, perhaps because, as usual with Goudge, there isn't a whole lot of action, despite being set during a war and even featuring a few battles. For Goudge, the really interesting struggles are all internal ones, like renouncing love or surrendering to God's will.

There are some aspects of this book which haven't aged well since 1958 when it was published, notably the painter Francis Leyland's romantic yearning for eight year old Jenny. Though they don't get together until the end of the book, when she is safely grown up, it's still, as the kids say, ick. But there are lots of parts I loved, particularly proud, competent Froniga (her name is a version of Veronica), who is really a heroine to look up to -- and I think I did!

I don't think Elizabeth Goudge ever wrote a novel, either children or adults, that doesn't feature children at its heart, and she does write them exceptionally well, whether it's self-possessed Jenny, her self-important twin Will, or the wild gypsy children who flock to Froniga 'like birds.'

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