Monday, May 28, 2018

Green Dolphin Street (Book Review)

Title: Green Dolphin Street
Author: Elizabeth Goudge (pronounced Goozh, per the dust jacket)
Publication: Hardcover, 1944
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: Set on the remote English Channel Island of St. Pierre in the mid-19th century, Green Dolphin Street is the story of two extraordinary sisters, Marianne and Marguerite, and William Ozanne, the neighbor both love. Many years ago, Sophie Le Patourel and Edmond Ozanne were in love but Edmond went to London to study medicine and married someone else. Sophie mended her broken heart, made a good but not romantic marriage, and has brought up her daughters to be respected members of their community. When Dr. Ozanne, now a widower, returns to St. Pierre with his son, William, they arrive on Green Dolphin Street near the Le Patourels. William is an uncomplicated youth of 13, happy to make friends with brilliant but difficult Marianne, three years his senior, and lovely, uncomplicated Marguerite, who is several years younger than he. As they grow up, Marianne stage manages William’s career and helps him join the Royal Navy; by now both sisters love him and each believes he will return to her. Much later, William has staked a claim in New Zealand and finally claims the sister dearest to his heart. This dramatic request changes the lives of both sisters, setting in motion both tragedy and heart-felt emotion.

I wouldn't say 'wanton'!
Audience: This book was a big bestseller in its day and will appeal to readers of sweeping epic novels such as Frances Parkinson Keyes, Charles Dickens, Daphne DuMaurier, Sinclair Lewis (I realize this takes in a lot of territory!).

My Impressions: I read most of Elizabeth Goudge’s books from my library growing up just outside Boston but somehow never got to this one. I remember my mother getting Linnets and Valerians for me, although it was The Little White Horse that I liked best (just like J.K. Rowling!). Some of them are overtly religious but Goudge also venerates the natural world and creates incredibly vivid descriptions settings that make it easy to visualize the settings. Green Dolphin Street has both: quiet faith in God and memorable descriptions of the Channel Islands and of untamed New Zealand. Reading this book is like watching an accident take place in slow motion – as author Judy Blundell noted recently good novels are often about bad choices. The story has a sense of inevitability that makes compelling reading!

When I first started working for Penguin, it had recently published Garden of Lies by Eileen Goudge, a bestseller about two babies switched at birth (also, forgive the spoiler, in love with the same man). Viking held a party for her second book and I had to ask to be invited (one of the annoying things about book publishing was that people who actually read the books were rarely included in such events, and I was not considered part of Viking because I sold the NAL paperback books). I recall that first book was entertaining but predictable and the second less memorable than the first but at the party I was able to ask her if she was related to Elizabeth Goudge. She was surprised by the question but said yes, distantly. As Elizabeth was an only child and was unmarried, I suppose it might not even be true, although the name is unusual.
Green Dolphin Street was made into a popular movie in 1947 starring Lana Turner as Marianne, the elder sister, Donna Reed as Marguerite, and May Whitty as the Mother Superior of the convent in St. Pierre. It was MGM’s most popular movie that year and won an Academy Award for best visual effects. I hope that Goudge benefitted financially!
from my April 2018 visit to Ely Cathedral
About the Author: Elizabeth Goudge (1900 – 1984) was the daughter of a distinguished English clergyman. I associated her with Wells, where she was born, and did not remember when I visited Ely Cathedral last month that she had also lived there as a young woman. Her mother was a native of Guernsey and told her daughter stories about the Channel Islands, which inspired the vivid descriptions of St. Pierre in this book. Goudge wrote a number of adult and children’s books, of which the best known are Green Dolphin Street and The Child from the Sea (about Charles II’s mistress, Lucy Walter).
Interior of Ely Cathedral

The Little White Horse, for which she won the Carnegie Medal, England’s equivalent of the Newbery Award, achieved new popularity several years ago when J. K. Rowling said it had been her favorite growing up. It is still in print – look for a copy!

Source:  I got this book from the Boston Public Library.  Annoyingly, my copy was missing pages 21-52!  But when I returned it (with note to its home branch), the staff there bonded with me over the book and movie, which was fun.

2 comments:

Lory said...

It's always nice to see a post about Elizabeth Goudge. I believe she said in her autobiography (worth reading if you can find it) that most of the MGM money was eaten up by taxes...but it was quite a boost to her career.

That's interesting about Eileen Goudge. I always wondered if there was a connection.

Goldielover said...

I love Elizabeth Goudge's work, and have from the first time I read Smoky House when I was about nine. I semi forgot about it until some years later when I read Gentian Hill, and was struck by the similarities to my old childhood favourite. A little digging turned up the fact that they were written by the same author.

I've collected all of her novels and most of her anthologies over the years, in the original hardcover British editions. Unfortunately, the American publishers had a nasty habit of making changes to the text and changing titles, so I sold those, except for The Blue Hills, as it had different illustrations to the original edition, which was titled Henrietta's House. Some of her books are becoming hard to find these days, especially those which never had a paperback printing. The Valley of Song is perhaps the hardest, and tends to be quite expensive when it does show up.

While I enjoyed Green Dolphin Country (original title) it was perhaps not my favourite of her books. That honour would go to The Dean's Watch, Gentian Hill, A City of Bells or Towers in the Mist, with Gentian Hill perhaps being top of that list. All of her books are good reads, though.

Thank you for your review.