Henrietta's House (by Elizabeth Goudge)

Having recently read my newly-acquired ‘Sister of the Angels’ by Elizabeth Goudge, I wanted to re-read ‘Henrietta’s House’, which was written later and is related, though not a sequel. It's at least twenty years since I first came across it and read it, and I'd totally forgotten what it was about.

It doesn’t refer to any of the events in the earlier book, but has some of the same characters, though, strangely, they are slightly younger. The main one is ten-year-old Henrietta who lives with her grandparents. We meet her in this book as she is waiting eagerly for her adopted brother Hugh Anthony to return from his first term at boarding school.

Grandfather is a minister, a deeply religious and delightful elderly man, and the family live in the Cathedral Close of the fictional city of Torminster. Hugh Anthony is about to have his tenth birthday, and decides that he would like a picnic, some distance from home, where all his guests (other than Henrietta) are adults. He has had enough of boys at his school.

The main part of the book is about the different journeys that the various party guests take en route to the picnic; most of them don’t arrive at their destination, but have unexpected and varied adventures along the way. Elizabeth Goudge doesn’t exactly write fantasy; it’s more whimsical than that, set very much in the real world but with a decided element of a fairy-tale.

So there are adventures in an underground cave, a bower of leaves for a loving couple, and most of all, an unexpected treat for Henrietta. One could almost assume that the carriages were supposed to go astray; the horses, it seems know better than the people driving.

There’s not a great deal of plot, other than Henrietta making a delightful discovery, something that feels a tad unbalanced since it’s Hugh Anthony’s birthday rather than hers. However he doesn’t seem to mind, and is very pleased with all the food he gets to eat, as well as his exciting adventures.

The book is steeped in cathedral culture and history; this was written in 1945 but set early in the 20th century. There’s a gentle Christian theme throughout, as occurs in most of Goudge’s books, but she doesn’t preach or push her beliefs on her readers.

It’s perhaps too long winded, with extensive description and very little plot to be of much interest to today’s children, other than voracious and eclectic readers of perhaps nine to twelve or thirteen. But for adults hankering after a simpler era, and willing to suspend reality for a while, it’s a pleasant story.

Not currently in print, but sometimes available second-hand.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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