"You must have had the experience of ﬁnding yourself so absorbed by the world conjured up in a book that you read it ever more slowly – battling the urgent desire to ﬁnd out what happens next – because you can’t bear to get to the end"
These are the opening lines of an article on Elizabeth Goudge by Elisabeth Ingles in the latest edition of Slightly Foxed. This writer has always been one of my favourite authors and the title that Ms Ingles chooses to write about is The Dean's Watch which just happens to be my joint Goudge favourite (the other being The Little White Horse).
The Dean's Watch certainly falls into this category and as I read this article I kept saying Yes, that is how I felt as well and I had that lovely feeling one gets when you meet a kindred spirit who feels the same way about a well loved book. Elisabeth Ingles says she can date her interest in medieval cathedrals from the time of reading the Dean's Watch and, though she does not name the city, it is clear that it is Ely from the description of the cathedral on the fens. I visited Ely a few years ago and it was impossible for me not to wander round and remember the little clock maker Isaac who forms a friendship with the formidable Dean, Adam.
"He strikes up an unlikely friendship with Isaac who, plucking up all his courage, offers to teach him about the wonders inherent in the microscopic technology of his superb watch: ‘All his life [Adam] had loved children and poor people, and such child-like trusting little oddities as the extraordinary little man sitting opposite to him . . . But he never knew what to say to them and his unfortunate appearance always frightened them.’ Isaac is not brave enough to cope with an interruption from the Archdeacon, however, and sidles behind the butler ‘like a terriﬁed crab seeking cover behind a rock’ before Adam can get him to say more about the mechanism of the Deanery clocks"
There are so many wonderful characters in this book - Isaac's sister, repressed and unhappy, Polly their little maidservant full of joy and happiness at life in general, the Dean's bored beautiful wife who discovers too late how she was loved and loved in return, Job, the young apprentice who works with Isaac and is in love with Polly....every single person in this book is fashioned with delight and love. It is one of the most enchanting books I have ever read and yet it is not cloying or sentimental, it has a sturdy practicality to it as well. I have long lamented the fact that Elizabeth Goudge's works are out of print, save for a very few and do wish that some enterprising publisher would reissue them all. Capuchin Press have republished Green Dolphin Country, a brilliant tour de force and a few of her historical novels are available, but other than that you will need to hunt them out in second hand bookshops or via the internet. I started collecting them years ago and have two shelves of them - duplicates of some titles as I will not part with them and I have a very good edition of The Dean's Watch, complete with dust jacket that I treasure and, having checked on Amazon, appears to be a collectable first edition. I won't be parting with this one either.
"Although The Dean’s Watch is not action-packed, the changes described in it are profound. In that sense it is every bit as satisfying as a novel by Mrs Gaskell, sharing something of the small-town ﬂavour and the fascination with the minutiae of ordinary everyday lives. It is a deeply Christian work, but in a way that is not off-putting for non-Christians. What it celebrates is the power of selfless love – agape, not eros – to affect every aspect of its characters’ lives, and the reader’s too"
Slightly Foxed is a treasure chest of articles on all aspects of reading, and has a wonderfully eclectic mix of contributers and such a joy when you open up a copy and realise one of your own particular favourites is being highlighted. Thank you Elisabeth Ingles for writing about The Dean's Watch.
Slightly Foxed also publishes selected titles - could I put in a plea that perhaps The Dean's Watch might be considered for reprint at some stage?
Latest edition with this article in full is now available. Do check out the Slightly Foxed website which gives details of how to subscribe, their bookshop which I am determined to visit when I have the opportunity and also the books they have published and which you can order on line.