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Elizabeth Goudge’s “Pilgrim’s Inn”





June 7, 2017

Popular Library paperback

Those of you who have been with our club for quite a while may remember our eighth selection, Elizabeth Goudge’s City of Bells, back on September 26, 2012

Now, 58 books later, I’m returning to another Goudge book I’ve loved for many years, Pilgrim’s Inn.

For those unfamiliar with Elizabeth Goudge, prepare for an incredible read. Generally speaking, each of her books is a masterpiece. She was a perfectionist who refused to sign off on a chapter, a page, a paragraph, or even a sentence, until it would ring like a piece of the finest china.

The older I get, the more picky I get about the books I read. When I was young, I’d often read just to be reading, but now, as the sand in the upper portion of my life’s hourglass continues to diminish, increasingly I return to authors I’ve loved more than all the rest. Of these, leading the pack is Elizabeth Goudge. Her books more than stand the test of time.

Pilgrim’s Inn is the first of Goudge’s books I read—and it hooked me for life. First of all, her characters. As is true with the greatest writers, she respects her readers so much that she refuses to pontificate in her books. But rather, she sets her characters free to talk, and thereby the readers can each watch her characters come to life out of abstract print.

Howard-McCann hardback

In Goudge, rarely do we come across cameo characters: reason being, unless each one contributes to the power of the plot, that person is not even introduced.

The cast of characters in the book includes:

Nadine, the beautiful wife of one man, haunted by the love of another.

Lucille, wise and great-hearted, the matriarch of an extended family, who tries her best to keep each one from going on the rocks.

David, handsome renowned actor, shell-shocked and disillusioned by the terrible war, and tormented by loving two very different women.

George, the faithful husband who is deeply wounded by a wife who devalues him.

John, a widowed famous painter who is ever on the search for people he considers worthy of being painted.

Sally, the effervescent daughter of John who falls in love with a man in love with another.

Annie-Laurie, a beautiful young woman who carries a toxic secret with her wherever she goes.

Jim, who yearns for the one love of his life to once again love and value him.

Hillary, the vicar who tries his utmost to minister to and counsel his volatile family.

Jill, who comes out of nowhere to bring structure to the family.

And I haven’t even mentioned the five children: Ben, Caroline, Tommy, and the irrepressible twins who are a law unto themselves. Even the dogs, Poo-bah and the Bastard, have their unique roles.

* * * * *

Goudge is unique not only for her unforgettable characters, but also for her memorable lines—one of the most quotable of all the writers I have ever read. And unlike 99.9% of writers (like most adults, they’ve lost the ability to recreate in characters the life, dreams, and actions of children), Goudge can. Consequently, her children are more often than not the driving force in her novels.

Goudge is also one of the most spiritual of novelists. Spiritual in the joyful sense. Life, in all its multidimensionality, shines through Goudge’s every page, making each re-reading all the more poignant and meaningful. My third reading of the book was just as entrancing and moving as the first (over half a lifetime earlier).

Nor can I forget the role of the two old houses: the Herb of Grace ancient inn and Damerosehay—both essential to the development of the characters and personalities in Goudge’s fictional world of Pilgrim’s Inn.


Elizabeth de Beauchamp Goudge (1890 – 1984) was born in the English cathedral city of Wells. Her father was a professor and administrator in theological colleges, so his daughter grew up in that environment. Her first novel, Island Magic (1934), set in her beloved Channel Islands, was an immediate success. World-wide fame came as she continued to write.

In 2002, J. K. Rowling identified Goudge’s child classic, The Little White Horse, British Carnegie Medal (1946) as one of her favorite books and one of the few books with direct influence on the Harry Potter series. The TV mini-series, Moonacre, was based on this book as well.

* * * * *

I predict that once you have internalized—you must never attempt to read her books fast!—Pilgrim’s Inn, you will be hooked on Goudge for the rest of your life. Since Goudge was so popular during the second half of the twentieth century, you shouldn’t have much trouble tracking down on the Web a nice copy for your home library


Island Magic (1934)

The Middle Window (1935)

A City of Bells (1936)

Towers in the Mist (1938)

Sister of the Angels (1939)

The Bird in the Tree (1940)

The Castle on the Hill (1941)

Henrietta’s House (or The Blue Hills) (1942)

Green Dolphin Street (1944) – Academy Award movie in 1948

Gentian Hill (1949)

The Rosemary Tree (1956)

The White Witch (1958)

The Scent of Water (1963)

The Child from the Sea (1970)

Goudge also wrote many short stores, children’s books, and inspirational nonfiction.


2 thoughts on “Elizabeth Goudge’s “Pilgrim’s Inn”

  1. Interesting. Thanks

  2. Thank you for sharing this book. Oh, how I wish I had time to read all the books you recommend. Working so many hours forbids me to do so. Maybe one of these days I will have time. I think some authors can be so perfectionistic that their writings sound like it could be a museum piece. Some writings can be too polished.

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