The White Witch, A Dream of England the Nightmare of War
by Elizabeth Goudge (1958, Hoder & Stoughton)
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This is a lovely read for warm summer days when you have a while to sit in your garden (or imagine that you had one to sit in while you read!). Although not directly labeled as historical fiction, Goudge does a splendid job of infusing 1600’s Puritan vs. Catholic England tid-bits of life throughout the story.
Froniga, a half gypsy, half aristocracy blooded woman is chronicled as she spends her days and nights making potions, tinctures and herbal remedies for the local village folk who consider her the “White Witch” in the area. As with any good plot, there are twists and turns for Froniga as she encounters her nemesis the “Dark Witch” who practices black magic, a lover who is mysteriously mixed in with a troupe of gypsies, and a family with whom she doesn’t quite find acceptance from due to their strict Puritan belief systems.
There are some male characters who share the spotlight at times throughout the story, all with which there are surprising connections by the end of the book. The local Parson, a mysterious traveling painter, a catholic gypsy(!) on the run, and the squire of the village who happens to be her cousin, all share a place in Froniga’s heart. Half way through the tale, there is an epic battle of war; local Puritan folks vs. the Catholic king. Not too gruesome, the reader gets the feeling that they are present on the battle field during such strife.
Throughout the pages, I found myself recording recipes and meanings of flowers and plants in my field journal to be researched later. The author references several folk meanings of botanicals which peaked my own interest in using herbs to heal.
It is in my opinion that the last chapter of the book could have been left out; cliche and predictable, it wraps the book up in a way that screams of Goudge’s editor forcing a neat little bundle into the finished product. Without this droll culmination, the rest of the book reads beautifully!
I found this 430 plus page book at a book fair on a whim only to be delighted and enchanted in the end. Perhaps you will find it as amusing and wistful as I did!