Towers in the Mist is set in Oxford during the Reign of Elizabeth I. Elizabeth Goudge centres her story around the Leighs, a fictional family, but she includes a wealth of historical figures such as Walter Raleigh, Philip Sidney, Thomas Bodley, Cardinal Wolsey, and the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley. Canon Leigh is a widower with a large family trying to navigate his way through life without his dear wife and finding it very difficult with two daughters on the verge of womanhood – which happened much earlier in those times!
I’ve also been listening to an audiobook (excellently narrated by Simon Prebble): The Six Wives of Henry VIII by British historian and author, Alison Weir, and have just finished reading her fictionalised account of Lady Katherine Grey and Kate Plantagenet: A Dangerous Inheritance, both of which deal with some of the historical figures in Towers of the Mist. Elizabeth Goudge’s book is much gentler than these two but taking all three together I’ve been having a thorough immersion not only into the times of the Tudors but also the years leading up to them.
Canon Leigh found the upbringing of his motherless children an arduous business, for the time given to parent in which to do it seemed so short. Fourteen being a marriageable age the children must by then be ready to shoulder the pains and burdens of adult life with strong characters and tested courage. The period of training was therefore short and intensive and the worst crime a parent could commit was that of sparing the rod and spoiling the child. But poor Canon Leigh, desperately endeavouring to combine the tenderness of a mother with the sternness of a father, found himself as he grew older attaching more and more importance to the value of gentleness and less and less to that of discipline…
A part of the book that I really enjoyed for its sweep of the history of Oxford was in Chapter 4: Ages Past. Nicholas, the suitor of Canon Leigh’s eldest daughter, had ‘a rare brand of imaginative power that can leave self entirely out of the picture,’ and as he looked out over the city, he imagined the pageant of history play out before him. From the handful of wild men who claimed a patch of ground; Augustine the missionary who landed in England with the knowledge of Christianity which found its way to Oxford; merchants and financiers and then scholars; to the Renaissance and later three and a half years of blood and fire under Queen Mary. The religious elements of the times were handled fairly, and I didn’t think that Goudge was one sided in her opinions of the various individuals regardless of their stance.
I thought I’d read the best of Elizabeth Goudge’s writing in her other books, but I enjoyed this one very much. It is a slow-ish read but very literary with her usual insights into human character. I’d recommend it for those who would like a gentler immersion into Elizabethan times or for younger readers as it avoids the more unsavoury aspects of books set in this time period.
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